Holmes took the scenic route during this work road trip and stopped when he wanted to. “It’s one thing about doing it when you’re in a rental car, but there’s another thing when you’re on the open road, with nobody telling you what you need to do or where you need to be, and you’re in your car. So to be able to do that in my truck is something I’ll never forget,” he says.
The drive from Miami to Key West wouldn’t have been as fun had it not been for the scenery. “It’s 100 and something miles, and it should take you an hour and a half, but the speed limits go from 45 to 35, 45 to 35. It was the most frustrating drive you’ll ever do, but the scenery makes up for it,” he says. “When you’re driving on the Seven Mile Bridge and you have water on both sides of you, and it’s just two lanes of traffic. It’s just so beautiful, it’s not even funny.”
2015 Ram 1500
Holmes loves this truck so much he gives it an 11 on a scale of 10. He put a ProCharger supercharger on it and upgraded the exhaust, so it’s “big and bad” as well as quicker.
“It’s very funny, I was a Chevy guy my whole life,” he says. “I have a ’94 Chevy pickup truck also, and I always had Corvettes, and when I was looking for a truck, I compared the new Chevy to the Dodges.”
The main reason Holmes bought the Ram truck was its color. “I’m a Superman fan, that truck is Superman blue,” he says. “It was like something your grandfather would drive when I bought it. I knew what I wanted to do to it, and I was able to do everything to that truck.”
What he likes about the truck is that when he has people in the back, they’re comfortable because it’s roomy, and as a self-described “outdoorsy guy,” he has room to put things in the bed and know that they’re secure.
“It’s got really deep side walls for the bed. The other thing I really like is everything in that cab is laid out exactly where you’d want it to be. I’ve dealt with other trucks, other cars, and you’re always wondering where this is and where that is,” he says. “Even the controls for the stereo, down to the heat and air conditioning. Everything for me in that truck is laid out where it needs to be, coupled with the fact that a lot of pickup trucks, when you have a crew cab, the back doors don’t open all the way. [In the Ram], those doors open up almost 90 degrees, with the seats that fold down in the back.”
1994 Chevrolet pickup
“It’s an extended cab, it’s got a small lift. The old-style Chevy K1500, to me that’s a timeless body design. That thing’s got a 350 in it. I rebuilt the engine in it myself, did the transmission in it, and put in a Flowmaster exhaust, because to me, exhaust makes everything in a truck or a car. I’ve had the same manufacturer of exhaust in every car I’ve ever had including a Range Rover I had. There’s just something about starting up something, and it sounds deep and throaty and you’re like, ‘Hi, here I am,'” he says with a laugh.
He bought this Chevy 12 years ago. “That thing doesn’t owe me anything. Every morning in a cold New York morning, that thing would crank right up and the A/C would keep me nice and cold. With the power of that thing [and] with the four-wheel drive, I fish on the beach and I’ll drive off-road,” he says.
Holmes would make it his daily driver, but he wanted to upgrade to a truck with modern conveniences, such as Bluetooth. “So that’s the only reason I went for a newer truck. That truck now has 220,000 miles on it,” he says.
After being in construction his whole life, Holmes always buys used cars. “Even the new truck, the 1500, I bought that pre-owned, too, from a dealership,” he says proudly. “To me, it makes more sense to buy something that’s been driven before. If you’re not losing money, you’re already ahead of the game. When you buy something brand new, the minute you roll out of the dealership you’ve already lost money, and I work too hard for my money to throw it away just to say, ‘Hey I’ve got a 2019 or 2018 anything. ‘”
“Ferrari Daytona Spyder”
This faux Ferrari Daytona is really an undercover 1968 Corvette. It’s the car of childhood dreams, for Holmes, who grew up watching it on Miami Vice.
“Don Johnson used to drive what was a Ferrari Spyder. That car, if it was real, would be so out of my price range. Even when they did the show, a company called McBurnie built a replica on a Corvette chassis,” he says. “I’m such a Corvette fan … that I rented [an ’87 Corvette] to go to my junior prom. I even have the tattoo of the Corvette emblem on my arm.”
Spoiler alert for those who will watch this season: Fans may see this faux Ferrari Daytona. “It’s got a 427 Tri-Power in it. So it looks like a Ferrari on the outside, but it drives like a Corvette, and that’s something that Richard and I are currently in negotiation on,” he says.
Turns out Holmes and fellow Garage Rehab and Celebrity Drive mate Richard Rawlings have similar tastes.
“He found that at a swap meet. He traded a Mustang for it, and the minute he did it, he told me about it because he knew I wanted one, and he said, ‘You’ll never believe what I got.’ It took a lot for me to be able to talk him into selling it to me,” he says, laughing.
It’s not the greatest driver, but that’s not why Holmes lusted after it. “As a daily driver, it’s probably a 5,” he says, chuckling. “As far as my personal curb appeal and appearance, that’s another 10. There’s just something cool about that car.”
