Chicago Magazine: “Accelerate Hard as You Can” For a Blues Brothers stunt driver, the thrill of the chase was only part of the fun

“It was the late spring of 1979, and I’d recently left my job selling high-line cars at Loeber Motors on Clark Street, a couple of blocks from Rush Street’s corridor of nightclubs. The dealership was still sponsoring my Alfa Romeo racecar (we were winning quite a few races that year, which made George Loeber happy), and I’d drop by regularly to pick up parts or just to see how things were going.

“It was on such a visit that I noticed these two guys in George’s office. One wore a high-mileage three-piece suit, and the other was in shirtsleeves and dungarees and sported unruly hair, an extravagant mustache, and large, copper-tinted sunglasses. It turned out the suit was from Mayor Jane Byrne’s film office and the other guy was some sort of advance-organizer wheel from Hollywood. Their shared mission was to help facilitate the upcoming Chicago shoot of John Landis’s The Blues Brothers.

“The two were asking George where they might find reliable, trustworthy drivers who could handle an automobile ‘at speed’ and, moreover, would work for cheap and show up at 5 a.m. as needed. That’s when George noticed me wandering through the showroom and beckoned me into his office. ‘You might ask this guy,’ he told them as he fiddled with his pipe. ‘He races cars.’

“The two guys eyed me. ‘Izzat right?’ the City Hall guy said.

“I gave him one of those half-nod, half-shrug things and tried to stand up a little straighter. The two looked at each other and then back at me.

“They invited me to a tryout — to be held in the exceedingly vacant parking lot of the recently defunct and now derelict Dixie Square Mall in Harvey — and told me to bring any of my racing buddies along who might be interested.

“On the day of the audition, I arrived at the mall and spotted four beat-up cop cars parked in a ragged line, plus a card table manned by some production-assistant types. A couple of bored-looking Hollywood stunt drivers — real ones! — leaned against the side of the van, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

“There were probably no more than a dozen of us. But we discovered there would be fresh waves of tryouts all day. The Blues Brothers project had a lot of cop cars to fill. And the producers, I recall hearing, were dead set against paying union-scale stunt money to fill all the drivers’ seats. Hell, those cars would mostly serve as moving background in the big chase scenes anyway…

“That sounded pretty damn neat.

“It was a fairly simple shot, just sashaying through Lower Wacker Drive behind the Bluesmobile-on-a-flatbed, and it wasn’t even that fast. Still, it was sort of frantic, like that clattery Ghost Train ride at the old Riverview Park. There’s a lot of very solid stuff you can hit on Lower Wacker Drive — concrete islands and curbs and columns and such — and the pavement was, well, what you might expect of Chicago pavement.

“We weaved through Lower Wacker until we got to Lower Michigan Avenue, then made a triangular about-face and duplicated the same weaving-and-squealing queue behind the Bluesmobile until we arrived back at the rail yard where we’d started. The whole deal took maybe 10 minutes, and probably yielded 10 seconds of actual, usable screen time.

“But of course that was just one shot. And so while they set up the next one, which took well over an hour, we waited around some more. J.N. told me to get my own cop car and get in line behind the three pro stunt drivers for the next take. This time we were going to chase after the stunt doubles who were in one of the real Bluesmobiles. I noticed a bunch of air was being let out of its rear tires so that it would slide around more on Lower Wacker’s slick, bumpy concrete. So I did the same on my cop car. Hey, why not?” (Levy, Chicago Magazine, 1/2/24)

Read the full story at Chicago Magazine


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