Fans of small screen motoring shows will know Richard Rawlings well—or at least they might think they do! The star of the reality TV show Fast N’ Loud, Rawlings is the owner of the Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas, Texas, and has also expanded the brand by opening two Gas Monkey Grill restaurants, one in the city and one at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Rawlings has even opened Gas Monkey Live, a music venue which can accommodate 3,000 people and hosted a Motley Crue gig in 2015.
Rawlings first found national fame when Fast N’ Loud made its debut on the Discovery Channel in 2012 and as of 2019, the show had run for 14 seasons and an impressive 133 episodes. On the show, Rawlings and his team—whoever that happens to be at the time—take old and beat-up cars, and restore and modify them to create gorgeous new vehicles which they then sell for a profit.
The team at the Gas Monkey Garage love to get creative with their restored vehicles, and some are more like mobile works of art than cars you would want to take out for a drive; although it would also be a crying shame to leave such great vehicles gathering dust in the garage. Rawlings himself is a total gearhead, owning several classic vehicles as well as a couple of stylish supercars.
Regular viewers of Fast N’ Loud will know that there is no love lost between Richard Rawlings and Jesse James, a fellow motoring obsessive, albeit that James is better known for his custom motorcycles, thanks to the TV shows Motorcycle Mania and Monster Garage. Rawlings and James have had something of a long-running feud,as two of the best vehicle modifiers in Texas (James is based in Austin) and Rawlings even dumped a truck of manure on James’ driveway. Apparently, their grudge goes back to the days when they worked together on the TV series Biker Build-Off, which ended way back in 2007.
Fans of Fast N’ Loud will know that Rawlings has a larger-than-life on-screen presence. So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that his personal life is just as colorful. His first marriage was to Karen Grames in 1993, though the couple only stayed together for about a year before separating and then divorcing. He later married Suzanne Mergele in Las Vegas in 1999, but the stress of setting up the Gas Monkey Garage took its toll on the couple, who divorced in 2009. However, it must have been true love, as Richard and Suzanne eventually got remarried in 2015 in Cabo, Mexico.
Rawlings is a successful businessman, a creative modifier of cars, and a record-setting racing driver. He does, however, have another string to his bow, as he has also written a book, which is partly an autobiography and partly an automotive handbook. It's essential reading for anyone who has been inspired by some of Rawlings’ creations on Fast N’ Loud. The book, which is itself entitled Fast N’ Loud: Blood, Sweat, and Beers, takes the reader back to the beginnings of his automotive career and his TV success, as well as including handy hints and instructions for carrying out your own basic modifications.
Rawlings has gained such a reputation as an automotive genius since Fast N’ Loud started screening on the Discovery Channel that he has even been asked to star in car commercials. He featured in a series of ads for the 2015 Dodge Charger, which also featured a cute CGI simian called Gas Monkey. Because Rawlings owns Gas Monkey Garage, right? This wasn’t the first time that Dodge had worked with Rawlings to promote their vehicles. Rawlings also hosted an event to promote the Dodge Viper at his Gas Monkey Live music venue, with legendary rock band Motley Crue headlining the show.
In fact, Rawlings bought his first car when he was just 14 years old, and therefore not even old enough to drive it on the road! It seems that the motoring expert was more interested in fixing cars up than driving them—at least when he was a young man. And as far as first cars go, Rawlings' choice was always going to be special: a 1974 Mercury Comet which he modified to his own tastes and which eventually became the car that he learned to drive in. He later sold the Comet but has said that he always regretted letting that special vehicle go.
By the time he graduated from Eastern Hills High School, Rawlings had already turned his interest in fixing cars into a profitable little business, buying at least 20 cars in order to fix them up before he then sold them on for a profit. Flipping cars has remained the basic business model for Rawlings throughout his career at Gas Monkey Garage and this is exactly how he started out when he was still a teenager. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and Rawlings has obviously struck on very a successful way of mixing business with pleasure.
Rawlings isn’t just a talented and successful mechanic; he is also passionate about driving cars, and as well as having a collection of vehicles that would make you green with envy, he also takes part in motorsport races. He tends to prefer road races, where groups of drivers compete over long distances to reach a final destination in the shortest time. Although they don’t have the same sporting significance as NASCAR and Indy Car races, participants certainly take them seriously, and some big-name celebrities take part in these races, including Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, David Hasselhoff, and Pimp My Ride presenter Xzibit.
There are several of these road rally races which take place all over the world but the two most famous are probably the Gumball 3000 rally and the Cannonball Run, and Richard Rawlings has taken part in both of them. Established in 1999, this is a 3,000-mile road race for around 120 racers, most of whom drive modified supercars. The contest is notorious for drivers being stopped for speeding and when the race passed through the Netherlands, several participants had their cars confiscated. Rawlings is a regular participant in the prestigious race and has even won the Gumball 3000 rally twice.
The Cannonball Run is the other major road race which usually takes place in the USA and used to be a coast-to-coast dash when it was first launched in the 1970s. Although the race has been revived for the modern era, motorsport fans still see the traditional Cannonball Run as the 2,800 miles from New York City to Los Angeles. In 2007, Rawlings and his co-pilot set a new unofficial time for the old Cannonball Run of 32 hours and 51 minutes, breaking a record which had stood since 1979. Rawlings only held the record for a few years, as it was beaten again in 2013.
