Friday, February 13, 2015

Talking ChampTrucks and sweet jumps with stunt man Mike Ryan

2014 was a pretty good year in Mike Ryan’s world. Just check out the video highlights below.

Ryan, an OOIDA member from Santa Clarita, Calif., is a renowned stunt driver and champion truck racer. You might have seen some of his stunt work in films like “The Fast and the Furious” franchise and in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” to name a few. Or maybe you’ve seen some of the awesome stuff he’s posted to YouTube like his incredible drift-racing semi in “Size Matters 2” which received over two million views after it was posted last March.

“It’s just really fun,” Ryan said in a phone interview with Land Line on Friday. “It’s taken a career – 37 years in the stunt business – to be the guy in that position. It’s cool to have the trust of clients and friends to go out and do things like this.”

Perhaps you saw his coup de grace, when he set a world record by jumping a tractor-trailer over 83 feet last November, as part of a special promotion with EMC and Lotus F1 racing team. If you missed it, Mike actually jumped the truck over a speeding race car. It’s pretty sick.

“(The jump) had been a dream for years. … It may be the high point,” he said. “It’s probably the signature stunt. There are plenty of guys that have rolled (trucks) intentionally for film use, or crashed them or jackknifed them. But I’ve never heard of anybody that jumped one so I feel pretty good about that.”

“What I did was nothing. We knew if the thing went up it would come down. Getting the car under there safely was a big deal to me. It was all I thought about during the whole thing.”

The take was a one-and-done, after the engine and transmission fell off their mounts and knocked out the oil pan, he said.

Ryan said he had another “unscheduled jump” this year when he crashed his truck during the Pike’s Peak race in June. Despite crashing off a 40-foot embankment down into a pine forest, Ryan said he managed to walk away uninjured. The truck wasn’t so lucky.
“Sadly all the GoPro (cameras) broke in that and I never got an inch of footage,” he said. “That would’ve been YouTube stuff for sure. That was a pretty exciting ride.”

Ryan said he’s hoping the truck will be repaired in time to take it to Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville next month. He’s also hoping to promote his other passion, ChampTruck World Series, a road racing series that will feature Class 8 tractors with commercially available diesel engines. The inaugural season has 12 teams and 10 races lined up, including events at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Fourth of July Weekend.

“ChampTrucks has been three-and-a-half years of dreaming and scheming,” he said. “We have committed track dates, deposits for those dates, support series, some co-op marketing with the track owners… We have a dozen trucks that should make the first race.”

Ryan said a couple of those trucks will be on display at MATS. The first race is slated for April 24-26 at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

“What I want to do is share this, because I’ve had a ball,” he said. “Racing side-by-side with your pals and having competition is always good fun. I think seeing three or four trucks all stacked up trying to make Turn One is going to make people stand up in their seats.”

Ryan said similar racing series are big draws in Europe, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.

“I think that it’s going to be huge,” he said. “People have a lot of emotions about trucks. I think the curiosity will be there to see what this is going to be about. One of our catch-phrases is ‘As big as racing gets.’”

He also said the European model of truck racing serves as a powerful recruiting and publicity tool for trucking companies overseas.

“I’ve witnessed it several times in European truck racing. They typically have 170,000 to 220,000 people; it’s like a Mid-America Trucking Show at the race track,” he said. “That’s my big fantasy. … How many people in the public show up at a truck industry trade show compared to how many would show up a race track and be exposed to something for the first time that they’ve never seen? People are gonna think trucking is a little sexy maybe. Maybe they’ll want to come race or get involved with a driver or as a technician? I think we’ve got a tremendous opportunity for the biggest public outreach in the trucking industry that there can be.”