Interview With Stacey David

[ 7 ] August 29, 2008 |

I’ve been a huge fan of Stacey David’s since the “Trucks!” TV show started in 1999, which coincided with the time in my life when I got my first truck and kick-started my automotive career. Every weekend I was an avid viewer of the show, learning as much as I could to help me build up my own truck and teach others what I had learned through my websites, print magazines, and now, my own show, Motorz. The reason why Stacey David is so appealing to so many people is because he is the “real deal”.

He talks like an enthusiast while still being super entertaining, he’s got a crazy imagination for building vehicles, and he does all of his own work on the show. During his career hosting “Trucks!” the show had the highest ratings of any how-to automotive show and was also Spike TV’s highest rated show on their weekend line-up. I was fortunate to have met Stacey three years ago at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to sit down with Stacey and interview him… find out what makes him tick, learn what happened with his “Trucks!” departure, and get the latest on his new show, GearZ.

Chris: Where do you live?

Stacey: I live in a little town just North of Nashville, Tennessee.

Chris: Are you married?

Stacey: Yes, 14 years.

Chris: Do you have any children?

Stacey: I have two little girls.

Chris: How did you get started with TV?

Stacey: The first thing that I did on television (full time) was “Trucks!”. I had done some commercials, but my background was building cars and trucks. I have been doing that pretty much my whole life. The first full restoration that I was involved in was on my sister’s 1963 Volkswagen Beetle when I was around 11 years old. As a kid I was into go-karts, motorcycles, building models, racing Hot-Wheels, you name it… I was just eaten up with it. The odd thing is, I also started playing guitar when I was about 6 and I ended up being a professional musician for a number of years. That’s how I wound up in Nashville. I was playing music and also building cars. I had my own shop called “The Rattletrap” and it was a custom shop because we would do pretty much anything to any vehicle. The interesting thing is, being a musician put me in front of cameras all the time, which basically ended up preparing me for being in front of cameras for the TV shows.

I had a lot of fun in the music industry, and still have a lot of friends involved in it, but I was ready to move on to something else. The shop had really taken off and automotive and truck stuff has always been one of my main passions. At this point I had already approached TNN about doing some TV shows but I didn’t know anything about putting a television show together. They wanted to see a pilot, and I said, “a pilot? … doesn’t he fly the plane man?… what are you talking about?” A couple of years went by and a couple of these shows came out like “My Classic Car”, and “Shade Tree Mechanic”, so I knew I was on the right path. Then one day a friend of mine called me up, because he knew I was doing the car thing with my shop. He said “man, did you see Sunday’s paper? There’s an ad in the paper–they’re looking for this host and mechanic guy to do a truck show!” So I literally answered an ad in the paper! It’s funny because I do a lot of seminars and workshops at Tech Schools and places like that and everyone’s always asking me “What are the steps you take to get where you are…” and here I literally answered an ad in the paper!

But… of course that is not really the whole story, the real answer to that question comes from something I learned from my high school football coach, Jim Koetter. He always said, “There is no such thing as luck. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” And that is so true as evidenced by my situation. I had so many years of preparation building and restoring vehicles that so when the opportunity came up I was prepared with portfolios of Choppers, street rods, muscle cars, military trucks, a tank, Jeeps, etc. that I had done. They were like “Holy cow! You definitely are the mechanical guy. Have you ever been on camera?” I said, “well here’s a TV commercial I did, and here’s some other stuff that I’ve done on camera” and they said “you’re the guy!”

The point is, sometimes you don’t realize how you are being prepped… God has a way of preparing people to do things in life, and only when you look back do you realize you were being prepared for this very moment! The big question is, are you actually being diligent and doing something with the opportunity you have? Or are you wasting it? There’s a lot of people that sit around and don’t take opportunities to learn and grow and get better. They just sit in their comfort zone. Then, all of a sudden when an opportunity comes up, they are not prepared and they are left out, or don’t get the promotion or whatever. Then a lot of them start whining and complaining saying “I shoulda… woulda… coulda” and nobody wants to hear that. When I walked in there, fortunately I had been to a lot of auditions, so I kind of knew what to expect so I didn’t look like a total idiot. I knew the operation of making television from in front of the camera from all the videos and junk that I’d done. It was the stuff that happened behind the camera that I didn’t know much about. At “Trucks!”, that’s where I learned the other part… how to do all of the production stuff.

Chris: Who is your favorite person to interview and why?

