By on November 7, 2017

stunt driving

On Friday’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” the titular host said something pretty dumb about cars, driving, and the stunt driving seen in car chase movies that have graced movie screens for ages.

It’s not the most galactically stupid thing he’s said this year – that award goes to use his use of a racial slur while interviewing a sitting U.S. senator – but it was so off the mark that I felt compelled to rant.

In the interest of disclosure, I generally like Bill Maher. I don’t watch every week, but I catch the show when I can. Politically I agree with him on some things and not others (we’ll leave it at that), but as a TV host I find him to be relatively funny and smart, and I applaud his willingness to invite folks from all political stripes onto his show.

However, he can be smarmy, and occasionally I wonder if his staff has fact-checked something he’s prattling on about. And sometimes he just goes off the rails.

You can watch it here, but during Friday’s show-closing “New Rules” segment, Maher complained about Hollywood’s penchant for car chase movies after he went out to see “Baby Driver.” Specifically, he whined about how the heroes in these movies are lazy, since almost anyone can drive, and that they speak to some sort of male laziness that was behind the actions of powerful men accused of sexual predation — men like Harvey Weinstein.

Leaving aside the fact that sexual harassment is often about power and not about some rich man being too lazy to keep up his appearance, the whole thing felt like a stretch. How do car chase movies have anything to do with Weinstein, other than the fact he may have had a hand in the production of some of them?

Not to mention Maher missed an opportunity to make some points about movies recycling bad plots or not making use of female leads more often (Charlize Theron shouldn’t be the only woman getting all the fun). Most relevant to most of us in TTACLand, however, was Maher’s assertion that the type of driving showcased in these movies is so easy that anyone can do it and that it’s not impressive, as driving itself is so easy that anyone can do it.

Let’s start with the obvious – if performance driving was that easy to accomplish, there wouldn’t be people who make a living as stunt drivers for these movies (and if driving itself were so easy, we wouldn’t have driver’s ed. Or bad drivers). But Maher seems to equate what he sees on the big screen to that jerk who peels out from a light in his Challenger – or at least, he implies this from his rant.

Yes, Bill, it isn’t hard to floor it in a muscle car and leave rubber behind. You’re right about that. But that’s not what’s happening in any of these movies. Or on your average track day, from LeMons on up to NASCAR. Driving fast, whether for stunts or for racing, is hard, and doing it well is harder. Not everyone can do it.

It’s a pernicious myth that goes beyond a smug, rich talk-show host who probably spends most of his time behind the wheel stuck in L.A. traffic. I am a very casual race fan, and when I tell non-car-enthusiast friends I am going to watch the Indy 500 or Daytona, I get dismissive responses. “Sure, I know they’re going fast, but how hard is it to turn left all the time?”

Even in Maher’s rant, he starts off by sarcastically referring to “the elite, mind-blowing skill of driving,” complete with a droll emphasis on the last word, as if we could all do what we see on the silver screen. He also says driving is not that hard — that driving is so easy, cars can now drive themselves.

I think this attitude exists because most of us drive, most of us started doing it as teens, and for some reason, many of us can’t differentiate between our commutes and racing or stunt driving. Maybe it’s because few people have ever driven beyond 4/10ths, or haven’t gone faster than 80 mph on the freeway. But mostly I think it’s because people who don’t know much about skilled driving see it and think, “Hey, I drive every day. I learned how to do it was I was a teenaged idiot. How much harder can it be to drive like they do in the Fast and Furious movies?”

Any one of us who’s ever tracked anything knows going fast isn’t easy. It requires mental focus, good reflexes, smooth hands, and quick reaction time, among other things. You have to know how to situate your body in the seat correctly before you even move the car. You need to be able to coordinate your feet as well as your hands and eyes. And so on.

I suspect the other reason skilled driving is dismissed is that driving fast doesn’t look physically demanding from the outside (Maher uses an X-rated example to dismiss the workout one gets from track or stunt driving in his rant). But it is. Cabins get hot, g-forces push you around, and some cars (mostly race cars, duh) still have manual steering and brakes.

