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It seemed to me as a child, when I first watched Cars (2006), that after Lightning chases down a truck and discovers it is not Mack, he wants to get back to the Interstate, and he turns and goes back the way he came (to the Interstate), but arrives to Radiator Springs.

Why didn't the disappearance of the railroad crossing (and the transformation of the straight, arrow-like road into a long and winding one) alert him to the fact that he was heading the wrong way?

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    If you watch it again it is extremely simple, after getting lost and the train-crossing incident, he saw some lights and headed that way. That's all it was!
    – Fattie
    Mar 16 at 18:43

2 Answers 2

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I believe it's a combination of three things:

  1. Lightning travels everywhere inside Mack, so he probably has very little experience with, or knowledge of, public roads. You and I both know that a narrow, winding path probably isn't going to lead to an Interstate, but I'd understand if Lightning didn't. And even if he did:
  2. He doesn't have any headlights, so he probably can't see where he's going. And even if he could:
  3. He's clearly panicking and not thinking straight. If he'd taken a moment to just stop and calm down, he might have realised he was going the wrong way, but he was too desperate to catch up to Mack to think it through.
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    Seems weird, but thinking twice, not only does he drive only on circuits, but he never has to look for his direction, only following the same turn-left path. And it's almost the only thing he does (beside thinking the best of himself), everybody is making things happen for him. He's being permanently assisted.
    – OldPadawan
    Mar 15 at 10:46
  • What got into Lightning's head, or what's going on with him, that Mack veered off the California highway into some unknown backwoods? What is he doing there, one wonders? I mean... think about it, Lightning! WHY would Mack be getting off the highway to California at a lonely exit offering no truck stops or gasoline or anything?! Mar 15 at 15:45
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    "What got into Lightning's head"? As I explained in my answer, sheer panic.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 15 at 16:00
  • @ЖекаКрутой But radiator springs has a gas station and an hotel and a garage and is easily accessed by that exit, so it’s not true that there’s nothing worth stopping for at that exit. Mar 16 at 2:04
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    "But radiator springs has a gas station and an hotel and a garage": don't forget the best tires shop, one talented car custom shop, and the fastest pit-crew on the planet! :D
    – OldPadawan
    Mar 16 at 17:26
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In brief, Lightning has never driven on a public road (or if he has, not at nighttime). It's dark and he's panicking. He also just nearly had several accidents.

Failing to notice his surroundings is quite understandable given the circumstances, especially since he's just following a set of light seen far off in the distance.

“Mack … ,” Lightning whispered to himself as the truck drove away. So … if that truck wasn’t Mack, where could Mack be? “The Interstate,” Lightning said. Turning, he spotted some lights. He tore toward them at top speed, not realizing that he was headed down winding old Highway 66, not the Interstate.

Cars - Official Novelisation.

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    The simple and correct answer.
    – Fattie
    Mar 16 at 18:43
  • I've noticed that during the scene where McQueen is about to be hit by a train, ou can see a light behind him, which is visible from afar. And when the Lightning turns around and goes towards Radiator Springs, it is also possible to see this outgoing light from afar, as you said. Apr 6 at 13:04

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