Why Does Tallahassee Paint the Number 3 on His Cars?

Zombieland’s Tallahassee has unique habits that none of his allies make a note of, but why does he paint the number three on all of his cars?

Part of what makes Zombieland stand out in the zombie genre is the attention it gives to its character. Each one introduced has tried to make the best of a bad situation by embracing habits or quirks that define them. For example, Columbus has a set of rules that he uses to survive, but for Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), he likes to paint the number three on all of the cars he takes while on his travels, so what is the significance of putting the number on the vehicles in the first place?

Both Zombieland films follow Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock as they make their way through a zombie-infested America. They’ve developed systems to keep each other alive throughout their journeys while finding a familial bond between them. Of all of them, the toughest of the group is Tallahassee, who keeps his country roots alive by wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and doing anything and everything that is just wild enough to work.

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Much of Tallahassee’s inspirations come from his personal heroes. For example, his music taste is based heavily on Elvis, who he believes wholly was the one and only king of rock. However, when it comes to athletes, no driver compares to Dale Earnhardt. Although he never outwardly expresses it, Earnhardt’s number on each of his race cars was the number three.

Earnhardt was a racecar driver who drove in NASCAR for years before tragically dying in a crash during one of his races. In his career, he won 76 races and was one of the most beloved racers in the sport, and his fans continue to honor his legacy any way they can. In Tallahassee’s case, he does so by painting his number on every car he finds. Ironically, the first film shows him picking up a black truck and later a yellow hummer, and both colors were used on Earnhardt’s cars during his racing days.

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Although Tallahassee’s background is never explored, it’s unlikely he was a racer himself, but living in the apocalypse, he probably takes as many risks as a racer to ensure surviving and treating every day like a race to win. His habit also helps drive home the idea that these characters aren’t explored in an obvious way, but rather through subtle instances or quirks. Tallahassee happens to be the easiest to understand because he’s such a big personality.

Zombieland’s Tallahassee is an unconventional hero with a bombastic personality, but because of how he carries himself, it’s easy to see who he is as a person based on his habits. As a man of the south, racing is a large part of his life, and he shows this by honoring one of the greatest racers in the industry. In turn, it reminds him that the best way to survive is to keep on racing to the finish line.

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