Amazon’s The Grand Tour debuted last night, and it was good, but so much of it felt familiar. The studio felt the same, the hosts felt the same, the camera work and the whole lot of it felt the same as once and former Top Gear. One thing was different, however. There was no more Stig. Instead, there was a guy named... Mike Skinner?
Skinner appears to be the replacement for the Stig, as he’s now the one driving cars The Grand Tour’s test track.
The Grand Tour’s test track? And he’s a racing driver testing cars around it to set standard lap times? Wasn’t that a Top Gear thing?
Yes, but they’re essentially the same show. Don’t worry about it. There’s a leaderboard and everything, just like the old one. Except the new one is on a television, and not on felt board.
Okay but what the hell sort of nickname is “Mike Skinner?”
Well, technically, “Mike Skinner” is not a nickname or a pseudonym, like “The Stig.” It’s his real name.
His real name? I thought anonymous robot racing drivers don’t have real names.
He’s not anonymous at all, actually, possibly because the BBC still has a claim to anonymous racing drivers for Top Gear, a show that does actually still exist. You should watch it.
How can you know he’s actually got the chops to test cars?
Because Skinner’s been racing for years. Decades, in fact. Very much in keeping with the theme of The Grand Tour, Skinner is 59 years old, which means he’s actually been racing since the 1970s.
Oh yeah? And where’s he been racing, British Touring Cars? World Rally Championship? Rallycross? Something else weird and England-y and provincial?
NASCAR, actually. So, still provincial, but based in America.
NASCAR? What was a British driver doing in NASCAR? We’re still talking about Mike Skinner, the British guy who raps about Top Gear, right?
He’s not British, actually! In case you couldn’t tell from his Evel Knievel-esque jumpsuit, his glaring accent, and the way he said the BMW M2's engine was so small it was “like pulling a greasy string out of a dog’s ass,” he’s from the South. The American South.
Oh god, he really said that?
Yeah, he really said that.
British people are always trying to make us look like stereotypes every chance they get, huh?
Yes. Much like Argentina though, Britain lost the war. So they’re still going to be bitter for a while. About that war. That they lost. Badly. Horrifically. Embarrassingly.
Britain lost the war.
Anyways, yeah, they’re using an American from NASCAR.
Why would The Grand Tour, a British show, go with an American?
As Jeremy Clarkson said on the show, Amazon forced them to.
So... is he any good?
Well, as you could see on the show, he definitely seemed to drive the BMW M2 with skill.
Yeah, but any monkey can drive the BMW M2 around a track one handed? What’s his resume like beyond just “NASCAR?” He doing anything good?
Oh hell yeah. He was the first-ever champion of the Craftsman Truck Series in 1995, dominating with seven wins, including the first-ever race for points. He moved up to a full-time ride in the top-tier Winston Cup series by 1997, where he took pole at the Daytona 500 and was awarded Rookie of the Year honors. He performed solidly for the next couple of years, all the way up until 2001.
What happened in 2001?
The same thing that can happen to any racing driver. Skinner was racing at Chicagoland Speedway when he lost his right front tire in the middle of a corner, and went spearing off into the wall:
Skinner endured a concussion, a broken ankle, and a torn ACL coming out of the wreck, and he was forced to take time off to heal. While he was on the mend, Robby Gordon was offered his spot and did well enough that it doesn’t appear as if Skinner was really given the chance to get it back, especially since his injuries required some surgery.
What happened then?
Like I said, the same thing that happens to even the best and most talented drivers. To race at the highest levels, you need to have talent, skill, a boatload of money, and a heaping ton of luck. It doesn’t look the stars ever aligned again for Skinner to have a stable full-time ride, and he sort of bounced around the Truck Series until 2012.
So now he’s retired?
Sort of, but any old racer will tell you they can never get speed out of their blood. Skinner’s been on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel for a while, co-hosting a show with his wife, Angie, called Skinner Round-Up.
Sitting behind a microphone isn’t exactly driving. How can we know he’s still got it?
Are you kidding me? Mike Skinner drove a NASCAR truck up Lord March’s driveway at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s probably the biggest car party in the world, and it involves a short hillclimb up one of the most narrow, trickiest little tracks in the world. It attracts the world’s best talent, and they tend to drive things with a ton of grip. Trying it in a NASCAR truck, on the other hand, requires other-worldly levels of talent and cajones. Skinner’s clearly got those in spades:
Yeah, there’s a touch of oversteer on a track, and then there’s that.
I know. The man can drive. And really, that’s all we could ever ask for.
Well does he have at least one nipple shaped in the outline of the Nurburgring?
There’s only one way to be sure. If you have a photo of Mike Skinner’s nipples, or really just any dude’s nipples, please send all tips to Jalopnik’s email address, which you can find right here, which is definitely our email address.