Rick Seaman is a stunt driving expert with over 45 years of motion picture and television driving experience.
He is the founder of the famous Rick Seaman's Driving School. The school opened in 1997 and has trained over 2,100 stuntmen, stuntwomen, actors, actresses, and many others who have taken the course to improve their personal driving skills.
We would now like to present you Rick Seaman's Stunt Story!
First, I’d like to start by saying thanks to Hunter and the Crowders for all of their publications and efforts over the years that have served and supported the stunt community. We stunters work in a world that revolves around support and camaraderie, and I’m one who has been a very fortunate beneficiary of those elements.
I’ve had more than my share of good luck during fifty four years of stunt driving, and now at the age of 73, I think I’ve figured out why. I call it the FLF. That would be the Fate and Luck Factor.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s I was a teen gear head in southeast Pennsylvania. My dad bought me a few $20 junkers to work on after school. Something to keep me away from just “hanging out." Seemed like a good idea to him.
By driving age of 16, I owned a $300 1955 Chevy which I souped up and proceeded to aggravate every cop in the area. At the same time, I landed good paying jobs at auto repair shops and dealerships, getting grants to attend factory tech schools. I could put the “boom tune” on dang near any car.
But my driving habits did not suit the local law enforcement folks. Drag racing, sliding around in snowy conditions and just hell raising in general.
My dad was seeing the writing on the wall, so he gave me $100 cash and said, “You just need to get your ass out of this town.” That’s what I did, and that’s what I call my “FLF #1”. But then after several months of working in a frigid auto shop three-hundred miles from home in Pittsburgh, PA. I called my dad and said, “It’s colder than hell here, I hate it.” He answered my whining with, “So go to Florida! You can get a mechanic job anywhere! What the hell are you doing in Pittsburgh in January?”
Off I went, heading south in a $50 Ford station wagon with all my tools. I got to the Georgia/Florida state line and saw palm trees. I felt the warm air and smelled the floral aromas. It was idyllic. This became my “FLF #2”.
I ended up in Tampa, got a job in a gas station doing tune-ups and a room in a nearby flea bag motel. One day I had to cover the gas pumps. A car pulled in for gas, a throaty 1967 Camaro. It was all lettered up: “Joie Chitwood’s Legion of World’s Greatest Auto Daredevils." I thought, “What is all this about?”
The driver, a Canadian named Larry Barr, told me the car was part of a touring car stunt show. Speedways, fairgrounds all across America. And I’m thinking this is like a circus on wheels, stunt wheels! Larry said the show’s headquarters was just a mile down the road, “Hop in and I’ll show you the joint.”
I hopped in with him and we got there. I saw rows of brand new factory sponsored 1967 Camaros, Corvettes, Novas plus an eight car hauler and a truck that pulled a giant cannon lettered to read, “The Auto Astronaut Jump!”
The son of the originator of the show, Joie Chitwood Jr. came out and we were introduced to each other by Larry Barr. When Joie Jr. learned that I was a mechanic, he told me that he had recently fired his show mechanic and would I like a job. I almost pee’d my pants, “Yes sir, I would be happy to work for you guys.”
They showed me around the place until I finally realized, “Oh man. I walked off my gas station job to come here!” Larry drove me back to the gas station and I explained my adventure to the owner. He simply said, “Hey look kid, Chitwood is a great outfit. This would be perfect for you. Go ahead and join up with them.” Here we go again, “FLF #3.”
I spent the next six years touring with the Chitwood show as a mechanic and getting to do some of the stunt driving acts. I had an “interesting eighteen month absence” when I was drafted into the U.S. Army infantry, serving as a combat “grunt” in Vietnam between late 1968 and 1969. I somehow survived the extreme dangers of war and got through it alive. My “FLF #4.”
When I returned home to Pennsylvania following my army tour, I decided to leave stunts behind and settle down with my new wife. I attempted to buy a 3 acre lot and build a front end alignment shop. But during the necessary re-zoning process a lady who owned a rustic tavern across the road from my soon to be alignment shop showed up and squawked, “I don’t want some dirty car shop across from my nice quaint tavern!”
The zoning change was therefore rejected and my alignment center ideas were scrapped. I became highly dispirited and bummed. My wife could see this and she finally said, “Rick, you’re not happy. You’re a mess. Why don’t we move to Florida and you go back with the Chitwood show.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from her. Nor could I say no. We packed up and were on our way to the Sunshine State and my reunion with the Auto Thrill Show within two weeks.
Had I been successful in establishing that alignment center, I most likely would still be in Pennsylvania adjusting camber, caster and toe-in to this day. “FLF #5.”
Then between 1970 and 1976, I did some low budget local films with the Chitwood team in which I met some Hollywood stunt folks and coordinators. One was Conrad Palmisano, who on a feature in the Florida Everglades, said to us Chitwood drivers, “Hey, you guys know your shit about stunt driving and prepping cars for it. You should all come to L.A. where the REAL MONEY IS."
