Senoia’s Rutledge Wood loves cars and loves goofing around. Lo and behold, he gets to indulge both of his passions on History’s “Top Gear,” which returned last week for its third season.
He, Tanner Foust and Adam Ferrara are the trio who get to drive all sorts of vehicles for fun all over the country. So far in this month’s episodes, they’ve raced the coolest new cop cars (say goodbye to the Crown Victoria!) and the smallest cars (Rutledge squeezes into a teeny weeny Scion iQ.) In an upcoming episode, they ride rental vehicles off road to Mohave, Utah.
“That was insane,” Wood said in an interview Monday. “We took these rental cars where nobody should drive.” (Can’t imagine the rental car companies were too pleased about this.)
One lesson he learned: “Never buy a car that used to be a rental. It made me very thankful I was alive at the end. I’m not saying the producers want us dead. I’m just saying it’s not out of the realm of the storyboards. I know they like me but sometimes they try to put us in incredible amounts of peril. It makes them laugh.”
One future episode focuses on amped-up tractors in Fresno, Calif. Another features actors Dax Shepherd (”Parenthood”) and Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) participating in a BMW double-decker car race. (You’d have to see it to believe it.)
How much does Rutledge get involved in production? Not too much. “We get to pick the cars we drive,” he said. “The producers are the masterminds behind the challenges, where we go and what we do. They like to keep us in the dark on a lot of stuff. They think it’s more fun to see a natural reaction being in a situation, whatever it is.”
While “Top Gear” draws about one-third to one half the audience of History’s star show “Pawn Stars,” it draws a respectable young male audience. The summer/fall season will be merely six episodes and another ten will return in February.
Rutledge shot a scene in his hometown of Senoia but he can’t reveal what happens though it involves logistics and his rather rotund body.
One thing that hasn’t changed as the trio get more comfortable with each other: it’s hard to find a helmet to fit Rutledge’s gigantic head: “I’ve had helmets that look like yarmulkes.”
Season three also doesn’t equate to a massive pay increase for Rutledge. “I have two jobs for a reason,” he said, noting his work with the Speed Channel.
For now, he is committed to staying in Senoia, where his parents live as well. (His mom just opened a cafe named after Rutledge’s two daughters and operates an arts and crafts cottage, which features zombie dolls since “The Walking Dead” is shot nearby. His father wants to open a barbecue restaurant.). “It’s cool to be here,” he said. “Yes, I travel. But when I’m home, I just get to be home with my family.”
Ultimately, he said, “this whole thing is a total dream come true. I’m very blessed.”
9 p.m., Tuesdays, History
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk