At one time or another, it’s a fantasy of most kids who have ever a held a steering wheel. Their parents may well have shared the same dream as they aggressively dove into an off-camber corner on a country road or a freeway off-ramp.
For a brief moment, they might imagine themselves roaring across the bricks at the Indianapolis 500 or perhaps streaking down the Mulsanne Straight at LeMans. It’s a momentary illusion that can make someone feel like Mario Andretti, even if their driving skills are more like Uncle Mitty.
Few racers reach the rarified status of being a winner at Circuit de la Sarthe. Even Andretti, one of the most multi-talented racers of the century, reached that pinnacle only once (class win and second overall in 1995) in seven tries. And not since the era of Andretti and Foyt has a sprint car driver jumped from the dirt tracks of America to that most hallowed of French soil.
That is, until this year, when third-generation racer Tony Hunt nosed his car across the finish line to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans — well, sort of — as it looked in 1967. Hunt, of course, didn’t race at Le Mans. But in the celluloid reality of filmdom, Hunt fulfilled an Uncle Mitty-like fantasy of at least looking like he won Le Mans as the lead stunt driver in the blockbuster film “Ford v Ferrari.”
He readily admits “a thousand guys would have cut off their shifting arm for this opportunity,” to drive recreations of period race cars and to document the American car maker’s historic dethroning of Ferrari in what many consider one of the most important and prestigious events in motorsports history.
The 48-year old Hunt, like nearly all of the film’s stunt drivers, is an accomplished racer with many USAC-sanctioned championships ranging from F2000 to sprint cars. He has turned laps in Silver Crown cars and midgets, has finished on the podium in the Little 500 and competed in NASCAR. Hunt claimed driving titles on both dirt and pavement in USAC’s Western Sprint Car series in 2011 before becoming a full-time stunt driver.
But for seven years, Hunt mixed occasional film work with his racing, beginning with a television commercial while working at Andy Hillenberg’s Fast Track High Performance Driving School.
“They wanted someone with oval-track experience to drive a stock car,” Hunt recalled.
Ford Motor Co., which sponsored the commercial, exercised an exception in the Taft Hartley labor law to fast track a Screen Actors Guild card for Hunt. Given his role in “Ford v Ferrari” 16 years later, it was an artistically prophetic move by Ford’s ad agency that also jump-started Hunt’s new-found career.
“Normally, you have to work on a certain number of jobs before you get certified,” Hunt explained. “I was lucky, and with a SAG card I had a little street cred to reach out to stunt coordinators.”
That led to a long-standing relationship with renowned stunt coordinator Robert Nagle with whom Hunt has collaborated on many films, including “Herbie,” “Fast and Furious,” “Talladega Nights” and “Fully Loaded.”
The two share a passion for racing. Nagle is also a former racer, having spent time in SCCA and IMSA, which is a factor in the chemistry between the two and adds to the film’s authenticity.
“I come from the racing world, but as I moved up the racing ladder, I got tired of chasing the money,” Nagle recalled. “When you’re thinking about where the next check is going to come from while you’re driving at triple-digit speed that’s not good.”
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