try this at home
not for the fainthearted
Movie magic comes
through hard work
NIKA - SPECIAL TO
leave me to die, leave me for the coyotes.
It's only the second day
of my stunt-driving school and every bone in
my body, every muscle, is screaming in agony.
The calluses and blisters
on my hands are making me ask, "What am I
No one ever said stunt
driving is easy. Especially Bobby Ore, my
He's been in the business
for more than 33 years and has spent the last
eight teaching the fine art of precision
driving - "controlled-uncontrollability" is
what he calls it. I call it torture.
This crusty ex-racer's
straight-talking way of doing things is not
for all to handle: Like my other classmates,
I've heard "you suck" so many times I think
it's my new name. But every time, when he
reminds me of his teachings and I finally try
it his way, it works.
Right from the beginning
yesterday, he slammed other driving schools.
And he set out to prove his theories, not just
state them. His arrogance and cockiness riled
me at first, but then I was humbled when I saw
just what this stunt car driver could do.
He's not the famous
hockey player but an Oklahoma native who once
saw a magazine story in which a stunt driver
put his car on two wheels. Telling himself he
could do the same, he set off on the path of
four-wheel aerobatics. All this before he was
even eligible for a driver's licence.
Ore's posted 13 world
records, many still standing today: the double
decker bus that he drove on two wheels for 247
metres, and the 71-metre ramp-to-ramp jump in
a Buick Skylark. His wall is decorated
pictures of his accomplishments and many of
the stars who have been through his school.
He's been an expert
witness in court, re-creating accidents to
show human error was the cause and not
equipment failure. He's taught professionals
in law enforcement and the military. He's a
no-nonsense person who expects the best from
This is precision-driving
Two professional race car
drivers, plus the girlfriend of one and an
actor, are all taking the course with me, but
none of us feels very smart. Here at Camarillo
Airport in southern California, the constant
buzz of aircraft coming into land was a
distraction at first.
By the end of the course,
it's a welcome sound to hide my cursing and
yelps of anguish as I put a Ford ZX2 through
The car is indestructible
despite mistake after mistake, leaving puffs
of tire smoke in its wake.
We're learning the fine
art of shuffle steering, which starts with the
hands at 4 and 8 (to copy the numbers on a
clock), unlike the teaching of regular race
and driving schools to hold the wheel at 10
and 2, or 9 and 3.
The emphasis here is on
"slight" steering and letting the car do the
Ocular and peripheral
vision is explained. It takes a while, but I
finally break a bad habit of looking down the
hood of the car and focus on where I want the
car to go. The slalom becomes a piece of cake
- well, maybe just a slice.
first forward 180 (making the car skid 180
degrees to sit perfectly in front of two
cones) is flawless. The rest of the practice
needs work, for it takes muscles and energy to
pull the handbrake more than 100 times.
Next, I must master the
box 90 - a controlled 90-degree skid into a
box marked by cones. It's next to impossible
to not hit the cones my first few tries and I
wait for the next snarky comment Ore will
throw my way. He's right on every time.
And sure enough, as I
stare down that middle cone I find my Ford ZX2
sliding precisely to where it must go - inches
to spare around its four corners.
During a break, Ore
confirms why we're here, spending $1,200 for a
weekend on the runway, by taking us around on
just two wheels of his pickup truck.
I brace myself in the
truck thinking that we'll topple over at any
moment, but instead he decides to go through
the cones to show he's the master.
Next, I test my nerve by
volunteering to stand in the middle of a
Ore takes a Ford Mustang
and power-skids it around me in circle after
circle - putting the bumper ever closer to my
kneecaps, controlling the car with the
throttle and an inch of steering, not touching
I close my eyes, breathe
the tire smoke and point the camera
desperately, hoping he's forgiven me for those
earlier excuses at failure.
Back to work on reverse
180s. I fumble going fast in reverse, yet then
easily spin the car into a forward driving
position - in seconds, I've shifted to low
gear to head out forward.
backwards-to-forwards spin must be kept within
the boundary, and without looking down at the
tarmac, my car and I are out of control. This
is the complete opposite of highway driving.
By this time, I'm at my
wits' end both physically and mentally, ready
to quit, so Gary Sommers, Ore's friend and
fellow instructor, gets in the car to give me
some pointers. His calm advice is reassuring
and I agree to give it a few more shots.
When I finally do my
perfect test - a respectable 44 seconds to
complete a marked course, 15 seconds below the
time limit - there might even be a hint of a
smile on Bobby Ore's face.
He doesn't want anyone to
fail, but some students inevitably do. This is
Fellow student Timothy
Sean, the Hollywood actor, also passes and
"My agent always sends me
on auditions for car commercials," he says. "I
never book them because I don't have the
proper stunt driving training." He is called
to audition for an Infiniti commercial the
My school prize is a
white T-shirt that you can't buy because it
has to be earned. No certificate, trophy or
ceremony - just a new understanding of car
control, precision driving and
I'm covered with tire and
brake dust, gleaming with pride and humbled
from what I still have to learn.
So you want to be a stunt
car driver? Ore's advice is to become a lawyer
or doctor instead. But if you are still set on
it, bear in mind that it's rumoured that
10,000 so-called stunt drivers are in Southern
California and roughly 250 of them are
working. It takes "unbelievable commitment,"
You must also be a union
member and have many hours of training and
practice. Bobby Ore's course is not for
beginners and you must be at least 21 years
His philosophy is to
teach not so much the spins or the skids but
the recovery - the recovery that one day may
save me on the road.
But he's also taught me a
respect for the automobile and what it can do.
Being a stunt driver is much more than driving
a car fast.
Now I've soaked in a hot
bath and let my body try to heal as it still
coughs up tire dust. I'm not going to try
anything I've learned on the streets of
Toronto - I'll save it for the movies.
But I'm ready for my
closeup, Mr. DeMille. Hollywood, here I come
For more information on
Bobby Ore and his motion picture stunt driving