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Tanner Foust

The Top Gear host steals the show with record jump at the Indy 500

He’s a two-time Formula Drift champion and has been a stunt driver in movies like The Bourne Ultimatum and Iron Man 2. And when he’s not putting his life on the line on the track, he’s putting it on the line on as a host of Top Gear, where he tests the fastest cars in the world and helps celebs like Kid Rock and Tim Allen improve their lap times. But Tanner Foust really entered the record books last weekend when he broke the world record jump by a four-wheel vehicle. That’s more than three hundred feet. In a 3,500-pound truck. In front of 300,000 people at the Indy 500. On a giant replica of a Hot Wheels toy track! As Tanner explains, it takes a lot physical and mental fitness to hurtle down a 90-foot ramp at 100 mph and into the great unknown.

Are drivers athletes? Settle the debate for us.
It’s different for different types of motor sports. For example, a lot of the guys in the Indy 500 are at 50 to 80 percent of max heart rate for the entire race, which is incredible. They need to train a couple hours a day. My type of racing is a little physical, but it’s more of a mental fitness that’s important.

You have to make more quick decisions.
Yeah. I’ve always believed that it’s pretty much against human nature to drive cars, especially at speed. We’re good at running at seven miles per hour through the woods chasing a wildebeest, but we’re not hardwired to be doing something at 100 miles per hour. [Laughs] The natural instincts kick in when the stress level gets high, and that leads you down the wrong path. You hit the brake rather than the accelerator to stabilize the car in a nasty situation. That may sound a little bit deep, but there’s a lot going on.

So do you work out at all?
Sometimes you have to get creative when you’re traveling and staying in hotels. But some sort of routine has to be established, whether it’s getting on a bike or running or even just doing sit-ups and push-ups in the hotel room. Then it pretty much comes down to diet and trying to lay off of the vices. Mine is coffee.

That’s a pretty tame one.
I think it is, but when you’re really pushing the limits, if there’s any jittery-ness it’s usually in hindsight that you recognize, ‘I was a little bit shaky. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that coffee.’ [Laughs] This Hot Wheels jump required incredibly clear thought, and something like coffee or drinking the night before can throw those decisions off.

Nutrition-wise, I’ve heard you say that you try to “OD on fruit.” Would that be your big tip?
I eat a lot of fruit. TV sets have craft service, so there are chocolate-covered pretzels and Red Vines everywhere! [Laughs] So if I go to the table, I’m just going to have some fruit and leave it at that.

Do you have any other guilty pleasures besides coffee?
Once a day there’s something I shouldn’t have eaten that I enjoy, but I actually really like good foods. Bananas and broccoli are my two favorites.

Is it a relief now that you know that Top Gear works on this side of the pond? The UK version is legendary.
I don’t know if there’s any relief allowed with that show! The producers keep coming up with ways to—I don’t think they want to kill us—maybe just injure us. You try to put yourself in their place. ‘OK, we want to take the hosts off-roading. How about Death Valley? And let’s make sure nobody has air-conditioning in the 120-degree heat.’ But we do have a good groove going. I think a big part of that is the hosts just letting go. The three of us know each other much better now.

So who cooked up this crazy idea for this Hot Wheels jump at the Indy 500?
Someone at Hot Wheels said, ‘Why don’t we do toys for real?' That sounds like a pretty straightforward concept, but fast forward a couple of years and now somebody has to strap themselves into a toy and drive down a 100-foot door and jump a truck 300 feet. And it turned out that I’m that guy. [Laughs] It’s really a surreal experience, because I was the kid making the car noises and perfecting my barrel rolls and imagining what would happen if this car crashed. Now I’m strapping into it.

Was there much more strategy involved than holding on for dear life?
It turns out you still have to drive the truck! You really have to feather the throttle coming down the 45-degree initial drop, because there’s really not a lot of gravity pushing the truck into the ground. It’s like driving off a 10-story building. Then you have to be 65 to 70 mph when you get to the bottom of the door in order to know that you can get the speed to make the jump. From there it’s full throttle, 850 horsepower, all the way to the ramp where you need over 100 mph to clear the gap. That’s where the real trick comes in.

It hasn’t gotten tricky yet?!
You have to nail the speed perfectly and the throttle has to be at exactly the right amount of pressure when the truck meets the ramp. If it’s too much then the nose flies up in the air; if it’s too little then the nose pitches and goes into the ramp. It’s a little bit of a weird balance to find the perfect jump, but that’s what makes it all exciting.

Did you feel guilty at all about upstaging the Indy 500?
I’m not worried about that. It’s the oldest race in the country and it’s an amazing event. It just felt good to break the record and put on a show and make it over that ramp.

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