Charlestowne Drift: Toyotas get fast and furious inside St. Charles mall for a new commercial
It was a scene many dream of: race cars and free rein inside an abandoned mall.
Carpet flew and floor tiles were adorned with tire tracks as three members of Toyota's Gazoo Racing team tore through Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles to show off the car company's new GR Supra.
Their stunts through the mall are featured in a four-minute commercial dubbed "The Focus Group." The commercial, released last week on YouTube, pokes fun of the ad development process. While focus group members and junior executives excitedly react to the stunts, company executives push for more mundane scenes like a car display in a mall or a shot of the car's backup camera in use.
"I think it's super cool because everyone is talking about it now," St. Charles Mayor Lora Vitek said of the commercial. She said she was unaware of the commercial when it was filmed in late January but has received numerous calls since its release.
"Of course, we want the mall to serve the needs of St. Charles," she said, noting that the city is working to have the property redeveloped. In the meantime, she said, having a commercial shot at the mall isn't a bad thing.
"We'll take the publicity," she said.
A 32-minute behind-the-scenes video shot by Larry Chen, a Los Angeles photographer and videographer working with Toyota, gives an insider's look at the making of the commercial. It also explores the surreal setting inside the mall, which has been off-limits to the public.
"It kind of feels sad," champion Formula Drift driver Fredric Aasbo, who has been driving for 15 years and is ranked as the top Formula Drift racer, says in the video. "I'm a child of the '80s and '90s, and I remember growing up in the malls.
"It's fun because we're drifting in a mall," he added. "But it also feels sad because we're burning out in a piece of my childhood."
Aasbo is the driver spotted at the beginning of the Toyota commercial in a white G86, speeding in the parking lot and then completing an impressive turn into a parking spot. Inside the mall, he drives his gold Supra around tight corners, through the empty Kohl's and Carson Pirie Scott stores and in tight formations with fellow Formula Drift racers and Gazoo Racing teammates Jhonnattan Castro and Ken Gushi.
"It was surreal," Aasbo said Tuesday when reached by phone. "I've gone to some pretty exotic and unique locations, but I've never drifted inside of a mall ... it was a very interesting experience."
Aasbo, who was in Los Angeles for a Formula Drift event, said Tuesday that the flooring materials in the mall -- carpeting, tile and wood -- provided a different type of driving field.
"It was really impressive," said Joe Meneghini, property manager for Charlestowne Mall. "They were very good at what they were doing."
Initially concerned that the drivers would not have enough clearance between the pillars, spaced 30 feet apart in the mall, Meneghini was reassured the drivers only needed 15 feet of space to complete their maneuvers.
"The vehicles were inches from each other, and they never touched," he said. "They knew exactly where all the edges of the vehicles were at all times."
Meneghini said it was a local member of the production crew that sent scouts to the mall.
In his video, Chen marvels at the mall's condition, saying it looked as if mall tenants could have just moved out days before the commercial shot. The inside of the mall closed in late 2017, though Von Maur and Classic Cinemas still take up two anchor spots and remain open.
"I know you urban explorers are jealous," Chen said in his video as he walked the mall showing off the gumball dispensers still filled with gumballs and some of the other mall artifacts like mannequins, store shelving and the fire truck strollers for toddlers, left behind.
He and Aasbo said having cars racing and drifting through an abandoned mall reminded them of Chevy Chase films or "The Blues Brothers."
"This is like 'The Blues Brothers' on steroids," Aasbo said on Chen's video.
Toyota isn't the only company drawn to the St. Charles mall for filming. Meneghini said a television show for Amazon Prime Video was filmed at the mall last year. Meneghini could not disclose details of the show but said he believed it would be released later this year.