Roy Exum: Jeff Gordon’s Great ‘Oscar’

Monday, March 3, 2014 - by Roy Exum

The Urban Dictionary defines an “Oscar” as when you “pull off a lie so great it is worthy of a nomination.” An example of how to use the word might be, “Rashad pulled an Oscar last night -- he broke down in tears and everything.”

So let it suffice to say race-car driver Jeff Gordon, a premier star on the NASCAR circuit, just pulled off an Oscar last month when he got sweet revenge in an epic prank. A youthful blogger for an auto-based website called Jalopnik had taken Gordon and Pepsi Max to task for “faking” a hysterical video where a well-disguised Gordon scares the bejesus out of a used car salesman on a test ride.

Over 41 million have now delighted in the video and – fake or not – it is a masterpiece. Or so we thought until this week when the results of a far-better ruse became public. A carefully-laid plot had Travis Okulski, the critical writer from jalopnik.com, flying to North Carolina for supposedly a hush-hush preview of a secretive new Corvette.

The tricksters told Travis a cab would be coming to a Quality Inn near the Rockingham Speedway outside of Charlotte to pick him up for the preview but when a Yellow Cab (that was actually a high-performance Chevrolet police car painted yellow) pulled slowly to the door, the blogger had no inkling that it was being driven by the famed race driver. “You Travis?” said Gordon as “the pigeon” got in the back seat and, when Travis affirmed his identity, Gordon used his best North Carolina twang to ask, “Would you buckle that seat belt for me … state law, you know.”

“You from New York?” Gordon asked like any cabbie would as the car pulled into traffic and, when Travis said, “Actually I’m from New Jersey,” Gordon – sporting a huge (a very visible) jail-house tattoo on his neck and dressed just right for the part -- replied, “Yeah, did some time with a guy from Jersey one time.”

As he was speaking, a North Carolina Highway patrol car pulled in behind the cab. The expression on Travis’ face that he is being driven by a convict is priceless before Gordon blurted, “Aw, man, what’s that cop on me for … I get a little nervous when that happens … I went away for ten years so you can imagine the fear I get.”

Right then the cop’s siren blurted and the beacon lights came on. The wide-eyed writer can’t believe what is unfolding. “I wasn’t even doing anything!” yelled Gordon, throwing his hands up. As Jeff pulled over, he pounds the dashboard with his fist. “This is not what I (bleep) need!” he acts as though rage is setting in.

Travis Okulski is visibly nervous and, to his credit, at first keeps his mouth shut. “No way this is happenin’! No way this can happen!” the exasperated Gordon continued to fret in his best “convict” voice. From the police car come the loud-speaker demands, “Put your windows down and get out of the cab. Let me see your hands.”

“What did he just say?” Gordon asked his now terrified passenger. Okulski repeated the police instructions but tells Gordon, “I can’t get my window down.” Gordon slips the gear level down into drive and Okulski, now fearing for his life, says, “No …. sir … please … please … stop …”

Gordon quickly twists the car’s steering wheel and says, “I can’t go back. I won’t go back!” and, accelerating in a way that showers the police car with mud and gravel, shoots for the get-away. The poor writer, screaming “Stop … stop …” desperately tries to dial 9-1-1 on his phone but can’t….then he kicks the plastic partition to the front seat.

In the wildest chase scene you’ve ever seen, Gordon’s car breaks through a chain, scatters barrels and fishtails constantly. Travis yells “Stop … stop …” constantly while Gordon yells, “I can’t go back, man!” The police car stays in hot pursuit, its siren wailing, and at one point the writer screams at Gordon, “This never works … please stop. Let me out. Stop …”

The whole melee is priceless with Okulski absolutely and genuinely terrified. The scene is filmed in what was a carefully-guarded industrial complex and, when Gordon finally drives into a warehouse that is festooned with Pepsi Zero, balloons and glitter, Okulski’s relief to find he has just been subjected to a prank is just picture-perfect.

Jeff Gordon slams the car into park, runs around to open Travis Okulski’s door and, as the famed driver pulls off his facial disguise and fake beard, he introduces himself and has the best question ever for the shocked writer: “C’mon on out, whiney … I’m Jeff Gordon and , so … was that real?” asked Jeff and Travis, about to pass out after being scared to death, laughs like a good sport, wildly pumps Gordon’s hand and admits it freely. “Yes, it was!”

* * *

In a post-prank interview, Gordon called the caper “the most incredible thing I have ever done.” Eight months in the making, Jeff said safety was paramount. “I had this guy's safety in my hands,” Gordon told The Sporting News at Phoenix International Raceway. “I took a lot of pride into making sure it was done safe, and so did Pepsi Max. I don’t know if you will ever see this done again, I’ll be honest, because it was that risky. But we did it and we can laugh.”

Gordon said, “I like stepping outside the boundaries. When you look at all the comments from the first video, … everybody was really challenging us to go and do this because of their comments saying, ‘Jeff wasn’t driving the car’ or ‘this wasn’t real’ or ‘that wasn’t real.’ Well, Here is the results of that because we wanted to go out there and show everybody how authentic and real this could be.”

Gordon and the producer had a code word – Nebraska – and if either had said it the prank would have ended immediately. “When I first took off and I hit about 80 miles per hour and he started kicking that glass, I came this close (to saying the word),” Gordon explained. “You don’t know what that situation is going to be like until you have that person in the back of your car that is really scared.”

Over 10.7 million have now seen Gordon’s “taxi” video. Each will agree it’s an Oscar.

royexum@aol.com


Roy Exum
Roy Exum

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