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Minter: Wood Knows His Iron

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 16 2010

Rutledge Wood knows a thing or two about cars. (Photo courtesy of SPEED)

It’s pretty safe to say that Rutledge Wood is the only personality who has been interviewed both at Oliver Gentry’s junkyard in Newnan, Ga., and in the Tonight Show studios in California.

But, according to Wood’s Facebook page, he’ll set that milestone tonight. Wood is set to talk to host Jay Leno about his new History Channel show, the U.S. version of the popular British TV show “Top Gear.”

For those who don’t follow NASCAR that closely, Wood, despite the comic roles he often plays on SPEED shows, is the perfect person to be on Top Gear. If there ever was a die-hard gearhead, it’s Rutledge Wood.

Wood, who is also quite the people person, grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, where he was class president at McIntosh High School for two years and homecoming king his senior year of 1998.

When he wasn’t in school, he busied himself dragging home broken cars with a tow bar and making them run again.

He did some entertaining in college, at the University of Georgia, playing drums to supplement his income.

But he didn’t hit the entertainment big time until after he met up with “Uncle Rich” Mann, the morning DJ at the local radio station near his hometown.

“I basically just showed up every day and watched him do the show and asked questions,” Wood said during that interview at Gentry’s junkyard several years ago. Soon he and Mann were working together on a new show, and eventually Wood took a job hosting a karaoke/comedy show at the old theater in Newnan. Just as he’s done with his segments on SPEED, he used his creativity to spice up things.

“I made up this thing called the ‘Karaoke Chest of Fun,’” he said. “We spent about 150 bucks at the thrift store and bought all these crazy clothes and had about 30 wigs so people could get dressed up and really be like somebody else.”

But he got tired of getting home so late, so he started looking around for another job and saw an online notice that SPEED was interviewing new talent.

Being a long-time car guy, he figure that would be just the job for him. He drove to Charlotte for an interview and was on TV a couple of weeks later during Speedweeks 2005.

For much of his career, he focused mostly on the entertainment side, and few if any SPEED viewers realized that Wood was about as mechanically savvy as anyone on the set.

In fact, his career Plan B was to open an automotive garage.

Richard Petty knows though, because Wood regularly talks old cars with the King and even talked him out of an old Plymouth station wagon.

But it isn’t just the King’s old wagon that interests him. On the day I interviewed him at Oliver Gentry’s junkyard, he eagerly roamed the aisles, opening the doors of wrecked and abandoned cars, thinking about the possibilities.

The cars on Top Gear are far more exotic than anything in Gentry’s junkyard, and they run. But I doubt that Wood has much more fun on the Top Gear set than he does on an afternoon at Gentry’s.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 16 2010
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  • Jon says:

    Good background info. Someone had told me that Wood lived nearby me in town. I was still a bit surprised one day when he passed by me on my bicycle and smiled and waved. Cool – I don’t begrudge anyone being famous as long as you can still be friendly.