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Richard Rawlings jangles when he walks.
The 49-year-old reality TV star and global branding impresario is giving me a tour of the Gas Monkey facility, an automotive playground spread across three buildings in an industrial area of northwest Dallas. It’s home to his car shop, which is also the setting of the hit flip-this-hot-rod series he hosts on Discovery, Fast N’ Loud. And, of course, it contains a world-class collection of automobiles.
Rawlings, with his steel-gray pompadour, red flannel over black V-neck and jeans and pointed goatee, looks like the devil on the shoulder of every dad at a youth soccer complex. And as he shows me around, the gold and silver bracelets on both wrists make themselves known. He stops at each car, because they all have a story, and that’s part of what he loves about cars. He shows me a low-slung, rust-covered 1952 Chevrolet Fleetline, the first car his garage built; and a hunter-green 1968 Shelby Mustang, riding high on off-road tires, meant to look like the Mustang that appeared in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. “I’ve turned down an exorbitant amount of money for that car,” Rawlings says.
Still, even amid this bounty of classic steel, rubber and glass, Rawlings’ mind wanders toward a car he doesn’t own: a Lamborghini Miura he tracked down several years ago. A man in Florida has owned it since the early 1970s. Rawlings has tried to buy it four times, but the man always says no. Not that that stops Rawlings from calling. He’ll check in on Christmas holidays “because everybody would be home,” he says. Usually the day before Christmas Eve, sometimes the afternoon before Christmas. This will go on, one presumes, forever.
“I think I’ll end up with the car,” he says. “I’m just gonna have to catch him on the right day.”
It’s an interesting side to see, because Richard Rawlings, if nothing else, is not a man known for patience. In the six years since Fast N’ Loud first aired, he’s turned Gas Monkey — once just the name of his auto garage — into a multimillion-dollar brand that has had its tail around pretty much everything: four restaurants and a 2,000-seat concert venue; Gas Monkey apparel and home goods and accessories; a cinnamon tequila and an energy drink; a Texas lottery game; Gas Monkey Hot Wheels cars; and partnerships with Dodge, Miller Lite, Dickies and more. He now employs more than 600 people, and even though he says he went broke two times on the wrong moves — “I could’ve gone to Harvard twice, the money I lost on cars” — it hasn’t scared him.
“That’s been the secret to Gas Monkey: Move fast,” he says. “I opened the first restaurant within a year and a half. Most people wait five years. I always move quickly, and in today’s market, no matter what you’re in, you can recover from a mistake faster than you can recover from not doing. Whether it’s getting into the liquor business or the energy drink business, or getting into bars and restaurants, just move quick. If you feel like it’s going to work, do it. If it doesn’t, get out as quick as you can.”
Rawlings moves fast because he’s always known where he was going. Some people jump from success to success, feeling it out, arranging one atop the other. For Rawlings, it was all one straight line. He came up with the concept of his brand before he even had a garage, or a show. He built Gas Monkey Garage to get on TV, and then he got on TV to get to everywhere else. It took eight years to convince Discovery that he was right. But he finally caught them on the right day.
“The guy, he knew how to use the show to get what he wanted to do,” says Craig Coffman, Discovery’s senior vice president of production and development. “He has been able to do that stronger than anybody I’ve known at Discovery.”
Of course, strategy is nothing without hustle. And Rawlings has that in abundance.
“He’s probably the most aggressive entrepreneur I’ve ever worked with,” Coffman continues. “Seriously, the guy never stops. He’s got a hundred ideas every second. I’m sitting in his office and I look up past him and there’s a billboard above the highway a mile away with his face on it. The guy’s placed the name of his company on the roof of his building so planes can see it. He’s a marketing maniac. It’s been a blur of entrepreneurial activity since I met him.”
And no one has yet seen what he can really do.