Motorsport is a simple affair: fast cars, loud noises, burning rubber. Or it would be, except for that pesky thing called corporate sponsorship, which brings with it public relations. Some drivers take naturally to the spotlight, like perpetually chipper Daniel Ricciardo, while others struggle to deliver their scripted lines with even the smallest quantum of emotion. And if PR drew the line at smiling and waving and saying nice things about street-legal production vehicles, that’d be the end of the discussion (and this article), but then, some exec, somewhere, uttered aloud at a board meeting, "What if, and this is going to sound crazy, but what if we tried fostering goodwill with our customers by scaring the crap out of them?"
"I like that idea, but how about we hire actors and pretend we’re using hidden cameras? They’re less likely to sue us and the videos will go ‘bacterial’ or something."
"Yes, because Schadenfreude – brilliant!"
Thus was born the professional driver prank video.
Jeff Gordon Test Drive (Pepsi Max)
There’s been a great proliferation of "passenger freaking out at surprise sideways" videos on YouTube, and you can blame this 2013 Pepsi Max commercial for kicking things off. Jeff Gordon takes on the role of the prototypical mild-mannered mid-life crisis candidate. His co-star, Steve, goes from helpful salesman to wailing ball of fear and homicidal rage.
And that would be the end of it. Except people on the internet cried foul, saying the whole thing was staged and, worse still, that Jeff Gordon didn’t do any of the driving in the ad, since the interior camera only captured the salesman. So, this time, the camera stays on both Jeff Gordon and his hapless passenger, the journalist who 'debunked' the first video. Is this video the real deal? Well, a paid actor probably wouldn’t try to kick the plexiglass divider.
Vettel Test Drive (Tirendo)
This video uses the same formula: race car driver, terrible makeover, unsuspecting passenger and curiously pristine vehicle. However, since this is an ad for a German tire company, Sebastian Vettel plays a mulleted mechanic instead. There is much less screaming going on, but you have to remember that Europe is a place that doesn’t believe in air conditioning – stoicism is in their bones.
Greg Murphy/Cameron Smith Surprise Hot Lap (HSV)
In case you didn’t get enough mullet from the last video, V8 Supercar champion Greg Murphy dons a shoulder-length wig to prank Cameron Smith, Australian national rugby team captain and Holden Special Vehicles ambassador.
120 Heartbeats (Lexus GS Hybrid)
No mullets, here, this one was produced by Lexus of Italy, inviting unsuspecting potential GS Hybrid shoppers out for a test drive. They were likely curious when they had to sign medical waivers, a little concerned when having a heart rate monitor strapped on, and downright confused getting into the car with a driver wearing a full racing suit and helmet. From there the excitement, screaming and swearing multiply exponentially along with progressively more aggressive driving maneuvers, and the heart rates shoot through the roof.
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Vettel and Buemi Scream Challenge (Geox)
Geox does away with the pretense; they know full well people only watch these videos for ugly screaming. And boy do they deliver.
Marc Gené in Alfa Romeo 4C
To accept this video’s premise is to accept that Madrid is filled with ridiculously photogenic passersby walking around the city, ready to hop into a sports car with a total stranger race car driver. Then again, the car probably has air conditioning, that’d be reason enough for me.
"Do you like cougars?" (Volkswagen)
This commercial is most definitely scripted and staged and may be entirely green-screened, but it just goes to show that good delivery can overcome some seriously cringe-worthy writing. The focus here, however, is entirely on the Golden Sisters and Tanner Foust is relegated to the periphery with barely two lines of dialogue.
"Nerd" Shocks Driving Instructors
Malaysian racer Leona Chin masterfully sells the image of a hapless teenager having her first driving lesson in her brother’s souped-up car, complete with a Spongebob-inspired wardrobe and a giant teddy bear in the back seat. Though you’d think the instructors would realize after the first doughnut that someone doesn’t go from stalling out to literally burning rubber in 30 seconds flat.
Mustang "Speed Dating"
This Ford spot casts a professional stunt driver as a blonde bombshell who owns a muscle car despite not knowing how to drive stick. I suppose that’s the kind of person who’ll continue on a date with a self-described ninja. But hey, these passengers look like they’re having a blast for a change.
Citroën #ParkingHero Prank on Arsenal Stars
This time it’s stunt driver Annalese Ferrari behind the wheel, posing as a member of the Arsenal women’s team. Joining her in the Citroën Cactus C4 (and you thought the Juke’s exterior was polarizing) are Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Santi Cazorla. And given they’re all adrenaline junkies by trade, they look like they’re genuinely having fun.
Nissan Altima "Ride of Your Life"
The twist here? It’s not a race car. It’s an Altima. Cue applause and cheering. These "unsuspecting participants" are so eloquent and effusive the bigger surprise would be if they weren’t paid actors.
Ricciardo "Employee of the Month" (Infiniti)
Ricciardo can sell anything with his smile, it is known. Imagine if his role had been played by Kimi Räikkönen; it would be absurdly postmodern. Still, it’s just not the same when no one’s screaming, is it?
"Summer Interns" (Volkswagen)
Tanner Foust and Scott Speed show up at a Volkswagen dealership where they find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole, pulling sandwich duty and mopping the floors. It’s funny because it’s true and not at all the cause of recurring nightmares that I most certainly do not have.
Dishonourable Mention – Tony Stewart working at a Burger King
This? Not one of the best. NASCAR driver behind the counter at a fast-food restaurant. What could go wrong? It’s your standard fish out of water premise, but fails to retain interest over its two-minute runtime.
Honourable Mention – Ken Box’s Gymkhana
It’s like Ken Block’s Gymkhana, but with a go-kart and a cardboard shell. Oh, and a man in a gorilla suit.
Honourable Mention – Minivan Momkhana (Famous Footwear)
No one gets punked in this one. Rather, this video sets out to answer the question, "What if your mom’s Toyota Sienna had a 550 hp engine?"
Honourable Mention – Vettel in a Twizy (Renault)
Finally, I just wanted to draw attention to Vettel’s incredible ability to sit down in a Twizy equipped with an F1-style steering wheel and not burst into hysterical laughter. Why do you do this, Renault?