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Need for Speed: How I Raced Cars on the Set of Hyperdrive, Netflix's New Reality Show

Steve Helling
Need for Speed: How I Raced Cars on the Set of Hyperdrive, Netflix's New Reality Show

Netflix invited PEOPLE senior writer Steve Helling to experience the race cars from their new show, Hyperdrive. This is his first-person account of the experience. 

I put on the red jumpsuit and wondered what, exactly, I had gotten myself into. I was on a racetrack in Englishtown, New Jersey, to spend the morning with the cast and crew of Hyperdrive, the new Netflix show produced by Charlize Theron.

The show, described as The Fast and the Furious meets American Ninja Warriors, pits elite street racers from various walks of life against each other in an elaborate — and dangerous — competition. There are multistory seesaws, narrow high-speed passes and other obstacles that could easily result in injury or death.

Fortunately, there were no plans for me to attempt any of the obstacles. For one thing, it was clearly not in the budget for the PEOPLE reporter to total an expensive car. Additionally, no one there wanted to see me injured or killed.

Still, the producers handed me a liability waiver to sign. In short, it said that anything — including decapitation — could happen, and I was voluntarily subjecting myself to the danger. (Reality show waivers are notoriously frightening, but the desire to be on TV apparently trumps everyone’s natural survival instinct.)

I got behind the wheel a race car … or at least, I attempted to. At 210 pounds, I’m bigger than the average driver. “Here, I’ll take out the steering wheel so you can get in,” one of the contestants helpfully said, detaching the steering wheel so I could slide in. To my credit, I didn’t throat punch him. (The steering wheel was then put back into place, and there was no breathing room at all. I tried not to hyperventilate.)

Courtesy Netflix

Then I was paired with Andrew Comrie-Picard, whom everyone called “ACP” for short. As a stunt coordinator for the show, his job was to show me how he hits small targets with a 2000-pound vehicle traveling at 100 miles per hour. And I was going to ride along with him.

“You’ll be fine,” he promised me. “Just don’t throw up in my car.”  I made him no promises.

After I donned the jumpsuit and the helmet, two of the show’s contestants buckled me into the car. “It’s snug, like a baby seat,” one of them assured me. (Note: it was nothing like a baby seat.) I already felt claustrophobic. If we had an accident, it would take the jaws of life to rescue me from the car.

Courtesy Netflix
Courtesy Netflix

The was a lot of talk about “adrenaline,” but I truly didn’t understand how it worked until the second that ACP floored the gas and we went screeching off to do donuts and other tricks at 100 MPH. I instinctively grabbed the side of the car, as if it would protect me from a fiery crash.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t swear on camera, and I largely succeeded — until ACP threw the car into reverse and pumped the gas. One thing to know about ACP: he was a very cool guy who has the swagger of someone who has walked away from accidents before. If we were to crash, I’d probably be maimed for life, while he wouldn’t even have to skip lunch.

One of the things that people don’t tell you about adrenaline: after it leaves your body, you’re exhausted. After the ride-along was done, the Netflix folks expected me to answer questions on camera about the experience. I just wanted to take a nap, but I had to find numerous ways to say “that was awesome” without cursing, which is harder than it sounds when your adrenaline levels are skewed.

The morning was both terrifying and glorious, and I wondered how the stars of the show managed to keep the adrenaline coursing through their veins for three long weeks. The show, which is available on Netflix, will give viewers an intimate look into the world of street racing — adrenaline and all.

As for me, I’ll just watch from my couch.