More than 40 years ago, Top Gear debuted as a monthly, 30-minute magazine-style, automotive-related program on the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was based in Birmingham, England, and the initial episode’s topics included speed traps, fuel economy and strange road signs.
A year later, the program expanded to a weekly format and it was broadcast for nearly a quarter century.
Simultaneously, much has changed and not much has changed in automotive programming. Enthusiasts are still as passionate about cars and truck and driving. Speed, fuel usage and bizarre things on the road are all still topics for automotive reality television programs.
Shows like the rekindled version of Top Gear, American Chopper and Monster Garage brought the concept to greater prominence in the early 2000s with the unique personalities of hosts such as Jeremy Clarkson, Paul Teutul, and Jesse James. Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee and Jay Leno’s Garage have captured mainstream audiences with little interest in automobiles.
Nearly every network now has an automotive reality show. At least one program, ToyMakerz, has a star who had no desire to be on television. Which is why, in part, the show is increasingly popular.
The host is David Ankin, a former stuntman, motorcycle racer, fabricator and customizer, and former restaurant owner. He’s catapulted the small city of Reidsville, N.C., where his ToyMakers, Inc. company shop is located, into the national spotlight. The show follows Ankin and his team, including teenage son, as it builds a one-off custom vehicle or enhances an original car.
Co-hosts Bruce Aldrich and James Raia interview Ankin on this episode of The Weekly Driver Podcast.
“In the big scheme of things, I never wanted to do a TV, ever,” said Ankin. “It was never in my plans. I have friends who have TV shows, but I wasn’t interested, at all. But I had a guy one time tell what a great avenue it is to advertise your business. I started thinking about it for a couple of years, and he was right.”
The third season of ToyMakerz, featuring eight episodes, will debut March 10 on its new network affiliation, DRIVE. It’s a programming block on A+E Networks’ FYI and HISTORY channels.
DRIVE will be broadcast on HISTORY on Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. to noon and Saturday on FYI from 5 p.m. to midnight. The networks are available throughout the extended San Francisco Bay Area.
As the program’s moniker declares: It’s unique toys for big boys. Ankin drives the creations he makes to extremes. Unlike other reality shows, drama isn’t infused into ToyMakerz. Each episode unfolds with plenty. The reality? The show is real.
“There a lot of guys who build things as a piece of art and that’s exactly what it is for me,” said Ankin. “But if you can’t drive it, what good is it? I want to drive everything I have. I build them to drive them. I don’t enter car shows. I don’t care about any of that stuff. I want to drive the cars and I want to drive them hard.”
Episodes in season three will include a twin-seat, front-engine dragster for the street, custom racing drones, and a Willys exhibition car. Legendary NASCAR driver and car owner Richard Petty and actor Dean Cain will be among the guests.
“I live, eat and breath the show,” said Ankin, whose brand includes a sizable social media following, merchandise sales and public appearances.
“You’re constantly taking care of your brands, your fans. You’re taking care of the shop, your family life, and you’re taking care of employees. We have 35 of 45 people who work for us. I love what I do. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and probably the most rewarding.”
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