Cameras roll in Columbiana

Published 11:10 pm Sunday, March 22, 2009

John Lewis got into racing because he loves cars and “didn’t want a real job.”

That passion for speed brought the Shelby County native back home this weekend as the stunt driver for a Porsche commercial shot in Columbiana.

Birmingham-based Leo Ticheli Productions filmed the commercial Saturday night on Main Street.

Lewis, who grew up in Inverness, got to speed through downtown Columbiana in a 911 Carrera 4S.

The sports car packs 385 horsepower, goes 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and can hit a top speed of 185 miles per hour. But all the flash isn’t free; the car starts at $93,200.

The commercial also highlights the Porsche’s traction management system. Computer-controlled software keeps maximum contact between the tires and pavement at all times, Lewis said.

The ad shows Lewis stopped at the red light at the intersection of Main and College streets. It’s dark, and the road is wet. As soon as the light turns green, the Porsche rockets off toward the Shelby County Courthouse. The tires don’t spin at all, even on the slick asphalt.

“The computer won’t let the tires screech,” said Lewis. “You let off the brake and go.”

Lewis has driven in a handful of commercials and also races Porsches in the Rolex Sports Car Series. His team finished 43rd (out of 52 cars) earlier this year in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“In case I don’t win on Sunday, the commercials are how I eat on Monday,” Lewis said.

But, in some ways, shooting a commercial is harder work than racing, he said.

“There’s more precision. You have to start and stop on a dime,” said Lewis. “You have to be able to repeat the same thing several times, take-after-take.”

Lewis also teaches at the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds and travels the country demonstrating Porsches.

Several kids who watch the commercial being filmed are already sold on the 911 Carrera 4S.

“I want that car!” said Lauren Reynolds, 13, a student at Columbiana Middle School. “It’s been exciting. We don’t have a lot of action going on around here.”

Elvin Hill Elementary student Jordan Deaver agreed.

“It’s a pretty cool car,” said Deaver, 8. “I like the loud noises it makes.”

The ad is called a spec commercial. It is being produced with the hope that Porsche will buy it and air it nationally. Leo Ticheli is also negotiating with an area dealer to run the commercial locally, said director Clay Morrison.