For a few of us, that did not take too much coaxing. Off we went, Hollywood bound. That was 1976 and it was my “FLF #6”. For the next few years I became known as a “stunt sort of guy” who could rig cars and make them perform. And then after a while, the established stunt community came to realize, “Hey, this guy can DRIVE TOO!”
Cut to the 1990’s and the new millennium, which by then I had worked on over 500 features, TV shows and commercials, having performed 200 major car crashes, rollovers and jumps as well as over 400 chase scenes and all of that stuff. While at the same time, made TONS of money building roll cages, ramps, prepping stunt cars. It was a combined success story.
All along the way, I had always enjoyed writing. I’ve written many tech manuals, pamphlets and instructional guidelines. I’ve had two books published and have written tons of screenplays. Then in 1996 I got a big break when a script I wrote with producer Arne Schmidt was picked up and produced by 20th Century Fox titled “Chain Reaction” starring Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman. Arne and I retained WGA Story Rights and I went laughing all the way to the bank.
What a cool thing it was to have almost 200 G’s seem to fall from heaven and into my wallet. And it was right about that time when myself and my stunt car shop guys had been thinking, “You know… we need a good place where we can do stunt car tests and shakedowns. Empty parking lots are becoming a big no-no lately. We need a race track deal or something, could also be where we have stunt people stage rehearsals and all that.”
So with script money from heaven stuffed in my desk drawer I said, “Hey! Let’s build a solid fleet of stunt training cars, then we can have practice workshops and clinics. The stunt community needs that!” And that’s how the Motion Picture Driving Clinic came to be. After we got a good deal at L.A. County Raceway in Palmdale, we held a couple of freebee template classes for some choice stunt veterans and the feedback was excellent. My phone has not stopped ringing since. Twenty-three years now and still going strong, having trained over 2,700 stunt drivers! Sell a script? Start a stunt driving school? “FLF #7” big time!
And in retrospect, I’ve come to realize that fate may be fate, but good luck is often the result of playing the game smartly as well as safely. Not to mention, having great dedicated people around you makes for a higher good luck percentage rate. Thank you all. You know who you are. And then there’s the Great Fate Maker up above. Definitely have to thank him too.
The best part of having the stunt driving school is that I get to meet and work with so many up and coming young stunt people. I get to share my knowledge. It’s rewarding to say the least.
Now Hunter Crowder has asked me what is my funniest stunt story? Well there are loads of them, and as I was thinking about so many of them, one in particular came to mind. Back in the mid-eighties, we were working on a show with car stunts at a big empty parking lot in San Pedro. My team had prepped all the main stunt vehicles. But transpo had also brought out some clunkers to be crashed into.
Just before a skid and crash shot was being readied, one of the clunkers needed to be jump started. Now in my school today, I tell students, “You don’t know where these cars have been or what’s working properly or what’s not. So when you go to start these cars, make sure you are in the driver’s seat, shifter in park and foot on brake.”
Well that rule was not being applied with the stubborn clunker as the transpo guys were jump starting it and turning the starter with a jumper lead under the hood, nobody in the car. The engine ROARED TO LIFE with its throttle stuck wide open and worse yet, the shifter was in drive! The car peels out, full throttle, sending jumper cables sparking and flying into the air while transpo guys dove out of its way!
Now we’ve got a full throttle, runaway car speeding around the lot, people running, screaming. Total chaos and mayhem as the runaway clunker seemed to be self-steering at will, just missing production vehicles by inches! Motor madness!
But there to save the day was a crusty old tow truck driver who hollered out, “I’ll stop that dad-gum somma bitch!” He hopped in his tow truck and began chasing the runaway clunker, going in circles, trying to out guess which way the clunker will self-turn next as the close calls with parked vehicles and trucks continued!
It was like watching a 3-ring circus. You could even hear Mr. Tow Truck hooting and howling joyously as he continued his hot pursuit. Then he finally went to make his big move to get in front of it to brake and hold it back to a stop. But the clunker had other ideas. It made a hard, tire screeching right turn and rammed the tow truck in the side! At full throttle!
It lifted the top heavy tow truck up onto it’s side and continued to push it onward as sparks flew from it’s asphault scraping body parts! Now Mr. Tow Truck’s howls were howls and screams of sheer terror!
Then the clunker pushed the tipped over tow truck toward a power pole. Not good! But as is often the case, the stunt team rose to the occasion. One of the stunt drivers had hopped in another clunker and ran a blocking move on the power pole bound vehicles, banging it all to a stop just before the pole!
Yes, stunters just doing what we do, just another day at the office. We all knew the entire crew was in a horrified state of shock. Therefore we politely went and hid behind a big grip truck so we could laugh our asses off in private. And man, did we ever LAUGH! Hopefully this qualifies the ordeal as being “a funny stunt story.”
Rick Seaman Stunt Driving School: https://www.rickseamanstuntdrivingschool.com