Rutledge Wood: ‘I’d take a Corvette over a Smart car’

Rutledge Wood is a race analyst best known for reporting on NASCAR. Think Martin Brundle with a beard, but with no need for the words ‘right turn’ in his lexicon.

What’s in your garage?
A 1953 Plymouth Suburban, given to me by Richard Petty. It’s a total classic. Next, a ’70 Datsun 521 Rat Rod pickup. Of all the cars I’ve ever owned, it’s the one most people want to talk about. My current project car is an ’83 Honda Civic wagon. I’m fitting it with a DOHC 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine from an Acura Integra. My ‘Dad-mobile’ is easily my favourite, though. It’s a Tundra Crew Max 4×4.

What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?
160mph riding shotgun with my friend Kyle Petty at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a real NASCAR Cup car.

Who or what caused your worst car crash?
I’ve never wrecked a car, or been in a serious accident. One time I did hit a deer and that was crazy. I wasn’t going very fast and just hit him in the butt with the bumper of my car. He then walked to the side of the road and stopped to stare me down. I tried to tell him how sorry I was and that I was glad he wasn’t hurt. He didn’t answer back. So I drove off. Lesson learned. Deer are not friendly or talkative.

What’s your dream car?
I can’t name just one dream car… that’s impossible. So ’70 Plymouth Super Bird, ’85 DeLorean (I loved Back to the Future), ’97 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo and a Nissan R34 GTR.

What was the first car you owned?
A VW Golf pickup. It was a gift from my grandfather. It was a four-speed diesel and topped out around 65mph. It had no options, no radio, no style… but I loved it. I drove it for a couple of years until it got angry and pretty much gave up the ghost. It was the first car I ever remodelled. RIP, my V-Dub. I’ll always love you.

What car do you hate most in all the world?
It has to be the Pontiac Aztec. Without a doubt the ugliest car I’ve ever seen.

Are US cars better than European cars?
Europe does get some cool high-performance models, but they also get the tiny, slow, ugly cars that we would never want here. Any way you cut it, I’d take a Corvette over a Smart car any day of the week.

Why film an American version of Top Gear?
Making an American Top Gear is vital for our car culture. We have thousands and thousands of car people who are dying to know how cars here actually shake down. It’s great to know how cars in Europe drive, but I want to know how cars really handle in our own environment.

How is Top Gear US going to be different to the UK version?
Top Gear UK is and will always be one of my favourite shows. We’re not copying them, but we are going to follow their lead in looks, performance, and the general idea of having three guys go out and be real people in real cars.

What’s your favourite thing that Top Gear has ever done?
It has to be the South American safari challenge, where the guys bought used 4x4s online. They experienced so many different settings, from rain forest to desert plains to volcanoes, and it was amazing to join them on their journey.

Who’s your favourite presenter from the three guys in the UK?
It’s tough for me to pick a favourite because they’re all so good at what they do. Richard cracks me up and he’s always ready with a smile. James has a weird taste in cars a lot like my own, so I dig him for that. But Jezza is just the cherry on top. He’s crazy, funny, and he seems to be fearless in cars. He sure does hate motorcycles, though.

What will be your definition of success for Top Gear US?
Our show will be successful if we can get people who love and know cars to watch the show alongside people who don’t know much about cars. If we can educate and entertain them all at the same time, that to me is success.

The American version of Top Gear is on History in the US this autumn

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