Nika Survives Bobby Ore’s Stunt Driving School

DON’T try this at home – Stunt school not for the fainthearted

NIKA
Special to The Star

CALABASAS, CA – Just 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 doing here?”

No one ever said stunt driving is easy. Especially Bobby Ore, my instructor.

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 decoratedwith 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 his students.

This is precision-driving boot camp.

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 its paces.

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 work.

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.

My 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 circle.

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 the brakes.

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.

This 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 tough.

Fellow student Timothy Sean, the Hollywood actor, also passes and he’s ecstatic.

“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 following day.

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 “controlled-uncontrollability.”

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,” Ore says.

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 old.

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 school, see: http://www.bobbyoremotorsports.com.

Nika

Nika

Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.