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The Restoration Will Be Televised

Springfield auto shop revs onto reality TV with Graveyard Carz
(Left to right) Josh Rose, Royal Yoakum, Mark Workman and Daren Kirkpatrick
(Left to right) Josh Rose, Royal Yoakum, Mark Workman and Daren Kirkpatrick. Photo by Todd Cooper.

It’s Saturday and I’m standing in a garage in Springfield and the guy next to me suddenly blurts out: “What is a euphemism for a necrophiliac for cars?”

This question, posed by a mechanic, isn’t rhetorical. No dirty punch line hovers expectantly in the air. He’s just curious.

Necro-vehicularization? Auto-necrotic-eroticization? Hooptie-humping? Piston-twistin’? Van-dallyism?

Whatever the term, the act itself — romancing dead cars — is about to put Springfield on the map. Not your ordinary street map. No, we’re talking about the only map that really counts these days, the cathode map navigating among Swamp People, Cops, Hillbilly Handfishin’ and Jersey Shore jerkoffs.

The map of reality television.

You see, outside behind the spacious garage at Welby’s Car Care in Springfield is a graveyard. It’s here that automobiles in various stages of disrepair form a metallic maze where dented hoods are propped up like headstones.

This is not, however, where old cars come to die; Welby’s junkyard is more limbo than last resting place. Don’t feel sad for that demolished ’71 ’Cuda or grieve over the cute little BMW beached by the fence. Magic happens here. This Springfield garage is home to an oddball team of automotive experts that specializes in restoring wrecked cars to factory specs.

Magic, yes, but no tricks. Refurbishing cars is exacting work. Welby’s will take that smashed-up Barracuda and — by painstakingly hammering out dents and sleuthing down coded parts and matching paint tones — return this classic beauty to its birthday suit, the condition it held right off the factory line in 1971. 

The dramatic process of rebuilding muscle cars is the basis of Graveyard Carz, a new reality show. Produced by Springfield-based Division Productions, the show will premiere at 8 pm on Friday, April 20, on Discovery’s Velocity Network.

It’s a gearhead’s dream job. Those sexy muscle cars are as integral to the American soul as cheeseburgers and Mickey Mouse. Welby’s traffics in the dream, but it’s long, hard work, demanding patience and tenacity. Car reconstruction, in fact, involves far more scientific precision and artistic focus than the oily rags and torqued lug nuts of typical auto repair. This is not horseshoes and hand grenades.

Welby’s technicians are surgical in their expertise, in a sort of acutely obsessive way — Dr. Frankensteins bringing lifeless cars back from the dead by salvaging the parts they need wherever and whenever they can find them.


 The Purloined Camshaft

Behind the scenes for the filming of Graveyard Carz season two. Photo by Todd Cooper.
The answer to the question, “how many Graveyard Carz guys does it take to install a door?”. Photo by Todd Cooper.

The Frankenstein analogy doesn’t quite hold. Mary Shelley’s reanimate monster was bolted together from random chunks of disinterred flesh and bone. The Welby’s crew revives vehicular corpses with found parts that are perfect fits — matching the car’s original date, make and serial stamps, down to every itty-bitty pin. This is more akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were dumped willy-nilly from an airplane on a cross-country flight.

Such revamping requires an encyclopedic knowledge of cars, an expert’s eye, loads of available cash and an uncanny feel for authenticity, not to mention the detective skills of Philip Marlowe. It calls for a little crazy, and a whole lotta love. The guys at Welby’s exhibit all of these qualities, and then some.

This “and then some” has translated itself, in Hollywood verbiage, into star power.

Division TV marketing rep Thomas Lesh says he’s excited to see what the national response will be to Graveyard Carz. “Car enthusiast or not, I believe many people will see themselves and people they know,” Lesh says. “There is a lot more coming back to life here than just old Mopars. I believe good, old-fashioned, American hard-work ethics, integrity and a sense of who we are and where we come from in this great nation is being restored, one Mopar at a time.”

Actually, audiences in this country will be latecomers to Graveyard Carz. Last year, GYC debuted internationally on networks in Italy, France, South Africa, China and New Zealand, to name a few. The cast at Welby’s is now at work filming the show’s second season.

What gives Graveyard Carz its surprisingly high-octane appeal is the cast — a swarm of working-class guys whose wonky work routine has been spun it into television gold. There’s something for everyone here: action, suspense, slapstick, drama, sitcom scenarios and a trunk-full of smack talk.