I say this as someone who has never even formally raced. Just driving a production car at 6 or 7/10s at a track event can be taxing. So, if I know all of this from limited experience, imagine how insulting Maher’s inference of driving fast being so easy as to be lazy is to someone like Jack or Mark.

Maybe I should sign Maher up for one of those experiences that lets anyone drive a used race car at a local track, like the one with Richard Petty’s name on it. I was gifted that experience once, and I thought it would be easy – I’d already driven fast in production cars on a road course at private events. Surely any event open to any rube with a credit card, taking place on a track requiring only left turns, would lead to easy driving. After all, an outfit like that can’t afford to have paying customers get hurt.

I was off the mark. The safety briefing was one of the more intense ones I’ve ever sat through. The car vibrated so much at speed that one of my contact lenses came loose (I blinked it back into place at 145 mph), and it was a constant battle to keep the car on the correct line and out of the wall.

I had fun and was happy with my top speed, but easy it was not. So for Maher to sit behind a desk and suggest that the types of driving we see in chase movies is “easy” just because 16-year-olds also drive or because some meatheads on his commute leave rubber at lights is to willfully ignore that there’s a world of difference between street driving and stunt driving or track driving, just to make a weird point and an easy Kevin Spacey joke.

I’ll leave it to political blogs to pick on Maher’s weird setup for his larger point, but a man as smart as he is should know the difference between driving across L.A. and driving at Willow Springs. And if he ignored that difference to make a joke, that’s dumb, too, since he and his writers are clever enough to come up with a better setup for Weinstein jokes.

I know TTAC likely has L.A.-based readers involved in performance or stunt driving. If any of you good folks come across Maher, kindly invite him out to a movie set or racetrack. Maybe the avowed atheist will see religion, at least on this subject, and admit that piloting a car at a level above what’s seen on the 405 is actually a real, difficult skill.

Maher is a smart man who occasionally says stupid stuff. The car guy in me won’t let this particular utterance slide.

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61 Comments on “Yes, Bill Maher, Driving Is a Skill...”


  • avatar
    lon888

    I’m a huge Maher fan, but he was way off on this one. If I were to be a racing driver, I would have called him up and challenged him to a race at Laguna Seca. Just to make things interesting make it a $50,000 bet that he couldn’t beat me in equally prepared cars. Also if he were to loose he would have to take back his remarks from Friday night. Remember its “only driving”.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’ve pretty much given up on anything resembling intelligent commentary from Maher, or any other talk show host.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Host a TV show/political commentary/satire/telling a funny joke must be dead simple too – there are a million bloggers doing the same thing..

  • avatar
    deanst

    As I’m sure mahr would say – “it’s a joke people!” He was more critical of the endless permutations of movies featuring stunt driving – often at the expense of a compelling plot.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I would’ve been OK with that! A lot of chase movies have shitty plots! But he didn’t really run with it, instead poo-pooing the driving aspect. And he included movies that were praised for having good or at least serviceable plots.

      A rant about bad plots? That, I would be on board with.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Your friend is right about Indy. Just go 240 mph and make a 90 degree turn to the left. In traffic. Repeat 799 more times. How hard can it be?

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I can’t stomach Bill Maher. His idea of balance is one conservative with he and three liberals shouting him down, with his audience of clapping seals going wild at every idiotic thing emanating from his pie hole.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    bufguy

    Bill, How hard is it to be a comedian, where you have a staff write the vast majority of your jokes?
    Plus Maher drives a Prius…case closed

  • avatar
    Car Guy

    You could dedicate an entire internet to the stupid things Maher says…….

  • avatar
    JimZ

    Bill Maher makes a good point every once in a while, but you have to sift through piles of smarm, smug condescension, and opinions-presented-as-unassailable-facts that you just want to haul off and slug him after about 10 seconds.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Do some research. Bill is a chithead. FACT!

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “I think this attitude exists because most of us drive, most of us started doing it as teens, and for some reason, many of us can’t differentiate between our commutes and racing or stunt driving”

    Hell, watching people do daily driving reminds me, constantly, how so many of them are *utterly incompetent* at it.