Aside from cars, Holmes points out Harley-Davidsons are another thing he rides the most. “I ride a Harley-Davidson Street Glide, and there’s nothing like riding a motorcycle.”
Car he learned to drive in
Holmes learned to drive in a five-speed 1974 Mustang II that his mother drove, on the streets of Long Island, New York. That was the official car he learned to drive in, though it wasn’t the first.
“I was 12 years old, and I was home with a good friend of mine, and my parents had gone out for the day with my siblings, and my stepfather’s car was in the driveway, a ’72 Pontiac Catalina. The keys were there, and I said, ‘We’re going to drive this car. ‘”
Holmes and his friend got in the car and just drove. “I’m barely able to see over the dashboard because this was a big boat. And I drive all the way to my friend’s house and I pull into the driveway, and I’m so proud, and who pulls up behind me but my mother and stepfather. I figure I’m in trouble now,” he recalls. “So they say, ‘What are you doing taking this car out?’ I said, ‘Look, I was bored, you’re right, I was wrong.’ They said, ‘You better take that car home right now.’ They let me drive the car back home because they didn’t want to be late for their appointment. So I taught myself to drive when I was 12 years old.”
When his mother officially taught him for his driver’s road test, he was 15 and a half. She taught him how to drive a standard transmission, which was “so amazing” to Holmes.
“So many people have such an issue with it, and I loved it, so I learned how to drive on a stick car and I took my road test in it. When I was taking my road test, I was so nervous, the driving instructor said, ‘Sir, can you speed it up?’ Because I was going too slow. So I made up for that. I made sure that ever since then nobody ever tells me I’m going too slow,” he says.
His mom also taught him to drive on the highway on Long Island. “The Long Island Expressway, the world’s largest parking lot and the parkways over there—so it was trial under fire,” he says.
First car bought
When he was 14, Holmes paid $75 for a 1978 Camaro with money he made from landscaping and cutting lawns.
“The only reason I bought it was I was taking auto shop class in high school and in doing so, that enabled me to take the car that didn’t run, bring it into school, and I got graded on rebuilding the engine,” he says. “That’s one of the things I think is starting to get lost these days—is how important auto shop class is to these kids today, because they can take things like I was able to—a $75 first car, I went through a semester of high school, rebuilt the engine. I got an A on my grade for doing it, and then I ended up with a car that otherwise I may not have been able to have.”
He saw the car, which was sitting across the street from his boss’ house.
“It had leaves and rust. It didn’t even have a ‘For Sale’ sign on it; the guy must’ve thought it was done,” Holmes recalls. “Finally I was able to get in contact with him, and he said, ‘Give me $75.’ To me at that point it was a lot of money, but it was a cool car.”
After buying it, the car sat in Holmes’ driveway for a year and a half before he was able to take auto shop class. He then towed it to his high school.
“I used to make believe I was driving in it. And I started working on it. One of the stories I tell people is about learning by doing. I had no idea what I was doing, it didn’t run, so I started taking the engine apart. And the guy had told me it had run, he didn’t tell me anything was wrong with it. He said, it’s probably a bad fuel filter or something. Buyer beware, because I ended up taking the intake manifold off. Somebody had taken it off, put it back together, and left a wrench inside the engine,” he says with a laugh.
Holmes didn’t want to drive something like a station wagon for his first car. “I was a Chevy guy and that was a ’78 Camaro, and those lines to me, it just talked to me it, it said, ‘This is a cool car.’ I wanted something slick and fast. … Once I had it fixed and I was driving it, it used to be the car that all my friends would pile into whenever it snowed,” he says.
He and his friends would go out to the parking lots and do donuts in the snow and drive around. “Ultimately that’s how it ended up getting wrecked. I ended up coming around and turned in the snow and misjudged it. It was too quick, and the back of it hit a tree and totaled the car,” he says.
Before it got totaled, the Camaro got him all through high school, until he lost it just before senior year. “And I ended up driving an ’81 Caprice Classic, a grandmother’s car,” he says, laughing. “It looked like it was.”
Garage Rehab Tuesdays on Discovery at 8 p.m. (watch it here)
Holmes had never been on TV, but he was a big fan of his now co-host Rawlings.
“I had watched Fast N’ Loud, Misfits, and Demolition Theater, and I used to say to my friends and family, ‘I could see myself hanging out with this guy,'” he says. “I see that they’re coming out with this show and they’re looking for an automotive installer, for a construction guy, a guy who could run a shop and be a foreman, a business owner, and I said, ‘Heck I can do all of those. ‘”
So Holmes took a chance and sent in his resume. And he learned an important lesson in calling people back on the phone—in this day and age where people see electronic communication as the acceptable way to communicate.
One old-school phone call, not email, changed the trajectory of Holmes’ life forever.
“I’m out one Tuesday night, I left my phone in my truck, and I come out and I have a missed phone call. But they didn’t leave a message, so I was like, ‘Ah, whatever.’ And the next day, I said, ‘Who called me?’ So I called the number back—my voicemail was full and that’s why they didn’t leave a message.”
