Russ Swift goes through a set of tyres every 3 miles because, in the stunt-driving business, rubber and money get burned together.
Swift’s party piece – and something he’s been doing for decades and with a 100% success rate – is getting a car up on two wheels and driving at somewhere between 45 and 65 degrees, depending on any particular vehicle’s weight distribution.
At a sodden and windswept aerodrome in Essex, Swift shows me the ropes, putting me through a series of insane manoeuvres that only a trained professional or someone playing the latest high-impact racing video game are likely to have attempted. Indeed, seeing as those games are all about motoring carnage and accruing points through doing the most crazy stunts and car wrecking possible, I’d rather be sat at my console than hurtling towards a ramp at 20mph.
The feeling of reaching the end of that ramp, lurching sideways, seeing the tarmac heading for you through the side windows and then just floating a few inches from it is surreal. Swift’s technique is incredibly compact and involves far more instinct than planning. "The ramp just gives me a good start to the trick", he says. "After that you look out the front as you normally would and just use as small steering corrections as you can to hold the angle. If you feel it pulling one way, it’s as simple as nudging the wheel slightly the other way."
It’s trapeze work for cars – and the fact we’re doing the trick in a narrow corridor of parked bangers shouldn’t impact on concentration. He warns me that we’re going back on to four wheels and it only occurs to me then that it might hurt, seeing as I’m the one who’s several feet higher than I should be.
Thankfully, all Russ has to do is spin the wheel hard to the left and the car drops, momentum insuring that the impact is transferred through the wheels by way of forward motion than up through the suspension, seats, spine and ultimately my head.
It’s this constant use of the tyre walls and not the actual treads that requires Swift to dispense with his Mini’s tyres in the distance a normal person would use their car to get from home to the cinema and back.
Swift’s other tricks are a bit more grounded, but no less likely to depress the share price of rubber concerns. Next on the menu is the J-turn, and it’s something Swift is keen for me to try.
A J-turn comprises a rev-bashing blast in reverse, a flick of the wheel, brake and clutch stamping to induce a tyre lock, a return flick of the wheel at the same time as selecting first, clutch lift and acceleration. The idea is to go from backwards to forwards while maintaining the same heading in as quick a time as possible. It’s the proverbial spinning on a sixpence routine.
It’s something for which Swift holds the world record, having once managed it in the space of just 172cm – in a Ford Escort estate. After he shows me how it’s done (in between those parked cars again), it’s my turn (well out of the way of any obstacles, and on a runway). Getting the car to spin and face the right direction is easier than I expect; finding first gear instead of reverse and a the sound of crunching metal isn’t, and Russ stops me from doing any more before I wreck the Mini.
Next it’s into a Mitsubishi Evo and experiencing the doughnut – a spin and maintained revolution around the cars central axis that induces dizziness, nausea and vomiting in that order if maintained for too long. It’s a quite incredible experience but one that demonstrates an amazing amount of control and ability. "I’m not quite sure how I do it", says Swift without a trace of arrogance.
A flurry of handbrake turns, drifting betwixt obstacles and more follows in a gut-bursting display of controlled aggression. I’ve never seen someone so at one with a machine before and it makes you appreciate that with all the craziness on display in the virtual world, it’s a testament to stunt drivers that they are genuinely able to pull off these amazing tricks. But people can break; they are made of flesh and bone, not pixels and processors…