In Graveyard Carz, the precision work of rebuilding wrecked cars collides head-on with the hilarious stuff of guys goofing off. The result is a glorious boob-tube mash-up of The Three Stooges, Sanford & Son, Antiques Roadshow and Perry Mason meets the Lincoln Lawyer (if his other car was a Chrysler). This is a new genre for a new age: the blue-collar roast staged in the second-city junkyard.


Drop Out, Tune Up, Buy In

The man standing dead center of Graveyard Carz is Mark Worman, CEO of Welby’s Car Care. Worman is a lifelong Mopar enthusiast. In layman’s terms, this means he’s a diehard Chrysler guy — Mopar is the service arm of Chrysler, making hardware for Dodge, Plymouth and, of particular interest to Worman, those elegant Barracudas that embody the American ideal of a whiplash-fast dream machine.

“I grew up on car magazines,” Worman says, noting that over the course of his life he’s been reading about cars “to the point where all that geekedness pays off.”

Born in 1962 at Eugene’s Sacred Heart Hospital, Worman says he “was raised in Springfield and never left.” He attended Yolanda Elementary and St. Alice School, but then dropped out just halfway through his ninth-grade year at Springfield Jr. High.

“I hated school,” Worman tells me. Having lost his father to cancer at 12 and battling serious health issues of his own, young Mark put his mother’s trust to the test. “My mom toiled over the idea for weeks,” Worman says, “but ultimately decided that if she forced me to go out the door and to school, there was a chance I’d start skipping and get in the wrong crowd.”

It was a risky move, but mother’s intuition paid off, largely due to Worman’s interest in rebuilding small motors of all kinds. “If I was in the carport where she could keep an eye on me,” Worman says, “then how bad could it be?”

Through a program at Lane Community College, he earned his high school diploma at 16. “Twenty-two As, one B and one C,” Worman says. “Not bad, I reckon.” He also worked during his mid-teens at Wonder Bread in Springfield. “When I would be cleaning the shop as a kid,” Worman recalls, “I remember thinking how cool of a hot-rod shop this would make.”

After spending years working in various local garages and rising from pump jockey to mechanic to a position in management, Worman in 1985 started his own business, opening Welby’s Car Care Center. “It was a small, three-bay shop that ultimately launched my business to where I am today,” he says.

Where Worman is today is like déjà vu all over again. Just a few years back, he relocated — or returned, perhaps — to the stomping grounds of his first job.

“It was just a big open shell,” Worman says of the former Wonder Bread building. “When we tore it down, we had enough lumber to build a house.” By installing, among other amenities, “ten big doors, drains in the floor, a truck loading dock,” Worman finally brought to fruition, 35 years later, the cool garage he’d dreamed about as a teenager. “And here I am,” Worman says, “full circle.”


Porno for Plymouths

The shtick of Graveyard Carz is simple, though in a complicated sort of way. Likely the show would sport decent odds for success even if it casted morose mechanics who collectively delivered fewer lines than Danny Trejo in Machete. That’s because there is an unlikely but undeniable element of intrigue in treasure hunting the relic-rare parts required to rebuild munched muscle cars to precise OEM (original equipment manufacturer) standards. In Hollywood terms, Graveyard Carz is like CSI meets Sons of Guns.

Now imagine all that precision work in the hands of Charlie Chaplin, George Carlin, Don Rickles, Denis Leary and Jack Black. That’s Graveyard Carz — a modern vaudeville routine performed by unreconstructed car geeks, part blustery ballet and part good-natured bullshit, and propelled by an unscripted avalanche of continuous verbal sparring, spontaneous put-downs, endless insults of endearment and the graceless physical comedy of Jackass.

Shot on location by a three-person crew of local film students wielding Canon DSLR-7D digital cameras and then edited with uncommon sophistication, Graveyard Carz is a self-contained and well-structured show, with the form and flow of a sitcom featuring strongly developed characters and an engaging narrative arc.

Moments of chaos do occur, as does the occasional awkward mistake. The reality of this particular reality show has the slightly anxious appeal of a comedy of errors without the errors — of an accident waiting to happen. The Graveyard guys might act tough, but it’s hard to believe they don’t live in terror of being the idiot who, oh, let’s say, misplaces that one crucial part that is a total bitch to replace.

“The dumb leading the dumb” is how Worman describes his crew. As both real-life and TV boss, Worman’s role is a cross between Ahab and Moe Howard — the beleaguered boss and top Stooge. He also produces the series and is involved every step of the way, from storyboarding to directing and editing, to making sure everything revs along at a good pace.

Only the coldest shiver of professional envy could prevent a person from feeling profound admiration — if not awe — for Worman’s accomplishments. This not-so-average mechanic has become a cinematic autodidact, creating his own crash course on the filmmaking process.

