Richard Rawlings is a successful entrepreneur, who built his automotive empire through his auto shop, Gas Monkey Garage, and gained popularity by headlining a reality television series called “Fast N’ Loud.” Most gearheads flocked to watch his show when it was launched in 2012, as he shared how he made money from restoring run-down cars and flipping them. He didn’t always make a huge profit from every project in all the eight years he was in the series – there were times he lost a lot of money due to wrong decisions, accidents, and disappointing sales.

Who is Richard Rawlings and how did he build his multi-million business?

Due to the image and reputation that Richard Rawlings gained from appearing in several successful reality TV shows, some painted him as someone who was born with a silver spoon, and that using a helicopter to visit his businesses was a regular thing for him. It was actually far from the truth, but he took everything in stride; while he found it cool that some people perceived him to be like that, he had always corrected the wrong assumptions about himself whenever he had an opportunity to do so during interviews.

Developed his fascination with cars early on in life

Richard Rawlings, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, was born on 30 March 1969. He was from a working-class family, and while they weren’t dirt poor, his father had to work two to three jobs while he was growing up, just to buy him a toy motorcycle, which he could ride around his neighborhood. When he was eight years old, he would remember the kinds of cars driving along the paper route that his father took in delivering the morning and evening newspapers in their community. His fascination with car customization was highly influenced by watching and assisting his father tinkering in their garage. At the age of 14, he had his own car, a 1974 Mercury Comet, and before he graduated from high school, he was already driving his third car, a 1977 Bandit Trans Am. This expensive hobby forced him to do odd jobs when he was a teen. One time, he had to fend off a carjacker at two in the morning and was shot, just to keep his 1965 Mustang Fastback safe and sound.

His early professions, and how he blew his savings in Los Angeles

Even before Richard was old enough to legally drink alcohol, he’d already been through different professions including a firefighter, a medic, and a police officer. He did that in a suburb just outside of Dallas for about six years, and as a side flipped cars and motorcycles. After some time, he left to explore California, driving his new Jeep He met a hitchhiker from Tucson, Arizona while on the road – initially he tried to get rid of him, but then threw caution to the wind and partied hard with him for several weeks in the City of Angels before they parted ways. Richard was only supposed to stay there for a week but he extended it to four months and blew all his savings there. His recklessness resulted in his beloved Jeep being repossessed the very night he returned to his hometown.

Became a serious entrepreneur

This made Richard think hard about what he wanted to do with his life – at that time he worked for a printing company as a salesman. It was then that he found his niche, and his experience with the company enhanced his marketing ability. He worked his way up to become a Vice President, and then left to start his own firm called Lincoln Printing. It wasn’t easy as he started from scratch, and used his apartment as his initial headquarters until he could afford to rent an office. It became successful, and after five years he sold it for just $200,000, contrary to later reports that it was to the tune of millions.

Established Gas Monkey Garage

It was in the early 2000s that Richard established the Gas Monkey Garage but it didn’t take-off immediately; he was financially broke twice before it became successful. He recalled in an interview that if one wanted to be humbled in life, the best way to do it was just, ‘Go to your wife who was gainfully employed and runs her own company and asked for $1,000 because you can’t write Aaron Kaufamn a payroll check.’

Richard used the little bit of seed money he had from the sale of his printing company in 2004 to help expand the business, because of a light bulb moment when he was watching Jesse James and those guys from the Orange County Choppers with his family on TV. He realized that his stepson and wife at that time would leave the room each time those reality shows were airing because they had too much bravado, cussing, and kicking boxes around that alienated other people. He said that he wanted to produce a TV series that would cater to the whole family and not solely to men and gearheads. The business side of him wanted the 60% of the market that those shows neglected to consider when they created their content. He hired enough talented people, including Aaron Kaufman to help him develop street credibility and get noticed at the premier trade show, Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), and other car events by building a reputable automotive customization brand.

All about “Fast n’ Loud” and the times Richard Rawlings lost money in it

At first glance at Richard Rawlings’ reality series called “Fast n’ Loud,” most viewers thought he had it all easy but it actually, it took him about eight long years before Discovery Channel took notice of his Gas Monkey Garage and what he had been pitching to them for quite some time. He never gave up though, and in June 2012, the first episode of his TV show aired on the cable channel. It became so successful that it lasted for 16 seasons, and he appeared in close to 200 episodes including the specials. However, not all their fixing and flippings were successful when it came to earning huge profits. Among several unfortunate incidents, here are the five instances when Richard lost money in the show:

Smashed the newly restored Mustang

“Fast N’ Loud” truly knew how to make a grand entrance, and blew the viewers’ minds during the second season premiere in February 2013. The episode was aptly titled “Mashed Up Mustang,” and the heat index in Gas Monkey Garage was over the top as its owner was incredibly furious. In this episode, they restored a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible, changed its color from navy blue to solid black, and lowered it. The shop’s master painter, Casey, asked Richard for a few more days to ensure that no crooked lines would show up anywhere by sanding it carefully and putting the primer properly. The color black was one of the most difficult colors to get straight on a car because it looked like a mirror after it was done. Anyone could easily see the waves or lines on it if not done properly, and they were happy that Casey did a remarkable job.

However, when it was out on the road for a test drive, the shop received a call that it was totaled. Apparently, a pickup truck smashed into when it was making a turn, and the door was crushed up against the fender. It had an extensive frame damage, and the engine of the Mustang stopped running as it was hit hard. A witness said that she saw someone run a red light and hit the black car. The problem was the guy who was responsible for the accident didn’t have any insurance, and while his pickup truck needed only $1000 worth of repair, Richard’s car needed $50,000.

