The Time I Told Will Smith He Couldn’t Drive ‘My’ Porsche 964
As a middle-class kid in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, I never would have dreamed that I would ever meet the crowned Prince of Freshness, Will Smith, and Marty Mar, better known as Martin Lawrence. I sure as hell never dreamed I would ever be in a position where he would ask me for something and much less that I would deny him! Triple the disbelief when the thing I would deny Will Smith was driving a 1990 Porsche 964 that I was legally in charge of. But all of those things came to pass in the winter of 2020 in NYC during a Bad Boys For Life promo shoot.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence go shoe shopping
Pre pandemic, I worked for a silly organization called the Classic Car Club. It is essentially a country club for rich Manhattanites, but they rent modern supercars and vintage sports cars instead of playing golf. When I wasn’t teaching people to drive or leading driving events, I was delivering cars that were rented for photo and video shoots. These days usually led to some sort of wild day full of miscommunication, sketchy city driving, and of course, sweating in high-value sports cars.
On this day, I was charged with driving our Porsche 964 down to SoHo to be a prop for a Bad Boys for Life promo. I was always under strict orders to be the only person allowed to drive the car since I would be the only one on set insured to drive the six-figure Porsche. Not that it would matter, they just wanted the Porsche parked outside of the Stadium Goods where Will Smith and Martin Lawrence would be shoe shopping.
A little about the Porsche 964
A normal Porsche 964 is a fun, sporty car beloved by Porsche nerds. Although these little Germans are plenty quick, there is nothing particularly difficult about driving them. However, This 964 was no normal German.
This Porsche 964 had seen a bit of track-focused upgrades that made it gnarly on track but a bear in the streets. It had been stiffened to hell and back for flatter cornering, it had anything that wasn’t essential removed to drop as much weight as possible, and most importantly, its factory flywheel was replaced by a much more performance-minded one that was pretty tricky to work if you didn’t know the car.
To put it simply, the car would die if the gear changes weren’t perfect. Even if they were perfect, but you didn’t down-shift through the gears to a stop, it would die. The engine basically needed to be revving at all times, making driving it through lower Manhattan quite the chore.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence show up
After the long drive from pier 76 (the Car Club’s lair) to downtown, I parked the car in front of the store. After making the 3-mile journey without crashing or even stalling the hopped-up 964, I let out a sigh of relief and waited for the circus to begin.
Before I knew it, a fleet of black SUVs pulled up. Gliding out of their SUVs, two of my childhood heroes walked toward me. I’m not one for fame worship or getting starstruck or whatever, but when Will Smith and Martin Lawrence walk toward you on an empty street in TriBeCa, you find yourself trying to calm yourself down in a way that makes you look a little crazy. “It’s cool. It’s cool. They are people, too. It’s just Martin and the Fresh Prince. It’s cool….”
I looked Will Smith in his face and said “no”
Before Will Smith and Martin Lawrence got to me, a producer took me aside and asked me if Will needed to know anything about the Porsche. A little confused, I asked, “Like what?” To which he answered, “you know, are there any quirks he should be aware of while driving?” Without thinking, I responded, “He’s not driving it” (or something to that effect.) I explained that even if I let him, he probably literally couldn’t drive it without a bit of coaching due to the crazy upgrades.
Smith must have overheard our conversation and stepped in. Before I knew what was happening, Will Smith was charming me up and down. He explained that he owns a bunch of cars and knows how to drive. Somehow it didn’t come off as bratty or overly pushy. They don’t call him the Fresh Prince for nothing.
I quickly realized that he was trying to fix the whole “he can’t drive the Porsche” thing; I looked my favorite childhood star in the face and said, “I’m really sorry, dude, but the only way you get to drive this car is if you pay my bills when I get fired.”
Smith laughed and said something along the lines of, “Man, you aren’t gonna let me drive it, are you?”
To which I simply replied, “No. Sorry, Will Smith.”
Of course, he understood and was nothing short of cool.
Well, someone has to drive the Porsche.
After my brief moment with Will Smith, the producer returned and said something along the lines of, “Well, if Will can’t drive it, who can?” I responded simply with, “I can.”
He said, “fine,” and got the camera crew together and told me what shot he wanted, which was nothing exciting. He just wanted a shot of the car coming around the corner and pulling up at the shoe shop. Then, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence getting out of the car. With some movie magic, I drove the Porsche 964 (sweating my ass off from nervousness), and Will and Martin got out.
After the shoot
The rest of the shoot was quick and easy. The stars bought some shoes, waved at some fans, and eventually loaded back up in their SUVs with their entourages. After it was all said and done, I was just me and the producer and the 964 on an empty street.
Being a fellow car dork, he asked me more about the car and wanted to sit in it. I let him in, and I got in the passenger seat to talk Porsches. In the middle of the car talk, he said, “I can’t believe you told Will Smith ‘no.’
“I really can’t either,” I said. “Thankfully, he was super cool and didn’t press me too hard. I would have broken eventually.” He laughed and said, “Well, at least you’ll probably never see him again.” This wasn’t overly comforting, but I believe game recognize game, and I believe maybe Will Smith enjoyed having a touch of normal life where some minimum wage employee had to do him like everyone else.
Or maybe the Fresh Prince hates me. Or, more likely, he barely remembers any of it.