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Car Guys Set To Go To War

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 23 2011

Host Marc Istook orders two teams of custom car builders to get to work on Car Warriors. (Photos courtesy of SPEED)

In his role as entertainment TV reporter, Marc Istook has shared face-time with any number of Hollywood’s beautiful people. From a 45-minute sit-down with Cindy Crawford to on-the-fly chit-chat

with Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Francis Ford Coppola, Istook knows glitterati.

“Not a bad job,” said Istook, whose resume includes reporting on the Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for DirecTV and TV Guide Network. “Lots of red carpet reporting, and it’s funny to play that game of who looks better in person or who looks worse. I’ve gotten to interview a bunch of celebrities and to call that a job. And now I get to see how these awesome cars are built.”

Ten years after putting his native Fort Worth, Texas, in the rearview mirror of a Porsche 944, Istook has landed the opportunity of a lifetime as host of Car Warriors. The one-hour, 10-week series set to debut on SPEED Wednesday at 9 p.m. (ET) features an eight-person All-Star  automotive team taking on “small town heroes” from around the country in a 72-hour restoration test matching wits, skills and stamina.

Host Istook and set reporter Kristen Aldridge will share airtime during the resto process as it unfolds on a purpose-built set developed on the grounds of Ted Moser’s famed Picture Car Warehouse in

Car Warriors host Marc Istook knows his way around cars and garages.

Northridge, Calif. The finished products – a pair of 1966 Ford Mustangs in the opener – will then be scrutinized by a panel of esteemed custom car judges comprised of George Barris, Jimmy Shine and “Mad Mike” Martin.

“We’ve been shooting pretty much nonstop, starting the week before Christmas and every week since – 72 hours a week,” Istook, 34, said during a phone interview. “The network has been real excited. I saw a preview show on SPEED with footage from Car Warriors in it and like what the editors have done. All the feedback has been positive. Even though I know how it all turns out, I want to watch every episode.”

Any genuine “car guy” can rattle off the names of similar programs that successfully have transformed junkers into gems, including Monster Garage with Jesse James; Overhaulin’ with Chip Foose; Chop Cut Rebuild with Dan Woods and Pimp My Ride with rapper Xzibit. Martin, in fact, is the wiring expert from Galpin Auto Sports and Pimp My Ride. Those shows, however, either worked under one-week time limits, or none at all.

“We like to say it’s (Car Warriors) like Pimp My Ride meets Iron Chef,” said Istook, whose TV credits include Gotta Get It, a gadget show on the Food Network. Given the 72-hour time constraint, any food consumed during Car Warriors figures to be on-set and with grimy fingers.

“The clock aspect of it is huge because any wrong decision the teams make results in potential damage to the car, and that’s time they have to make up,” Istook said. “Also, you’ve got the teams working right next to each other, so there’s trash talk and that adds to the stakes. You make a decision you think is right and you see the team next to you make a better decision, so there’s strategy involved there, too. Once they start, these guys are operating on little sleep, routinely staying up 24 hours straight.

“You can’t spend all your time on the design and neglect the mechanics of the car. And when it’s finished, there’s no time to take it off the lift and drive it around the block. The All-Stars want to prove why they’re the best and the challengers are coming in to win both cars. The All-Stars are protecting their reputations, and the challengers, they’re there to win both cars or go home with nothing.”

At the very least, the challengers will be able to say they shared garage space with three genuine superstars of the custom car industry. Barris is the undisputed “King of the Kustomizers” and the inspiration behind iconic TV cars including the original Batmobile and Munster Koach.

“I’ve been in the business for over 60 years, so I’m looking for warriors,” Barris said. “These builders are going to have to fight to win my approval. I need to see the team work at their best when it comes to design, workmanship, quality and perfection. All of these components will be accounted for in my final decision.

“Without a doubt, I will be judging on-and-off camera. I think it’s important to know a little history on each builder to see what type of car customizing techniques they like to associate with. Are they old school or new school? Are they a builder who uses lead, bondo (plastic filler) or fiberglass? What are some past achievements that brought them here to this show?

“After my little questionnaire is said and done, here is the deal – I’ve judged custom car and hot rod shows, plus concourses, from around the world. I’m looking for what designs they are trying to achieve and the proportions appropriate for their style and category. It might be a performance car, a muscle car, a traditional custom, but the final workmanship is what it will be judged on.”

Shine, lead fabricator at the world famous So-Cal Speed Shop and star of Hard Shine, has had cars

The race to build – and please a trio of legendary customizers – is about to begin at Car Warriors.

and bikes featured in Rod & Custom Magazine, Popular Hot Rodding and Speedhunter. A racer and member of the Bonneville 200-mph Club, Shine has built motorcycles for Billy Idol, Mickey Rourke and Bruce Springsteen.

“I’m really anxious to see pulling off a car, building something of this caliber or this level, in 72 hours,” Shine said. “It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a push. It’s going to be a challenge from every single angle from logistics to fabrication, welding, parts supply and sleep deprivation. Wow. There’s going to be some electricity in the air watching this whole thing come together.

“I’ve built hundreds of cars over the past 30-some years, and to complete any project such as this, in that kind of timeframe, 72 hours (is a stretch). Eight people working in a very small area. A car sounds like a very large place until you have a number of people all over it. You’re stepping on people, you’re dragging hoses and air lines. This is the kind of stuff that would take – in any normal shop – six, eight months or a year to accomplish. To knock it out in this amount of time, it’s just this side of impossible. It really is.”

