Take 5 With Aaron Kauf­man

Hot Rod - - Contents -

Many of you know Aaron Kauf­man only for his an­tics from the Fast & Loud TV show (and maybe for that glo­ri­ous beard), but if you ask Aaron what he is, he will be quick to tell you he’s just a guy who likes cars. Largely a self-taught me­chanic and fab­ri­ca­tor, Aaron has worked his way up to a prom­i­nent po­si­tion as a cus­tom car builder and has cre­ated some truly in­cred­i­ble hot rods over the years, and be­cause he’s so pas­sion­ate about ve­hi­cles, he has never re­ally held a job out­side of the au­to­mo­tive arena.

We got the chance to talk to Aaron for a Take 5 that turned into more of a Take 50; Aaron gets a lit­tle ex­cited when you get him talk­ing cars, but we didn’t mind one bit!

hHOTROD. COM/ Ja­cob-Davis

HRM] What was the thing that first got you hooked on cars?

AK] We didn’t have mo­tor­sports toys grow­ing up, but we did go to races from time to time and al­ways went down to the Sonic car show ev­ery month. Ever since I was a lit­tle kid, I was fas­ci­nated by every­thing me­chan­i­cal—the sound and the smell of race­tracks. I re­mem­ber the first time at En­nis at the dragstrip with my eyes wa­ter­ing from the nitro. Do I re­mem­ber the defin­ing mo­ment— the ex­act sec­ond? Not nec­es­sar­ily. It was some­thing that was a cul­mi­na­tion. I tried to work other jobs. I’ve tried to do other things, and I just couldn’t do it. It’s just in my blood, and I couldn’t say ex­actly where I picked it up.

HRM] What’s sur­prised you about the busi­ness of build­ing hot rods?

AK] The ar­gu­ment over what la­bor is worth ab­so­lutely blows my mind. Be­cause it’s not just the la­bor, it’s the ex­pe­ri­ence that we have and the abil­ity to ex­e­cute a cus­tomer’s wild ideas. Peo­ple will pay for la­bor for their daily driv­ers, but when it comes to one-off cus­toms, they wanna ar­gue over what that la­bor is worth. I will never un­der­stand that.

HRM] How do you like the lime­light from the TV show?

AK] It’s a lit­tle strange…I have en­joyed it, it has been awk­ward, and it has been a mas­sive ben­e­fit. Be­ing on TV has for­warded my ca­reer by at least 20 years be­cause of the net­work­ing. The peo­ple that I know and the no­to­ri­ety gained has been such a ben­e­fit. I have had a won­der­ful time. Peo­ple have been so nice to me, and there’s so many of th­ese peo­ple that I would never have even talked to with­out the show. It’s been very cool, it’s been very fun, and it has its weird twists and turns and things you have to cope with emo­tion­ally, but ul­ti­mately, it’s been great be­cause peo­ple can iden­tify with how much I en­joy what I’m do­ing.

HRM] You’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to be be­hind the wheel of a race car a few times. Which do you en­joy more, build­ing or driv­ing cars?

AK] It is a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent drug. Driv­ing has changed my build­ing style to a great de­gree. Be­ing a driver and a builder helps you see the ve­hi­cle in a holis­tic way. It has el­e­vated my pre­ci­sion and the need to have every­thing be on the money. Most builders aren’t driv­ers, and most driv­ers aren’t builders, and I never ex­pected to sit in the left side of a race car, but hav­ing the Fal­con and be­ing able to go race has im­pacted me greatly. Some of the peo­ple I have the most pro­found re­spect for, I have met within the rac­ing com­mu­nity and I couldn’t imag­ine my life at this point with­out it.

HRM] What is your fa­vorite build that you have been a part of?

AK] I have so many! In five years, we built some­thing like 81 cars, but out of all the builds, if I could take one home and put it in my garage, it would be the black 3100. That lit­tle Chevy pickup— what a great truck!

HRM] What ad­vice would you give young peo­ple who are start­ing their path to­ward an au­to­mo­tive ca­reer?

