I’ve watched Russ Swift perform many times at the annual Manila International Auto Show. I even have two Subaru fans autographed by the famed stunt (or precision) driver. During these precision driving exhibitions, he would always pick a lucky member of the audience to hop into one of his show cars. And that’s a burning question that I’ve been wanting to answer for the longest time.
What’s it like to ride with Russ Swift?
I’m actually not excited at first. I’ve just gotten off a delayed red-eye flight from Hong Kong with barely five hours to go before my departure for Davao. I plan to devote whatever is left of my energy to do a simple photo shoot of the “Russ Swift Stunt Show,” held in the country’s durian capital for the first time. So, when the good guys at Subaru Philippines (aka Motor Image Pilipinas) tell me that I’ll be onboard for the J-turn maneuver, I have mixed feelings. Sure, I’m very eager to ride shotgun with Russ. But due to my lack of sleep, I’m also worried that my body won’t be able to take the punishment of his driving.
After a short power nap, I find myself being ushered into a red Subaru WRX with the fear of the unknown. I’m completely shocked at how violent the J-turn feels when you’re inside the car. The sensation of the vehicle yawing counter-clockwise at speed is so harsh that my shoulder hits the B-pillar quite hard. The maneuver also wreaks havoc on the in-car footage that I’m supposed to produce. The speed at which we change direction has my poor Samsung flying off my hands.
Not only is the J-turn physically taxing, it is also messing with my sleep-deprived brain. Russ does the maneuver in between two cars, both of which feel awfully close to us as we skid past them. When I watched his shows as a spectator, it seemed like the cars were further apart. But when you’re inside the stunt vehicle, it’s very different. I know he’s a professional, but I can’t help but think of my own mortality in the unlikely event that he makes a slight miscalculation.
But through all the mayhem, I witness a different side of Russ Swift that I never saw as a member of the crowd. He is genuinely happy about being able to share the experience with me. I’ve always thought of professional drivers like him as people who just want to get the show over and done with, especially since this sort of performance driving is already second nature to him. But I see his desire to make the most of my time riding shotgun with him in the WRX and do it in the most entertaining manner possible. He keeps asking if we can do faster J-turns, to which I can only very happily say yes.
In addition, he is a real showman. He laughs and jokes and works the crowd with the little skits he does with the lucky few who get to ride with him. He wants to perform in front of as many people as he can. When some school kids stop by to watch the show from the sidelines, he eagerly invites them to the makeshift grandstand where the view is better and where it is safer and more comfortable. I feel that he truly means it when he says that he loves performing in the Philippines.
Even at 68 years old with decades of driving experience and multiple Guinness World Records under his belt, Russ Swift is far from hanging up his steering wheel. Asked why he continues to do these shows, his answer is as straightforward as anyone can say it: He loves doing it. If only a motoring journalist half his age could learn even half his driving tricks.