    If driving was that easy, you’d think they’d be *good at it*.

  • avatar
    JMII

    One day at an HPDE event changes pretty much everyone’s mind set about how hard driving is. As an instructor I warn my students that what they are about to do is hard work requiring skills I can guarantee they don’t have. Their current mental and physical condition are likely not prepared for task. Driving is a sport… it requires immense skill, anyone who disagrees simply hasn’t driven hard enough to understand this fact. After doing hundreds of hot laps in a standard road car at your typical track* I honestly have no idea how those Indy driver’s manage it for one lap, yet alone 500 miles or an entire season. Those people are special!

    *I’ve driven at Sebring – after only a few laps I think several hairs instantly turned grey as a result. So that place, at night, in a stiff cramped race car, in a fire suit… ummm no thanks. That is on a whole different level.

    • 0 avatar
      bufguy

      I’ve driven at Talladega at the Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure maxing out at 160 mph….all alone on the track. I can’t imagine going 40-50mph faster with 30 other cars within inches of me.
      I’ve also driven my BMW at Watkins Glen at BMW driving school. My first impression was how poor a driver I was and I was amazed at how good the instructors were….absolute consistency and smoothness.
      The other thing I learned is if you try to drive fast you end up all over the track. If you drive smoothly you will naturally drive fast.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      hell, a while back someone gifted me a ride-along in a (detuned) stock car at MIS, the “Richard Petty Driving Experience.” first turn in and the g-forces felt like I was going to be pulled through the roll cage and out of the car.

      then earlier this year I drove an E-class inboard hydroplane on a race course. 10 laps of that and I was sore.

      people really don’t understand how physically taxing it is driving race vehicles at even 6/10ths.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        I normally run Homestead and during HPDE we use the infield road course, however occasionally in the advanced / instructors group we use turns 3 & 4 of the banking, basically 1/2 the NASCAR oval. Talk about scary! I thought I was going to flip my car the first time I tried it. It felt like warp speed, then I glanced down at the speed-o… 90 MPH. Are you kidding me? Its a very odd sensation – the combination of the wall, the ground not being level in front of you, the G forces – your brain just isn’t calibrated for it. Another example is the roller coaster Kumba (Bush Gardens Tampa, FL) is a serious rush, but the top speed = only 60 MPH @ 3.8 Gs

        And yes smooth is fast. Its one of the racers rules. I was just reading a good article on it the other day here: http://trackdayzone.com/articles-general/driving-technique/1041-false-choice-1-smoothness-vs-aggression

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Exactly the point I am trying to make. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    The general concept of “driving” has pretty much been pitched into the toilet, and is now seen as simply being able to point a vehicle in a given direction, and make it move without plowing into something. It’s like claiming that because I can lift the foot and find the treadle of a sewing machine, I know how to sew.

    Operating the vehicle is the least and least important aspect of “driving”. It’s the constant flow of decisions that have to be made the truly defines the activity.

    (Note that I’m talking about driving in traffic in public. High performance driving adds significant physical demands in addition to the decision-making aspects)

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Don’t worry…in 20 or so years, driving won’t be required at all. There won’t be any “skill” required to nap while your pod shuttles you to and from work.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Most peoples decisions in driving involve 3 ft in front of their car while staring at a mobile device. Yay, technology. It’s the reason for the car length gap at intersections and traffic lights.

      “I know I see brake lights, but this YouTube video, Tweet,article is SOOO important. I’ll just stop here to be safe”

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    “and I applaud his willingness to invite folks from all political stripes onto his show.”

    U-huh. He invited 2-3 liberals and 1 conservative and the entire “guest panel” is the 3-4 libs 2-(3 guests and him) beating up on the 1 con. How very brave of him.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    How hard can it be to be a heart surgeon? Pffft. I can hold a knife in my hand, it’s easy.

    How much skill does it take to make a movie? Heck, I use my iphone all the time to film my kids and dogs.

