Actor, writer and director Dax Shepard is about to drop CHIPS, an odd couple-action-motorcycle-comedy about endearingly idiotic California cops and hilarious highway hijinks inspired by the ‘70s TV show of the same name. What audiences may not know is Shepard’s a real gearhead, so I caught up with him in Hollywood to learn how he made a movie where the cars (and motorcycles) are characters.

Now I don’t get to interview big-shot celebrities too often, so I went ahead and edited out my “Ers” and “Ums” and nervous dry heaving from our conversation. But I did get to ask Shepard about what he drives, his talent on the tools and his true feelings about Miatas.


Andrew: “I feel like a lot has been talked about Dax the actor, let’s talk about Dax the car guy if that’s cool with you.”

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Dax: “Yes, please, I far prefer talking about cars than acting.”

A: “So, I’ve read that you’re pretty much a lifetime gearhead, is that fair to say?”

D: “A hundred percent, yeah. I grew up in Detroit.”

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“...And my dad sold cars, and was super into cars. My mom and dad dragged raced in high school. He had a ‘68 Chevelle, she won the powder puff drag race. She had the powder puff drag race record in that car. So my parents are gearheads.”

A: “Oh, nice.”

D: “They rode dirt bikes, they were into muscle cars. And then my mom worked for General Motors and then she left there and started a company that did all the press events for General Motors. I started working for them at 14 years old and we just traveled from race track to race track every summer and would have these huge press events and I had access to a race track and really cool cars. I’ve just been on fire for it.”

A: “That’s awesome.”

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D: “I had a Honda Spree when I was 12 and then I got an Elite 80 moped and then I got a GSXR and, you know, I’ve been riding on the streets since I was 12 and counting down the hours ‘til I got my license.”

A: “So what was your first car?”

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D: “Well, if I’m dead honest, my first car was a ’76 Pontiac Catalina that I bought on the side of the road in northern Michigan for 400 bucks and then I got a 1984 Mustang GT which I then rebuilt the engine on and dragged raced and had for a long time. And then I had some more embarrassing cars in between that, and then I got my ’67 Lincoln Continental which I still have.”

A: That’s from the other movie, uh... [I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to mention other movies.]

D: Hit And Run.”

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A: Hit And Run! Yes.

D: “Yeah, so I’ve had that car for almost 22 years now.”

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A: “Wow.”

D: “And, you know, I can never stop putting money into it so it keeps getting better.”

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A: “So, it sounds like you do a lot of your own wrench work.”

D: “Um, I can do nearly everything. I have rebuilt engines. I don’t do nearly as much of it now as used to, simply because I have two little kids and I direct movies so time is very, you know. I think the last thing big thing I did was, I pulled the engine out of my sand rail and changed the slave cylinder with the clutch that was probably the last thing I did on my own.”

A: “Are you trying to indoctrinate your kids into the automotive world?”

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D: “A hundred percent... All of our family vacations are at Glamis, the sand dunes.”

A: “Really!”

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D: “Yeah! ‘Cause I’m super into off-roading and I have a really sweet four-seater sand car.”

A: “Nice.”

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D: “And a Polaris Razor. So they’ve both been in that a ton.”

A: “So what’s your garage look like now? What’s your car collection currently?”

D: “So I have the ’67 Lincoln Continental, that started as a 514 Ford racing crate motor that’s now like a 548 because I just rebuilt it and put different fuel injection on it but that car is like a 700 horsepower car.”

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A: “That’s... ridiculous displacement.”

D: “Yeah. And it’s got huge brakes, it’s got Wilwoods and coilover suspension and sway bars. And then I have a 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon with wood grain that has BBS wheels, huge Wilwood brakes, huge sway bars, and I just put—I think I’m gonna drive it next week for the first time—the LSA’s supercharged 6.2-liter motor in it, which is 580 from Chevy but will be tuned up into the 600s.”

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A: “That’s a battlewagon, man. That sounds amazing!”

D: Yeah, it’s the best sleeper ever. It still has the wood grain. It’s white and wood grain. And then I have an E63 AMG station wagon, the twin turbo wagon.

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A: “Sweet.”

D: “I love station wagons, they’re my favorite. And then I have a Duramax truck that I tow everything with and the sand rail. And then I have four motorcycles. I have a Hypermotard, as is in the movie.”

“...The bike at the beginning of the movie, when I’m in the barracks leaving, that’s my 2006 Sport 1000.”

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“...And then I have a Multistrada touring bike, the Ducati. And then I have a GSXR 1000 track bike that just is on the track.”

A: “...So you’ve been doing bikes and cars at the same time, it sounds like. You came up with both.”