As you would expect, Rawlings doesn’t just work on cars for clients or old bangers which he is restoring in order to sell. He also works on cars that he has bought for himself, which has led to him having one of the most impressive car collections going. Perhaps the highlight of his collection is the oldest vehicle he owns: a 1932 Ford Hot Rod, which has been lovingly restored but with a few modern twists and a stylish custom paint job. Rawlings didn’t restore this car just to have it sitting around like a museum piece. Despite its advanced age, he still takes it out regularly for a drive.
His heart may belong to his classic Ford, but the rest of Rawlings’ expansive and expensive car collection is pretty impressive too. He owns several supercars, including a Ferrari F40 which Rawlings repainted in black (all 1,300 Ferrari F40 models were initially painted red), a 1989 Lamborghini Countach, and a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback. Rawlings is clearly a connoisseur of classic cars, as many of the vehicles in his collection are from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, though he does own one genuine antique as well: a Willys-Overland Touring car built in 1915 which the Gas Monkey Garage team had to almost rebuild from scratch.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Rawlings is only capable of restoring and modifying cars. The talented mechanic also has plenty of experience when it comes to restoring and customizing motorcycles too. He and former Fast N’ Loud regular Aaron Kaufman once put their creative talents to the test by entering a motorcycle build-off, creating a fearsome machine that they took on a test drive from Dallas to Las Vegas. Kaufman himself was an experienced mechanic who had worked for Global Motorsports Group, a company which modifies already outstanding cars to make them even more powerful, ready for motor racing events.
Not only did Rawlings and Kaufman manage to create a great-looking machine that took them from Dallas to Vegas in some style, but they even managed to finish second in the biker build-off, despite being up against some of the best motorcycle builders in the business, including Rawlings’ big TV rival, Jesse James, and his team from the Austin Speed Shop. Others who took part in the build-off were bike experts Paul Jr. Designs and Orange County Choppers, who both featured on another Discovery motoring series, American Chopper. Rawlings must have enjoyed getting one over on all those so-called motorbike specialists!
As with many boys and young men who develop an early interest in fixing up old vehicles, Rawlings got his love of cars from his father. Soon, however, his skills had surpassed those of his old man, so when his father needed some help fixing up an old truck so that he could sell it, Rawlings was only happy to help. It turns out that his dad wasn’t so keen on Rawlings’ choice of modifications, which included removing some of the features that had been added to make the truck look cool, such as faux ostrich skin seat covers, but the two men enjoyed working together, and Rawlings Sr was happy when the truck was sold.
Rawlings may have a car collection that would make most motoring fans turn green with envy, but he still feels that one very important car is missing: the 1974 Mercury Comet that was the first vehicle he bought and the car in which he learned to drive. He has often claimed that Comet was the best car he has ever owned, and he has made several attempts to track down the exact vehicle, having to settle instead for the same make and model. He has bought up a few 1974 Comets in his time but his quest to track down the original car that he once owned remains unfulfilled.
It seems that Rawlings isn’t just a difficult man to be married to, but he is also a difficult man to work for. So many staff members have left Gas Monkey Garage over the years—either of their own volition or after being fired—that they could probably set up their own garage. The most high-profile member of staff to leave was Rawlings’ right-hand man Aaron Kaufman, who quit in 2017 to set up his own business. Two other members of the staff were reportedly fired for swearing at their boss after he rebuked them for letting a disabled fan pose for a picture owned by Rawlings.
Back in the days when Rawlings was flipping cars and selling his reasonably successful printing business to expand his Gas Monkey Garage, he could probably never have foreseen just how successful he would become, mainly thanks to the high profile his business has achieved through the Fast N’ Loud TV series. Rawlings is paid $50,000 per episode by the Discovery Channel and thanks to the success of his Gas Monkey business empire, he is estimated to have a net worth of around $15 million. As well as his valuable collection of cars, Rawlings also bought a $1.7 million mansion in Dallas in 2015.
Before he was a motoring legend or even the boss of a successful printing company, Rawlings held down a few ordinary jobs. His first career move came in 1990 when he became a firefighter in Dallas. He also worked as a law enforcement officer and as a paramedic—all before the age of 21—just so that he had enough money to keep buying cars which needed some TLC, before selling them for some much-needed profit. Rawlings always hoped that he would be able to make a living from his hobby but he had to wait over a decade before that dream would finally come true.
Rawlings may look like he was born with a wrench in his hand but for years his passion for cars was just a hobby. He actually had several other jobs before he started Gas Monkey Garage and got into the motoring business. In fact, Rawlings sold a previous business in order to get the capital to expand his repair shop. He sold his old printing company, Lincoln Press, in 2004, a couple of years after Gas Monkey Garage had opened and he realized that he could work full-time on cars while still earning enough money to support himself and his family.
As with many of the guys and girls who have made their name on motoring TV shows, Rawlings started tinkering with cars when he was still at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth. As a teenager, he used to enjoy working on vehicles belonging to family and friends, and he soon realized that this was a passion which was always going to be much more than a hobby. In fact, he was so fixated on fixing up cars, that it left him little time for pursuing other interests, with old school friends even going so far as to describe Rawlings as a bit of a geek.
Sources: Gas Monkey Garage, Speed Society, Motor Authority, and Discovery.