At the 15th ESPN Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado yesterday, BF Goodrich announced a multi-year partnership with snowboarding Jedi Shaun White: the 130-year-old tire company would teach the Olympic gold medalist how to drive. Not just get behind a wheel and use a turn signal, but, you know, really drive. Before a day spent with a few drivers from Team BFG, White had never driven a stickshift before – his Lamborghini Murcielago has E-Gear and his 1966 Mustang is an automatic – and readily admits "I'm a terrible driver." Autoblog was there to ask BFG and White what's it all about, and more importantly, who's going to replace Samuel Hubinette's gearbox?
BFG's director of consumer experience, Jamey Fish, said the company has a great reputation among auto enthusiasts and gearheads and "a long history of putting the hurt on the competition," to which dozens of Baja victories and wins in the SCCA, Indy 500, WRC, the X Games, Rally America and King of the Hammers will attest. The question the company asked itself last Fall, however, was "Where do we want to take things?" – how would they get Benjamn Franklin Goodrich's wares that had served Charles Lindbergh and the Space Shuttle Columbia to a wider audience.
The answer they came up with was a program called 'Upgrading drivers' performance,' and the driver they've chosen to be the first recipient of that upgrade is Shaun White.
That selection could raise a couple of eyebrows, since White is not known for having anything to do with wheels beyond owning an E-Gear-equipped Lamborghini Mucielago LP640, and he pilots that on the ginger side ever since an unfortunate encounter with a tree on one of his first outings.
But the opportunity was exactly that: to spend a couple of years taking a guy who couldn't drive a manual from novice to possible race driver. White was taken to San Bernardino Airport and given a day of tutelage under three members of Team BFG: drift king Samuel Hubinette, time attack racer Lars Wolfe, and King of the Hammers victor Jason Shearer.
Actually, White was first given a Ford Mustang with a manual transmission so he could learn his way up and down the gears. Then he was thrown into the passenger seats of the race cars and truck to experience the difference between what he knew and what was possible.
We were told that by the end of the day White had shown flashes of skill, but there were moments when, as White himself said, it was "a crash course in driving." Having earned his way behind the wheel of Hubinette's Viper, he went on a tear, yanked the parking brake and the car spun around – but having not yet finished his course in stunt driver multitasking, he didn't hit the clutch and quickly learned that gearboxes don't take well to going backwards when in forward gears. When describing it, White gave a sheepish grin and said "I guess BFG's taking care of him..."
But the real question is: does this mean White is going the way of Mirra and Pastrana? White said "Not exactly – maybe if I get the itch once I get after it," but his energies remain focused on snowboarding competition at the X Games and the Olympics. "I find enough challenge in my sport – I just like to mix it up. Things like this distract me and make me better at my sport. If I got to a point where I was thinking that this is really my thing, could be an interesting avenue."
He digs cars but not in the traditional way of the enthusiast; he bought his Lamborghini when he was still on his temporary permit, and after test driving it and a Ferrari and a Bentley, "That car was just speaking to me, I like the style and how the doors came up, and it had this unobtainable glow. I'd been told I'd never have a car like that, so it was nice to get it." He also has a 1966 Mustang, also automatic, "smooth silver with a black roof," as he described it, "and I can cruse in it – it's not a spotter's car that everyone's looking at."
This is clearly, though, something he'll make time for. For White, the BFG partnership is another way to challenge himself and have fun learning different kinds of tricks. "I've always been curious about what it takes to pull off these moves," he said, and the test for everyone is to "take a novice driver like myself and turn me into a race car driver. I've alwys been able to control the speed myself on the snowboard, but now I have to learn how to understand and control it with driving."
BFG is going to set White up with various racers on Team BFG to both teach him and let him figure out which discipline he wants to pursue, if any. As of the first day, White said that "drifting in the Viper with Sam Hubinette was by far the most appealing."
His progress will be updated on video episode on BF Goodrich's site, and eventually he'll graduate to his own Subaru rally car prepped by Vermont Sports Cars (the same folks who prepped Travis Pastrana's Mt. Washington Subaru). White and his brother designed the livery, which is the number 86 set in a gold cirlce and lightning bolt motif on a black background. We won't expect to see him in this Summer's X Games rally events, but it's no longer out of the question.
For this weekend, at least, White will be concetrating on his half-pipe routine and the front double-cork ten that he just pulled off for the first time on Wednesday for the snowboard slopestyle competition in the ESPN X Games. And we guess he'll probably give a little more thought to picking his lines and connecting corners, and when he pulls a reverse, his clutch foot will probably tingle for a second or two...