Living the sideways dream


How do you become a stunt driver?

Ploughing through a stack of boxes to escape the bad guys, endless drifting through a car park, angering a fist-shaking market stall owner in pursuit of an escaping criminal; that’s the stunt driving dream.

For a lot of people it remains a dream but not for Irishman Sam Maher-Loughnan. With a background in martial arts and karting, the move to the world of stunts was an obvious one.

Maher-Loughnan started out racing karts in Ireland before competing in a scholarship that got him a drive in the UK. From there his career took an even more international turn, he says: “I picked up a test and development drive with F2 in America in 2006, which helped me refine my on-track skills. Afterwards, the recession hit so when I came back to the UK sponsorship had dried up. While I was happy doing club racing, I knew I needed something else.”

Having made a name for himself in the club racing scene Maher-Loughnan was known for his car control skills. While simple instructing seemed like a good route to a steady income, it didn’t excite him enough. “I Googled who was the best stunt driver in the world,” he says. “A handful of schools came up but it was Bobby Ore that really jumped out at me. I attended his stunt school at Sebring in Florida for a week and we really hit it off.”

Under the title of precision driver (before every racing driver was calling themselves one), Maher-Loughnan came back to the UK got to work on the disciplines that would allow him to join the stunt register.

To become part of this, you need to be skilled at either black belt or Olympic level. Maher-Loughnan’s status as precision driver and international racer counted to this but he also picked up a black belt in Karate and a G1 in Krav Maga.

Over the years, Maher-Loughnan has driven on film sets, for television shows, in adverts and in a whole host of live drift and stunt shows but his favourite project is one he filmed last year, as he explains: “I worked on a movie called Cobra, which will be out in cinemas in December. For a lot of stunt jobs, the driving is planned out when you get there but for this one, I had a lot of creative control. It gave me the chance to do some stuff with a car that people hadn’t seen before.”

Unfortunately, Maher-Loughnan’s penchant for sideways action is often to the detriment of his racing. He’s still quick but it takes a lot of discipline to keep the car going fast in the most efficient way. “It’s fun to go sideways but it’s not always the quickest in terms of lap times,” he says. “When you race on track, it takes a lot of discipline to behave and drive cleverly. Although, precision driving skills do come in handy when avoiding crashes and when there’s oil on the track.”

Now Maher-Loughnan is working to set up his own stunt school to fill a gap in the market in the UK and Ireland. He says: “The Stunt School will train drivers in the precision skills needed to join the stunt register. We’ve also launched the Supercar Clinic, which teaches supercar owners to handle their powerful cars.”

While stunt driving may seem like a pipe dream for a lot of people, there are plenty of places you can safely learn these skills. In an empty car park is not one of them, of course, and Maher-Loughnan has this advice to stay safe: “Seek a professional instructor in a safe, sanctioned and risk-assessed environment. The problem with practicing in your car in a car park is that you have no idea what systems that car has in place that could cause you to crash when it feels your car is starting to go out of control.”

If you feel you’re cut out for stunt driving or are in the process of honing your skills, you need to work hard to get your name known in the industry: “Connections are so important,” Maher-Loughnan says. “You need to work hard and promote yourself. Talk to everyone and be courteous.

“Honesty is so important too. Only do a manoeuvre you are 100% comfortable with and don’t lie about your abilities. Any stunt coordinator would rather work with your skills than have a shot ruined by a less-than-perfect attempt at something.”

Maher-Loughnan prides himself on being able to teach people these skills and help them step into the industry. You can get in touch with him here.

Stunt driving is dangerous and while it can be tempting to try what you see in the movies, it’s important to stay safe. If you dream of driving a car with maximum attitude towards a camera, get the right training to help you perfect those skills.