There have been bumps in the road, burn outs, and good years, but the one consistent driving factor of the Gas Monkey empire is the man in the driver’s seat. Richard Rawlings, a prolific businessman and the star of Discovery’s hit show, Fast N’ Loud, now, 53 years the wiser, has kept the pedal to the metal regardless of who or what he may run over. For Rawlings, Gas Monkey, the iconic brand behind the show, synonymous with high-octane, horsepower, and the attitude to match, is much more than a garage. It is a state of mind—wild, fun, macho, edgy, with zero f’s given. But just as any brand, there is a huge story behind it, and the consumers only get to see the tip of the iceberg, or in this case, the tip of the banana if you will.
Today, Rawlings, dripping in six figures worth of Cartier bracelets on his wrist, fully sleeved in tattoos, and who’s daily driver ranges from vanity plated Italian exotics like his Ferrari 599 to his prized 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500, which was one of the fist cars built by Gas Monkey Garage and inspired by The Thomas Crown Affair, parks himself proudly on his showroom floor but clearly says he is far from the finish line. “I feel like I’m a few commas from where I should be or at least one comma now,” speaking of his past business dealing with partners who he has now left in the dust as well as contracts with the Discovery Channel that limited his ability to market himself on social media.
Over the past two years, Rawlings has been cleaning house and polishing his $100-million company. “I’ve restyled it all, and the good thing is that COVID didn’t allow anybody to gain on me. I’m on my own now, 100 percent. I built this debt-free, and I plan to run it the way I want to,” he says with laser focus.
It hasn’t always been this way, though. Rawlings has had his ups and downs, from which he gleaned insight that has fueled his cunning and shrewd business prowess today.
The Starting Line
Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas, he would get up at 3 a.m. to roll and throw newspapers with his father and then repeat the process with the afternoon paper after school, which one could firmly pin as the foundation of Rawlings’ work ethic. On weekends, Rawlings would ride his bike to collect from his newspaper customers and would sometimes ask about the cars they had in the driveway or garage.
With the ignition switch in the on position, he eventually started buying and selling cars on his own, not making much profit, but certainly more than his paper route. College was of no interest to him, so after high school he got a job as a beer driver, delivering product, until one night one of the regulars at a bar asked him what he really wanted to do with his life.
They would act surprised that I knew what they had parked in their garage, and I would be like, “I ride by your house twice a day, most days of the week, tossing papers in your driveway, how the hell wouldn’t I know what’s in there?”
“I always loved cars, and they always made me money, but my father instilled it in me to choose a career that provided assurances of strong benefits and reliable income. So, I decided to become a police officer,” Rawlings says. Six months later, he was enrolled in a North Texas Police Academy, serving in tiny Alvarado, Texas, and later as a firefighter in equally small (at that time) Coppell, Texas. It was occasionally interesting work according to Rawlings and sometimes even hazardous. “One night while off duty, some guys thought they were going to steal my 1965 Mustang fastback. I was shot during that attempted carjacking,” Rawlings says.
At age 25, Rawlings took what little money and pension he had from his career as a first responder, sold all his possessions, bought a new jeep, and headed to California. “I was 25, no tattoos, and clean cut,” Rawlings says, which is hard to imagine given his persona today. “That whole scene impacted me there in a crazy way. I ended up being gone for six months, came back to Texas dead broke with tats, pierced ears, and the jeep repossessed.”
He slept on his sister’s couch for a while, but newly married, decided to start a printing company to make ends meet. During this time, his love for cars persisted, and in his spare time, he restored a few here and there. After five years of growing the printing business successfully, he sold it. It is rumored he profited millions off the sale, but, after all debts were paid, he walked with just around $175,000, which he used as his seed money to start Gas Monkey Garage.
The Green Light
“In 2004, Orange County Choppers and West Coast Choppers were leading the ratings,” Rawlings says about his inspiration for his hit show, Fast N’ Loud. “I would watch them regularly because I liked what they were doing, but my family would not. I asked them, ‘Why aren’t you watching this? It kicks ass,’” Rawlings recalls. “My wife answered, ‘it’s all cussing, kicking boxes, and pit bulls on chains. I don’t want to watch that.’”
