- Jan 28, 2011
Speed Read: The Man in the White Suit by Ben Collins (The Stig)
It's been over four months since racer Ben Collins officially outed himself as the skill behind The Stig's otherworldly driving talent. And, despite the bellyaching of fans and critics all around the globe, both Top Gear and life itself have continued to trundle on as if nothing ever happened. Sure, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have been forced to visit a Stig farm to find a new tame racing driver, and yes, they've even taken to gunning down cardboard cutouts of their former compatriot, but by and large, Top Gear itself is no worse off for no longer having the white suit on board.
Despite controlling our news cycle for what felt like seven eternities, Collins has rather quietly picked up a gig with rival UK car show Fifth Gear, leaving plenty of us to wonder what could possibly cause someone to give up a life of driving the world's quickest cars in some of the most amazing scenery our planet has to offer. Fortunately, the former Stig worked up The Man in the White Suit ($26.95 on Amazon)– a quick memoir that includes everything from his stint as an army reservist to his trials on the world's various race circuits. There's even a good bit on the man's time on Top Gear as the silent wheelman we all know and love.
Now that the dust has settled around the whole Stiggate fiasco, we settled in to give The Man in the White Suit a full read. Tucked between stories of training Tom Cruise to beat the life out of a reasonably priced car and vaporizing a Koenigsegg while attempting to put the supercar around Dunsfold in the quickest time possible, readers are given the best explanation as to why Collins turned his back on Top Gear for good.
For all his skill behind the wheel of expensive metal, Collins is no less of an entertaining writer. While he occasionally falls back on tired clichés or writes with a level of cockiness that's hard to bear, by and large the former Stig is as talented a story teller as you're likely to find beneath a racing helmet. Things tend to slow down a bit when he visits his time in the army reserves or touches on now legendary moments in Top Gear history. Stunts like piloting a diesel 3 Series in an endurance race or flogging a Caterham across the whole of the UK drag a bit due to their familiarity, but the pace quickens considerably when Collins turns attention to his personal racing career.
It's clear from moment one that racing is this man's passion above all else, and he describes his time in the cockpit in everything from Le Mans to a NASCAR feeder series with the kind of page-turning prose that almost made us wish the book had spent a little less time on Collins' exploits at Top Gear. If nothing else, the book is worth picking up just for the bits of racing goodies.
Collins writes with no less fervor about his time as a stunt driver for movies like The Quantum of Solace and National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets, and readers get an excellent behind-the-scenes look at how some of the more intense driving shots of those movies were filmed.
At this point, you're probably wondering what the man who played The Stig was doing in the army reserves, racing around Europe and showing up for stunt driver detail when he had what must have been a sizeable paycheck from the BBC coming in each month. Throughout The Man in the White Suit, Collins paints a pretty clear picture of what it was like to be the Stig, and it's one of loneliness and uncertainty. While his character was known the world over, his name wasn't, and that meant that he could be replaced at the first whim of the show's producers. In the end, Collins' spot on Top Gear was no more permanent than that of the Chevrolet Lacetti.
Other than spending an exorbitant amount of money trying to prevent Collins from publishing The Man in the White suit, Top Gear and the BBC have been remarkably tight-lipped about Collins' departure. But after reading his side of things, we certainly can't blame the guy for making sure that his family's future was taken care of. Fans of Top Gear and racing in general will likely find the memoir plenty entertaining, and given that the book is going for the princely sum of $17.79 on Amazon at the time of writing, there's little excuse for not adding it to your library. If nothing else, we'd stick it on the back of the commode just to rile Clarkson.