    What’s the big deal about being an Air Force pilot? I’ve flown a million miles in my lifetime on United. Anyone can do it.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    People like Bill Maher are always intelligent, witty and insightful…….when they rant about (or make fun of) things other people care about.

    Having the need for things to bitch about means eventually getting around to something you care about.

    This seems more common on the Left (from my perspective), but I’m sure it happens on all sides.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I wonder if Maher applies the same logic to sports. After all, lots of people can run around and kick, throw, and catch balls. Kids play basketball all the time. Kids! It must be easy.

    If anything, the fact that nearly everyone does it but so few do it well should be evidence of how hard it is. Being able to do something like compete in ball sports or drive should illustrate how much of a gap there is between what you are doing and what a pro does.

    Most couch potatoes are going to have sore forearms from 30 min at an indoor kart track, nevermind NASCAR. Has Maher ever attempted to learn something like heel-toe downshifts? It’s hard to believe someone’s experience could be so limited that they don’t understand why not just anyone can succeed at performance driving.

    It’s hard to know when these hosts believe what comes out of their mouths, or if they are pandering to a segment of their audience, in this case likely car-hating cyclists or something.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Nah, he’s a big stick and ball sports person. “There’s skill there, there’s no skill in driving a car. I drive a car” the usual argument from ball sports people who have no concept on the concept of “sport” in motorsports.

  • avatar
    Ugliest1

    “In the interest of disclosure, I generally like Bill Maher. I don’t watch every week, but I catch the show when I can. Politically I agree with him on some things and not others (we’ll leave it at that), but as a TV host I find him to be relatively funny and smart, and I applaud his willingness to invite folks from all political stripes onto his show. However, he can be smarmy, and occasionally I wonder if his staff has fact-checked something he’s prattling on about. And sometimes he just goes off the rails.”

    You could replace “Bill Maher” and “watch”/”show” with “insert any TTAC author” and “read”/”insert TTAC article name” and it would all continue to resonate. That’s not intended as an insult against TTAC, more a comment on overall human nature. How often is this true for any particular TTAC article: generally like; agree on some things, not others; relatively funny and smart; willing to cover damn near anything; some “facts” are more opinions stated as fact; and sometimes it just goes off the rails.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Mahr is a blowhard hack. He is the HBO version of Jimmy Kimmel. I’d rather watch an old person do a crossword puzzle than either one of those opportunists.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    If Bill is correct, then why was it so hard for me to teach my high-school girlfriend how to drive a stick? (no double entendre intended)

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “I generally like Bill Maher…” so you are commie sympathizer? I hate that dude with every cell of my body. He thinks that he knows how Americans must proceed with their lives.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Nope, simply agree with some things he says/believes and disagree with others. I do find him funny at times, too smug at others.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “so you are commie sympathizer?”

      Why is that the “go to” catchphrase for those on the right?

      Isn’t special counsel Robert Mueller investigating “commie sympathizers?”

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “so you are commie sympathizer?”

      see what I mean? you can’t even agree with anyone slavuta doesn’t like or else you’re a “sh*tlib commie sympathizing libtard antifa snowflake.”

      I don’t know if such simple-mindedness is a curse or actually a blessing. it surely frees people like slavuta from having to spend energy on that whole “thinking” thing. Just parrot what your “team” tells you to say, over and over again.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Still less of an ad hominem attack that the left’s go to “what are you compensating for with your guns/sports car/big truck/anything that mother jones hates?”

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Detroit-Iron- I hunt and fish and drive a full sized truck. So what’s you point ?

          • 0 avatar
            Detroit-Iron

            @ Lou

            I thought my point was pretty clear, calling someone a commie is less of ad hominem attack than saying they have a small penis. The former refers to a political belief that one has chosen, the latter is just a speculative insult about a man’s body.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            no it isn’t. both are attempting to discredit the other person because of who they are (or who you want to claim they are) or what they have, and not addressing their argument at all.

            slobuta is saying Tim is wrong because he’s a “commie sympathizer,” which is about as good as a textbook ad hominem attack as you can get.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @Detroit-Iron – I see the “commie sympathizer” comment universally from those on the “right” side of the political spectrum. The “compensating for small penis” meme is seen just as much on the right as left or have you not been reading any thread discussing pickups?