Martin, the customizing supervisor at Galpin Auto Sports, has been involved in the automotive electronics industry for more than 25 years. Martin, who designs cars as recruiting tools for the US Air Force, has appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel.

“What I’m going to be looking for is what I call the ‘Three Fs’ – the fit, the finesse and the finish,” Martin said. “For the fit; do all the panels fit together? Make sure the doors close properly. Make sure the car looks like a car, not like a comic strip or anything like that.

“On the finesse; how smooth is everything? Does it fit together? Is it nice-looking? Do the colors go together? With the finish, you don’t want paint that’s all bubbled-up or has seams that are crooked. Wiring has to be straight since I’m the wiring engineer. Everything has to work when you turn on the switch. If the lights don’t come on, or the windshield wipers don’t work, that’s a part of it also. So everything has to work. I would like to throw another ‘F’ in there, and that’s function. Everything has to function; the car has to start, stop, run and steer. Those are the key things I’m going to be looking for.”

While Istook’s connection to the car industry is less glamorous than the judging panel, it nevertheless is solid.  His father, Don, operates Istook’s Motorsport Services out of the same shop near downtown Fort Worth formerly occupied by his dad, Ernie. Don Istook is an accomplished racer in various SCCA, Porsche Club of America and Grand-American Road Racing Association-sanctioned series. He and shop foreman B.J. Jones specialize in high-performance tuning of customer Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen vehicles.

The 1986-1/2 Porsche Marc drove from Cowtown to the West Coast came out of his father’s stash of used and slightly abused 944s. Marc’s “garage rat” background proved a definite plus during the Car Warriors casting call last fall.

“This (job op) came down the path and when I saw it, I was excited,” said Istook, who majored in Radio/TV/Film and minored in Journalism at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “There’s car shows out there, but this is right up my alley. I went in and they had us audition with some of the copy on the show and then we talked about our automotive background. They didn’t want to hire the next Jesse James, but wanted somebody comfortable in a garage and around cars. Then they brought me in for a sit-down and we talked shop  – talked about cars more than anything else.

“I was really straightforward. I’m not a customizer, like the guys on the show. But I can tear a motor down and I’ve spent enough time changing my own oil or working at my dad’s shop or at the racetrack  at a few high-performance driving events to know what I’m doing. When you grow up around cars, it’s part of who you are. I didn’t pretend that I could do what they (build teams) do, but felt I could bridge the gap between the average Joe and these guys in the garage.”

That garage looms as one of the show’s  bling elements. “It’s just a candy store for guys,” said Perry Barndt, the show’s associate producer and lead parts-buyer. “What we built was one of the dream speed shops of all time. It’s actually quite large and has anything you could imagine – transmissions, engines, specialty kits, machinery, etc. Everything is in there; you just have to look for it.”

Three months ago, a parking lot full of TV and movie cars were all that existed at Picture Car Warehouse, part of the Los Angeles Center Studios. “We took out everything, we re-paved the parking lot and put up a 100 x 100 tent – it’s high up (approximately 100 feet) and it feels like a city,” said Andy Berg, Car Warriors production manager. “Inside the tent, we built one big mechanic’s shop on steroids. In the back of the tent there’s an entire parts cage. It has everything you might need from wrenches, tools and all that kind of stuff. On either end there are two, large, high-end paint booths. And these booths are all digital; very detailed in how you work it.”

Barndt compiled approximately 15 to 20 pages of notes while figuring a shop inventory that includes ultimate car lifts, milling machines, lathes, box brakes and state-of-the-art tire changers. While a specific number of parts were not referenced, the total ordering process is expected to yield well over 1,000 pieces when the 10 episodes are finalized. Once the universal build applications were put in place, a five-person buying crew went about securing the aftermarket parts that could be used to customize each of the vehicles.

“When I watch this episode, I wanted to be educated about cars,” Berg said. “When you’re done, it’s not just taking two cars and building them; the audience is going to learn a lot (about the process.)”

Istook’s airtime bookends the show. “Basically, I introduce the teams and set the stage for what the stakes are…tell them what they’ll be working on and get the clock started,” said Istook, noting the first challenger team is from Lubbock, in West Texas. “Without giving it away, there’s a Texas flavor to the build; there’s a little Texas design to the car. Throughout the build I’ll pop in now and then for some commentary and how it affects the build. At the end, I bring the teams and the judges together and shepherd them through that process.”

Istook graduated from TCU in 1998. His professional career began as weekend sportscaster for KTEN, the NBC affiliate in Denison, Texas. During a two-and-a-half year stint there he shot, wrote, produced and edited pieces on his favorite teams – the Dallas Cowboys, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Rangers and that staple of all Texas sports, Friday night high school football.

“Covering the local news was a lot of fun,” said Istook, who interned at ABC affiliate WFAA-TV under veteran sportscaster Dale Hansen with the idea of becoming the next Keith Olbermann or Dan Patrick. “When I was in college, my goal was to become the next ESPN sportscaster. To me, that was the top of the heap. I moved to LA to find opportunities like that on a bigger stage. I had an interview out here for a job I didn’t get, but said these are the kind of opportunities I want on a national level.”

Allure of the red carpet aside, Istook is eager become the face that drives Car Warriors.

“I’ve been fortunate with the entertainment reporting I’ve done,” Istook said. ”I’m doing it part-time, because this show has been a fulltime job since mid-December. I would love for this show to be a huge hit for SPEED and all the people that are working on it, for the All-Stars and the local teams. And I’d love to benefit from that, too. It’s hard to call this a job when you do what you enjoy doing every day. When you love cars and that’s your world, this is a job that’s a dream come true.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 23 2011
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