Sold the car for less than half of the amount they paid for it

Near the end of the first season of “Fast N’ Loud,” Richard and his mechanic genius, Aaron Kaufman, went to the Leake Car Auction in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They took with them the 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster, which was restored by the Gas Monkey Garage team to perfection and spent about $25,000 on it. It was one of those projects that the team gained much respect from classic car enthusiasts. The sheer disbelief showed on the face of Richard after the bidding was done because the vintage Chevy was only sold for $11,750, which was incredibly lower than the amount they spent restoring it. He said that it was fortunate that he found no sharp objects around him at that time, because he could have hurt someone or something with the kind of unimaginable heartbreak that he felt from the financial loss. If he was given a chance to repeat the day, Richard said that he would have followed his instinct to walk away when he noticed that the auction attracted too small a crowd, which meant that there would be fewer people bidding for it, and so the price wouldn’t go up.

Went greedy by removing the reserve option

One of the things Richard was so good at was that he had a knack for knowing what cars would sell fast, and would double if not triple his investments. People were surprised that he lost money with a beautiful, loaded fast car – it was such a bad day for him and his Gas Monkey Garage team as they were all expecting the shop would end up with big bucks that episode. His team fully restored a 2005 Ford GT Custom Coupe, putting in a new engine with 800 horsepower. When Richard calculated the cost of the restoration, it was initially just around $175,000. It would have been perfect had he stopped there but he added more features to give it an extra boost. He shelled out another $75,000 to make the car even more attractive to buyers.

During auction day at Barrett-Jackson Auction House, instead of placing a reserve option to ensure that no bidder would offer a price lower than the minimum amount that Richard wanted and avoid losing money, he removed it. A reserve option meant that during the bidding process, the car would go to the bidder who either met or exceeded the reserve price. If the price wasn’t met, the seller wasn’t obligated to sell. Removing it could be risky because the seller couldn’t reject any bid, but it gave him the potential to earn more as the price could increase without any limit as long as people continue bidding for it. His gamble didn’t pay off because he wanted the car to be sold at around $500,000 but in the end, when the bidding war stopped, it was only sold for $230,000, which wasn’t enough to cover the bill for the hours of labor that went into it and the parts that they purchased for it. It didn’t end there, as Richard still needed to pay for the auction fees, commission, and taxes.

Down 35 grand before the restoration even started

In 2020, in a “Fast N’ Loud” episode entitled “Hot for Firebirds,” Richard’s team all thought it would be a quick and easy restore and flip project with a 1967 Firebird convertible that he bought for $10,000. One of his crew members felt that their boss paid a little too much for a vintage car that the latter only gave a cursory glance at and didn’t examine thoroughly, and he was proven right later on. They already ordered all the parts, and the only thing left to do at that time was to remove all the ugly ones and replaced them with new ones to make the car shiny and ready to be driven on the road.

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The problem was that, as they were dismantling each part one by one, they discovered that there was something wrong with the door and they couldn’t figure out why until they removed the carpet and looked underneath. Richard was quite wrong when he thought that the car was untouched because the bottom of the car was chopped and improperly put back together. It wasn’t a car for a rebuild but a mere source for scrapped parts with the crusher as its next stop. Fortunately, one of his crew members got hold of another Firebird for sale that was produced in the same year but was worth $25,000 so they could continue with the project. While that lifted Richard’s spirits, he knew that he was $35,000 down even before any restoration was done to the car.

Losing Aaron Kaufman in the show

Hiring a great talent such as Aaron Kaufman as part of his team was probably one of the best decisions Richard Rawlings made in his life. His lead mechanic was a straight-A guy in school who only dropped out of college because he was more interested in building cars. Aaron was one of the reasons Gas Monkey Garage became successful, and Richard never denied it.

Sometime in 2017, he bid everyone goodbye in “Fast N’ Loud” to the surprise of fans. Everyone immediately concluded that Richard and Aaron had irreconcilable differences and that they needed to part ways. They never fought in public and never said bad things about each other during interviews. Aaron admitted that he had a personal and professional difference of opinions with the TV show producers. He wanted to build bigger and better cars., but he wasn’t allowed and so he felt that he had to leave. While the show continued for a few more seasons before it was canceled, it wasn’t the same anymore, because Aaron also took away with him his fans from the show. However, the biggest impact was felt in Richard’s auto shop business, because a lot of clients respected Aaron’s ingenuity and followed him when he opened his own shop.

When Gas Monkey Garage lost money in one of their projects for the first time, the production crew of “Fast N’ Loud” were at a loss. Richard recalled, ‘They were like, what do we do with that?’ and he told them to go and show it to the viewers. He didn’t have any problem sharing with the world his misfortunes or failures. Losing money on wrong decisions during auctions, buying a useless car, being involved in accidents, or losing a valued employee might have given him some stress but it never brought him down. Richard Rawlings had always been a keen businessman, and he knew how to bounce back from any unfortunate situation. He used them as inspiration to do better with the next opportunity he was given – build a better car, use a different business approach, hire another talented mechanic, and never give up on pushing for more.

One of his greatest fulfillments in life was to help other people get through their lives comfortably. He said, ‘I know that I’ve got to do my job better and harder than anyone in that building so that everyone there can take care of their families.’ After ending his contract with Discovery Channel, he continued what he had been doing in his reality show, but with a different platform, YouTube. His official channel now had a little over a million subscribers, and would have had more if he was allowed by his contract to be active about his work on social media at the time, when his TV shows were at their peak.

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