Gas Monkey Garage isn't easy to find.
A Google search turned up several addresses, none of them correct. The correct address is in a maze of warehouses, garages and convenience stores in northwest Dallas. The sign with the address is small, and the Gas Monkey mechanics are at work in a garage behind another garage that's filled with restored classic cars and bikes.
Richard Rawlings, Gas Monkey's owner, is out to put the garage on the bigger pop-culture map. He and "mechanical prodigy" Aaron Kaufman, will be featured on the new reality series Fast N' Loud, which premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday (June 6) on Discovery. (If you miss the premiere, it re-airs at 11 p.m. June 6, 2 p.m. June 9 and 3 p.m. June 13).
The series also features KC Mathieu and Scot McMillan, who went to school with Kaufman in Crowley. Rawlings, a Fort Worth native, leads this crew in a quest to find junk cars and restore them into classic rides. Much of this is done at swap meets in Texas, but in the premiere, Rawlings and Kaufman also travel to Missouri to work out a deal on an old car, and Rawlings says he has found cars in barns, open fields, even in lakes and river beds. Here's a taste: An interview with Rawlings and Kaufman follows.
Rawlings, 43, says he's been trying to get a show about Gas Monkey and its business on the air for several years.
"I like to dream big," he says. "It's not like I'm gonna go, 'Hey, I'm gonna have a show on Discovery,' but I hoped I would. So I was happy to raise the flag, and if I could talk to someone who could get me further, I tried."
With the help of a St. Louis-based production company that was on the same wavelength he was, Rawlings made a teaser reel for a show and shopped it around to TV networks. He says he got a few bites, but from less-high-profile networks than Discovery, home of such cable hits as Deadliest Catch. "We didn't want to be on TV to be on TV," Rawlings says. "We wanted to have a good show, and we believe in the caliber of the show we're trying to do."
The show got the attention of Pilgrim Studios, a reality-TV company that produces series such as Ghost Hunters and Top Shot.
It's easy to see why Rawlings wheels and deals so much on the show: He has a fast-talking, ingratiating manner that makes him a natural on camera. Kaufman, who has a beard that wouldn't have been out of place on Hatfields & McCoys (he says it has gotten caught in equipment and even caught on fire while he's working) is a striking presence, and he helps leaven out Rawlings a bit when Rawlings gets a little too enthusiastic.
"You get used to [being on camera] after a while," Rawlings says. "We did it on a lot of other things before, and since February we've had a camera in our faces and I don't really notice anymore."
Kaufman and Rawlings met when Kaufman did some work for Rawlings at some other shops. Rawlings says he has some mechanical skills, but Kaufman is the true prodigy, adept not just in engine work but in body work as well. Rawlings liked Kaufman's enthusiasm and work ethic, and hired Kaufman when he started Gas Monkey. McMillan and Mathieu, friends with Kaufman since high school, also became part of the crew.
"Gas Monkey came along a little bit out of frustration," Rawlings says. "There wasn't enough viable talent in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to get work done in a timely fashion. Also, when you do it quick, it costs more. It got to the point in my world where my hobby was costing me more than it would to have my own shop."
During the beginning of this interview, Kaufman is also in the room, sitting quietly, seeming even a little taciturn. Then the subject of working on cars comes up -- specifically, my own memories of my dad trying to teach me to work on my own cars (it didn't take) and the frequent sight of guys in my old El Paso neighborhood tinkering, a sight that seems to have faded with time.
"That's not just cars, that's everything," Kaufman says. "That has to do with us being a consumer nation. We are no longer do-it-yourself, self-reliant. You just see it in the cars. You don't notice it everywhere else. Nobody wants to do their own plumbing, nobody wants to do their own electrical, nobody wants to do their own gardening, etc. We like to have it done, we just don't want to do it."
Kaufman, who's 30, says he got his self-reliant streak from his grandparents and parents, especially his father, who was also a hot-rodder. Kaufman would read old copies of Popular Mechanics he saw lying on coffee tables. Kaufman says his father quit the hot-rodding life after Kaufman was born, but the mechanical part was still there.
"I still remember being carted around to other people's houses to change motors, smelling car cleaner and stuff like that," Kaufman says. "I kind of fell into it. Other than having a natural aptitude, I just like being outside. Building cars and being mechanical came really easy to me. This is the fun aspect of being mechanical. I could fix air conditioners, but that's not nearly as fun."
The show also provides some history lessons behind certain cars -- something Rawlings said he pushed for, because he thought it was missing from some other flipping and salvaging shows. But even if a car isn't a classic, Rawlings says, it still tells a story.
"If we find a car in a river or a lake bed or whatever, that's the ghost stories," Rawlings says. "That's the story that everyone's always heard from someone else about the Bugatti that was hidden in someone's garage for 50 years. We chase a lot of those. A lot of times we come up empty-handed. A lot of times we find out it wasn't quite true, it was the house around the corner and so-and-so had it. But if I hear a story and I've got the time, I'll chase it down to see if it's true."
If Rawlings is looking to raise Gas Monkey's profile through his own business dealings and through the stories behind the cars, Kaufman hopes that viewers will learn some things that they can put to good use.
"You can probably tell we don't have a lot of fancy equipment," Kaufman says. "Our tools are no different what they can go and pick up in a local tool store. ... We'd like to show [viewers] that you can drag practically anything into the shop, and with enough sweat and enough electricity, you can build it yourself."