The talk show host reveals that a regular feature on the British TV show Top Gear inspired his electric car challenge.
Leno's new horsepower
The British car show Top Gear is one of my favourite shows. I had a lot of fun appearing on it this summer. Like every guest I had to compete as the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car. That means trying to lap a track round an old airfield as fast as you can. For my new show, modestly called The Jay Leno Show, we have what is a bit of an homage to Top Gear. It is called the Green Car Challenge. It's a little different though. We will be asking guests to set a time round a track in the NBC parking lot in an electric Ford Focus and seeing who the fastest green celebrity is. Being a green car, celebrities can save the world and race at the same time. I have even got a proper Englishman to help me show the celebrities how to go fast in an electric car. He is Justin Bell, a former Le Mans winner and TV host in his own right. Justin is handsome and he knows how to communicate. Teaching Hollywood celebrities should be easy compared with rich idiots who think they know how to drive. Everybody wants to do well so they will listen to him. You'll have people like Tom Cruise who has racing experience and so won't need as much guidance.
Hopefully the biggest names in Hollywood will come and have a go. Tom Cruise called me a few days ago, saying he wanted to have a go and could he come in and practice. I said no, practising is cheating. First up we have Drew Barrymore. I think whoever you can think of will want to do this. The beauty is that everybody can drive. If it was asking them to play guitar then people would run away, but everyone can drive, even a little bit. So it will be good to see how they do.
I think the women will do better than the men because they take direction. Having said that, I think Cruise will do well. Tom is pretty competitive whenever we do something like this. He always tries to kick my butt. So I think he will do good. We will also have a lot of athletes, and athletes being athletes they will adapt pretty well. But I cannot make any predictions. The track is 1,100 feet (335m) long and they will be timed over two laps. Ninety-seven NBC employees had to give up their parking spaces for us to put the track in the parking lot, but hey, the walk to work will be good for them.
We will probably name the corners as incidents happen. Some celebrities will crash and burn... and some may die? so we will then name the corner after them. There will be certain obstacles, like a wobbling Al Gore set up around the course. Hitting one will add a second to your time. Our attention span is so short in the US we need to have other distractions like hitting an Al Gore or have peanuts thrown at the drivers!
I've done a few practice laps and it's not an easy track. At some point I'd go for a time. It's more fun to let everyone else do it first though. And then if I am not up to the task it's funnier. The car we are using is an electric Ford Focus. I wanted an American manufacturer and the only one with anything ready to go and viable was Ford. GM is like a government company now. It's a little tricky to get anything done.
We wanted to show that electric cars can be fun and something you can race. In America, electric cars have the same cache as golf carts. To see an electric car skidding around a track, I think it has the scope to change people perceptions of ecocars. I think this electric Focus is as quick as the petrol version of the car would be. It doesn't have the top end speed but with all that torque and on a short track I think it will be about as quick.
Driving it is bizarre. It's eerily quiet. You press the button and it starts. You have your energy usage meter and your speedometer but no rev counter. It is so quiet, all you hear is the tyres screeching. After a while you forget there's no petrol. We tend to think of electric cars as vehicles for seniors who need to nip down to the store. This is something else. It has rally suspension and Ford had their tech guys work on the chassis. The only difference is it has an electric drivetrain. This I think is the future.
I hope the show will do a little to change people's perceptions of eco cars. Ford are making other fuel efficient vehicles and this car will, in some form, be available soon. It also shows that Ford are in the game, on the cutting edge. American cars have this reputation for being great for big horsepower, gas guzzling and fast but not necessarily being fuel efficient. By doing this, Ford can change their image a bit.
Not that eco is uncool. Electric or hybrid cars are a form of hot rodding for a lot of young people. I meet guys who are hyper-miling their Prius' and getting 100mpg or adding extra batteries, increasing tyre pressure? doing whatever they can. Miles per gallon is the new horsepower. Right, enough chat. Let's go see if we can hit an Al Gore. The Jay Leno Show is broadcast from Tuesday to Saturday on the Super Comedy channel at 9pm