If you’ve watched TV over the past couple months, you’ve probably caught the commercial for the 2016 Toyota Tacoma. It’s a Michael Bay-esque fever-dream of stunts: Dirt bike riders crisscrossing over a fleet of trucks as they tear through the desert, complete with explosions and a guy in a bunny head. The entire sequence was conducted in one epic take. You know, this one:
What you probably don’t know is that the commercial is stacked with talent from the stuntman and motocross world. One of the main “stars” of the commercial is Ricky Johnson, a seven-time AMA Motocross Championship winner. He’s the rider doing wheelies with the bunny head on.
I had the chance to talk to Ricky about the shoot and what it was like to ride through the desert in 100+ degree temperatures with a bunny head. But before we get into our conversation, here’s another view of the commercial via a GoPro POV:
BroBible: Tell us a little bit about that crazy commercial shoot for the 2016 Toyota Tacoma. You’re the guy on the dirt bike with the bunny head?
Ricky Johnson: We didn’t know who was going do what. There were bike riders and truck racers and everybody was out there. It was a really, really stacked cast with people like David Barrett –– pro motocross racer and the producer and director of Blue Bloods — to motocross legends like Mike Johnson and Ronnie Renner and SAG stuntmen Riley Harper, Dave Castillo and Eddie Braun. Then it was me with the bunny head…
So, good or bad, I wasn’t cast for the guy in the bunny head. I have a huge head but it’s not that big. So everyone on the set was a pretty skilled rider and they said, “Hey Rick, why don’t you wear the bunny head?” At first I thought “Ok, no problem…” But then I put it on and it was about 117 degrees out there in the desert so there wasn’t a lot of air getting to my head.
…And I can only see out the mouth port, so I put it on with a bicycle helmet underneath and I wore sunglasses since I couldn’t have goggles on when I had the bunny hat on. So I just took it upon myself… I started in the back and I couldn’t see, so I just rode my way to the front and pulled a couple wheelies.
I didn’t know if they’d like it or not because they want to make sure you don’t ride past the star vehicle, which is the Toyota Tacoma. In the stunt business, they say no news is good news, so if you try something and they don’t yell at you for doing it, you keep doing it. You don’t ask to change and if they don’t say “who’s the jackass in the bunny hat? Quit doing that…” then you’re doing your job.
So I did a couple wheelies and then I did some more. So it worked out the right place at the right time.
I want people to know also at the other spot where you see the bunny head jumping in the sand dune, that’s Ronnie Renner in it at that point. In the main spot, it’s me and the cast of about 15 guys running through the desert at the time.
That’s incredible. What’s it like riding at that speed with a bunny hat on?
The thing is you can’t see. It’s like looking through a toilet paper tube. You can’t see the forge. You can’t see out in front of your feet for about the first 15 or 20 feet then all you gotta do is look out but you can’t see anything to the right. So it’s like a narrow pie shape and when you look out you can’t look down. You can’t look to the side. I know there’s cars and bikes and quads and all the stuff going on and bombs blowing up, but I just had to focus and keep my eyes on the prize and keep going forward. So it’s not an easy task, but it’s not extremely difficult either.
The people from [Toyota’s ad agency] Saatchi & Saatchi worked with me and made a few modifications that let me see a little better. I’m really proud to be a part of the spot because a lot of great riders and stunt men were in that spot.
I was wondering – I know it was filmed in one take but how many times did you guys practice it?
We actually only practiced it twice and that was without the explosions or the big jumps or the guys crisscrossing over. We just did the timing where the three trucks come in. I start camera left and then they go out and the two trucks criss-cross in front of me and all the guys criss-cross and I come up to the dust. That’s when I pull the wheelie and stuff like that.
Honestly, we only practiced it twice and that was without the bunny head. We didn’t know until the day of the shoot. So when we did everything the bunny head didn’t come into play and then on the day of the shoot they were like “We want to create these characters a little bit crazier and wilder and where they’re jumping and what they’re doing and stuff like that. Let’s bring in the bunny head!”
Amazing. What are you currently up to these days on the circuit?
I’m not racing a bunch but I’m doing a little bit more TV. As far as commentary, I do TORC: The Off Road Championship as a color commentator and host. I also work for Red Bull Signature Series and I just placed second in Red Bull Frozen Rush in January back in Maine. I placed second there. I’m spending a lot of time doing America Off-Road, which is our driving school. The driving and riding school is for military special forces, mainly, but also we do some civilian and racer training as well. I’m just staying busy. I feel like I’m a failure if I sit around too much so I just try to keep it going.
What’s the frozen rush stuff – I mean how exhilarating is it to drive on snow?
It’s also been an awesome honor for myself to be part of the whole process. They took our 35 inch off-road tire and put 684 studs in it and invited eight of my friends and went out and raced it. It was AWESOME because snow reacts different with a stud because when you’re accelerating — it’s very aggressive especially when you hit the ice or hit the snow but when you’re coming down hill, it’s like being on a snowboard — You have to always grab a new edge, so the truck is going side to side and being hard on the gas. You have use the throttle as much as you possibly can to keep control in your direction. Otherwise, momentum and gravity is gonna take over. That’s a wicked place to be when you got 900 horse power in a 4,000 pound truck going 90 down a ski slope.
WHAT?! That’s insane! How are you guys not crashing into each other?
The way we designed the race is that we start side by side and then we split laps. So there’s two different lines — there’s a red and a blue line. So, for instance, if I took the blue line, that’s the shorter lap. The red line is longer. It creates some separation, but we come together — separate, come together, separate and come back together. For the main event, it was six laps so we’d go together twice. It’s single elimination. So it’s only one guy with you on the track and it’s two drivers at the same time. I was fortunate enough to make it to the main event and ended up second again.
I won the first year, I got second last year, and I got a second again this year.
Frozen Rush is so fascinating to me…
Yeah, it’s new – they started it four years ago and I did the pilot program and the testing with BF Goodrich and Red Bull, then we started out in the middle of the night and tried the truck out on the middle of the hill and saw that it looked pretty cool. Then the next year in 2012 or actually 2013, on Valentine’s Day we went to Mount Snow in Vermont and I did a pilot program. And then 2013 and 2014 were the first two years of the race. This year we just had it again in January. So it’s a new deal – there’s talk of doing it in Europe. It’s crazy, 100 percent. W
When you race for this long there’s not a lot of things that scare you but it scares you going down that hill.
Yeah, I bet! One last question — what advice would you give to a young person who wants a career in motocross and stunt driving?
Well, follow your passion. Know that there’s gonna be dark days in anything that you do — from being a professional athlete to being a stuntman to going to school and getting a professional degree. Anything that you do, just know that you’re going to hit bumps along the way and have good days and bad days.
But if you find something that you like and want to move towards it, make sure that you’re the best that you can be at your craft. Don’t expect anything for nothing. Be the best that you can be. Have your own code and say am “I doing everything I can do to be the best at this.”
If you’re the fastest guy and you train well and represent yourself well and you’re in shape and you do everything right and you win races, you’re going to get sponsored. If you’re out there beating the doors and doing auditions and making sure you’re sharp at your craft then things will happen when it comes to having a career in stunts.
But remember, nothing is going to fall in your lap. There are only so many Kardashians out there that do nothing and get famous for it and most of the world has to work really hard. And you’re gonna have a couple sunny days — you have to be grateful for those days.