Quick Stats: Sam Witwer, actor
Daily Driver: 2012 Shelby GTS Mustang (Sam’s rating: 8.7 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: Chicago to Orlando
Car he learned to drive in: 1990s Jeep Cherokee
First car bought: 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix
It was only after he was cast as Aidan Waite in Syfy’s “Being Human” that actor Sam Witwer was able to buy his first new car, a 2012 Shelby GTS Mustang. Witwer admits he’s a newcomer to appreciating cars, and his purchase was also about buying from an American automaker. “I do have a certain soft spot for American manufacturing,” he says.
“For a while I was the guy who was a lead in a TV show driving a ’94 Pontiac Grand Prix that was falling to pieces — I’d driven that since 2001 — and I never had time to think about cars,” he says. “It wasn’t till a friend of mine said, ‘Hey Sam, do you like driving?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I love driving.’ And he goes, ‘Well, there are things that do that a lot better than your 20-year-old car.”
Witwer began to look at newer models. “I discovered I really loved the style of the Mustang, that that was somehow my car and I didn’t know what that meant at the time,” he says. “I just knew: I guess I’m getting a Mustang. That’s what I want.”
Before that Witwer was always buying used cars and never gave much thought about them until the Shelby, which he rates an 8.7 out of 10. “A 10 would probably cost me $250,000,” he says, with a laugh. “As a daily driver, it’s pretty ideal for me. I love the look of it, I love the suspension, I love the brakes, and it’s just a really nice, fun car. It’s really cool. I really dig it.”
When in the car, Witwer often gets reactions from people. “I get people’s approving looks, honks, thumbs up. It’s really nice. Even from the guys who are driving the ’67 Mustang will pull up next to me and nod approvingly,” he says.
Witwer likes the no-nonsense feel of the musclecar. “The one that I have, in terms of the interior, electronics, are very bare-boned and I’m fine with that. It’s got the solid rear axles; these are the reasons I wouldn’t be giving it a full on 10. The new Mustangs have independent rear suspension and some people don’t like the solid rear axle and in my case, I really don’t mind it. The fact of the matter is I kind of like the older feel of it. So, it doesn’t park for me, but it goes really f****** fast,” he says, laughing.
The Mustang is a far cry from the 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix, which he bought used and was “very, very used when it finally fell apart on me. I was the guy that was driving a car that was barely held together.” Witwer ended up donating it to charity.
Car he learned to drive in
Witwer learned to drive in the Chicago suburbs where he grew up, in his parents’ early 1990s Jeep Cherokee. “It was the most thrilling thing to have a license and to be able to go wherever you want whenever you want,” he says.
Back then there was some “road racing with friends in cars that were not built for that, until we got smart and realized we actually could be killed,” he says, with a laugh.
Eager to get his license, Witwer took driving lessons one summer. “There was no school oversight looking over the shoulder of the instructor. The instructor just said whatever the hell he wanted,” he says. “We were hearing what his sister was up to with her boyfriend, and stuff like that, and you’re like, ‘OK, alright, weird. Weird.’ Just weird random stories that kept your mind off the road, like people coming to the hospital with certain pieces of the anatomy detached from their body held in their hand, all kinds of just bizarre stories. It’s like, ‘Cool, learning to drive, that’s all I want to do.'”
First car bought
Until he moved to Los Angeles in 2000, Witwer borrowed cars, and when he lived in New York, where he went to Juilliard, he didn’t need a car.
He drove the Pontiac to auditions for guest roles on TV shows. “The way that I made my living, which you could do back then, I was lucky to guest star on shows that ran a lot,” he says. “I could make that money stretch so long as I was eating 25 cent burritos, ramen, and tuna. So I was spending no money. I was just hiding out in my apartment, eating 25 cent burritos, doing maybe two or three guest stars a year and because they ran a lot, I was getting these nice residual checks. These days residuals have gone away, so I don’t know that I could have gotten the same start if I was starting now.”
Witwer is animated as he recalls his first guest role, which was on “Jag.” He only had two lines — “‘Sup?” and “How’s it going, Vick?” His second guest spot was on “ER” “where I called Sally Field a bitch. That was kind of cool,” he says, with a laugh. “I couldn’t even tell you what the details were, and all I know was I was screaming at her and calling her a bitch.”
The guest parts became recurring roles and then regular roles. “Then you get to buy a Mustang GTS,” he says.
Favorite road trip
Witwer’s favorite road trip is one he has taken twice, driving from Chicago to Orlando, Florida, for a Disney World vacation.
“In the first one I was 17 and we went there and on the way back me and one of the guys were getting into arguments about navigational errors, because we didn’t have GPS back then, it was all maps,” he says. “In order to shut this guy up, I decided that I was going to take on the entire trip myself. I don’t know what the logic is there, like you get into an argument, someone’s saying you’re making errors, you go, ‘OK, you know what? Shut up.’ And then you just drive the whole way back, which was a good 17 hours and that was after a day of vacationing at Disney World.”
Witwer figures he was up for 30 hours driving home the entire way. “It was a supreme battle with your own will as you’re fighting hallucinations and the yellow line in the middle of the road is searing its way into your retina. It was an epic battle for consciousness,” he says, laughing.
A couple years later Witwer did the same road trip with childhood friends to celebrate their high school graduation. “We were all feeling pretty triumphant about that, we were all about to go in our own direction,” he recounts. “I had gotten into Juilliard, which I didn’t even know what the hell that meant, so I was feeling very apprehensive but also hopeful about that. My buddy was about to go to Atlanta; another buddy was going to Salt Lake City. So we got in the car and we went to Disney World and sat around in hot tubs and waxed poetic about what the future might hold. It was a really wonderful trip.”
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity race
Witwer hadn’t driven a car with a manual transmission for 10 years. “I had a girlfriend who had a stick shift and I was borrowing her car all the time. And now that we did a bunch of the race training, I really want to own a stick shift now,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
He enjoyed the entire experience, which included two weekends of practice at Willow Springs with Danny McKeever. “It’s incredible. You know that a lot goes into it but in terms of the specifics, I wasn’t able to wrap my brain around it and you finally get out on the track and then you just go, My God, this is an involved process and there’s so much to learn. I found it fascinating,” he says.
Witwer says it was fun to be able to learn at Willow Springs to drive against how he was taught to drive. “Fear responses for me are these voluntary things where sometimes I shut off what would be the logical fear response to something. I’ve done all my stunts on my set and I’ve done some things that are ridiculously dangerous. And I’ve decided for race training to turn off that fear response and it is truly fascinating to drive and essentially be taught to do all the things that you’re taught not to do in Drivers Ed,” he says, laughing. “And to also disregard the fear response of slamming the pedal to the metal and going as fast as you possibly can, coming to turns at 60 miles per hour.”
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