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What drove me to 'Driven'

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Editor's note: Actor Sylvester Stallone wrote the story and plays the starring role in the new movie, "Driven," which opens nationwide this Friday. In an exclusive guest column for Page 2, Stallone shares how he became attracted to the sport of auto racing:

Sylvester Stallone
In the movie "Driven," Sylvester Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a former CART champion who comes out of retirement to help a brash, young driver.
Driving a race car is terrifying. To start with, you're almost lying down. Your head barely pops over the steering wheel. The sides of the car cut off your peripheral vision. You're sitting on top of this enormous amount of horsepower, which, believe me, you can feel rumble through you.

As your speed increases, there's an adrenaline rush. The feeling is incredible. Addictive. Thrilling.

It's a whole different world on the track. The stakes are simply so high. Unlike other athletes, these drivers have the kind of occupations where you see them at breakfast, and you hope you see them at dinner. And not only do they perform on race day, they conduct tests on other days of the week, tests that are even more dangerous than the actual racing. You just don't know if they're going to come home.

I've been a curious onlooker of the sport ever since I attended some Formula One races in Europe while filming "Judge Dredd." For years, I watched these guys in their helmets, race after race, and I never knew who they were. I wanted to understand who was living inside the helmet. What's that man's life like?

Sylvester Stallone
Footage for "Driven" was shot at nine CART races in 2000.
People kept telling me how expensive racing was, how one car can go through $2-3 million a year, or how there's more computer technology in those cars than was involved in going to the moon. I wanted to know, how does the driver handle the pressure? How does he control the machine? The human aspect interested me -- the speed was just a by-product.

So, I went into the pits. I talked to the drivers, their crew, their wives. I pounded out the screenplay for "Driven," tweaking and adjusting it as I went to more races.

Getting the movie made, however, was a struggle. People kept telling me it couldn't be done, and I had to shop it around Hollywood for four years.

I kept going because the opportunity to make a reality-based action film is very rare. With the color, history, danger and pageantry that the world of racing offers, you can nurture and mine it to build an incredible story. You don't get opportunities to film that way of life very often. Maybe with a war film or something like "Remember the Titans," but there aren't many.

  I can see why these drivers get addicted. After two, three, four laps around the track, you start to become one with the car and you tap into something primeval.  

Although originally conceived as a Formula 1 movie, "Driven" is now set in the CART racing community. We shot footage at nine races in five countries on the 2000 CART circuit, working with real-life owners and drivers to simulate our own races. This footage is woven throughout the film, adding to its authenticity. Hundreds of thousands of real CART fans give "Driven" enthusiasm and energy.

A huge audience out there is hungry for the sport. The attraction is kind of historical, pure, audacious, and uninhibited. There's a built-in sense of nervousness. You never know what's going to happen. Will fate be held in abeyance? Will people survive? Will anyone get hurt? There's a very real thrill.

I also think people are drawn to racing on a subliminal level. Racing is a microcosm of life. We race to pay taxes, to fall in love, to fall out of love, to get home, to get a job. We race against each other, against ourselves, against time. You name it -- turtles, mice, balloons, planes -- we race it. And I thought, "If I could somehow tap into why we are so attracted to racing, we'd really touch on more than just the obvious in a racing movie."

Sylvester Stallone
Tanto teaches Memo Moreno (actor Cristián de la Fuente) a few lessons on the track.
But the obvious is also quite compelling. A driver rides the ragged edge between life and death. There are maybe 20 to 30 guys in the whole world who can really drive these machines. People underestimate them, but these drivers are a breed unto themselves. They have developed a center, a zone from which they approach everything with a kind of stoic intensity, absorbing the fear and channeling it in a positive way.

The zone, that quiet spot in your mind, that's what you try to take out into the world. Drivers need to find the zone when everything around them is in a frenzy. At 200 mph, when everything around you is whizzing by, if you don't get calm, you get torn apart. I didn't quite make it to the zone during this movie. It takes years and years to put that fear under control, to drown out the outside distractions so completely.

But I can see why these drivers get addicted. After two, three, four laps around the track, you start to become one with the car and you tap into something primeval. Racing takes you to a place subconsciously that normal everyday life never will.

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