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Marx, Trotskiy, Maher…

        You know what my problem with commies? Communism doesn’t support private ownership. And I am big supporter of that.

        Another thing, totalitarianism. This is why I am pro-abortion. I don’t want some to tell others what to do. If someone has enough balls to go through it – do it. If you are liberal, you do it, there will be one less liberal. If you are conservative and don’t do it – there will be one more conservative. See, actually works well.

        I hate people like Bill, you know, he can’t accept that “we, the people” elected Trump. We’re in America! While I don’t support America spending $$ to fight regimes around the world, having Mahers on American soil is anti-american. What kind fun it would be if all countries were the same? It is more interesting that America stays America, while others stay what they are. Would you watch N.Korea documentary if it was open democracy and everything was good in there? – no. But as is, it is very interesting to see how they live.

        Yes, I am really stupid. This is why AK47 was made so simple, so that stupid people can use it effectively and deliver message to smart ones that stupid is also has right for the opinion.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    No need for Maher to drive a racing car. Just put him in the passenger seat of a race prepared street car with a competent professional at the wheel. Maher would shit himself in terror by the third corner and blow lunch all over the interior due to motion sickness.

    My wife and I are into horses more than cars. The girls at our barn told us about a gym teacher who claimed equestrian events (e.g. jumping, barrel racing) weren’t real sports because the rider only had to “sit there.” I suggested that, if they were feeling particularly mean, they should invite him to canter a trustworthy school horse over a three foot jump. Better have him sign a cast iron liability waiver first because the only uncertainty would be whether he hit the ground before or after the jump.

  • avatar
    letstakeawalk

    A few movies have had excellent driving scenes featuring women.

    Here’s my submission:

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Nearly all,(okay all), TV Talking Heads know very little about technical subjects.
    Just see what happens if there is a disaster of some sort, airplane crash for example. They sound like four year old’s trying to explain nuclear physics.
    One of the reasons I don’t watch TV anymore.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Most people find video of a real fender bender to be more interesting than the most elaborate staged movie crash.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    All Bill has to do is go to a karting track. A real one, not the 3 hp Briggs powered ones. One or two things will happen. 1) He will get his butt handed to him handily by the drivers that use karts for practice. 2) If he really does try hard to keep up I doubt he will be able to get out of the kart by himself after a long session.

  • avatar
    Hayden535

    “How do car chase movies have anything to do with Weinstein, other than the fact he may have had a hand in the production of some of them?”

    That is the most foolish statement I’ve read in the body of a TTC article in the ten years or so I’ve been visiting the site.

  • avatar
    ruckover

    Hey, just a quick comment about Maher–the point of his piece was not about the skill it takes to drive, though that is how he starts the piece; it is about “toxic masculinity.” Now we can certainly argue about the validity of his commentary on driving and/or on his claims about toxic masculinity, but we need to be able to see that he used the Hollywood predilection of making movies about driving cars as a preamble to his real point.

    Also, we have to admit that we all do–way too often–what Maher did in his commentary. I have cursed at football players for dropping “easy” passes, at batters for missing “easy” pitches, at rugby players for missing “easy” conversions, (and the worst of them: at bartenders for shaking a martini). We all are Bill Maher.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      First paragraph is well-put, it was indeed Maher’s point about toxic masculinity. But to start off alienating us car and driving enthusiasts made me not want to listen to the 2nd half. But since car enthusiasts are a tiny “weird” part of the population, he’d get little pushback, even in our social media world.

      Second paragraph is why I could give less than a sh!te about sports in general. We are humans and we make mistakes. They “should” have made that catch, hit or goal, but they didn’t. Game over. Did it affect me in any way? Nope. Why should I invest so much time and emotion into something like that? Whereas the time I invest in my car and learning about cars(or other aspects of life) can be more rewarding and pay off in the future.

      I live in “Steelers Country” where people get “football stupid”, where what happens Sunday affects them on Monday. I hate it. And college sports? Fuhgeddaboutit….

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