Stacey: That’s a tough one because there’s been so many good ones. Obviously it needs to be somebody who is passionate dedicated to what they are doing. Ted Nugent was a hoot for a number of reasons. He’s very passionate about what he does, and when he and I get together you better hold on ’cause it’s going to be wild! He’s a great guy. I’ve got one coming up with Joe Gibbs, and I’ve got a ton of respect for him. I’m looking forward to finishing that one up. To just sit down with him and see what’s made him successful… his take on life and his unique story, That’s very fascinating for me and I like to share that with people. Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Ivan Stewart, Jerry Reed, these were all great people to interview, and an honor for me to be able to sit down with them and chat with them. There are a lot of great stories and people out there, some well known, some not so well known. It’s a lot of fun to dig into them, find out what makes a person tick, and the unique challenges and solutions that they came up with. That’s inspiring to people. A lot of people will look at that and say “Wow! I had no idea that so-and-so hit those kind of challenges and overcame them this way.”

Chris: Who were the role models and influences on your life?

Stacey: Well I am a deeply spiritual person so obviously God is the biggest influence on my life. He has laid out so well in the Bible how we are to act and treat people and talk and conduct ourselves. If anybody wants to know the real secret to success and happiness, all they need to do is get a Bible, read it, believe it, and do what it says. After that, I would say my Dad was my biggest role model. He’s the one that raised me and taught me discipline, and so many other things, it would take pages to describe it all. Now, as far as automotive people, there are a lot that have influenced me and the list grows all the time. There’s Carroll Shelby, Ron Covell, George Barris, Darryl Starbird, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and the list goes on and on right up to today and some of my friends like Chip Foose and Troy Trepanier.

However, I have to say my favorite designer was Tom Daniels and all that crazy stuff he did for Revell and Monagram, and Hot Wheels. Things like the Red Baron, and the Paddy Wagon, the Iced “T”… those were wild! However, probably one of the biggest influences on me as a gear-head was a guy that nobody has ever heard of. He’s a guy that graduated high school with my Dad. His name is Jim Williamson and he’s down in Texas now. When I was about 13 years old or so, I spent a couple weeks with Jim. He had a custom shop in Twin Falls, Idaho. I went and spent some time with him because I was a huge gear-head. My Dad knew it, but my Dad was never much of a gear-head. He liked cars and stuff, but he wasn’t much of a wrench turner. He grew up in the era (the 50s) when stock was king. If it didn’t come from the factory that way, then it wasn’t that good. “Factory is always best!” is what he always said. Well, I was totally the opposite. The first thing that I would do is tear things apart and try to make them better. Dad didn’t understand that, but he knew Jim did.

I was into go-karts at the time and I had this off-road go-kart with big knobby tires that I’d built. Up to that point it had a little weenie 8HP Briggs and Stratton engine on it (all I could afford). I went to Jim’s place because he had a 350cc, triple lung, two-stroke Kawasaki motorcycle engine he said he would put on it for me. And you know what? He did! There are some pictures of it on our website. This thing would run way past 100 miles per hour… it had no roll bars, no seat belts, and just go-kart type brakes–this thing was insane… and I was running it down the street! The thing is, it had the brake, clutch, and gas pedal in the right places… a shifter lever on the left side, everything. It was a great piece of engineering!

I not only got to watch Jim engineer this thing, but I also got to see what else he was working on. He was dinking around with Jaguar XK150’s, and all kinds of other vehicles. He was putting rotary engine Mazda motors into Jag XKE’s and welding up the front bonnets and putting pop-up headlights in them… just crazy stuff! I remember looking at the nose of a Jag XKE and he had welded up the stock headlight openings and put Corvette flip-up style headlights in their place. It sounds insane today, but it’s what guys were doing in the late 70s and early 80’s. I remember looking at it and saying “what’s up with this?” He calmly said, “this is what the customer thought he wanted, but I think it looks terrible. So we’re just going to weld it back up and start over.” I remember thinking at the time, “Wow! you can DO that? How cool is that to just cut into something and change it, and if you don’t like it, you can change it back and you didn’t ruin it!” It was an epiphany for me. It opened up a whole new world and way of thought for me. I realized how important having the right tools learning the right techniques really was. It gave you freedom to create! He influenced me way more than a lot of these guys in the magazines because it was such a hands-on thing. Watching him work and the way he approached everything was incredible. He was the one that introduced me to Carroll Shelby. I’d never seen a Cobra before, and he was going to build a Cobra kit car. I took one look at that car and said, “Holy cow!… what’s that?” It also taught me that you have to keep learning… always learning. For example Ron Covell is a friend of mine and has been working metal for 30-some years and he says he still learns every day. That’s definitely the way I am too. There’s always something else to learn. It’s how you have to be… always learning something. Somebody’s always got another approach… another take on something that you can learn from. The day you think you can’t learn any more or think you know it all is the day you become an idiot.

