Home » The true story that inspired the 'Fast and Furious' movies - What’s the difference?

The true story that inspired the 'Fast and Furious' movies - What’s the difference?

The ninth film in the "Fast and Furious" franchise is in theaters.

Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese, and are among the cast returning for "F9" in which its revealed Dom (Diesel) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) have a little brother, Jakob (John Cena), we never knew about.

Additionally, the film brings back fan-favorite Han (Sung Kang) after he was seemingly killed off from the franchise at the end of 2006's "Tokyo Drift" (and again in 2013's "Fast 6").

What you may not realize about the globe-spanning, physics-defying films is that at the heart of the franchise, which started in 2001 with "The Fast and the Furious," lies a real-life story about street racing in New York City.

The movies, which have earned over $6 billion globally, were inspired by an article from Ken Li in the May 1998 issue of Vibe.

"Racer X" tells the story of Dominican street racer Rafael Estevez from Washington Heights and how he transitioned into the sport of drag racing.  

The article also divulges on the popularity of Japanese import car customization and the operations in place to crack down on New York City street racing.

Li and Estevez reunited in 2015 for a sit down with Vibe and the two said they never expected there to be seven films, let alone one.

"Racer X" was a featurette available on a "Fast and the Furious" disc release that came out in 2002. In the feature, director Rob Cohen reveals he was inspired to make the film after hearing about the article and subsequently watching a race in Los Angeles.

As a result, Cohen convinced Universal to make the film and the studio bought the rights to the film from Li. 

The 2001 film "The Fast and the Furious" followed an LAPD officer (Paul Walker) who went undercover into the world of illegal street racing to join the ranks with a well-established racer (Vin Diesel) and find the culprit at the center of an elaborate ongoing heist. 

The film, produced on an estimated $38 million budget, went on to make $207.3 million worldwide.

Watching the film now, it's easy to see the article's influence in the movie. 

Here's an excerpt from Vibe's "Racer X": 

"A black Nissan 300ZX and a white Mitsubishi Starion pull out of the pack and creep up to the starting line. As the sun dances on the nearby river, the sound of honking horns and screaming drivers is drowned out by the sonic blast of the two engines revving for takeoff. A stocky Latino dude in a blinding yellow shirt stands in the middle of the highway and raises his hands. Both cars lurch and halt like chained pit bulls, their wheels spitting out black smoke. The hands drop...

Young men have been fascinated with tweaking and tuning big block Chevys and Mustangs since the days of Rebel Without a Cause. But the new guys wouldn't be caught dead driving the gaudy muscular beasts of yesteryear. Instead, they're tricking out low-buck Japanese imports like Honda Civics and Acura Integras and tattooing them like skateboards with Neuspeed and Greddy car parts stickers. By stroking the engine, adding a supercharger, and hitting the "juice" (nitrous oxide: a gaseous liquid once used to boost bomber planes in WWII), they can smoke the herb in the Iroc at the stoplight."

It sounds like a scene straight out of the start of any of the "Fast" films, which usually kick off with a race.

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