veteran motor sports analyst Rutledge Wood.James Stack/NBC
Rutledge Wood and his bushy beard that seems to never change as he ages are known across America — maybe even around the world — as a dynamic duo. The always cheerful car guru is back with a new show, his first on NBC, and he’s ready for what could be his biggest gig yet.
Unsurprising, when discussing Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge, Wood is as entertaining as one who’s watched him grow in the motor sports realm for nearly two decades would expect. The surprising aspect of this conversation wasn’t Wood’s enthusiasm, but it was that he choked up while discussing the show, which debuts on May 30.
“I had no idea how emotional a show like this could be,” Wood, 43, said. “The amount of times that I saw people cry or that I cried was way higher than I could’ve guessed for a show based on a toy or a car. It’s one of the things that makes it special.”
The new 10-episode Hot Wheels show puts toy car collectors to the test with a real-life version of the toys they grew up loving. The “superfans,” as they’re coined in the show, will create their own decked out cars. To judge the winner between two contestants in each episode, there will be a rotation of celebrity guest judges, including Anthony Anderson, WWE Superstar Big E, Terry Crews, Sung Kang, Jay Leno and Joel McHale.
“Car pool” members will help turn around each contestant’s concept and make it a reality. The winner of each episode will receive $25,000.
“This combines my two loves, which are people and cars,” Wood said. “There’s way more ways to connect us through things that are similar than things that are different. I get to use my car knowledge and my love of motor sports there.
“The superfans who are on the show and the car poolers are taking all of their skills and talents that they’ve worked on their whole lives and putting it into this time capsule for someone else. The cars are so representative of the transformations these superfans have had in their own lives, with the way they’ve overcome adversity to follow their hearts and passions.”
For Wood, this show is an opportunity to combine his passion of cars, motor sports and love of bringing people together. This show could serve as a boost for NBC as it picks up the second half of the Nascar season, starting on June 25 with the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway, on top of its continuing coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series. This weekend, it is home to the Indianapolis 500.
“I hope this show reminds everybody that they’re all connected,” Wood said. “Ultimately, it’s a vehicle that’s racing and it’s as technologically advanced as it could possibly be, but it started as the same thing. That’s why manufacturers are still competing the way they are. Somebody who’s working on the show said, ‘This is the kind of thing that will get kids excited about driving again.’”
Wheels: Ultimate Challenge at The Zimmerman Automobile Driving Museum. (Photo by Andrew J Cunningham/Getty Images)Getty Images
At the end of the season, Leno, an avid car collector himself, will help Wood decide whose car design from the entire season — between three finalists — will be turned into an actual Hot Wheels die cast car. Ted Wu, global head of design for Mattel’sMAT Vehicles division, will also appear in the season finale to explain the process of creating a Hot Wheels car.
“This is the culmination of all the things I’ve ever done,” Wood said. “I didn’t know if I could be a judge or a host, and it turns out I got to be both.”
And Wood isn’t the only one who is thrilled about the show.
“This is amazing,” Crews said. “Being a part of something like this — turning living cars and turning them into a Hot Wheels — this show is so emotional. To feature a show that has the car as the star, it’s a brilliant idea.”
Now, Wood’s life has come full circle. He recalled how when he got his license after his road test, he drove around Peachtree City, GA. for nine hours. He wants to bring that love of cars and driving to everyone. Maybe, there will be new motor sports fans because of it.
“I’ve loved cars every single day,” he said.
Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge debuts on May 30.
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I am a contributor for Forbes’ SportsMoney, focusing on telling the untold stories inside of Nascar. Upon graduating from Stony Brook University, I departed for Tel Aviv, working at an Israeli TV station before becoming a newspaper editor in New York. My bylines range from local news to sports, Israeli politics and more. I am the author of two children’s books, including Grandma: The Story of a Boy and His Grandma. Head over to my Twitter page @JoeWolkin.
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