One of the most popular videos on the internet is Size Matters 2 starring our friend Mike Ryan. The action is super-sized and fast-paced as Mike chases a car with his Banks Super-Turbo Castrol Freightliner through the docks at Long Beach, California. There are thrills, spills and even a jump – not the car but the truck! We were pleased to chat with Mike about his distinguished stunt career, racing Pikes Peak and of course, the Size Matters videos.
MLAS: At eighteen years old what made you decide to pursue stunt driving as a career?
Mike Ryan: Now that I think about it, I was 19, almost 20 and I met a stunt man named Ronnie Ross. Up until then, I never knew that such a job existed. The studios kept it quiet in hopes that the audiences would believe that the actors were doing it all. Ron was a car guy that built his own movie and stunt cars. I was living in Newport Beach and working as a mechanic during the day and washing dishes at a restaurant in the evenings. On my days off, I would drive from Newport to the San Fernando Valley and work with Ron on his cars for free. After a few months, I moved to the valley and started selling cars at Universal City Datsun-now Nissan. Our shifts were 9AM-3PM and 3PM to 9PM, so I always had half a day to hustle work at the studios or work at Ron’s and learn more about car work.
MLAS:Did you have a knack for driving semi trucks or was that something you worked hard to master?
Mike Ryan: From an early age, I was interested in things with engines and how they worked. I got my first job at 8 years old and have had at least one, ever since. I learned to fix lawnmower engines and started repairing them for other people and then bought a broken go-kart, then broken motorcycles and eventually old cars. I would fix them up and learn how they worked, ride them, go as fast as any of them would go and try things that I has seen in the movies. One of my jobs as a teen was working for my friend Rick’s Dad in his nursery. It was a big place with skip loaders, backhoes, dump trucks and lots of big mowers. Rick and I would plant plants, mow big commercial buildings, haul stuff around the yard in the dump trucks and do what needed doing. So going from a dump truck to a semi wasn’t a big jump.
MLAS: Of all the stunt work you’ve done (and my goodness it’s a long list), is there any sequence you consider to be a personal favorite whether it was particularly challenging, outrageous or fun to do?
Mike Ryan: Accident reconstruction work for the State of California has been the most interesting. In the film world, everything is planned out, made safe, rehearsed and there are safety people on site. Figuring out how an accident happened and then doing video re-enactments, right up to the point of impact is amazing work that reveals the true dynamics of vehicles, speed, energy and the obstacles that they hit. That work really led me into thinking how to do the stunt work more safely. Things that we do on film at 50-60-70MPH were killing or crippling people at half those speeds. As a fun project, I just finished a job trying to drift and precision drive a 200,000 pound Caterpillar mining truck. What a kick!
MLAS: 2013 marked your 16th time racing the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. You have become a real fan favorite but there’s a fascinating story of what led you to America’s Mountain that most people don’t know about. Would you mind telling us about it?
Mike Ryan: One of my favorite childhood memories of hanging out with my dad, was listening to the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb on the radio. The Indy 500 was always on May 30th. Memorial Day and if that day fell during the week, we had to be in school. So to get the day off to listen to a race was a real treat. Two stuntmen friends that I did some vintage motorcycle dirt track racing with in the early ’90’s had been racing Pikes Peak for years. So it was Eddie Mulder and Mickey Alzola that got me to the mountain in 1995. My first two years there were on a motorcycle and then we got the first truck in 1997. Every boy wants their dad to be proud of them and being able to race one of my Dad’s 3 favorite races is one of my finest accomplishments. Freightliner has me take our truck to the Mid America Truck Show in Louisville Kentucky every March for the last 15 years. I always visit my dad (now 81), in Tennessee with the truck right after the show, to let him see it and talk about it and most of all, to see the look in his eyes.
MLAS: How much preparation is required for a race like this?
Mike Ryan: It never stops. We have many sponsors who go above and beyond to support this truck and many fans who come to Pikes Peak just to see it. I couldn’t possibly let them down.
MLAS:Will you be competing there again in 2014?
