Tire dealer Philip ``Flip'' Smith was minding his own business at the gym one day when a longtime acquaintance and TV producer asked him if he could film a local car customization show at Mr. Smith's Performance Concepts store.
Knowing the value of TV exposure for a business, Mr. Smith agreed to the favor but had no idea he would become star of the ``Ride'N'' show, which premiered recently on ABC. It debuted to the Los Angeles market in five pilot episodes on Saturdays in the 6:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. time slots for the month of July but also is being rebroadcast in August.
Mr. Smith owns and operates Flip's Tire Center and Performance Concepts, two separate firms housed at the same location in Van Nuys. The latter is an automotive aftermarket equipment and supply store that accessorizes and lowers vehicles. Mr. Smith also was a recipient of Tire Business' ``Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award'' in 1995.
He never expected to be a TV star, but ``the next thing you know, we get into pre-production and (the producer) doesn't really know much about customization, so I kind of started to be a technical adviser on this thing,'' Mr. Smith told Tire Business. ``He asked me if I wanted to be in it. I said, `Not really.'''
Despite that half-hearted answer, Richard Melcombe, producer of ``Ride'N,'' made Mr. Smith the star of a four-person cast that demonstrated to ordinary viewers how they could customize their vehicles for a few thousand dollars.
``It jumps around to a number of different things,'' Mr. Smith said of the show. ``It's a different kind of customization, everything from low-riders to muscle cars to old antique cars. So it hits every area of customization. They even have one segment where they have a psychologist analyze why people customize their vehicles.''
For each episode, Mr. Smith and his co-hosts Jeannie Mai and Donald Miller and emcee Kristin Holt decide what type of modifications should be done on a vehicle and, like MTV's ``Pimp My Ride,'' present a before-and-after look at the vehicle. Ms. Mai typically interviews Mr. Smith on what type of work was done on the vehicles and why and what products were used. Each show features one vehicle.
In one episode, Mr. Smith gives Ms. Mai a tire gauge and teaches her how to check tire pressure properly. In another, he debates a high school student on the merits of lifting vs. lowering a truck. ``It's just kind of a fun thing where he says you should lift it, and I say you should lower it,'' Mr. Smith said. ``Mine's lowered with 22-inch wheels and handles like a stock car. It rides really good. He wants to go six inches up in the air.''
Although the show aired weekly, Mr. Smith and his team had three weeks to work on the vehicles. Mr. Smith was responsible for installing modified exhaust systems, grills, large wheels and performing lifting or lowering work, all of which is donated; co-host Mr. Miller worked on audio upgrades. Any paint jobs or upholstery modifications were jobbed out.
Unlike his co-stars, Mr. Smith adlibbed his lines instead of memorizing a script, a condition he gave Mr. Melcombe before the show's production. ``Frankly, when you do these things, you spend a lot of time wasting time,'' Mr. Smith said. ``I told the guy, `I'm not an actor, I don't want to read anything. I don't want to memorize anything. I wing it or I don't do it.' And the e-mails he's getting (from viewers) are all positive.''
Mr. Melcombe told Tire Business he likely will decide on whether to take ``Ride'N'' to national syndication by year-end, and if the show does take that route, he wants to keep Flip as the main host because his knowledge and passion for tires and cars come out during the show.
``Flip makes checking tire pressure, reading the sidewall of a tire interesting,'' Mr. Melcombe said. ``I got more compliments on him discussing those tips than almost anything.''
``Ride'N'' was No. 1 in its late-night time slot, and Mr. Melcombe said he probably would need to change the format a bit to appeal to a national audience. Some of his credits as executive producer include TV series ``The Lost World'' and ``The Grudge Match'' as well as the movie ``Camp Cucamonga.''
And how does Mr. Smith feel about going from tire dealer to potential TV star? He's just happy Flip's Tire and Performance Concepts are getting free publicity.
``It's kind of fun, it's good exposure for the store,'' he said. ``I've picked up some business from it. I've had an auto broker come to me and say, `I want you to start customizing the cars that we sell.' All my friends call me and say it looks cool. Customers are in every day and say, `I've seen you on TV.''