The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Richard Hammond (“Top Gear,” “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course”)

Although the History Channel has done an admirable job of trying to bring “Top Gear” to America, there are many viewers who still view the U.S.’s take on the series as a pale imitation of the original UK version…and, yes, if you’re wondering, I am one of those viewers, thank you very much. Not that there’s anything wrong with Adam Ferrera, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood in principle, but to my way of thinking, they can’t hold a candle to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. I mean, I’m not even a car person (and, boy, is that an understatement), but I’ve been enthralled by the adventures of Clarkson, Hammond, and May ever since I first discovered the series a few years back.

Indeed, I’ve found their presences so uniformly enjoyable that I’ve even followed them over to their various solo exploits. For instance, if you’ve never seen “James May’s Toy Stories,” head over to Hulu and check it out post haste…but, hang on, before doing that, perhaps you’d better watch “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course,” which actually makes its debut this evening on BBC America. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with Mr. Hammond during this summer TCA press tour, and we chatted about this new series as well as the one which made him a household name amongst automobile enthusiasts, not to mention various and sundry other topics.

Bullz-Eye: You’re all but ubiquitous on UK television nowadays, but how did you find your way onto TV in the first place?

Richard Hammond: I started as a radio host 24 years ago, in 1988. Local radio, a small station in the UK. I stuck with that for the better part of 10 years and eventually started doing TV. Car-related TV, because that was always my passion. And that opened into other types of TV, but I stuck with the cars as well, and then eventually auditioned for and got “Top Gear” when they re-launched it.

BE: Being a re-launch, I guess it was both a proven commodity as well as an unproven one, since it was all new.

RH: Yeah, it’d become quite old-fashioned and, as happened, it was taken off air because viewers had dwindled, but then it came back as an entirely new thing.

BE: Presumably you were pleasantly surprised when it took off as well as it did.

RH: Weren’t we, though? [Laughs.] Yes, but it wasn’t immediate. We were very lucky. We were afforded the opportunity to grow organically over time, because it was only a small show, so we could be allowed to evolve. We never set out to create the monster we created. We set out to make the best car show we could. That, honestly, is all we ever set out to do. And it was what it was, and it grew to what it became, and it found the appeal it found. We were just lucky. It was a perfect storm. The perfect combination of event, context, characters, appetite…it all came together.

BE: It’s very much a car show for people who aren’t even car aficionados.

RH: Well, we kind of do that to save the viewer the bother. We’re car geeks. I mean, I collect cars. I’ve got…oh, God, dozens of them at home, ranging from pre-war to immediate. But it has to have that at heart. We occasionally…not in recent years, but there was a time when we’d be asked quite regularly, “Are you really a car guy, or is it all put on?” You couldn’t pretend! But you don’t have to be a car fan to watch it, because cars, generally speaking, are fascinating to everyone because they affect all of us. Even if all you ever do is get in one to get a ride to school, they’re still part of your life, be it as a symbol, a means of communication, a means of transport, even as self-expression.

BE: What would you say has been the most fascinating aspect of “Top Gear”? You’ve been to so many countries, done so many things…

RH: Well, I’ve grown up there! I was 30 when we started, I’m 40 now. That’s a big period in a chap’s life! [Laughs.] Both my daughters have arrived since then. Lots has happened. It’s been a part of my life for a long, long time. That’s probably the big surprise. No, the bigger surprise is what’s happened to it! It still takes our breath away how big it’s gotten. We can’t believe it.

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Car maintenance made easy with simple tips from “Top Gear USA” host Rutledge Wood

Everyone knows car maintenance is important, but if you’re not a gear head – someone who loves working on vehicles – the idea of doing routine car maintenance can be very intimidating.

Whether on the set of “Top Gear,” at NASCAR races or just in my garage at home, I’m fortunate enough to be around cars a lot. I love driving them, repairing them and tinkering with them. However, for a lot of people, cars can be a confusing and even intimidating piece of machinery to work on.

To help people feel more comfortable in maintaining their vehicles, here are some simple tips that can make anyone feel like a gear head.

Change your oil

While many don’t find the prospect of being under a car messing with greasy filters their idea of a fun Sunday afternoon, changing a car’s oil isn’t as daunting a task as it seems.

1. Make sure your engine is cool before you start, then safely jack up your car and support it with jack stands. Lay a piece of cardboard under the engine, just in case you spill any oil.

2. Position a recycling container under the oil pan that’s on the bottom of your engine, then undo the drain plug and let the old oil pour into it. When the old oil’s out, put the drain plug back on and tighten it to your car’s torque specification.

3. Next, remove your old oil filter using an oil filter wrench; turn the filter counterclockwise until it’s free, but watch out you don’t spill the old oil that’s still in it. Make sure the rubber gasket comes out with the old filter.

4. Then, taking your new oil filter, lubricate the rubber gasket with some new oil and fill the new oil filter with oil to about two-thirds full.

5. Carefully screw the new oil filter clockwise into place (holding it upright); tighten only as much as you can with one hand, don’t overdo it or else it can cause a leak.

6. Now it’s time to fill the engine with oil, so unscrew the oil fill cap on the topside of the engine and insert your funnel. It’s smart to check your owner’s manual to find out how much oil your engine holds if you’re unsure, then pour a little more than three-fourths that amount into the engine.

7. Finally, start your vehicle and let it run for about a minute. During that minute, take a peek underneath to make sure you don’t have any leaks. After a minute, turn off you vehicle and check the oil level on the dipstick, adding more if necessary.

I use and recommend Valvoline NextGen Oil. It works great, and since it’s made with 50 percent recycled oil, it’s good for the environment as well. To sweeten the deal, they’ve even come out with a Close the Loop program where they’ll give you a $20 mail-in offer if you return your used oil at participating auto parts stores and buy five quarts of NextGen for your next oil change.

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