Michelle Rodriguez, Debbie Evans’ bond helps create ‘Furious’ stunts

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The fun behind the wheel Michelle Rodriguez has in the Fast and the Furious series? That isn’t really her.

Thanks to her longtime stunt double, Debbie Evans, it’s Rodriguez who’s among the stars of the franchise but Evans who’s getting to have a lot of the fun.

“If anything happens to her, the movie’s down. If anything happens to me, they get someone else!” Evans laughs.

It’s that immediate chemistry between the two that has allowed them to work together over several films throughout the Universal Pictures’ Fast and the Furious franchise, continuing with the eighth installment of the series The Fate of the Furious, which opens today in theaters nationwide. F. Gary Gray directs this film, which besides Rodriguez also features stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron and Tyrese Gibson leading the cast.

Evans is one of Hollywood’s top stuntwomen with a resume that sparkles. She’s been Rodriguez’s lead stunt driver for six films in the series and been inducted into the American Motorcyclist (AMA) Hall of Fame and The Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, among others.

The two also collaborated on another fun feature to help build anticipation for the movie, a Castrol EDGE Titanium Trial video called “Titanium Ice,” a virtual reality display.

“The performance was amazing. I pushed that car to the edge! It performed flawlessly. I thought the engine might blow!” Evans laughed.

Virtual reality is one thing, of course, but the appeal of the Fast and the Furious is the visceral reality of driving. The car connection that has permeated throughout the previous seven movies has appealed to a primarily young audience, but has made waves to such different demographics.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – MARCH 12: Actor Vin Diesel (L) and actress Michelle Rodriguez arrive at the premiere Universal’s “Fast & Furious” held at Universal CityWalk Theaters on March 12, 2009 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Rodriguez has played Leticia “Letty” Ortiz from the start, with the franchise having been an integral part of her career almost straight from the start.

“It was more of an interview than anything, and it was Vin (Diesel) saw me in Girlfight… and the director sought me to cast him as his girlfriend in the franchise,” she told NBC Sports.

“It was my introduction into Hollywood, and it was really my third film as I did another indie in-between. For me it was an introduction to Hollywood features… and I thought I would be having the same kind of fun Debbie does! Little did I realize that insurance says no!

“So half of the cool stuff, working in action movies, which was the realm that as a tomboy, that I just dreamed of, jumping out of windows, doing gun tactical training, racing cars, yeah… no. Debbie has all the fun!”

Since Evans has done the majority of the stunt work, it’s up to her to recap some of her favorite stunt scenes she’s performed. In this series, Evans said one from the original film was best.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 20: Stunt woman Debbie Evans arrives at the 7th Annual Taurus World Stunt Awards at Paramount Pictures on May 20, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

“My favorite stunt was on the first one, driving the car underneath the semi-truck and then flipping it! Today to this day I have people ask that was CGI. No, I was in the whole thing. That was all real,” Evans said.

Rodriguez laughed and responded, “I’d love to feel what it’s like to flip a car and land in the roll cage. (I bet) It’s like being in a laundry machine!”

As the Furious franchise isn’t Evans’ only series, there’s been other stunts she’s loved to perform.

“Another one was I turned my car over in a tunnel in What Dreams May Come, a Robin Williams movie,” Evans said. “I had a Porsche 911. The coordinator said it’d be nice if you could hit the top of the tunnel. It was about 18 feet high.

“So we figured out just where I needed to hit the ramp, broke the light at the top of the tunnel, flew 95 feet, then hit the ground.

“I was in the air so long, I’m like, the ground’s coming…”

Evans though, it seems, was destined to drive from birth. Her professional accolades come as she started as a kid, only progressing from there.

“I grew up riding motorcycles; I started riding when I was 6, competing when I was 9, rode against the men, rode for Yamaha, factory-sponsored and all that,” she said. “So I’ve always been into motorsports. I’ve always loved cars. I am just the luckiest person, most fortunate person to drive an Enzo Ferrari, the Jag F Series.”

Rodriguez brought some humor to that description when discussing her own interest in cars and racing, piqued by her role within this franchise.

“I think when Debbie was born, she came out in a Ducati!” she laughed. “Mom gave birth and there was a motor sound… then a cry after the liquid came out!”

It’s that witty banter that has allowed the two to flourish together over the length of the franchise, continuing with today’s release of the latest installment.

GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA