By Brady Rhoades
Active duty service members and veterans alike are big fans of Richard Rawlings. From outposts around the world, they tune into Fast N’ Loud, a Discovery Channel TV show that features Rawlings and his crew restoring broken down, classic cars in the Gas Monkey Garage. Rawlings’ products—energy drinks, tequila, sweatshirts—are available at more than 200 military bases in the United States and abroad.
Our military men and women may be fans of Rawlings, but Rawlings is an even bigger fan of them. “I can never express enough gratitude to them for keeping us safe,” he said, in an interview with U.S. Veterans Magazine. “I hope they all come back safe and happy.”
In 2017, Rawlings spent Thanksgiving with the troops in South Korea. He wanted to serve dinner to the men and women stationed in Seoul, but military tradition calls for the brass to serve the front-liners, so he made the rounds, broke bread, and offered his personal thank-yous. “It was an amazing experience,” said Rawlings, who was a police officer, firefighter, and paramedic before becoming a businessman. “It really hit me in the gut how young some of these people are …. It was great. We talked about cars.”
That our troops are fans of his shows and his famous—or is it infamous?—”Gas Monkeys” and request that his merchandise get trucked, flown, and shipped to bases from Camp Pendleton to South Korea to Guam never ceases to amaze him. “It’s an absolute honor,” he said.
As for what servicemen and women do as professionals and as patriots, he said, “It’s just very noble.” Rawlings is nothing if not relatable. He’s Texan, folksy, funny, and a bit of a gearhead, and he drinks Miller Lite and razzes his pals. He’s the consummate guy next door. And he’s a family man.
Let’s face it: In the car and garage business, dudes are the demographic, right guys? But that’s not entirely so with Fast N’ Loud and his other show, Garage Rehab, on which he helps struggling shop owners. Garage Rehab debuted in 2017 and is now in its second season. And yes, men can’t get enough of watching the crew cherry out a Ferrari F40 or 1930 Ford L-29, but women love it, too, and families also watch the show together. That’s exactly how Rawlings planned it after watching hours and hours of machismo car shows.
“It’s family accessible,” he said. “Grandmas come up to me, and I’m proud of that.” He says the family feel of his shows reminds him of his home life. Here’s how he describes it: “Come on over, watch the Cowboys game, and tinker around in the garage.” He adds, “It’s not an act.”
In 2002, Rawlings launched Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas. The shop created automobiles for customers worldwide. Soon after, he got out of the printing business when he sold Lincoln Press. Now, it was all cars, all the time. Since 2012, the facility has been the focus of Fast N’ Loud.
In September 2013, Rawlings started Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Northwest Dallas, then set up a second location at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in March 2014. Rawlings is working to launch a third Texas grill outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.
In 2014, Gas Monkey Live, a venue dedicated predominantly to live music, was opened. In 2015, Rawlings published his first autobiography, Fast N’ Loud: Blood, Sweat and Beers, which includes such colorful lines as: “If we’re gonna have fun, it better have a motor,” and “We turn rust into gold. We make it fast and loud.”
All the entertainment activity on top of multiple lines of merchandise? He’ll never admit it, but Richard Rawlings—the car kid, the self-admitted daydreamer, the maniac who broke the Cannonball Run record with a time of 32 hours, 51 minutes from New York City to Los Angeles—is a mogul.
Rawlings, born in Fort Worth in 1969, got his love of cars from his dad, who liked to fuss about in the garage and go to car shows. He learned the business of buying and selling cars in high school. His first car: a 1974 Mercury Comet. But back then, all he wanted to do was scrape together enough dough to buy his next cool ride.
After graduating from Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, he worked as a police officer, firefighter, and paramedic. Then he got bit by the entrepreneur bug and opened a printing business. But his first and abiding love has always been cars.
Rawlings learned early on that if you’ve got cash in your pocket, you can buy ramshackle rides on the cheap, then fix, shine, and sell them for a profit. But it wasn’t all about money; it was about taking a no-hope car and making her new again. He pitched a reality TV show built around that concept for eight years and heard, “sorry, no thanks” about a million times before landing Fast N’ Loud.
Even he couldn’t have dreamed that he’d meet the coolest car guy ever, the original Cannon
Ball Runner, the handsome man at the wheel of a Trans Am: Burt Reynolds. Reynolds passed away last September, but not before Rawlings got the chance to meet him and pay homage. Several years ago, in what’s become a classic episode of Fast N’ Loud, Rawlings rolled up to Reynold’s Florida home in a 1978 black bandit Trans Am and shook hands with the star. He was also trying to collect on a bet—a $25,000 roll of the dice—that he could get Reynolds to sign the Trans Am.
“I’m almost at a loss for words,” he said. “I mean, here I am, standing there with Burt Reynolds, and I’m trying to get his signature so I can make twenty-five grand, yet I feel like I should just give him the twenty-five grand for even gracing me with his presence.”
Rawlings considers himself lucky and feels a responsibility to give back. He teamed up with Gary Sinise Foundation for a future two-part episode of Fast N’ Loud, which finds Richard and his team restoring a classic ’81 Jeep CJ7 that is being auctioned off at Barrett Jackson in Scottsdale—all proceeds go to the Foundation. Also, an upcoming episode of Garage Rehab focuses on American Warrior Garage, where veterans train to learn the automotive industry and land jobs. Of that, Rawlings says, “I think there could be one of those in every city.”
Who knows what his next big project will be? Even he doesn’t know. He’s certain of one thing, though: “I have a platform that I can use.”
View the Spring U.S. Veterans Magazine’s Digital Issue featuring Richard Rawlings coming soon!