Chris: What are your favorite TV shows to watch?

Stacey: Obviously I like most of the stuff on the History Channel, but as far as shows go, there’s not much because I usually watch movies. I don’t watch many reality shows because most of them are full of ridiculous setups and deadlines that are all conjured up. I would much rather see something informative that you learn from, or somebody doing something well. I also like extreme sports, and X-Game stuff. Those guys are nuts!

Chris: What happened with the “Trucks!” TV show?

Stacey: It was just time to move on. I did “Trucks!” for 8 years and we had a great run, and it was a good show. However, there were some limitations, most of it being the very title itself. There’s only so much you can do with trucks and they’re only so big in the overall automotive world. You also have to be very realistic about it. No TV show lasts forever and one day it will end, so you need to be ready for the next step. You have to approach every show like you do your life… every day, every moment, every project, every breath could be your last. So you need to give it the best you’ve got while you’ve got the opportunity. I was given a tremendous opportunity on”Trucks!”, to build some wild stuff and do some cool things, and learn so many things about television production. It was a great experience. It encouraged me to keep asking myself, “What have I learned here and what would make this show better?” If I was to do a show that was more all-encompassing of the gear-head, what would it be? Well, it couldn’t be called “Trucks!”, that’s for sure. It needs to be something more universal. So that’s where the idea for “GearZ” came from. It encompasses everything from tractors to go-karts, to boats, to rockets. If it is mechanical it is fair game for “GearZ”, but the majority of the projects will be based around a car or truck because that is the main thing that a gear-head works on.

Chris: How many episodes of “GearZ” have you produced?

Stacey: We’re getting close to 50 now. We were on ESPN2 for the first season, then we went to SPEED because ESPN2 just kept moving us around too much. We just signed with SPEED again for our third season and another 13 episodes and we are very happy with SPEED. They are all about the automotive world and what is going on in it. Our time slot on SPEED is early–it’s Saturday morning at 8 o’clock CST, which is actually a good time for a gear-head because they’re usually getting up, having their coffee, and haven’t gone out and done anything yet… so it’s not a bad time. I’m sure it’s a little rough on the West Coast guys because that puts it at around 6:00. Whew!

Chris: Outside of being the host, what other roles do you have?

Stacey: Well, just like on “Trucks!”, I’m the producer, the writer, I put all the projects together, and of course build ‘em. However, I also am responsible for running this company, so it gets pretty hectic sometimes. Fortunately, I have some tremendous staff members that can carry the load when I am out of pocket.

Chris: Where do you film “GearZ”?

Stacey: We’re in Madison TN, which is a suburb of Nashville. With this show, I wanted to put together a shop that has the feel and vibe of an old warehouse or service station. You know, just a really cool work shop with all kinds of vintage tools and mechanical junk. You never know what you’ll see hanging on the wall or sitting in a corner. We’re really fortunate that the shop is big–about three times bigger than what I had at “Trucks!”, so I have a lot of room to store my junk… ha!

Chris: What is your filming schedule like?

Stacey: Crazy! We generally try to shoot a show every other week. That basically gives us a week to shoot the show and a week to prep it. That of course, is all theoretical. It really depends on what the content Is. If it’s a show that’s primarily an aftermarket bolt-on product, or something simpler like a how-to, it’s a lot easier to shoot. If it’s a hard-core fabrication show, or something that takes a lot of labor to do… well that takes a lot more time to do just because of the labor involved. As a general rule, It usually takes a couple of weeks to get it all together.

Chris: What is your favorite thing you like about doing “GearZ”?

Stacey: It’s just fun. Like I said before, the projects can cover almost any part to the gear-head world… and that’s really cool. You don’t want it to be predictable. Obviously there will be a lot of car and truck projects but every once in awhile you gotta throw in something crazy like that V8 powered barstool we did last season. That makes people say, “what?… ride around on top of a V8 engine, are you crazy? I gotta watch this. This guy’s nuts!” Obviously the heart of the show is the how-to content, and we try to keep a good blend of advanced building and design type projects, intermediate level projects for the weekend warrior, and very simple, easy projects that a beginner can do. This is very important to keep the show well-rounded and fun because we have viewers of all skill levels watching.

