Driving Darth Vader: How CNY put a star back in his race

Hayden Christensen probably wishes he had a space ship to take him from Syracuse to Toronto Saturday night when his Ferrari broke down on North Salina Street.

Instead, the 25-year-old actor who played Anakin Skywalker in the last two “Star Wars” movies, spent eight hours in a flat bed truck with an Oswego County tow truck operator.

Christensen was driving in Bullrun 2006, an invitation-only, cross-country tour from New York to Los Angeles. The week-long tour costs $14,000 to enter and features 100 of the most exclusive cars in the world. Christensen was driving a $125,000, 1999 Ferrari with only 6,000 miles on it. At about 6 p.m. Saturday, his transmission broke down while driving on Interstate 81 in Syracuse. He pulled off the highway onto North Salina Street, near St. Joseph’s Hospital, to call a tow company.

Steve Burdick, who owns AAAA Burdick Discount Towing, was probably the first guy Christensen found in the phone book. Burdick didn’t know Christensen was famous when he pulled up to the scene.

“I just thought he had a rich daddy,” Burdick said. “I asked him what he does for a living and he said he was studying to become an actor, so I didn’t think much of it. I asked him if he knows Tom Cruise and he said he did.”

The pair spent more than an hour trying to figure out how to load the Ferrari onto the truck. It was stuck in second gear, Burdick said, and wouldn’t start. Finally, Burdick ran to a convenience store, bought a bottle of Wesson cooking oil and lubed the tires so they’d slide onto the flat bed.

“I’ve never hooked up a Ferrari before,” he said. “It took some fancy maneuvering to hook it up to the truck.”

The tow to Toronto was going to cost $1,000: $3.95 per mile

plus a $75 hook-up, Burdick said. Christensen agreed and they began the roughly 240-mile journey into Canada. Burdick still didn’t know his companion was the young Darth Vader.

Burdick told Christensen that he was a born again Christian and asked him if he had given his life to the Lord, he said. Hayden told Burdick that he believed “people came from monkeys,” Burdick said. The conversation got a bit deep and heated at times, Burdick said.

They listened to cassettes called, “A View from the Top” by born-again Christian motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. They stopped for gas in Rochester and Christensen bought Burdick a Burger King Whopper, he said.

It wasn’t until about 10 p.m., when they were about to cross the Canadian border in Niagara Falls, that Burdick finally realized his passenger wasn’t just the son of some rich guy.

Christensen joked nervously that Burdick should pray for him that there would be no paperwork issues to delay them at Customs as they crossed the border. The Ferrari dealership employees were waiting for them in Toronto, he said. But there were no paperwork delays whatsoever.

“The girls at the border knew him,” Burdick said. “Two of them got his autograph. . . . That’s when he told me about “Star Wars.’ ”

Burdick immediately called his children, who own the “Star Wars” DVDs. They took turns talking on the phone with Christensen. “He was a real normal joe,” Burdick said.

By 1 a.m., they pulled into the Hilton Hotel in Toronto, Burdick said. The Ferrari people and Christensen’s parents were waiting for him in the parking lot. So were a crowd of fans.

“Everyone wanted his picture and autograph,” Burdick said.

As Burdick said his good-byes to Christensen, the actor’s father insisted on paying for his son’s tow from Syracuse to Toronto. Burdick said he hopes to stay in touch with the young celebrity and plans on sending him a gift: a Zig Ziglar disc set.

Burdick drove back to Syracuse and spent the next day watching his kids’ “Star Wars” DVDs.

“He seemed like such a nice fellow,” Burdick said. “So down to earth. . . . When I shook hands with him, I could feel the warmth.”

Comments are closed.