- "It's just an empty cup."
- —Doc Hudson, Cars
The Piston Cup is a gold and black trophy in the Cars series, available for possession to those that compete in the Piston Cup Racing Series. It is completely gold, and is hollow on the inside. It can also be used as a pencilholder kind of tin, like Doc Hudson used to use his for.
At the end of each Piston Cup season, the Piston Cup trophy is awarded to whichever racer has managed to win the championship.
In Cars, Darrell Cartrip and Bob Cutlass explain the purpose of the trophy to the audience at the Motor Speedway of the South, and then proceed to speculate on which of the racers will be able to obtain it, with the three prime suspects being rookie race car Lightning McQueen, consistent runner-up Chick Hicks, and seven-time Piston Cup champion Strip "The King" Weathers.
McQueen greatly desires the trophy, in addition to the Dinoco sponsorship and the various other perks that winning will gain him, to the point where he even has daydreams in which the trophy is given to him. In one of his daydreams, Lightning, in the Dinoco blue paint scheme, is being photographed alongside his Piston Cup.
However, the Dinoco 400 results in a three-way tie between McQueen, Hicks, and Weathers, and a tie-breaker race is set to occur between the three of them at the Los Angeles International Speedway in California. However, complications arise in Lightning's journey to the stadium, and he finds himself stranded in the deserted town of Radiator Springs, where he is forced to fix the road he tore up, and is not able to leave until he accomplishes this.
One day while he is slowly paving the road, McQueen hears a report on the radio about Chick's arrival at the speedway, and Lightning has a daydream about Chick winning the Piston Cup, which inspires him to finish the road as fast as possible, albeit doing it very poorly.
Later, when Lightning gets frustrated with Doc, he kicks a can into his garage, which then makes a large crashing noise. Curious about what had happened, he slowly sneaks into his garage, and is shocked to discover three Piston Cups, labeled 1951, 1952, and 1953. Lightning's admiration is interrupted when Doc enters and catches him, and when Lightning excitedly questions him, Doc grumpily chases him out.
After a stampede of Tractors enters Radiator Springs and starts causing trouble, Lightning follows one of the Tractors down to Willy's Butte, where he finds Doc practicing his racing for the first time in a very long while. McQueen confronts him and follows Doc to his garage, where Hudson reveals that he was formerly the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, a three-time Piston Cup champion, prior to being involved in an accident and forced to retire.
When McQueen finally finishes the job and is taken away to Los Angeles, the three compete for the rights of the trophy. Lightning has a relatively strong lead on the other two racers, but Chick Hicks, tired of constantly placing behind Weathers, performs a PIT maneuver on the experienced racer, causing him to lose control and tumble into the center of the stadium, receiving heavy damage in the process. Lightning, seeing this, stops just before the finish line, allowing Chick to win the race, and McQueen then backs up and assists The King to the finish line.
Chick is given the trophy, but when he drives onto the winners podium, he is met with negative reactions, which chase him off the stage. Because of Lightning's good deeds, he is considered the "true" winner of the season, and Tex Dinoco offers him the Dinoco sponsorship instead of Chick.
Cars: The Video Game
In Cars: The Video Game, Piston Cups, simply labeled "trophies", are used as a measurement of progression. Each time the player wins an event or collects a Postcard, they will be awarded with a set amount of trophies, which are spread throughout the game's five chapters. There are 250 total trophies to collect.
Additionally, a singular Piston Cup trophy also plays a role in the game's story mode. Lightning must compete in five different races against Chick Hicks and numerous other competitors in order to win the 2006 Piston Cup, and it is finally awarded to him after he places first in the final Piston Cup race at the Los Angeles International Speedway. When receiving his trophy, Lightning is placed upon a very large Piston Cup monument in the center of the speedway.
In between the events of Cars and Cars 2, Lightning has won three additional Piston Cups. As Doc Hudson has also passed away during this time period, the Piston Cup trophy was renamed the Hudson Hornet Piston Cup, and Lightning bears the logo of this on his hood. Lightning and Mater mourn the loss of Doc while admiring his collection in the Racing Museum.
In between the events of Cars 2 and Cars 3, Lightning has won another three piston cups. In the 2016 season, a next generation rookie named Jackson Storm begins to rack up wins, and by the end of the season he wins the 2016 Piston Cup.
- In 2009, Mattel re-released the models of Chick Hicks, The King, Dinoco Lightning McQueen, and Bling Bling Lightning McQueen with a Piston Cup accessory included. The run was limited to 20,000 each.
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