Arts & Culture News

Gas Monkey Garage's Richard Rawlings on What's Kept Fast N' Loud Running Hot for 11 Seasons

Richard Rawlings, owner of the Gas Monkey Garage and bar and grill that's become one of Dallas' most popular live music venues, doesn't like hearing the term "reality show" when it's directed at his Discovery Channel show Fast N' Loud.

Even though cameras are filming his business and his staff as they turn vehicles into the kind of hell screaming hot rods that gearheads see in their dreams, Rawlings says he likes to keep the cameras on the builds and away from the bawdy, overblown drama that goes on around them.

"A lot of reality shows get into the personal life but we've kept that away," Rawlings says. "We've stayed with the business and even though we have the arguments and disagreements that eight guys in a building trying to do a job would have, we try to keep that off the cameras because it's too much drama. Really what it is is we have eight guys who are having fun doing what they do."

That pitch may not sound like music to a typical TV executive's ears in this gilded age of reality television where "real" housewives flip dining room tables and 20-somethings flirt with public intoxication laws. However, Fast 'N Loud has succeeded by making a car show that's honest about cars and the business of buying and selling them for 11 seasons and counting.

"As far as I'm concerned with my show — because it truly is my garage, my business and my cars that we buy and sell and fix — it is not a scripted reality show and we stick to that," Rawlings says. "The first time I lost money on a car, the production didn't know what to do. They were like 'What do we do with that?' I was like, 'We show it to the audience.'"

Capturing footage for the show is a never-ending process of filming. Rawlings says the show's production team have been on a five-year filming binge.

"We don't take a break like a lot of shows that film for two or three months," he says. "We film year round. So we take a week in the summer and a week in the winter just like a normal job. So we film every single day. We're filming today. That allows us to make the cars and the quality of the show what it is instead of taking a few months off here and there."

Pretty much every time Rawlings and his crew enter the shop, the cameras start rolling.

"Everybody has a microphone on at all times and there's three cameras around the building at all times and if I leave to go buy a car, they follow us," Rawlings says. "It's not every waking moment but when we're at the office, it's film time and when we've got the spare time, I've got three others shows on Discovery."

Right now, Rawlings is involved in three shows for Discovery including Fast 'N Loud, the car clip show Demolition Theater, which he hosts with his chief mechanic Aaron Kaufman, and Misfit Garage, a spinoff series featuring ex-Gas Monkey mechanics Tom Smith and Jordan Butler, who started a rival car building business called Fired Up Garage. A soon-to-come fourth show for Discovery will be Garage Rehab, in which he helps failing garages and shops get their business in better shape.

"I have a little bit of a twist," Rawlings says about Garage Rehab. "I invest in their company to get my investment back as I help them along the way and get them turned around and on the right track."

All of this exposure on an international network has also boosted his business' brand. It's not only turned their Merrell Road garage into a gearhead Valhalla but it's also enabled them to expanded the brand into a line of energy drinks, cinnamon tequila and pretty much anything capable of bearing the garage's iconic tongue-dangling monkey-head logo. Gas Monkey Garage even scored their own monster truck and it debuted in this year's Monster Jam.

Of course, when he's not filming something for the four shows he has in development, he's back at the shop focusing on his cars. Right now, he and his crew are working on a 1965 Ford Econoline truck for Mattel in the hopes they will make a miniature version for their Hot Wheels toy car line.

"It's gonna be crazy," Rawlings says. "It's not only flat nosed but it's got a center steering seat and the motor faces backwards and the blowers go taller than the top of the truck."

Rawlings says he enjoys having a variety of different cars in his shop instead of just a steady stream of sleek muscle cars that look like only Steve McQueen should be allowed to drive them. The same principle applies to the show. So far this season, the guys at Gas Monkey Garage have rebuilt cool classics like a 1972 DeTomaso Pantera sports car and turned a rusty 1949 Chevy pickup into something worthy of competing at the Lone Star Throwdown in Houston.

"I really like the variety and I like to do the bulk of our cars as cars that people can understand and relate to and afford," Rawlings says. "I used to watch some of the other motorcycle shows on television 10 or 15 years ago because I was a gearhead and I'd be depressed at the end because I can't afford a $200,000 motorcycle."

Rawlings also likes to keep himself in check when he's in front of the camera unlike other car shows where the stars' egos can get in the way of the project. He says cars aren't just for guys who think they're guys' guys.

"My whole idea with it in watching on TV all those years ago is they were too macho, [had] too [much] bravado and 'I'm such a tough guy,'" he says. "They were forgetting the other 90 percent of the audience which is regular guys and women and children and grandma and grandpas. I'll have everyone from 90-year-old ladies wanting to come up and kiss me on the cheek and say they love the show to dads bringing their newborns over wearing onesies."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.