What were you learning about when you were 8 years old? Chances are, it wasn’t advanced car control on the frozen roads of Sweden, like Samuel Hubinette. Growing up near the Arctic Circle typically meant seven months of snow and ice, both of which played a major role in Hubinettes incredible abilities behind the wheel. So how does an unknown kid from a small town in Sweden end up as a drift champion and stunt car driver for commercials and major motion pictures? We sat down with “The Crazy Swede” to find out…
Do you remember your first time behind the wheel? Where were you and what were you driving?
First time of my life when I started to drive, I got to start driving the frozen lakes of Northern Sweden in my dad’s Mercedes turbo diesel. It’s a great place for someone young to learn car control. It’s slippery and quite challenging but also very forgiving. If you make a mistake you only go into a snowplow, which is not too bad. Everything from snowmobiles to dirt bikes – I was riding when I was young. My fathers company had a lot of machines, trucks, tractors and such, so I got to wheel around all kinds of vehicles.
How did you get your job test-driving for Volvo? What did your job consist of while you were there?
Growing up in Northern Sweden in a small town by the Arctic Circle, we were a 12-hour drive from the closest racetrack. It felt so hard to become a professional driver or racecar driver. There were a lot of German car manufacturers driving past our town and filling up their cars at the gas station. We’d always run over and look at the test cars – they were modified. One day I heard that Volvo was doing testing near my town at a secret location, it was a military air base. So I just called Volvo’s main phone and told the lady that I wanted to talk to the person in charge of winter testing and she said ok. And she connected me to the right person right away. He asked me about my background and I told him I had a mechanical background from high school, college and also I’d been working with my dad’s trucking company. Three weeks later they called me and had me go in for an interview and they hired me. I became the winter test driver in 1992 and did that for 3 years. I kept pushing to become a full time employee and finally made that, then moved to their main test facility – Volvo Proving Grounds That got me more involved with stunt driving for Volvo and also got involved with the race teams – we started doing Touring car racing. After 9 years with Volvo, I quit, and I went to California and tried to pursue stunt driving in the Hollywood [movie] industry.
How did you become a professional drifter?
I came to LA/Orange County and no one knew who I was. I tried to reach out to the Hollywood industry, which was very tough, because no one knew anything of my background or skills. Then 2 months later, September 11th happened. I thought what to do now? I’m here now and the whole country is depressed about what had happened but I thought I’d rather be poor here on the beach than making a living in Sweden because I really liked the country, the weather, the California lifestyle with all of the cool cars and palm trees – it was really my cup of tea. I just kept pushing hard and sold cars from dealer auctions and then drifting came about in 2003, they came over from Japan with D1. I heard about that and thought this could be my opportunity to show what I can do. Sliding a car was something I’d done since a young kid, and all the test track high speeds, I was very comfortable drifting 100mph. Went to the drivers search with a 350z that we rented in LA (laughs). I managed to qualify number one out of 52 guys, only 8 were qualified to move on. It was a good start and that’s how I broke in. One thing led to another and I managed to get Mopar to see me driving a Supra and that gave me the opportunity to become a paid driver for one of the large manufacturers. It was a huge dream come true.
What was it like being the first ever Formula Drift Champion?
It was surreal, getting thrown into a Dodge Viper that had been a dream car of mine, just to try it. I was sponsored by a manufacturer and they were supplying me with a full-blown racecar…it was AMAZING. I was pinching myself. I was so thankful and just blessed – I’d finally broke through. Being the champion, I wasn’t thinking too much about it at first. I mean at each event I’d won, I was very happy but I wasn’t thinking about it because I didn’t know how much it meant until afterward. That’s when I realized wow, to have the championship in this country meant a lot. I was very proud to be the champion and so far, I have the most 1st place victories in Formula Drift history, up to today, so that’s pretty cool! It opened the door to future sponsors like Dodge, Mopar, BG Goodrich, and MagnaFlow. And Sparco has supported me all through the years – I had several other sponsors and there are a few I still have a connection with through personal relationships. Like with MagnaFlow, every vehicle I own has a MagnaFlow system.
What was your most memorable moment driving in the FD series?
When I won the championship again in 2006, that was a big, big moment. It was a tough battle with Rhys Millen all the way to the end; we were going back to back. I got to prove that it wasn’t just the car or anything like that, it was the whole combination of the team, the set up and the experience I had from many years of driving sideways.
What was your first stunt-driving job?
In 1992 for the new Volvo 850 Turbo that they were shooting in Northern Sweden. It was really cool; they were filming with a helicopter chasing me up the winter roads. It was cool and definitely got me hooked to push for driving for commercials and movies and I tried to pursue that career.
What was it like being a part of the F&F series?
Tokyo Drift was a big breakthrough for me and it was the first big movie I got to be a part of. It helped open doors and relationships with other stunt men. It showed that I could perform on movie sets. It was hard work, we were working nights for 6 o r 7 weeks and it was a lot of pressure. I didn’t want to make a mistake and get kicked out. But it was a blast working with my colleagues from the drift world where we were all competing and now we were working together.
Can you tell us if you will be making an appearance in F&F 7?
Actually I was not on that job. I have focused on car commercials lately. I was on Night Crawler with Jake Gyllenhaal and Need For Speed which launched last year. It’s tough to commit to big movies when you have 3 kids. If it’s a short period I can do it, but if it’s for months out of the country, it’s tough.
What’s your most memorable moment as a stunt driver?
Being part of Fast and Furious. It was big, exciting and my first time in a Hollywood production. It was a big step for my career.
As a two-time Formula Drift Champion, do you see yourself ever driving in FormulaD again?
After drifting I did Global Rallycross at X Games and really enjoyed that Instead of going sideways it was about going faster. It was refreshing. So if I were to ever go back, that would probably be my number one choice.
Do you have any advice for young enthusiasts out there?
You have to go and practice and you need RWD car, modified for drift with a good steering angle, the more torque the better. Unfortunately motorsports are expensive, especially drifting – you’ll be burning up tires. For me it was good living in the snow.
It’s a tough industry to get into for anyone. My advice is you need to get out there and network, meet people, because connections will be key. It’s tough because you have to work in order to learn. Make the connections with those that will give you the opportunity
Where do you see the future of motorsports going?
Drifting has the potential to continue. It’s not very environmentally friendly but people will still support the sport. It’s fun to watch live, though not so much on TV. Formula D has done a great job with the competition layout. Rallycross is exciting to watch live or on TV. I think those are the motorsports that will do well.