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D: “Yes. Yeah. What I’ve always loved about motorcycles is they need no augmenting. Like, no guy, short of Valentino Rossi, can ride a new R1 to its potential. They’re so incredible, you know? I have friends who have fucking pipes and chips and I’m like, okay, really? You need more? And also the durability of them.”

“Like, my GSXR track bike I’ve done nothing but change the oil over the last 10 years and you just, you can’t break it. I think ’cause of the power to weight ratio, you know, it’s not hard on brakes, it’s not hard on the motor, it just goes like a striped-ass ape and doesn’t ever quit. Whereas a car, when you track a car you’re doing shit nonstop to it.”

A: “You fry the brakes every time, you need the cage, all that stuff...”

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D: “Yeah.”

A: “Have you had any particularly scary moments on the bikes or memorable wipeouts?”

D: “Yes I’ve had many, many many memorable wipeouts. The one that was probably, well the one that got me off motocross was I was riding down a field in northern Michigan and I was in waist-high grass. And I was going pretty fast. I had ridden down that field the day before and someone had cut down like 20 trees and stacked them up and they were just below the grassline.

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“So I hit that flying, went way over the handlebars, and I broke all the tendons that hold your clavicle in so I had to have the end of my clavical cut off and they drill a hole in it and there’s a cord that’s pulled through a hole now in my scapula and it’s all like cinched into there. And that blew. That was like, I was out for a year, basically. I couldn’t work out or anything so that’s when I switched to… a cage.”

“I’d also been hit twice in LA by cars, uh, which sucked. Yeah. I haven’t been hit in a long time, knock on… knock on something.”

A: “So how much of the riding in the movie is you and Michael [Peña]? I’m imagining you had some stunt guys for part of that at least.”

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D: “Oh god yeah, we had some of the best riders in the world on the movie. This uh, this dude Dave Castillo who’s like a motocross racer who can do absolutely everything I was so jealous of him the whole movie.”

“Yeah it was a bit of a self-esteem bump because Hit And Run I did 100 percent of the driving, because I can do anything in a car…. I can’t do anything on a motorcycle. So I couldn’t jump a hundred feet like they did. I probably couldn’t drive over a car the way Dave Castillo just rips right over a car. But, I wheelied, I did front endos, I did the hill climb, I rode up and down staircases, I dragged a knee, I did, certainly, I think more than... most actors can do.

“And Peña had never ridden, poor guy, he learned to ride four weeks before we started shooting and I just threw him on the 850-pound cop bike, put him on the highway and said ‘alright let’s do this three-page scene.’”

A: “Were those bikes all pretty heavily modified?”

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D: “No! Nothing was modified. We had a skid plate on the Hypermotards because we kept driving ‘em up and down staircases and we’d rip oil filters off of ‘em? But, no, nothing was tricked out. Oh! [Vincent] D’Onofrio’s Harley was tricked out, by Harley, but that was just an aesthetic thing. And I wanted it to shoot flames which I thought was cool.”

A: “That was pretty sweet.”

D: “Yeah, serves no purposes but it looked real cool. My blueprint for his was, I told Harley: ‘I want Sylvester Stallone’s Mercury from Cobra, basically, in motorcycle form.’ But those Hypermotards do all that stuff, which is just crazy. I mean they jumped over that wall into the compound, over and over again, no broken shocks no nothing.”

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A: “I was gonna ask about, is there any sort of selection process in the other vehicles? I felt like that Chevy SS in the beginning was, like, perfect.”

D: “Yeah! Right? What I like about that is the same thing I like about station wagons. It’s like, you see that car out there you don’t know if it’s like a Taurus or something? You don’t know that it has this 6.2-liter motor and a six-speed. I did all the driving in that sequence, even though it wasn’t my character. [Laughs] Just because I like drifting…”

“Yeah that car was a blast to hoon. I just, I had so much fun in that car. And it has the best exhaust sound. I think that’s over though…”

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A: “Yeah they just shut it down! Not enough people share our love for the low-key fast cars.”

D: “Yeah it’s a strange proclivity. People want to look like their car’s fast.”

A: “So what were some of the hardest stunts to pull off in this movie? It’s pretty stunt-heavy, obviously…

D: “I got surgery on my wrist after tackling him off the motorcycle… the harder stuff was more, like, the physical stuff of either tackling or, the scene where he face-plants? I was in a harness and then I was in a trolley and there was an air-ratchet on the other side that they just pulled the trigger and like, shot me into a wall.”

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“That shit was probably, uh, hurt worse than the other stuff. I did crash that cop bike doing the endo. Because I’d never practiced on an 850-pound motorcycle, I’d only done one on, like, a Hypermotard.”

“So I definitely crashed a couple times there. I crashed in the sand because I had the big heavy camera mounted out in front of the fork. So it was just sucking that front end down into the sand, it didn’t matter how much I was on the gas it just kept getting buried. So I crashed that a few times.”