AK] It’s real sim­ple, it’s called ini­tia­tive. You have to be will­ing to do stuff for free for a long time to build your ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­pand your cir­cle. Your time isn’t worth some­thing un­til you’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing the work, and you have to be happy to go play cars for free. Pay­ing your dues, earn­ing your stripes—there’s no easy way to the top, and if there was, it wouldn’t be worth any­thing.

HRM] Would you con­sider your­self a Ford guy?

AK] My dad’s a Chevro­let guy, but one day I looked around my drive­way and I re­al­ized all the ve­hi­cles I owned were Fords. I don’t know if you can re­ally un­der­stand it with­out be­ing a his­to­rian of some sort, but I’m en­am­ored with the com­pany and its his­tory as a whole. I love the prod­uct and I love play­ing with them, so it turns out I’m a Ford guy.

HRM] Which do you like more, cars or trucks?

AK] I’m a pickup-truck guy. I love build­ing race cars, I like build­ing cars for cus­tomers, and I en­joy driv­ing around in old cars, but re­ally, I love old pickup trucks.

HRM] What is the fun­da­men­tal pur­pose of your new com­pany, Arclight Fab­ri­ca­tion?

AK] Well, I’m a Ford guy and I love old pickup trucks and I re­al­ized there was a hole in the after­mar­ket for the F-100. I saw this huge hole, and I love mak­ing stuff, so our goal is to of­fer every­thing from the head­lights to the tail­lights so that even if you’ve never built a truck be­fore you can put to­gether an Arclight F-100 in your drive­way and hit an ab­so­lute home run. Our goal is to be a one-stop shop for ev­ery part you could pos­si­bly need to build a ca­pa­ble and well-built truck that is above re­proach when it comes to qual­ity and safety.

HRM] You are widely known as the “Mas­ter Me­chanic,” how did that name come about?

AK] To be hon­est, it’s just be­cause some­one in an of­fice in L.A. de­cided to call me that. I’ve been build­ing cars a long time; to some de­gree, it’s the only job I’ve ever had. It’s hard to ex­plain all the lit­tle de­tails of build­ing cus­tom cars, so my par­ents al­ways just told peo­ple that I was a me­chanic. If you don’t think of it as a neg­a­tive or a pos­i­tive and just look at the abil­ity to be me­chan­i­cally minded—every­thing in that genre be­comes easy. It’s just a ma­chine. A man put it to­gether and a man can take it apart.

HRM] What is your fa­vorite tool in the shop?

AK] We had a plasma ta­ble that just sat there, so I de­cided to teach my­self to use it even though it was dif­fi­cult and took more time than the old-fash­ioned way at first. Once I knew how to use it, the abil­ity to have the plasma ta­ble com­bined with the hy­draulic press brake has been a tremen­dous step for­ward in sav­ing time while build­ing cars.

HRM] How do you like be­ing your own boss?

AK] I hate it. It’s hor­ri­ble. [Laughs] The crazy thing is that my brain and heart adore prob­lem solv­ing, but now I spend all this time on the phone, run­ning to the bank, and man­ag­ing all my em­ploy­ees. All th­ese things have be­come so fre­quent, and while this sounds neg­a­tive I am ac­tu­ally su­per ex­cited for it. If you love build­ing cars, be­ing your own boss is a weird step away from the hands-on work, but if you never take this step you’ll al­ways be build­ing some­one else’s cars. In my head, I know it’s the right de­ci­sion, but in my heart it’s hard to take that step back.

HRM] We re­cently heard about your new show called Shift­ing

Gears. What made you de­cide now is the time to re­turn to tele­vi­sion?

AK] I’m ac­tu­ally proud of this new show, and I couldn’t do it if I wasn’t. The pro­duc­ers wouldn’t stop call­ing, and we fi­nally came up with a show that I agreed to that is un­like any­thing that’s been on TV be­fore. We build based on my cu­rios­ity, and af­ter build­ing the cars, we beat them to within an inch of their life to see how they stack up against other sim­i­lar cars and driv­ers. The goal is to play cars with our friends, and we’re just build­ing cars from all across the spec­trum to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent car cul­tures and events.

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