The Top Gear Experience and A Reflection

By now, I am assuming that most of my loyal readers have seen Nash and me on Top Gear on The History Channel, and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? The History Channel is replaying our episode “Blind Drift” all week, and in case you missed it, you can watch it online here http://www.history.com/shows/top-gear/videos/top-gear-blind-drift#top-gear-blind-drift

I would highly recommend that you watch the entire episode, as it is quite entertaining, but if you are in a pinch for time, Nash and my segment appears about forty minutes into the episdoe, so you can drag the time slider, watch a few commercials, and then enjoy the segment.

I will look back on the filming of the segment, but first I would like to address a review of Top Gear that appeared in the NY Times on 11/19, as the reviewer of the show speculates that because of the editing you can’t really tell whether or not I am the one doing the driving. Well, the NY Times couldn’t be more incorrect, as I did all of my own stunt driving with Tanner Foust in the car instructing me. There’s nothing I can’t do with a great teacher, and Tanner was fantastic. In fact, all three hosts Tanner, Adam Ferrara, and Rutledge Wood were a blast to work with, and Nash and I wish them much success with their new show. We were very fortunate to be a small part of it. Thanks for everyone who has reached out to us via phone, email, and Facebook. We are thrilled that you loved the segment. It was very tough to not be able to talk about it, as we filmed the driving segment in May. And now a reflection on the experience.

I got a call in May from a Producer for Top Gear. The conversation started with her asking if I had ever heard of the show, and I had not. Hey, I am blind, and I don’t have a lot of use for cars. After we established that I had never heard of them. She paused, and was hesitant to speak the next line. I recall it went something like this, we ah, we ah, want to see if we can teach a blind guy to drive. Silence, and then I let out a huge laugh. I could sense relief come over the line from the Producer, as she said, good, I haven’t offended you. No, of course she hadn’t. She didn’t go into any details of what they had in mind, but told me Adam Ferrara was one of the hosts of the new Top Gear USA for The History Channel. Adam had donated his time and performed at our first ever Laugh For Sight, and since then has gone on to great success in movies and on Rescue Me. She asked if I would mind coming out to California to film an episode, and of course I was up for it, not even fully understanding what they wanted me to do. Hey, Nash and I had recently filmed the short film in California VisionZone You’re Not Alone Anymore, and we always like heading out to California. Plus with the Laugh For Sight L.A. expansion set for November, I could stay a few extra days for some meetings.

We got out to L.A. and headed about an hour North to some small town that I forget the name of. I didn’t really learn anything new when I arrived, just that I would be doing something called Drifting, which I was clueless about. Hey, there’s a lot of things that I am clueless about. Most of them being automotive or tool related. If you want to know who killed JFK, I can go into a pretty detailed description of what happened, but if you ask me to hammer something or use a screw driver, you’re out of luck.

We arrived at the Top Gear track early the next morning, and I met with the director and producers of the show where it was explained to me that Tanner who would be teaching me to drive, had no clue he was going to be teaching a blind guy to drive and drift, and it wouldn’t be revealed until I walked out on camera. I did learn that Tanner was a two time drift champion, and that he is a world class stunt driver who did the stunt driving for the Fast and Furious movies and others. Still, one question, what is drifting? It was explained to me fairly basically, that we would be doing three challenges, burnouts, doughnuts, and break parking, and of course, I still really didn’t understand, but now reality sunk in. Shit, I am going to be driving, what did I get myself in to?!

As the camera got set up for the first shot, they walked us out behind a barricade, and explained the scene to Nash and me. Adam came over, we said our hellos, and he asked the best way for me to walk out to where they were standing. I recalled something I did on stage a few times when I couldn’t find the mic, the old Marco Polo routine. You can never go wrong with Marco Polo. We then set up to shoot. And on cue, Nash and I were finally revealed to Tanner. People often ask what I miss most about not being able to see. Well, this would have been up there, as I would have loved to have been able to see Tanner’s expression when he learned that he had to teach a blind guy to drive. And yes, I was pretty nervous to.

Tanner, Nash, and I headed into the Nissan 370z and Tanner and I went through the controls of the car. No, none of it was scripted, and I was that brain dead, or nervous to not realize or remember that the gas is on the right. That I should have known, but I was taking a lot in. I think it says a lot about Tanner that he didn’t freak out or get out of the car when I asked that. I guess it made for good tv. I was surprised that I was actually driving a manual in minutes, as I had never driven a manual ever before. I was like Rainman slowly driving around the track. Once we took a few spins, we decided it was best for Nash to get out, as he was smarter than the rest of us, and didn’t like being in the car when I was behind the wheel.

After a few more laps around the track at faster and faster speeds, where I did run off the track a few times into the dirt that was next to it, we began the competition. First up, the Burnouts. This was a lot of fun, and a total blast. I mean how often do you get to floor a car in reverse laying down tread in a car you don’t own, and on a race track to. I laid 105 feet of tread, which I was told is quite impressive. I wish they would have kept my line, as I said something like. 105 feet of tread, Danice hit me up on twitter.

Next up was the doughnuts. This scared the shit out of me, as you are flooring the car in circles, I can’t see anything, so I have no clue what we are headed towards. Plus there is smoke coming up all around you into the car from the tires. I think at one time I may have even told Tanner to greab the wheel. And another time I thought Tanner was saying brake when he was saying faster faster faster. I guess I was wishing he was saying break. I thought I was going to throw up when we were doing this. Hey, I don’t even like rollercoasters. Lets just say even before I was blind, I wasn’t exactly an adrenaline speed junkie, and now that I am blind, I move slower than a turtle, so doing these doughnuts, was a little uncomfortable.

The final competition was the break parking. This was also a blast to do, and we got some good speed going around the track. I have to give Tanner a lot of props as he had to tell me left right straight straight, and so on, and was amazing at it. A lot of people who lead me around say right when they mean left, and so on, if Tanner got it wrong, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

At the end of the day, I think I was shaking from the adrenaline and the experience. Looking back on it, wow, what a day, and when will I ever get to drive again? The entire cast and crew was fantastic to work with, and Nash and I wish them much success with the show and future ventures.

Oh you say, well what about the studio audience portion of the show. Well, we didn’t film that part until October. We headed back out to California for that, and this trip was much more relaxing. No driving. Nash and I had to just come up on stage say whatever popped in to my head, and that supposed to be it. Well, for those of you who have seen the show, you know that Nash had an adlib I mean adpee in mind. I had walked Nash right before they brought us up on stage. We were standing in the audience, and as usual once we got up on stage, Nash decided that he needed to steal the spotlight yet again. It’s not enough that Nash is so cute, but he needs to get his laughs to. No, Nash peeing was not scripted, and for those of you who have dogs, you know it would be impossible to get your dog to pee on command, and on the logo of the show. I think it was Nash’s way of saying that’s all folks! Follow Nash and my adventures on twitter @blindgator and @laughforsight, and our blog on http://www.visionzone.org

One Response to “The Top Gear Experience and A Reflection”

  1. Barbara Fischler Says:

    Glad I was clueless too before you drove. All I can say is…..why didn’t you follow directions like that in school????? Love ya.

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