“Probably just that beach stuff jumping, over and over again. But again that was Dave Castillo.”

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A: “Was that all shot around here?”

D: “Yeah, so the beach stuff was in Long Beach, the Miami car chase was in Long Beach, we were on the 6th Street Bridge, we were like the last people, I think, to get a permit to film there before they tore it down.”

“And then we’re off the 210 freeway, for the helicopter for the big propane tank exploding, we were in the LA river downtown, for the helicopter in the river and all that shit, then we were in Elysian Park, like we did that hill climb in Elysian Park right after it rained for two days. So it was like, mud central on street bike tires.”

“Yeah it was really fun to have lived here for 22 years, dreamed of doing stupid shit, knowing you can’t, you’re not allowed to do that, and then, like have cops there shutting it down so can do it and then giving you the thumbs-up. It’s a trip. Pretty amazing.”

A: “When you write something like a chase scene, how much of that is very specifically scripted and how much is, like ‘oh we’re gonna do a little tail slide here?’ How much ad-libbing is going on?”

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D: “Um, well, I gotta say I learned the hard way on Hit And Run, that if I wasn’t super detailed... so the smokey burnout scene in Hit And Run, and they’re playing “Pure Imagination,” that was so specifically mapped out, to match the song, so I was able to shoot it really quick, like in an hour I filmed that whole scene.”

“Then we get into other sections where [the script is] just like ‘then they haul ass on dirt roads.’ Where I was like, okay, then we get there and I have this big problem to solve in the morning. So I do over-write those scenes. In fact the scripts are probably annoying to read for people who aren’t gearheads.

“...my wife [Kristen Bell] was like ‘Hun, I can’t get through this whole section,’ with, going from the drug house to the bridge scene with the fuckin’ motor home, and all that stuff, it was very dense because I wanted to know when I got there exactly what I was doing.”

“I wanted to think it all out beforehand, just so we could move quickly. But! Then, also you get there and my stunt coordinator Steve DeCastro, who I know from riding motorcycles, we’re motorcycle friends who I then found out he was a stunt man, then I made him my coordinator on my last movie and then this movie, I’ll get there and I’ll have planned something else out, and he’s like ‘ok, so, Dave can do that, he’s gonna do that, but we were also thinking it’d be kinda cool if Dave did this.’ And I’m like, ‘oh, yeah, that’s much cooler if Dave does that.’ So there is definitely input from the stuntmen.”

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A: “I’m guessing this is a question you’ve gotten a lot, but was CHiPs the show a thing for you as a kid?”

D: “Well… I’m from Detroit, and the weather’s terrible eight months of the year, and so I was a little kid… that show started when I was 2 and ended when I was 8, and I would turn on the TV and for an hour you’re in California with two guys riding motorcycles the whole time, going by the beach and palm trees and all this.”

“So, I loved that, I loved the world they were in. I didn’t follow the plot, who cares about this and that, but the things I loved about it were: motorcycles, California, and this weird odd-couple. You know? This lanky white dude and this super-suave latino guy, so those were things that I felt like them movie should have as well. But other than that I didn’t feel a lot of loyalty to the way.”

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[At this point Dax’s minders told me time was almost up, so I asked him if he read Jalopnik; he said he did, but he politely disagrees on one central point.]

D: “Well I think it’s kind of like a hipster version of a car mag, you know? It’s like funny and sarcastic and, you like all this niche shit that I like, whether it’s 24 hours of LeMons or, just the weird stuff you guys care. The only thing I don’t relate to is this obsession with Miatas that you guys seem to have? I can’t find my way into the Miata love.”

“You guys love Miatas right?”

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A: “Well it’s a great dollar-to-smile ratio.”

D: “Yeaaah… I think there are better dollar-to-smile ratios but, I’ll give you a pass on the Miata love. Like when the new one came out you guys were SO excited, I was like, are you really this excited about the Miata?”

A: “It sounds like you gravitate toward the muscle stuff.”

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D: “I love cubic inches. There’s cars I love, like, I want to love the new Ford GT. It’s so beautiful, I can’t believe how beautiful it is, and I’m sure it’s so powerful but I fucking hate that it has a V6. Drives me nuts.”

A: “They don’t quite have, the sound, do they.”

D: “No, and I borrowed the new Raptor and took it to the dunes a couple months ago? The truck is a-mazing. It’s perfect. But I’m like, why have a V6? The thing doesn’t get good gas mileage just put a V8 in it!”

We could kinda be related.

That’s when Dax’s crew politely gave me the boot out of his hotel room, but it was great to catch up with a Jalopnik reader who actually drives the kind of badass engine-swapped station wagons we’re always fantasizing about.

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You should check out his motorcycle movie CHIPS when it comes out on March 24th.