The Netflix car racing competition show Hyperdrive has been a drifting, sliding, and speeding hit for the streaming service. It also has turned some of the competitors into social media celebrities, which is one of the reasons 28 drivers from all over the world came to upstate New York to race into the night.
But putting together a spectacle of this kind takes a lot more than just calling a bunch of people, showing up at an industrial park, and sliding through some corners. And since the program wrapped production, some of the people involved have been sharing behind-the-scenes stories about what happened before and during the races.
Contestant and Austin, Texas-based rally instructor Fielding Shredder says the first thing he saw about the show was on Facebook, when he answered what he described as a basic ad: “drivers wanted for a new TV show.” Chicago-area exotic car salesman Omar Salaymeh says a producer reached out to him after seeing his car posts on Instagram.
Prospective racers then went through two interviews, sent more photos, submitted to background checks, and got full physicals (paid for by the prospective racers). Only after that was the slate of racers set: Shredder says he was not formally told he was on the show until eight days before the start of production.
From the beginning of the process, producers were frank with prospective contestants about the sacrifices that would need to be made. Shredder says he and the other drivers were asked point-blank whether they would be willing to take off work for up to three weeks for the production.
In addition, drivers were told they were liable for any damage done to their car during the race, with no reimbursement or coverage coming from the show. And the international drivers lost use of their cars for months while they were shipped to the U.S. and cleared customs. Salaymeh says between modifications to his car, last-minute parts failures, and being off work for the length of the production, he believes the experience cost him about $40,000.
The search for Hyperdrive contestants started in the spring of 2017, more than two years before the episodes dropped on the site. Part of that lead-up time includes finding a location for a multi-stunt racing course, as well as space for production facilities, crew pit areas, craft services, and equipment storage.
For Hyperdrive, the producers rented a 100-acre area inside what’s now called the Eastman Business Park in Rochester, New York, and arranged to shoot there for three weeks during July and August of 2018. Setting up the course in and around the former home of Kodak’s sprawling processing and manufacturing operation gave the show an “industrial” feel, one which made stunts like “The Leveler” feel like they had been there the whole time.
Those challenges were developed by a team of stunt drivers, led by rally champion Andrew Comrie-Picard. The Canadian native and X Games competitor had designed stunts for the U.S. edition of Top Gear, as well as movies such as Atomic Blonde, starring Academy Award-winner (and Hyperdrive co-executive producer) Charlize Theron.
Car And Driver magazine reports Comrie-Picard created the stunts for the show using a 2005 Pontiac GTO, which the show picked up cheap. If he could finish the course in a decade-old Australian muscle car, went his reasoning, so could the contestants. In a final bit of Hollywood recycling, contestant Sara Haro reports the high-velocity water cannon used for what became a pivotal stunt on Hyperdrive was used on the “Black Pearl” ship in Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean.
One of the things that enhanced the industrial feel of Hyperdrive was the decision to shoot at night. It also meant a minimum of disruptions for the race location, which is a working industrial park that’s home to dozens of small businesses. However, it did nothing to endear the production to the people who live nearby.
Rochester’s ABC station reported neighbors up in arms over the sounds of roaring and screeching between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am, with one resident telling a reporter that they only received one day’s notice before filming was to begin. Another said the constant overnight noise had her on edge: “I’m nervous. I’ve had a migraine for the last two days. I still have it.” Eventually, the production team set up a hotline for people to report noise issues, and adjusted the practice times to minimize disruptions.
All 28 contestants arrived at the course with very little information about what they would be facing. Fielding Shredder says he peppered the stunt coordinator with questions to get some kind of idea about how to set up his Nissan 240SX for the course, only to get very general answers. Omar Salaymeh says the only advance notes he got dealt with installing safety equipment and a “drift brake;” that’s the big vertical handle viewers see poking up from the center of most cars’ cockpits.
Salaymeh says it was only when he and his friend and fellow racer Jordan Martin showed up at the course that they realized their modified supercars were completely outclassed in a field of purpose-built race cars. In addition, the contestants had almost no time to practice on the course before filming started.
On the show, the drivers are fighting tooth and nail for every tenth-of-a-second advantage they can get to stay in the competition. But the drivers also say they became good friends with their on-screen competitors, even jumping in to help fix each other’s cars when problems arose during the production. For instance, driver Brittany Williams shared video of 5-6 competitors working to swap the blown engine on competitor Tyrei Woodbury’s Nissan 240SX so that he could stay in the race.
Williams put it this way in her video: “We’re all competing but we’re still cheering each other on, we’re still helping each other. We were all facing the same challenge … and we all want to see each other do well.”
In every “unscripted” TV show, the program’s producers and editors have a great deal of control over how different participants come off. Fielding Shredder says all of the competitors on Hyperdrive had to agree to let the producers portray them in any way they saw fit, even if they were made out to be “the villain.”
Such as it was with the guy who probably got the worst edit on Hyperdrive, Omar Salaymeh. He’d intended to bring a Dodge Viper ACR to the competition, but it got totaled right before he was set to leave, and the car he used — a friend’s Mercedes-Benz AMG GTS — wasn’t really set up for the demands of the course. As a result, the technique he employed to hit some of the targets appeared to cause controversy among other drivers. Don’t buy it, says Shredder. “He’s a great guy! It was so funny for us, because we all know him … and (on the show) he came off as a real d-bag.”
The four-person announcer team is a mix of established sports broadcasters (FOX Sports 1’s Mike Hill), automotive experts (FOX NASCAR host Lindsay Czarniak, ex-TopGear US host Rutledge Wood) and a wild card: retired mixed-martial arts fighter and UFC Hall of Fame inductee-turned-actor Michael Bisping.
It seems like an odd choice, but Bisping’s competition background lets him get inside the minds of the drivers during their time on the track. And his presence lends a bit of authentic royalty to the proceedings: he tells MMA site The Underground that he’s actually a count in Poland, thanks to his grandfather’s bloodline. It was the origin for his old MMA nickname, “The Count.”
The winner of Hyperdrive received a fancy trophy, a champagne shower, streaming-TV glory, and … that’s pretty much it. Fielding Shredder tells his YouTube followers that the producers put the racers up in a hotel during the run of production and provided a stipend for meals, but there was no prize money for the contestants.
So why would the drivers put themselves through the lost wages and the potential risk of injury and damage … just for a trophy? Shredder says he made it clear to the producers that he was willing to shoulder the inherent risk because of the benefits he expected the exposure to bring once the series began streaming.