He called back and found out it was Pilgrim Studios. “Now, I had read Richard’s book so I knew who Pilgrim Studios was. I said, ‘Holy cow, that’s them!'”
The show wasn’t out yet. So it took him a week to two to play phone tag to try to figure out who called him from Pilgrim. “Finally I ended up getting in touch with someone who said, ‘I think I know what that is.’ I get a phone call back from this gentleman named Carlos, he said, ‘Russell, we’ve been trying to get in touch with you.’ I said, ‘Well, you didn’t do a very good job. ‘”
From there, they did interviews and then flew him to Los Angeles, where he was asked, “How would it be telling Richard no?” Holmes told them, “I’m from New York and I’m pretty outspoken. If I disagree, you’re going to know it. I don’t tiptoe around anybody.”
The last thing he told them was something he thought would be a side note. “I said, ‘Look, I’m not attached to my beard. I grew it for hunting season, and I don’t always have it, so if I have to get rid of it, I’ll get rid of it.’ They said, ‘Nope, you need to keep it.’ So now I have this amazing beard that I didn’t know I was going to be stuck with,” Holmes says with a laugh.
For those unfamiliar with the show, the cast helps struggling garages with their businesses, giving them a face-lift and anything else they need to succeed.
“If you have a mom and pop garage and it’s been somebody who’s been running their business for many years, they think their way is the best way,” he says. “Everything you see is totally genuine. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to be part of it—I didn’t want to have anything made up. So when we go in there and you see something so bad, it’s literally that way.”
This season, fans see them knock down the front wall of a building, add or clear office space, and even put in a training center in one episode.
“We look at these garages in the short time we have and say, ‘This is what we feel, based on our experience, is going to improve this.’ So we upgrade their equipment where it needs to be, we give them a marketing plan where they need to market. We teach them how to go out and market themselves, and say, ‘Here’s a T-shirt,'” he says. “People say, ‘T-shirts are so expensive.’ Maybe they’re expensive in the beginning, but when you see a couple of people walking around in a ‘Gas Monkey’ shirt, guess what? That’s free advertising. So if the garages are able to do that and throw a sticker on a car, you’re going to wonder where.”
Holmes spoke to a garage they helped this season, and aside from the aesthetic things the crew did and re-engineering the building, one of the biggest changes was the fact that they adjusted the name of the business.
“He said it brought in a whole new realm of business he never thought he was going to be able to do. He always wanted to and he didn’t know why he was missing it,” he says. “Something subtle sometimes makes such a difference. We made sure everything we do, we legitimately do it in a week and people always question that, and I said, ‘Listen it’s real, I can attest to that. ‘”
The other part of it is that Holmes and the crew make sure they walk away from the garages knowing they did everything they could to help them succeed.
“We give them stuff not only based on what we’ve done to succeed in life, but the mistakes we’ve made in life, because to me, if somebody can learn from the mistakes I’ve made, why not make that something that helps them?” he says. “So we go in and we use all our stuff—the good stuff and the bad stuff that’s happened to us in life—and made these garages more successful because of it.”
In many ways, Holmes was born to do this job. But he doesn’t just play someone who’s worked in garages on TV, he’s worked in a garage since high school. For the first couple of years afterwards, he was a mechanic, then we went into construction and built commercial garages for dealerships and freestanding garages.
“So I took everything I had from growing up: My father was a machinist, I grew up in a machine shop, where you made nuts and bolts,” he says. “All the way up to framing out a roof that was going on a shop, that had 10 bays in it that they were going to be working on—BMWs. So, not only did I have the love and the hobby and job of working on cars in my life, and doing the construction, I’ve always been somebody who wanted to be in charge. I can lead a group of people.”
Although it isn’t required, Holmes was also a volunteer EMT in New York and became a captain.
“I’ve always had the ability to thrive under chaos, and when you go to a Garage Rehab garage, from the minute we walk in, it is nothing but chaos. So aside from my technical abilities—in knowing how to rebuild an engine, or how to put in a lift or an air compressor, to putting up the garage doors, to doing a roof—knowing what it takes to run a business and be a successful leader that encourages your people, I think that was one of the qualifications that made me be able to do this.”
A lot of the first step can include decluttering. “Most of them have too much crap in their garages; now they eliminate the floor space, so they’re probably not working in the most efficient manner, so they’re not using the equipment they want, or they can’t service the equipment the way it should be serviced,” he says.
More than anything, Holmes wanted to be part of the show to help make a difference in people’s lives. “I didn’t want to be on TV, but when I read we were going to help struggling garages and struggling businesses, that’s what initially made me want to send in my information,” he says. “Being on TV and working with Richard was second and third reason.”
To be able to go in and help people is what drives Holmes every day they put in 20 hours. “When we leave there, we know they’re better off,” he says.
“We tell these garages, ‘Once it airs, get ready,'” he says. “But some of the garages we’ve already done that haven’t aired yet, their businesses increased tenfold, even before they got to be on TV and anybody’s even seen them yet. They’re already doing better.”