Get your muscle car-friendly Top Gear fix on July 30th.
Nailing down the recipe that makes a TV show successful is pretty tough. Netflix has seemed to succeed in doing so, as anyone who suffers an addiction to clicking the “Still Watching” button knows, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Top Gear is still struggling to recover from losing its three star presenters and even the show that houses them now, The Grand Tour, lacks the magic of the original series. The BBC has found that the secret ingredient to success is good and entertaining group dynamic.
The old Top Gear was chalked full of it due, if anything, to the longstanding experience of presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. And despite using the BBC’s signature three presenter format for Top Gear USA, the show was abruptly cancelled last year. But the BBC wasn’t finished yet. A revamp is on its way to BBC America and ahead of the show’s July 30th debut episode, we chatted with Antron Brown, a Top Fuel drag racing champion who will host the new Top Gear America alongside actor William Fichtner and British motoring journalist Tom “Wookie” Ford, in order to find out more about the show.
With a race car driver, an actor, and a seasoned auto journalist in the mix, the group dynamic will be one where each presenter’s skill compliments those of the other two. As the resident professional driver, Brown will be responsible for simplifying complex mechanical systems in a manner that’ll be palatable to all. “One thing I think I can bring to the show is everything on the performance side and how it relates now,” says Brown. “I’ve been drag racing for over 20 years and all the modern technology, direct injection and twin-turbos for example, are things we were using in the 80s and 90s and it’s only being put on the streets now so smaller engines can make more power.”
That method to the automakers’ madness can be confusing to some folks, but that’s where Brown will jump in. “I think that’s the thing I can actually tie in, the new technology that we’re using today and where it came from and put a little twist on it and tell what it’s really doing,” says Brown. “People hear those words and are like, ‘so what is twin-turbo and what does it do?’ I can break it down to that ABC format and bring it to the modern era where people can understand it.” That’s important because, as Brown put it, Top Gear America is a show that the entire family, gearheaded or not, should be able to understand and enjoy with a bowl of popcorn nearby.
To accomplish the latter feat, Brown and his colleagues are relying on their chemistry, which he says comes naturally. “When the three of us got together, it was one of deals where it was easy. It’s almost like we knew each other for years and we all shared a mutual respect for one another for where we came from.” Together, Brown, Ford, and Fichtner will use their friendship and talents to carry Top Gear USA’s torch forward. If you remember, Top Gear USA was cancelled just when it was starting to get good. Studio sessions had been shortened in favor of more specials and time spent inside the cars went up. Keeping with this recipe, Brown is confident the show will offer something that Top Gear UK doesn’t.
Namely, a unique perspective on American car culture. “Even though we have a foreigner like Wookie, we are hitting on all the American car culture, its history, and where it’s going,” says Brown. With a bit more freedom, Top Gear America is also going to make some amendments to the format of the show. For example, the celebrity lap routine will be featured live on the show, meaning no behind the scenes practice to make each superstar look like a rockstar track day veteran. “We send them right out from our live studio to the track to take their laps," says Brown. “Once they take their laps, they’re coming right back in and they take their helmets off and you can see the sweat, their adrenaline is pumped up, and you’ll see it firsthand.”
Thankfully fans won't have to wait too much longer to see that in action. The first episode is scheduled to be aired July 30th and if all goes as well as Brown is expecting it to, then we'll have yet another reason to keep clicking that "Still Watching" button soon enough.