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Driving with the Stig on History's 'Top Gear'

As any fan of the U.K. and U.S. versions of the car-centric reality show "Top Gear" knows, The Stig is a race-car driver of some sort, perpetually clad in white jumpsuit and helmet, mirrored visor down, silent and mysterious.

(OK, there was that moment when the U.K. "Top Gear" tried to say The Stig was German Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, but not even host Jeremy Clarkson seemed to buy that.)

The U.S. version of "Top Gear," which airs Sundays on History, premiered its second season in late July, sending hosts Rutledge Wood, Tanner Foust and Adam Ferrara on wild automotive adventures. These often end badly for Ferrara's cars, but more on that later.

Seeking some publicity, "Top Gear" recently invited some journalists down to the test track at a former military base in Southern California. Obviously, one can't interview The Stig, so instead the show offered a ride with him around the test track. It's used for The Stig's own test-drives of high-powered cars and for celebrity guests to seek a fast lap time in a little red Suzuki.

On this misty, overcast morning, the car in question was a white -- matching The Stig's attire -- Lotus Evora S, which will set you back in the neighborhood of $80,000.

Over two trips around the track, with its short straightaways -- or at least they seemed short in the Lotus -- and tight turns, at something well north of 100 mph, The Stig was calm and precise in shifting and braking (true, he might have been crossing his eyes under the helmet, and no one would know), and the car hugged the road as if its tires were glued to the pavement.

At the same time, the safety-helmeted passenger kept a good grip on the door handle, since this street-legal Lotus didn't come with a three-point harness.

After a pair of heady, exhilarating laps, during which the Lotus came perilously close but never actually touched tires, hay bales, fences or grass and stayed solidly on its wheels throughout, the experience ended successfully for all involved.

And no, The Stig did not speak, respond to comments or indicate he was aware of the presence of others, except when posing for pictures.

Then it was time to down a cup of coffee and head off to talk to the hosts, back from their excursions and ready to tape the show's studio segments outside and inside a former airplane hangar.

But on the way to meet the hosts in one of the dressing trailers, it was mentioned that the three had coined a new word, "Ferrara-ed," or, in verb form, "to Ferrara," which appeared to mean the comedian's cars ended segments in somewhat less than usable condition.

"For a car," says Ferrara when asked about the term, "it means to know your car's limit and go beyond it."

"No," says Foust, "this is not the correct meaning."

"It's to know your car's limits," says Wood, "and ignore them."

Foust added, "If you" -- looking at Ferrara when he said this -- "had identified said limits and then went beyond them, but you really don't have a clue of what those limits are."

"Actually," says Ferrara, "it's to go past the limits and look back and go, 'That's where the limit would have been.' "

Asked who actually came up with the phrase, Wood says, "It may have been me."

"I think it was Rutledge," Foust says. "We were doing the in-studio [introduction] for Texas. We spent a weekend in Texas, all of us, finding a replacement for the modern pickup. We used compact cars to do that. We had to do all the things in Texas that a truck would do."

"There was a chance that, at the end, Adam's Ford Maverick might have suffered a similar fate to his other vehicles."

"It wasn't even at the end," Ferrara says.

"It was near the end," Wood says.

"Near the end," Foust says.

"It was set ablaze," Wood says.

"Not intentionally," Ferrara says.

"Not intentionally," Wood agrees.

While narrating the segment later, Wood listed all of Ferrara's wrecked automobiles, saying the Ford was just another one he'd "Ferrara-ed."

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