With 15 seasons of the popular U.K. car-centric series "Top Gear" under its well-oiled hood and no end in sight since audiences worldwide are still watching in droves, it would seem like a no-brainer to create a U.S. version of the same show, right? Enter the premiere this Sunday of an American version of "Top Gear" on History. In this incarnation, the three hosts of the car-enthusiast series are comedian/actor Adam Ferrara, NASCAR aficionado Rutledge Woods and Stunt Driver Tanner Foust and each participate in some of the most dangerous, fun, outrageous and unthinkable challenges involving our four-wheeled friends.
While the American version of "Top Gear" will still have a similar balance of humor and adrenaline that the U.K. version does, our Jim Halterman rang up Foust to talk about what the differences in the versions are, how much the show is just about men having fun and which of the three hosts have grown so fearful of the challenges that they've thrown up... more than once.
Jim Halterman: For 'Top Gear' fans that are used to the U.K. version, how will this American version on History be different?
Tanner Foust: I've been a big fan of the U.K. show for a long time. I've met all the hosts and worked with them and still enjoy that show just like people in the States can still enjoy the U.K. show. This one is the same format but it doesn't really try to copy the show, which is nice. It would be impossible to try to fill the shoes of [Richard] Hammond, [Jeremy] Clarkson and [James] May. The format has certainly proven itself around the world but then there's the three of us - Adam, Rutledge and I - and we're just ourselves and the producers come up with a way in which they can potentially injure us and we fight for our own lives with these challenges. There's also a question of why an American version and the more we've been shooting the show the more we realized how different and big our car culture is compared to the rest of the world. We have a unique car culture that is an integral part of being an American. The U.K. version doesn't talk about the cars that we buy here or the things that we kind of cherish in terms of Americans so it's great to take that bitchin' U.K. format and plug it into what is cool in America.
JH: Why do you think the franchise has been such a big success all over the world?
TF: It's not really a show about cars. The cars are the common denominator but I think it really glimpses more into the male mind and that's something that Andy Wilman, who was the creator of the show, had said back in the day and it's true. It's three guys just being like any three friends in this world. They're being friendly and competitive at the same time except that they have a budget behind them and they get to play with cars and do all the things that you dream about. Being from Colorado, I've spent a lot of time in the mountains and I've always daydreamed about the challenge of driving a car down the ski slopes. On this show, I actually get to do it and bring those quirky little daydreams that we all have from time to time to life. I think that's why it's been a success. 'Top Gear' around the world has a 45% female demographic so it's not just car guys. It's about how childish and goofy we all are and friends, too.
JH: You, Adam and Rutledge have a really fun, relaxed rapport together. Did you know each other before the show?
TF: We didn't! The whole process was about eight months of finding the hosts for this show. We spent as much time as we possibly could around each other but we got to know each other very, very quickly. We were doing great, amazing things together and having fun on these road trips but it does require that the three hosts get along on some level and we really do have a great chemistry together that is a ton of fun. I think that's the basis is that we all love what we're doing. Whether the cameras are rolling or not, we would be saying and doing the same things.
JH: You have a long history with cars but are you still learning things that you didn't know during the filming of the show?
TF: Yeah, I pretty much know everything. Adam and Rutledge are kind of idiots. [Laughs.] I come from a racing background so a lot of my opinions on cars and the way I see cars is about the driving and how I feel behind the wheel, how fast they are and how capable they are. I've never really imagined that I would be racing a Ford Rapture pick-up in a trick against a skydiver or going into a $3000 pick-up truck and taking it 200 miles into the wilderness in Alaska. I've never been in these situations and I don't know who has so there's a lot of learning that goes on. The show is not a reality show but there's real danger, that's for sure and there are real situations that take place so there's constant learning.
JH: Were there times during the filming that you were truly frightened?
TF: I've been frightened for Adam a lot because he doesn't have a self-preservation instinct. Rutledge has too much of the self-preservation instinct and he just wusses out sometimes and you have to remind him to go faster. With Adam, the conversation is more like 'Maybe the next time you should slow down and when you hit your head on the steering wheel, that is bad.' He will really just go and go and it's incredible. So I've been fearful for those guys. In the helicopter scene you see in the first episode, Rutledge was genuinely afraid and, well, incidentally I will mention here that in 10 shows that Rutledge threw up seven times. It's genuine fear on his face and when he says he's feeling sick he really is. We did one moonshine run where we're making moonshine and we're trying to pick the best machine for $1500 and use it as a modern-day moonshining running tool and we did some stunts with those cars which were definitely dangerous and I was definitely afraid.
JH: Not to pick on Rutledge but the fact that he was so scared and throwing up, at the end of the day did he still love the adventure of it?
TF: In hindsight he always seems to enjoy himself. In the moment, like I said, his self preservation instinct can sometimes hurt the fun meter but that makes it fun for everybody else so at that point you're just having fun at his expense and that's even better.
JH: Buzz Aldrin is in the first episode. Who else is coming up in terms of celebrities?
TF: There are 10 celebrities for the 10 episodes and Buzz Aldrin was the first, which is historically relevant and kind of incredible since he stood on the moon! He is probably one of the most energetic 80-yr old men I've ever met. Tony Hawk was on the show and we also had Kid Rock. It may seem like a weird departure for a car show to sit down with a celebrity in the 'Big Stars, Small Cars' segment but it's really unique. These celebrities are so used to fielding questions about their girlfriends or the movie they have coming out or the book that they wrote and here it just cuts it down to the cars that they grew up loving or the reason why they are car fanatics.
JH: The challenges seem to just top each other over and over. Who is actually making up the challenges?
TF: I've always wanted to see a car go down a mountain so I had a hand in that. Adam came up with the idea of building two paintball cars. They built these tanks with paintball guns and then went to war just for fun. All of it is just an excuse to go have fun. It took us about half a season shooting to realize that we could just literally have an idea in the shower that would be really, really fun and then bring it to the producers and then two weeks later be living it in reality.
"Top Gear" premieres on History this Sunday at 10:00/9:00c.