Yours is the No. 1 show on the Discovery Channel among men. Seems like every time I flip over, it’s Fast N’ Loud. Even you have to be sick of you.
[laughs] Oh, probably. But I’m very blessed to be where I’m at, for sure.
You took a bullet trying to thwart a carjacker?
That was over in Fort Worth, off Oakland Boulevard. I was driving a ’65 Ford Mustang Fastback. I was 22 and in the wrong place at the wrong time. A couple of guys came up behind me and tried to pull me out of my car. Fight or flight, and I guess I flew. Ended up taking a bullet through the back of the shoulder and down the left arm.
You did a bunch of stuff before you became a famous television personality. You were a fireman?
I was a police officer, firefighter, and paramedic before I was 21. My dad taught me that you get a good job that has good benefits. You spend your time, you get a gold watch, and you retire. I was actually a Miller Lite delivery guy. I am delivering beer at a bar one time, and this—I hate to use the word “drunk”—this guy who was always at the bar said, “Son, what are you going to do with your life?” I said, “Sir, I want to be a police officer.” He said, “Well, why aren’t you? You’re delivering beer!” I was 19 years old. I told him you have to have a city that is willing to put you through the police academy and all this other stuff. I’ll leave the name of the city out, but he goes, “Dammit, I’m the mayor of so-and-so city!” Two and a half weeks later, I was in the police academy.
I’ve seen a TMZ video of you talking smack about Jesse James. You really have a beef with him?
I never met the guy. That video was my young, never-been-on-TV-before attempt at humor. Not one of my prouder moments.
Do you still hold the record for the coast-to-coast Cannonball Run?
We did it on a bet in 2007. Fastest from 34th Street in Manhattan to Redondo Beach, California. The previous record was 32 hours, 51 minutes, set in 1979 by David Yarborough and Dave Heinz in a 1978 Jaguar XJS. Long story short, we were arguing at the bar. Everybody said it couldn’t be broken. We left the next morning, drove 2,811 miles in 31 hours and 59 minutes in a 1999 550 Maranello Ferrari. [Ed: The official Cannonball Run ended in 1979. Rawlings’ claim has merit, but another driver, using a different route, claims a faster time.]
Tell me about your new restaurant.
We’re calling it Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill. It’s 11,000 square feet on the water there, on Technology Boulevard, where Firewater used to be. There are two stages, one outside, one inside. We’ll do a good lunch and dinner crowd, and then at night we’ll turn into a music venue. The garage where we tape the show is just about a mile away, and we’ll cover it on the show. It’s part of the trials and tribulations of Aaron and me trying to make a go at business.
Aaron is your co-star and mechanic. You both have prominent facial hair. His beard is really long, and yours is a cultivated goatee. Who spends more time primping his beard for the TV cameras?
Definitely me. Aaron doesn’t even care. Whatever Aaron looks like in the morning when he rolls out of bed is what he looks like.
Money is no object. You can pick any car you want. But it’s the last car you’ll ever get to drive. What would it be?
That’s a rough one. Because my gut says ’32 Ford Roadster. But when you throw in that it’s the only car you’ll drive for the rest of your life, I’d probably say a 599 GTB Ferrari.
Final question: why have I seen a photo of you on the internet wearing nothing but a G-string? Because I cannot unsee that now.
I know. When I meet people, I’m like, “You’ve seen the photo.” You can tell by the look on their face. That was taken about 10 years ago. That’s Aaron in the photo, with me. We were going to do the Bullrun Rally, and there was a team called the Bikini Bandits. That was their motif. Aaron and I decided it would be funny to go up against them. That’s the story of that photo. Where it went from there was internet hell.
You can’t scrub it clean. The internet is big.
That’s all right. Compared to 10 years later, I’m pretty happy with that photo.