“That was the moment I saw that those shows were missing a totally new demographic—the family market. I knew I could create a show that would appeal to everyone,” says Rawlings. “Along with that, I knew I could use it to promote the lifestyle apparel brand that I was building around my garage.”
He began to shoot his own promo reels of Fast N’ Loud and took them to any network that would listen. It was a long road, and most discouraged him. “They all told me I was crazy and tried to get me to give up,” he remembers. “I just had it in my head I was going to get a show, and I was going to be the best. I wouldn’t give up on that dream. I knew I needed a vehicle to catapult what I was doing at Gas Monkey, and that vehicle was television. So, from day one we had to earn street cred. We had to get cool. We had to make magazine covers with the cars that we built. We had to go to all the different shows around the nation and sell our wares and tell our story. We had to do whatever we could to make a name for ourselves. That was one part I grossly underestimated on my journey. I thought we could get it done in about four years, and I would be on TV. It actually ended up taking eight, but I finally got the call from Discovery TV in January of 2012, for six episodes, which in the end paid next to nothing.”
Rawlings stayed the course though, and soon Discovery bought another season. Renewal after renewal, the network reaped higher ratings, and it quickly surpassed its competition, and as the other shows broke down, Fast N’ Loud had it pegged gaining the traction it needed to rise to number one.
The show centered around Rawlings and Gas Monkey Garage’s lead mechanic. Together they scoured the United States looking for old, dilapidated cars with potential. They would restore and transform them into unique masterpieces and sell them to the highest bidder to turn a profit. But, the show presented a whole new set of problems for Rawlings that he had to overcome while maintaining his business; all in the focus of a film crew’s lens and on the televisions of millions of watching fans across the globe.
“It just wasn’t Fast N’ Loud” Rawlings adds. “The show spun off three other shows: Misfit Garage, Garage Rehab, and Demolition Theater. I was holding down four shows simultaneously on Discovery.”
Eventually Rawlings red lined. After 16 seasons totaling over 180 episodes of Fast N’ Loud (with all the special episodes included), and more than 300 episodes in totality with the spinoffs accounted for, and the onslaught of digital media, it was time for Rawlings to slow down. “The show wasn’t really cancelled,” Rawlings says. “There just wasn’t anywhere to go with it all. You can only buy a car, fix a car, and sell a car, so many times. It was time for a course correction. It just stopped.”
Grind ‘Em ‘Til You Find ‘Em
Jamming it back down into second, with lessons learned and a little more gray in his quintessential goatee, Rawlings, though still a demanding boss with high expectations, has risen like a phoenix, and bringing it back to car terms, stands tall reminiscent of the hood on his 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. “My next big projects include a massive 40,000-square-foot restaurant and concert pavilion that will open later this year as the flagship of the Gas Monkey chain in Dallas with smaller venues planned for North Texas, DFW Airport, Las Vegas, and even more bars and restaurants planned internationally,” he says with pride. “That and Gas Monkey Tequila.”
But with all that considered, Rawlings still says his apparel line drives Gas Monkey’s bottom line.
Off to the Races
“Today, though I will always be a car guy, I am in multiple other businesses. Gas Monkey has many other verticals; most notably the cotton business. Our branded apparel is the largest vertical we have by far worldwide,” Rawlings proudly says. “I make more money off Gas Monkey branded apparel than I do anything else. We have built a worldwide automotive/motorcycle lifestyle brand where we sell tens of thousands of orders a month with points across the country, our online shop, and pop-up shops as far away as Japan.”
It is hard to separate Gas Monkey from the millions of dollars of cars on the garage’s showroom floor, but as Rawlings is quick to point out, they are just one of the vehicles he is using to get to his finish line.
Now the ring master rather than a monkey on a chain, Rawlings is hell bent on throttling the company to new levels. “My goal is to make Gas Monkey a $500-million brand in the next five years,” he confidently states. A bold goal, but if anyone has the gas to do it, it is Rawlings and his team of extremely talented and dedicated designers, mechanics, and creators.
With more than 25 million followers on YouTube and all other media platforms; fans still coming to his headquarters in Dallas, Texas, from all around the world for a selfie with Rawlings (to which he happily obliges); and the only one left to pull himself over on his race to the finish, Rawlings is not looking in his rearview. He is focused on nothing but the checkered flag of success waving on his horizon.