Worman says he’s at the point where restoring a car to original manufacturer condition is “fairly simple” compared to producing television. “Making a reality series is far more challenging to me,” he says, noting that with restoration, “it’s done when I say it’s done.” Every episode of the show, on the other hand, “has to be viewed by everyone here, and is at risk of constant input and change.”

To learn this new trade, Worman immersed himself in reality TV, “watching as many shows as I could to gain a feel for pacing, content, timing.” He paid particular attention to Discovery’s American Chopper, mostly to absorb and analyze the style of the program’s executive producer, Craig Paligian.

“Probably the single most valuable knowledge I walked away with from that series is the importance of character interaction, conflict and drama,” Worman says. He adds that a lot of early character conflict in American Chopper was inorganic and had to be extracted by Paligian.

“In GYC,” Worman says, “Daren and I, as you saw, have a natural bicker-conflict going on, and I think it comes across more realistically.”

Once he began the editing process, Worman says it didn’t take him long to figure out the single most important rule of the filming process: “If you didn’t shoot it, you don’t have it.”


The Wild Bunch

Graveyard Carz fires on four cylinders, a patchwork posse of pranking piston-freaks, each as idiosyncratic and interesting as a character in a work of fiction. At the lead is Worman, who might be described, paradoxically, as an ethical bully — the faux-grumpy boss with heart-valves of gold who can take it as well as dish it out.

As much as anybody is in charge, Worman is. But things like power, status and decision-making run along a wobbly vertical axis at Welby’s, meaning everyone is fair game.

Worman’s best friend and go-to guy is Royal Yoakum, a quiet, unassuming man with an easy manner and a vast knowledge of cars; new guy Josh Rose (he of the car necrophilia query) plays the youthful foil, both as the cheerful, brash smartass and the eager apprentice hoping to absorb the decades of collective car experience surrounding him. Rose, it just so happens, is also married to Worman’s daughter, which is just too perfect, exponentially upping the comic quotient by adding a kind of Archie-and-Meathead repartee to the proceedings.

And then there’s Daren Kirkpatrick, who is ... well, actually, I have yet to discern just exactly what purpose Kirkpatrick serves or what he does, though apparently, by some vague consensus, his glowering, sniping presence is regarded as essential to the shop’s operation.

Worman jokes that Kirkpatrick is a jack-of-most-trades who knows a little bit about everything but not a lot about anything. MCG Magazine called him “the ultimate villain” of Graveyard Carz. Certainly, there’s something ominously instigating in his well-honed nabob-of-sarcasm routine  — which is not to imply that Kirkpatrick lacks charm. It’s just that his sense of humor is so dry as to be nearly vaporous.

“You’ve got issues,” Kirkpatrick tells me during my second visit to Welby’s. It’s a Saturday, and I’m there to observe a day of filming. Kirkpatrick leans into me and suggests, in a conspiratorial whisper, that I focus this entire article on him else he’ll mess me up. “I’m serious,” he says, and I laugh, but he never relaxes the pinched, threatening look he’s beaming at me, like he’s the world champion of contest staring. The guy is good.

Not long after filming begins, Worman accuses Kirkpatrick of being a “closet Vega driver”; Worman then lets everyone know that his daughter is mad at Rose because “Josh is immature and plays video games all day” when he should be helping out around the house.

“You’ve got a crooked mouth like Stallone,” Worman tells Rose, “but it isn’t sexy.”

Rose, who often parrots his father-in-law’s sentences back at him in a constipated, high-pitched cartoon voice, refers to Worman as “vertically challenged” and then observes, à la that old Randy Newman song, that short people always seem to be untalented and unattractive.

“I’ll let Robert Deniro know,” Worman replies. “Al Pacino. Tom Cruise.”

And around and around it goes. This incessant verbal bastinado seems to function almost like an emotional release valve — a preemptive vent that prevents bad feelings from bottling up and exploding. Which is to say, there is absolutely nothing passive-aggressive about these guys. In fact, it seems to me their barbed but benign back-and-forth presents us with a wonderful antidote and refreshing corrective to the insidious passive-aggressive big smiley of Northwest politesse.

First Twin Peaks, now Graveyard Carz.

Because, really, there’s nothing wrong with a little smack talk and rowdy horseplay, especially when it gives shape and structure and pace to a successful workplace. A good roast is hard to find — about as hard to find as an OEM-standard rebuilt ’71 ’Cuda convertible. Graveyard Carz offers both: hazing without end, as a means to renovating Mopar masterpieces. It’s a riot. It’s a fast ride.

And it makes for great TV.