- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Stanton nods, guns it to 70, hits a ramp, explodes into the sky and lands the car on its nose and flips end over end through the barn ($4,500: two race car seats). Dad, terrified, hurries to him as fast as a man with a broken back can. "Dad," murmurs Stanton, "I can't believe how hard that impact was."
"Welcome to the family, son!" cries Stan.
Welcome to a life in which he must perform lunacy precisely, in one take, because you can't smash things to bits twice and because a half-million dollars in actors, props and technology are riding on it. A life in which he must eat doubt and devour pain because either, undigested, might silence his cellphone and slay his dream.
"Most stuntmen come from dysfunctional families," says stuntman Scott Rogers. "You have to be used to being abused. It takes the timing and reflexes of a great athlete, but it's more of a mentality than an ability. Even doing this part time, he's among the top 25 percent of stuntmen in the world."
His brother, David, rising through the Hollywood directors' ranks, begins conjuring ever more complicated stunts to help Stanton make enough to cling to NASCAR's bumper by his fingernails. Stanton shows up in his father's old leather stunt boots, clutching Dad's old leather stunt bag, and studies David's plans: a 65-foot fall from a hotel window while fistfighting another man ($2,000: rear-end housing and one set of axles), a van rocketing 80 feet and exploding ($4,500: crew's flights and hotels for one race), all so beautiful and brotherly—the reforging of their broken childhood link with midair flames—until it's time to do the stunts, at which point David begins pacing and snarling and lighting cigarettes, even though he doesn't smoke, petrified that he has designed his sibling's death.
Stanton's rep in the industry ripples. He wins its highest honor, the Taurus Award, in 2002. Sure, you've seen him—you just don't know it. He's William H. Macy in Jurassic Park III when the Spinosaurus blows its cool. The guy tumbling into the ocean in the cage that the dinosaur slaps off the back of the ship, the guy being chased through jungle and up trees, hanging from limbs while gritting his teeth against the hellish pain of a fractured arm, a broken thumb and a torn knee ligament that he suffered—and hid from moviemakers—in three motocross accidents during the movie's eight months of production.
A bungled motocross triple jump in 2000 launches him 18 feet into the air and breaks four ribs, separates one shoulder, dislocates the other, collapses a lung, bruises his kidneys and causes internal bleeding and a concussion. Ten days later, for a scene in a TV series, he gulps six Advils and hobbles in front of a moving car, which knocks him another 10 feet ($1,100: gray paint job, chassis interior).
"Why, son, why?" his father demands. Why's he running around risking dismemberment for peanuts in motocross while he's risking dismemberment in Hollywood so that he can risk dismemberment in NASCAR? Here's Stanton's first answer: "That's what you did, Dad." Here's his second: He joins the World Snowmobile Association circuit. He enters an international bobsledding competition a few years later, in 2006. He doesn't win, of course, so, Why, son, why? Because maybe cross-racing will give him exposure and attract a new sponsor for NASCAR, he says, trying a third time to explain. "Because if he's not going Mach 2 with his tail feathers on fire, he's not happy," says Jeff Hammond, one of his former crew chiefs, "which made some people in the sport question his commitment."
He hits a rut in a snowmobile race in 2001 and flies out of control. His sled lands on his left leg, his femur snaps, tearing through muscle and flesh. He lies in agony, hissing at the medic, "Don't move it—if you cut the artery, I'm dead!" He gushes blood, reels into and out of shock on the half-hour ambulance sprint to the hospital and then emerges from surgery with a rod and a divot in his thigh and a leg that keeps caving beneath him because imagine how much daylight would burn if he let it heal properly.
A month later, on that shattered leg, he's dodging a fireball launched by the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, getting his eyelashes and eyebrows burnt off and lunging to save Kirsten Dunst from a collapsing balcony ($1,000: one decal kit). Two weeks after that, carrying an umbrella that he uses as a cane to stay vertical in front of NASCAR officials, he's racing a 200-miler. Two weeks after that he's crouched beside his mother in the Coyotes, strapping a paraglider harness to his chest.