When I was planning for the coast-to-coast trip tracing through the old Route 66, I learned that the animated movie Cars was inspired by the Mother Road and the people who lived along the route. I had watched the movie before on the big screen, but not until I watched it again in DVD format that I came to appreciate the difference between this movie than others Pixar had made. In the extra footage on the making of the movie, I learned that the Pixar team did a road trip on Route 66 to visit the places and meet the people who lived along the route, and they based the characters in the movie on real-life characters they met during the research trip. One such character was Sally Carrera, the blue Porsche sports car that ran the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie. The inspiration behind this character was Dawn Welch, a lady who owns a restaurant along Route 66 in Stroud, OK, called The Rock Cafe.
In the movie, Sally Carrera told the story how she ended up at Radiator Springs. She was a lawyer in Los Angeles living a fast-paced life, but was unhappy with life and decided to get away from the city. She had a flat tire near Radiator Springs, and the folks in town helped her getting fixed up, and took her in as their own. She ended up staying there and being part of the tight community.
In real life, Dawn Welch was originally from Oklahoma, but she worked in the cruise ship industry which took her to many places outside the US. She was planning on opening a restaurant in Costa Rica, and came to Stroud to look for an old grill to purchase for her restaurant. She learned about The Rock Cafe that had been a landmark on the historic Route 66 since 1939. Charmed by the historic building and the people she met, she ended up staying and running the restaurant ever since. She is actively involved in the local community, and the Rock Cafe in a way becomes an integral part of life in the small town of Stroud. She has also been involved in promoting the preservation of the historic Route 66. In 2001, the Pixar team stopped by at the restaurant during their research road trip. John Lasseter and his team learned about her life story and decided to make that as part of the story for Cars and based the Sally Porsche character on Dawn.
When I read up more articles about Dawn and the Rock Cafe, I also learned that in 2008 tragedy hit and the restaurant was destroyed in a fire. But Dawn with the help of her family and the community persevered and restored the historic building in the next year, and just few months before our trip, it had reopened again. That story increased my interest in checking out the place and experience that community feel first hand.
The night when we reached Oklahoma, we stayed in another town not far from Stroud with the intention to stop at the Rock Cafe for a breakfast before we continued our trip. We did find the restaurant, but unfortunately it might have been too early that it was not open yet for the day. Since we had quite a long journey planned for the day, we decided to continue on. But I did get a shot of the Rock Cafe’s neon sign before we left.