Commercials Prove to be Plenty of Work for Drivers

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon's viral video for Pepsi Max has been viewed nearly 40 million times on Pepsi's Youtube page.

CONCORD, N.C. - It seems simple. Sit on a stack of tires and read a few lines while looking into a camera. What’s so hard about that?

Until the director starts giving orders.

Speak faster.

Speak slower.

Don’t smile.

Smile.

Keep your hands still.

Give a little more energy.

Do it again.

Tone it down.

Now read it all the way through.

Great.

OK, we’re ready to begin.

“The production days make me more tired than running the racecar,’’ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joked between takes for a Nationwide commercial in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The ad is scheduled to run in 2014. Fans will see Stenhouse’s polished poise and it will seem as if he had such an easy time with the shoot. Yet, it was anything but. He spent more than an hour reciting his lines for the 30-second ad, following the director’s orders. After a slight break, Stenhouse went from the garage to pit road to do more filming for Nationwide, which will be the primary sponsor on his Sprint Cup car in four races this coming season and associate sponsor in the remaining races.

This is not what a young driver thinks about when they dream of being a NASCAR driver, but it is part of the job. It’s one that Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, among others, have made seem not like work at all - even when it is.

“It took time to learn it and actually enjoy it,’’ Kahne said of starring in commercials.

“I think the best part was when I started enjoying doing some of those spots. It made it more fun and the spots probably turned out better, too.’’

Kahne’s most memorable commercials came a few years ago with a series of ads for Allstate where three overzealous female fans had interesting run-ins with their favorite driver.

Gordon had one of the most memorable commercials by a NASCAR driver this past season with an ad for Pepsi Max. The Internet video was nearly 4 minutes long and has been viewed nearly 40 million times on Pepsi’s Youtube page.

That ad showed some of the behind-the-scenes action that takes place that people rarely see, including makeup, a fake beard and mustache being applied to Gordon.

“I’ve been pushing Pepsi Max saying ‘Hey, let’s show more of the out-takes, and more of what goes on,’ because people don’t realize it takes two hours to get into that makeup,’’ Gordon said. “It takes not just takes, but there is so much more that we did that gets edited out.’’

All that takes so much time that there wasn’t enough time for Gordon to do the actual driving. A stunt driver was used for that.

“You only have so much time over a two-day period as to what you can do,’’ Gordon said. “That was something I would have like to have done, and I think I could have pulled off 90 percent of it, but, it’s pretty standard practice to have a stunt driver fill in for you.”

Typically, it takes a day for a driver to do a commercial. If there’s a lot the driver has to do, the shoot can take two days.

While Stenhouse’s commercial was being set up, he was still busy. There was a photo shoot to do in his Nationwide driver’s uniform. After a few pictures, someone would straighten his uniform and make sure the proper logos didn’t have any wrinkles. When that finished, then it was on to do the commercial.

Sometimes there was a break because the director wanted the car in the background moved or had orders for the team members on what he wanted them doing behind Stenhouse.

Then it was back to reading lines.

Stenhouse’s teammate, Carl Edwards, takes a different approach with his lines for a commercial.

“I try to talk to them about what they want to be said and say it in my own words,’’ Edwards said. “It’s hard to read something and make it sound natural. It’s better just to understand the message they’re getting across.’’

While that can work for some, Stenhouse stayed on script.

“Ugh,’’ Stenhouse said when he flubbed a line.

Later, when he got through it without any issues, he said: “That was better. I think I hit every word.’’

Of course, he had to do it again. And again. And again. It’s not about getting it right. It’s about getting it perfect.

“You can read (the teleprompter) all day long, but if you don’t read it how they want you to, it’s not as good,’’ Stenhouse said. “They have their tricks to get the best out of it. It’s always nice to have the help from the (director).

“I enjoy it. Any time you’re learning something new and trying to get better at it and trying to figure it out, I think that’s always fun.’’

And a lot of work. 

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