Ford v Ferrari: Go Behind the Racing Scenes with Stunt Coordinator Robert Nagle

Meet Ford v Ferrari Stunt Coordinator Robert Nagle, the Driver Behind Your Favorite Movie Driving

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The Batman movies never spend enough time in the recesses of the Batcave, where you just know there were a ton of alternate Batmobiles for Bruce Wayne’s Bat–road trips, Bat-racing, and taking the Batkids to Bat-soccer practice. They were probably all flat black and heavily armored, with modular frames and adjustable bodies to suit any Bat-need. It would look a lot like Allan Padelford Camera Cars (APCC) in Valencia, California, where the first machine you see is a matte-black Cayenne Turbo with a jungle gym of tubing around its fenders and greenhouse. “Those are so we can crash into things,” says Ford v Ferrari stunt coordinator Robert Nagle, patting the Porsche on the bar protecting its vinyl-wrapped fender.

Nagle is a former race-car driver turned stunt driver, with credits on everything from the Fast & Furious franchise to Baby Driver. He specializes, though, in piloting camera cars, which can be anything from an El Camino–bodied NASCAR with a cameraman hanging out the back to a Cadillac Escalade with remote-control camera mounts, crane arms, and protective cladding. “The audience knows what looks right,” Nagle says, when asked why movies need camera cars when they could do all their action with green screens and CGI. “Going fast makes a car move a certain way, makes a driver move with the forces. Your eye knows if it’s accurate.”

If you are going to shoot real action, you’ve got to make sure you keep your crew safe, and your budgets low. It’s not like the old days when you could smash up as many Dodge Chargers as you wanted to get the shot. Certainly, if you were making a movie like Ford v Ferrari, you aren’t going to find a whole bunch of Ford GT40 and Ferrari 330 P3 owners to let you play bumper cars with their priceless collector cars. That’s where Nagle and the APCC team come in. Along with luxury SUVs fitted with boom arms, the shop rents out the Biscuit—a modular frame with a small driver cockpit and an adjustable bed capable of carrying everything from a full car to a recreated cockpit. Want to put that P3 in a spin? Bolt up your faux-rarri and let Nagle whip the Biscuit in circles till you’ve got the shot and your lead actor can’t see straight.

The Biscuit, or “Biskit” as the shop techs spell it on all the spare parts lining the shelves behind it, didn’t start out with race cars in mind. Padelford designed the first version to move alongside racing horses for the movie Seabiscuit. The directors wanted to be able to shoot a scene that looked like it was from one horse to another. With the moving platform and a fake horse mounted on it, the camera operators were able to get a shot that looked like it was from a horse right in the action. The crew jokingly called the rig, “USS Seabiscuit,” due to its size, and when Padelford began work on a smaller, more nimble version, it became known as the Biscuit Jr. There are three Biscuits now in the APCC shop, as well as a modified Subaru and a low-slung motorized frame used for composite shots. The Biscuits vary in layout, with the biggest differences being in the bed and the top speed. Biscuit 1 is the high-performance rig, powered by a 650hp bored-and-stroked LS, allowing for camera work up to 150 mph. Biscuit 2 is the heavy-duty workhorse, with a low, drive-on flatbed that allows for shots at actual vehicle ride height. Biscuit 3 is another flatbed, similar in usage to the original USS Seabiscuit. “We use that mostly for horses, or maybe airplane fuselage,” Nagle says. Cadillac Northstar V8s power Biscuit 2 and 3, and all the rigs are manually shifted automatic transmissions and front-wheel drive.

Ford v Ferrari stunt coordinator Robert Nagle: race-car driver, stunt driver, stunt coordinator, and race-car engineer.

The Biscuit rigs are like Lego trucks, if Legos were made of massive steel beams and rollcage tubing. All the running gear is in the front, along with the tiny driver’s cabin, which allows the back to be lengthened or shortened to fit the need of the cargo. The hero car can be placed anywhere along the bed, so directors can get shots from any angle of the driver or the scene. For Ford v Ferrari, that meant hauling Christian Bale—playing Shelby racing driver Ken Miles—at speed in a GT40 while surrounded by retro race cars. “The rigs allow directors to get action at speeds and close up that they wouldn’t be able to get any other way,” Nagle says. “I’ve had directors totally change the shoot plan once they saw what we could do.”

Nagle’s work as a stunt coordinator means he not only gets to drive fast on screen, he helps write all the bits where other people drive fast and figure out how they can do it safely. For Ford v Ferrari, he wrote full race “stories,” for each of the on-track scenes. “We shot in many locations at different times. I didn’t want to have [Ken] Miles pass a car in one scene only to be behind it in the next. People notice that kind of thing.” He also taught Bale some performance driving, and says he’s never been so impressed. “Without a doubt, he was the best actor I’ve ever trained. He pushes himself incrementally, never in big jumps, but always pushing to get just a little better. We went to Bondurant [High Performance Driving School], and he would drive all morning, and talk to Bob [Bondurant] all afternoon. I think he really got a good sense of a race-car driver’s mentality, and then in the rig, he knew what to do. He sold it 100 percent.”

Photo: Elana Scherr