Wednesday, June 19, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 15

Santa Maria Sun / Humor

The following article was posted on February 11th, 2015, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 49

Reality bites


I received a random email from a television producer asking if I was interested in being on a new reality television show about building and racing cars. Being a gearhead and racecar driver, I responded to the email immediately, saying, “YES! Of course! What took you so long?” I was hoping the future television endeavor would provide me with a fast car and somehow make me famous enough on television that my kids would think that I was cool.

As a father, it’s pretty tough to get your kids to think you’re cool. In my children’s minds, nothing I have ever done was cool, and my accomplishments are lame and boring. The fact that there are funny stories written by me every other week in the Sun? My kids are not impressed. The fact I have won a racing championship driving for Nissan Motorsports? Yawn. The fact that I have published a novel called Cadet Blues? My kids haven’t read it. Why would they? It was written by their nerdy dad. I didn’t let that one bother me (much), because it would all change once they saw me on television.

The television producers who were working on the show were from the BBC. Yes, that is the British Broadcasting Corporation, not NBC, a channel my kids are actually familiar with. To add insult to injury, my wife, whom I love, said, “Oh, you’re going to be on cable TV. I thought you said you were going to be on real TV.” To me, this was real TV. This show was being produced by the same people who make Top Gear, the world’s most watched television show about cars. Sure, it was cable TV, but even Kim Kardashian is only on cable. Eventually the show (and I) would be on Netflix, and I would get my own IMDB page (albeit a very short page with no photograph). Maybe with Netflix my kids would finally think I was cool. But even if my wife and kids weren’t excited about the show, I totally was.

The producers told me the show would be “a fun and awesome experience” and that the set would be “a car guy’s dream workshop” and that I could drive a fast car around a racetrack. The show would be called Mud, Sweat and Gears, and there would be racing and challenges in the show, and there would be a winner. I like to win. I told them: “Sign me up!” And so they did. I filled out a mountain of legal paperwork and was told to be in Los Angeles for three days. They would provide me a lush hotel room and three square meals a day. Fancy.

I arrived in Los Angeles and was put up in a motel, emphasis on the “m,” and the next morning, on the set, I was given a cold breakfast burrito for my meal. It wasn’t a good start. There was no makeup or wardrobe as this was a reality TV show and things needed to be realistic. Well, everything needed to be realistic except for the part of the show where I would be working on the car.

The producers said they brought me on the first episode of the show to give the program “authenticity” and to have “real car guys” modifying cars and racing them. When I was shown the car I would be working on, a beat up 1977 Pontiac Firebird (think Smokey and the Bandit with a lot of Bondo and rust), I was also shown my “dream workshop.” The workshop had a few tools, most of them for working with wood. I could have built a pinewood derby car, but I certainly couldn’t modify a ’77 Firebird. While cameras followed my every move, I looked around the toolboxes and finally found some wrenches. The problem was the wrenches were metric, and I had an older American car to work on, which didn’t have any metric bolts. I started to tinker on the car, and then, the director yelled, “Cut!” I was swooped out of the way and movie car mechanics from the crew that build The Fast and The Furious cars jumped in to make “the magic happen.”

There was no time for me to work on the car since I had interviews to do in front of the camera. I spent hours and hours talking about my childhood, my favorite car, detailing what kind of modifications I was going to make to the Firebird. “I have a lot of modifications to make if you just let me get back to the car and do them!” It never happened. The movie car guys were making my Firebird look great for television but didn’t bother to make the car drive great for racing. I was in trouble.

Cut to the racing challenge where I would be driving the now souped-up Firebird (the one I just didn’t spend exactly 24 hours modifying) in a head-to-head chase scene. The track I was about to maneuver through was a concrete jungle in downtown Los Angeles. In my professional racing opinion, there were problems with the course and lots of problems with the car. I grabbed the producer and gave him my two cents, which, in full disclosure, he didn’t ask for. “The air pressure in the tires is at an unknown amount, since nobody on this set has a tire gauge, let alone ‘the ultimate set of tools’ as I was promised. It’s dangerous.”

The producer told me, “Don’t worry, it will be fine. This is television.”

“Yes, it is television, but it’s also racing, and you don’t know a darn thing about race cars.”

The producer shot back, “Well, frankly, you don’t know a darn thing about making television.”

“I own a television! You don’t a race car!”

“Just drive the car. That’s what we brought you on the show to do.”

“OK, but I’ll probably drive the tires right off the thing.”

“It will be fine. Have fun!”

They said “action,” and I had some fun. Drove the Firebird like a madman, and then just like I said I would, I literally drove the tires right off the car and lost the race on television for everyone in the world to watch. And if the world would like to, they can watch my defeat over and over again on reruns. How fun for me.

Enjoy Mud, Sweat and Gears on BBC America, Season 1, Episode 1, where I definitely don’t win.


Because he actually was on TV, Rob’s 
kids did watch the show but were 
unimpressed when he lost the episode. 
If you enjoy Rob’s stories check out his novel Cadet Blues available on

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