Chris: What happens to all the project vehicles that you build?

Stacey: Ah, the big question! Well, we don’t crush them, that’s for sure! Some of the projects are ours, some belong to friends, some belong to advertisers or sponsors, and some belong to total strangers that we got off the website. Some we build as giveaways, and some go to charities and other organizations.

Chris: Is you show scripted, or do you just wing it?

Stacey: More wing it than scripted. Basically what I will do is I will lay out bullet points of what I want to say. I do this to time out the show, too, so I don’t get halfway through a project and I’m out of time. For example if it’s installing a supercharger, I will go through their directions, lay it out, and look at the overall project. I’ll then decide how long do I want this project to go. Is it one segment, two segments, the whole show or what? Once I’ve made that decision I’ll plan the segments and decide what I need to tell the viewer that is the pertinent information, and what is junk that I can skip over. These shows were never meant to be, and never will be, a step-by-step assembly manual. That would be incredibly boring. But anyway, That’s basically how I lay it out, and then just kind of wing it from there and that is almost impossible to script.

Chris: How many work on the production of the show?

Stacey: Well, that depends on what we are working on and what we are shooting, but generally we’ve got a staff of about 7. That’s office people, and of course we’ve got sales people too. When we’re shooting the show we generally have a staff of about 4 in the shop. We have a shooter, a grip, a director, and me. Sometimes we’ll use two or more shooters depending on what we’re doing, but we run it pretty tight.

Chris: What rides are in your garage right now?

Stacey: Pretty much what you see on the show. My daily driver is The Little Red Wagon, a 99 Dodge 4×4 short bed that I built on the show. Then there is Copperhead, the Rat Roaster, the Banshee, Sgt. Rock, and just a bunch of other junk. I hope to finish Sgt. Rock this Fall. I haven’t had a chance to work on that thing for about a year just because I’ve been doing so many projects.

Chris: What is your favorite all time project vehicle?

Stacey: Aw man… that’s a hard question because they’re all so different. Each vehicle takes on it’s own vibe and is designed and built for a different purpose so it is practically impossible to pick one favorite. Whatever vehicle I happen to be working on at the time of the question is probably the best answer I can give you, since that is where my focus is going to be.

Chris: What is your favorite vehicle that you would like to own or build?

Stacey: Wow… there are so many, Just about anything with wheels, as I am such a car nut. However, I’m dying to get my hands on one of the new Camaros. I’d like to get a hold of one of the new Challengers too. Now here’s something that’s going to make you laugh… and show you how far the insanity really goes. You know the Nissan Muranos? I really want to take one of those and make it amphibious. I’m not talking about just amphibious… I’m talking about making it where it is fully submersible. The reason why I’m looking at the Murano is because the shape really lends itself to that kind of modification. It would be so easy to turn the bottom into a hull and put a jet propulsion system on it and have it where you could jump that sucker right out into the lake and Go! People would freak out… especially if it went underwater! It would be awesome! Of course you’d have to leave the tires on it so you could drive right from the lake onto land. Honestly, it could be done and if I had any kind of spare time I’d get one and start hacking it up! Wouldn’t that be cool?!?

Chris: The great debate: Ford or Chevy?

Stacey: Oh man… ya know I like them both, and Dodge too. I really do. I know you hate that answer but it’s the true… I like them all! I have found that every manufacturer has done some really good stuff, and they’ve all done their share of not-so-good stuff, but it’s all gear-head material and as long as you can turn wrenches on it and tweak on it, I love it.

Chris: What are your hobbies?

Stacey: Just guitar and music things, as well as other mechanical things. I also like most sports and love being involved with them and the community.

Chris: What else do you like to do in your spare time?

Stacey: Ha… what spare time???? My wife and I have restored a couple of old houses. She always has me watching those home improvement shows. I also like to just spend time with our family and friends. Our girls are young so we do a lot of little league baseball, swimming, etc. I’m also a big fan of flight and airplanes and would love to get into that more. Flight has always intrigued me. Hopefully one of these days I’ll get my pilot’s license so I can stick a really big engine in a really little airplane, and go racing… (sigh) It never ends…

Chris: Thank you for your time today, Stacey. I’ve enjoyed your shows over the years and I always look forward to seeing what crazy things you create next!

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