Rutledge Wood is a true Georgian who grew up immersed in all things automotive. To this day, his career has followed suit.
Rut began his career at SPEED TV, breaking onto the scene as a NASCAR correspondent. In 2015, he joined NBC Sports as a specialty motorsports reporter and NASCAR analyst. His work for NBC has extended beyond cars, as Rut helped cover the 2016 Kentucky Derby for the channel. He is also traveling to Rio for the much-anticipated Summer Olympics. When he’s not in front of the camera for NBC, he can be found on one of two shows – Lost in Transmission and Top Gear on the History Channel.
What ignited your passion for cars?
My dad got me into cars. He grew up on his parent’s car dealership and towing yard on Route 66 in New Mexico, so he was around cars from a very young age. He took me to a few cars shows as a kid and, of course, supported my hot wheels collection as a child – that’s really what got me started. I used to be able to name any car on the road just by their headlights and turn signals. As a kid, I was pretty pumped on that silliness.
What was the first car you ever drove and where did you go?
The first car I ever drove was a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup, with my grandfather teaching me how to drive on a dirt road somewhere in New Mexico. I was 13 years old and thought it was the coolest thing ever. He enjoyed it so much he ended up giving me the truck for my first car. It was really slow and really small, but still to this day has a special place in my heart. I will never forget that dirt road.
How many cars do you own, and which is your favorite?
I think at this moment, technically speaking, I have somewhere between 13 and 15 cars. That number sounds big, but about half of those don’t currently run and drive. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good deal and I love projects!
NASCAR has been a prevalent part of your career. When did you get your start and how would you describe your experience?
I got started in NASCAR with the Speed Channel in 2005 because of a job listing I found on Craigslist! I handled their mobile marketing at the track and emceed for the stage that went to all NASCAR races. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the sport and the amazing fans! If you love cars, you should love NASCAR. The people, the cars, the speed… it’s all so much fun.
Have you ever considered branching out into other racing fields?
I’m lucky to be part of NBC and NBC Sports, and I changed horsepower for true horse power this year when I got to go to the Kentucky Derby for NBC! It was amazing to see! They know I love all types of racing. Hopefully I make it to a few Indy Car races and definitely some Red Bull GRC (Global Rallycross) races so I can support my friend Tanner Foust.
You’re an analyst for NASCAR on NBC, co-host of Top Gear and were on Lost in Transmission. How did your TV career begin?
My TV career began at SPEED. Although I was in the marketing department, I was always trying to convince them to put me on TV. Somehow that worked in 2006. I was very hopeful NASCAR fans would “get me” and enjoy it, and I’m thankful every day they did. It took off from there and has been crazy ever since!
Top Gear is in its final season. Just a few questions about the hit show:
What has been your favorite memory from the show?
There’s so many good times it’s honestly hard to pick just one. Tanner and Adam are some of my best friends now, so it’s family for us. But being together this season in Cuba is something I’ll never forget. To go somewhere like that together – where it’s new for all of us – was amazing.
What’s it like to work with Tanner and Adam?
They’re awesome. Adam is the older brother you always wanted; wise and fun. Tanner is the little brother you didn’t think you wanted, but love that you do. They’re both really great guys. Traveling and working together all these years has been a ton of fun.
Who was your favorite guest appearance?
I think it would have to be Dax Shephard. He’s such a fun loving guy who really loves cars, so it was like meeting someone you’ve known for years.
Who would win in a race out of the Top Gear team?
Clearly me. Actually, Tanner. Somehow the professional racer seems to do really well when we race.
Have you thought about professionally racing?
Oh my goodness, yes! It’s so hard to be around racing every week and not want to do it yourself. The closest I’ve come to a career in auto racing is running the Toyota Pro Celebrity Race five years in a row at the Long Beach Grand Prix. I won the race in 2013, which is something Tanner wasn’t able to do when he was in the race – I know I’ve beaten him at something!
Of all the cars you have restored, what would you consider your favorite? Why?
The 1953 Plymouth Suburban wagon is my favorite car I’ve ever restored. Not only did I get the car from my best friend Kyle Petty’s dad, Richard Petty, but I was lucky enough to build the car with my friends at the Kenwood Rod Shop in Sharpsburg, GA. Randy Allgood, owner of Kenwood Rod Shop, and I both had a dream come true when the Plymouth was inside, under the lights of the ODYSSEY® battery booth at SEMA 2014. That’s hands down the biggest dream come true this car guy has ever had.
Who would you pick to face off in a one-on-one race?
I would love to race some kind of fun car against my pal Joey Logano. We see each other a lot out at the racetracks during NASCAR season, but he’s a really fun guy who loves all types of cars and trucks.
What car care advice could you give to someone who doesn’t have any car experience?
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and have a little fun. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help. I’m only where I am because I asked a ton of questions.
If you did not work in the automotive realm, what would you be doing?
I love making people smile, so it would be somewhere in the marketing field connecting cool companies with cool people. If you think about it, I’ve just been marketing myself the whole time since I graduated college. I just gotta keep doing that!
What does the future hold for Rutledge Wood?
I hope a lot more fun and a lot more cars – that’s what it’s been so far! I’m excited I get to go to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio for NBC. I have no idea what to expect, but I can’t wait to be there and see the biggest sporting event in the world unfold.
What does your dream car entail?
Sometimes it depends on the day, but one of my biggest dream cars is a ’67 Lincoln Continental Convertible. There’s something special about a big classic car, that’s for sure. But when it’s a 4-door convertible, it’s a whole different ball game. I have 3 daughters so I always have to think about them when I want a car.
What’s your “unicorn” – the car that you have been looking for to restore but have not yet found?
For me, there’s always the balance of classic vs. modern. On the classic side, I want a 1955 Chevy Bel Air Coupe. Something with a modern power plant and a really cool chassis that makes it handle like new. On the modern side, a 1998 Toyota Supra Turbo in Royal Sapphire Pearl with a 6 speed manual transmission. That was a car I worshiped as a teenager, and I can’t stop till I own one!
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