Take 5 With Aaron Kaufman
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!
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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.