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William Shatner dishes on 'Fast Cars & Superstars' racing experience


By Christopher Rocchio, 06/06/2007 

William Shatner describes himself as "hyper" when driving on the freeway, frequently pushing his sports car and motorcycle to the limit.  So needless to say, he couldn't pass-up the opportunity to appear on ABC's Fast Cars & Superstars - Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race, a new reality competition series that gave 12 athletes and entertainers the opportunity to try their hands at stock-car racing.

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"There's a freeway here in Los Angeles, 405, and I tried going at top speed there," Shatner told reporters during a Monday conference call.  "So the idea of being able to drive as fast as you can without being assaulted by police had a certain appeal."

Premiering Thursday, June 7 at 8PM ET as a lead-in to the NBA Finals, each half-hour episode of Fast Cars & Superstars will follow the 12 celebrities as they train under the tutelage of six of NASCAR's most talented and popular drivers, the Gillette Young Guns. 

In addition to Shatner, who currently stars in ABC's Boston Legal drama, the other celebrities participating in Fast Cars & Superstars are former What About Brian and Baywatch actress Krista Allen; former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway; skateboarding legend Tony Hawk; seven-time rodeo champion Ty Murray; fifth-season Nashville Star host and Grammy nominated musician Jewel; tennis champion Serena Williams; reigning World Wrestling Entertainment champion John Cena; champion surfer Laird Hamilton; champion volleyball player and model Gabrielle Reece; former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher; and former NBA star John Salley.

"Everybody was incredible," said Shatner of his fellow racers.  "Everybody who agreed to do it knew the risks involved.  This was a serious matter.  And so everybody who came to do it came with intense motivation.  There was a lot of intensity in that field and a lot of good people.  A lot of people used to competition and willing to be a fierce competitor, but at the same time, equally desirous of meeting each other.  So it was like a great party at the same time it had an intense core."

Shatner referenced the professional athletes he competed against on Fast cars & Superstars as his "biggest competition."

"Their hand eye coordination by necessity had to be superior," he explained.  "So I had to compete in some way.  I think nerve or stupidity, yes, stupidity was my best weapon... I was able to compete against their hand eye coordination by being more stupid than they."

In addition to his need for speed while cruising Los Angeles' freeways, Shatner also flies airplanes and is an avid horse rider, so competing on Fast Cars & Superstars appealed to his adventurous side.

"ABC had an idea of putting celebrities in a fast car like the NASCAR.  And they called me and wanted me to come and I was able to convince everybody else that this is what I should do," said Shatner.  "I leapt at the opportunity.  I don't watch a lot of NASCAR because you have to be there to really enjoy it.  It's a sensory experience, more than a visual experience, I think, those fast cars, it's the sound and the energy that's there.  It's not so much watching cars go round and round in a circle, but it's 300,000 people in an arena, and dozens of cars jostling for a position.  That's the thrill.  So watching it on television doesn't come anywhere near that."

With an opportunity to be closer to the NASCAR action than television will allow, Shatner said he found out firsthand how stock-car racing is death-defyingly dangerous and exhilarating.  Having different challenges thrown at him while being trained by Gillette Young Gun member Ryan Newman, Shatner said he had to drive through scenarios that included a dirty windshield and glazed vision.  He also explained that the 12 celebrities were divided into four groups and assigned four cars, and since some of the members of his group were taller than him, he had an "awkward" set-up when he was in the drivers seat.

"It all combined to giving me an altered living... an altered view of everything, somewhat skewed, as though I were wearing glasses that didn't fit," explained Shatner. "At the same time, I was thrilled.  I was in another place at that speed, the speed of things going round and the total feeling of being alive while driving that fast, was in conflict with the other feelings."

While the ride was thrilling, Shatner said he was also able to learn how professional NASCAR drivers balance their speed with maneuvering.

"They had a [regulator] on it and I think it was set around 160, 150 miles an hour, somewhere around there," he said.  "So on the straight away, we were able, if you put your foot flat on the accelerator, I'm sure it got up to that.  And then it was how much the car was going to come out from under you on the curves that conditioned how fast you would be going overall."

Despite the safety precautions utilized through the regulator, Shatner said some of the celebrities still found themselves in less than ideal situations.

"There were some of the people who weren't... who didn't admit to any or very little fear," explained Shatner, "but I think they had a lobotomy before they came because it was -- and you will see when you watch the show -- there are several times, people, the car, I don't know how much of this I can say, but the car is in a position where you don't want to be.  And as a result, the people who are in that position, as they return to the track go a heck of a lot slower than they were going before that incident."

Shatner said at no point during filming for Fast Cars & Superstars were there all 12 celebrities racing their cars on the same track directly against each other -- instead, the competition was judged based on time trials and how well the challenges were completed.

"For safety's sake they put us on the track one at a time," he said.  "We didn't race against each other, because there's a... going around, you go in a left hand turn the whole way, and the margins between you and another car would be inches.  And only those refined racers who have done it all of their life would be equipped to handle a car like this.  There is a certain amount of limit of adhesion at a certain speed, your car is coming out from under you at a controlled slide.  And it's those areas that if you were to actually have somebody on the track with you, you would be endangering somebody else as well as yourself."

Able to live a childhood dream of getting behind the wheel of a stock car, Shatner said it's not something he would prescribe to others.

"I only recommend it for highly trained or crazed egotistical individuals who wish to make spectacles of themselves," he said.

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