Mike Ryan: Yes
MLAS: Size Matters 2 has taken the internet by storm. How long did the planning and production process take?
Mike Ryan: I have been thinking about it for a long time. It would be irresponsible to race around city streets in a truck considering how many people on the road fear big trucks and don’t understand the room that they need to operate and that really limits the locations where we can show off the crazy things that the truck can do. Calling the videos “Size Matters” is a cheeky jab at Ken Block, the inventor of the drift video genre, so doing it in a world that only big machines exist like the Matson Shipping Port was the best location that I could think of. I started talking with my director friend Bailey Kobe about it in late November and we shot it in early February in order to have it ready for Freightliner to play in their huge display at the Mid-America show.
MLAS: This video is quite a departure from the first Size Matters. The setting, music, tone, etc. feels like a completely different film. Was that intentional?
Mike Ryan: Size one was directed by fellow stunt driver, Pikes Peak racer and friend Greg Tracy. I doubt that there are many other directors that understand racing and performance any more than GT. I didn’t have the courage to ask him to do another one, considering how much time and energy that he put into the first one. Bailey wanted to tell a story and I liked the idea as well considering that most of the drift videos are all tire smoke and little else. We used very high quality cameras this time, as well as a brand new camera car from Performance Film Works and a Micro-Drone Helicopter for the aerial shots. Considering all that Bailey brought to the project, it was only fair to let him follow his vision of the story, edit and sound. We all do things differently from each other, so who is to say whose version of creativity is the best. He put his heart and soul in it and delivered a video that has earned nearly a million views in a month.
MLAS: You engaged in a high-speed drift battle with Daniel Leavitt in a Nissan 240SX. How was he chosen to be your counterpart in Size Matters 2?
Mike Ryan: I have a drift car that we were intending to use, but no one has been able to get it running properly. So with only two weeks left before shooting, I was scrambling for another car. I called Rhys Millen, Sam Hübinette, Tanner Foust and a few other Drift star friends that I know and no one was available. I was talking to Daniel’s dad, Lane and he mentioned Danny’s car again. Daniel is the son of stunt royalty. Lane was one of the top motorcycle trials riders in the world in his day and led the US team. Danny’s Mom Debbie was the US female trials champ for something like 19 years in a row and to this day, even as a grandmother in her mid-50’s, she is the top female stunt driver in the business and arguably the best female driver the stunt industry has ever had. At 20 years old, Daniel is a very accomplished trials rider, drifter and all-round stunt man and in the end, he was the best choice that I could have made.
MLAS:Nowadays it’s really easy to show vehicles doing incredible and impossible stunts with computer wizardry. Were there any CGI stunts in this film?
Mike Ryan: NOT A BIT. I am old school and I can drive my truck better than those people can drive their computers.
MLAS: Even the car on two-wheels was done live?
Mike Ryan: Absolutely, James Smith learned from Buzz Bundy who was the world’s best and James is as talented as they come.
MLAS:There’s a heap of contention about the engine sounds heard throughout the video. Some believe it’s an F1 engine added in post-production, but it’s actually the truck’s engine?
Mike Ryan: It is the Banks Power 8.3 liter Super Charger that makes the whine. If the listeners think that it is crazy to hear from the side lines, try sitting on top of that thing when it is maxed out at 11,000RPM. It is worth every decibel, the truck has magic powers with the products that Gale Banks and his team developed for the truck.
MLAS: You’ve always been open that the Size Matters films are a respectful homage to Ken Block’s Gymkhana series. Maybe we’ll see your Banks Power Freightliner power sliding with Ken’s Hoonigan Ford Fiesta some day?
Mike Ryan: I would love that, but that is like being invited to the Governors Ball. Ken set a precedent that allowed us to shine. His idea has brought us some of the top companies in the world. Banks, Castrol and Triumph are involved because of our videos and our videos are because Ken did it first.
A Final Word
Our thanks to Mike Ryan for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to chat with us. You can keep up with Mike by visiting his website and social media channels: