Lots of people would love to be a Top Gear co-host, but what does it really take to front TV's most popular car show? As History finally gives us back our Top Gear tonight, BFTV wrangled some time with the loveable Rutledge Wood - he of the plaid shirts and this year's Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race champ - to discuss the job requirements for working alongside Adam Ferrara and Tanner Foust.
"It takes a lot more effort to shoot a show for Top Gear than most people would think," Rut told us, "but I think that's part of what we have to do as hosts and not let people in on that side of it. I mean, we have easily the coolest job in the world, so you won't get a lot of sympathy from your friends if you had something to gripe about, but we all work very hard at making the best show we can."
For Rut, the success of the show starts with the folks behind the scenes. "We are extremely blessed to have a crew that climb to the highest mountains and swim through rivers for us to get some beautiful shots, and they truly deserve the most credit," he explained. "Our POV team - inside the car and small cameras mounted to the cars - are the best in the business. Greg and Roush that do that job have to climb in, around, and under some of the tightest and delicate places. And all day long, they have to look at us and hear us talk. They probably hear our voices in their sleep!
"We shoot roughly sun up to sun down, so it takes a lot of moving parts and pieces to get it all done and the three of us are hugely appreciative for how hard everyone on our crew works," he added. "Then the editors, bless their hearts, they have to take all this crap we give them and make a show out of it!"
But what about Rut's colleagues, X Games 2013 gold medalist Tanner Foust and the always hilarious Adam Ferrara? What's allowed them to click so well and create that chemistry that's so essential to the Top Gear franchise? Rut reflected, "I think that we are three insanely lucky guys to get to do something we love. We're all very different people with lots in common and tons of things that are unique to ourselves.
"I think that's what makes this show work. We really are great friends now, which makes us want to beat each other even more - and it makes us want to see the others win and succeed that much more. It's like family now."
For an example of the bond between co-hosts, check out footage from the guys' recent trip to Alaska with this article.
Rutledge had an impressive career way before he joined Top Gear: motor racing fans will know him as a NASCAR analyst and host for SPEED Channel (now Fox Sports One), Those duties have earned him plenty of clout already. But he told us that hosting Top Gear has raised his profile even further. "Totally!" he enthused. "I've been on the road with NASCAR for the SPEED Channel, which just changed their name to Fox Sports One, for nine years and my friend Kyle Petty was who really noticed the big change.
"We were somewhere with his dad, Richard Petty, aka 'The King,' and these two guys walked right past both of them to say hello to me and tell me how much they like the show. I think it actually made Kyle proud of me that the show has put me out there like that," Rut continued, adding that there's been another benefit to the additional exposure. "It actually really helps me on my other job at FS1, because when celebrities are out at the racetrack and I get to interview them, a ton of them have seen the show before, so it makes them even more comfortable with me."
What can we expect in the rest of Top Gear's new season, which starts back up on History tonight? "We got to shoot in some really cool locations this season," Rut revealed. "I loved going to Idaho. It's honestly one of the prettiest states and the people there are awesome. I loved Buffalo and the surrounding areas, but someone in a Passat almost took me out at a crosswalk - so it was my rude awakening that Southern hospitality does not exist up north!"
"We always have fun honestly, even when the producers have gotten us in something that's crazy grueling and hard on us," he continued. "But on occasion, something happens that isn't planned, and that's when we really see how much of a family it is at Top Gear. One of our most important people on a shoot is one of our co-executive producers, Tabitha Lentle. She's a beautiful gal from New Zealand who has the daunting task of trying to keep the three of us focused on what we're actually trying to do, which is no easy task. She's the one who has to get us energetic after lunch, and listen to us when we complain about how early we got up and everything in between.
"If she yells at you - which is rare - you know it's serious because we are a family out there and we never want to see anyone hurt," he commented. "But it was pretty funny when Tanner and I stood together watching her yell at Adam for going crazy in an electric drag car this year. Adam has many talents, but modulating throttle input is not his greatest - and we almost saw him truly define the old saying 'checkers or wreckers' that day."
It all adds up to not only TV's best motoring show, but also one of the most fun programs you'll ever get to watch. And for as jaw-dropping as the various automotive shenanigans are, the real heart of the series is who's behind the wheel. There's no doubt that Rutledge is one of the most down-to-earth, adorable and entertaining personalities on television. Just check out what he said when we asked him to tell us one important thing that hosting Top Gear has taught him.
"When I won the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race this year, it surprised a lot of people that I could win," he reflected. "And it made me realize that anyone out next to Tanner Foust looks like a crappy driver. So don't take it personally when a 14-year-old kid tells you on Twitter that you suck at driving. Just tell him riding the bus like he does sucks more and move on down the road!"
New episodes of Top Gear resume tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on History. You can also keep up with Rutledge personally by visiting his website (therutledgewood.com) or following him on Twitter (@RutledgeWood).