Steve Darnell is the down-to-earth and super-talented founder of Welder Up, the firm behind Discovery’s hit show Vegas Rat Rods.
The series, which sees Steve and his team creating mind-blowing automobile creations out of junkyard treasures, is currently in its third season.
We got the chance to speak to Steve about the show, his plans for the future, and the inspiration behind the car he built for Joe Giamanco and his son Preston.
We also asked him about his friendships with the stars of other shows on the Discovery network and beyond.
M&C: Hey Steve, great to meet you. Can you tell us about any projects coming up that you’re particularly excited about?
SD: After we get the latest season of TV launched off, I’ve got twelve projects planned actually that are pretty exciting.
I mean, you know, we work on a lot of customer cars. Doing them on TV so fast, you’ve got to come back and go through them.
I’ve been trying to put a turbo on my ’57 Chevy – the one that you’ve seen on TV. It’s got an LS motor in it and I’m putting a pretty beefy turbo on it.
M&C: Was it just not quite fast enough for you?!
SD: Well, you know, you have to do a little more all the time. You can’t idle — not when you’re me!
Project-wise, we’re just kinda fixing all our stuff, and, basically, I’ve been collecting a lot of stuff for the new season.
I’ve been driving to Montana, loading up car parts and bringing stuff back.
You know, you run out of stuff so you got to go get it.
M&C: You mentioned your customers and working on the cars after the show. Do you guys find that your customers tend to get back in touch with you and let you know how they’re getting on with the car? Do they come back and visit you?
SD: You know, some do. Some of them I don’t hear from much, but there’s a few of them that wind up loving you.
Most of them just chase off and go have fun with their car, like they should be doing, you know? No news is good news!
The ones I do hear from want me to build them another car.
M&C: Do you have any specific plans for the future of Welder Up?
SD: As far as Welder Up goes right now, we are, I guess, going to just ride this wave as long as we can!
In the future, I think I would like to get into pitching another show that I want to do — actually I’ve got about three of them that I’d like to do!
But maybe something different…I would like to be more of a host, I’d like to talk to people about their cars, their hot rods and their rat rods, and go into some cool places.
There’s so many people doing it around the world now — this has become a worldwide thing.
So now it’s like, well, why don’t we do a show, a follow-up on fans that have actually built these cool things. So I think there’s a lot to be had after all of this.
M&C: Have you ever had thoughts of teaming up with another car show and doing something together, or is that something that you don’t really fancy?
SD: Oh, all the time, all the time. Todd Hoffman from Gold Rush wants me to film him and his dad’s truck; they want me to come on the show and talk to them about it.
I got Wild Bill from Deadliest Catch – he’s a friend of mine, he comes here to Vegas all the time. He wants me to build him cars and stuff.
Thomas from Misfit Garage, he wants me to come on his show — they’re going to build a rat rod I guess, and they want me to come in and kind of mentor him through it.
So, there’s been a lot of cross-promoting, and it’s really good. It’s just cool to know that these guys like my show and me that much to want to do that, you know?
I just think it’s great, it’s good for everybody.
M&C: Absolutely. You guys can help each other out, which is what it’s all about.
SD: Yeah, it’s cool because most of these guys are all connected through Discovery Channel or Velocity, so that makes it easier for us to interact, which is cool.
Horny Mike [from Counting Cars] is over here daily, but because he’s on History Channel, I can’t really interact that much with him, you know?
I wish I could, because he’s a great guy. He’s like seriously over here all the time.
M&C: [laughs] I was going to ask you about the guys at Counting Cars; I wondered if you had a lot of contact — clearly you do!
SD: Yeah, it’s kind of funny, everybody thinks that we all hate each other, but really we all like each other, so it’s cool.
The Street Outlaws guys, I would say I probably talk more to Jeff Lutz than any of them, and I do visit with AZN and Farmtruck at SEMA every year — and they’re just super-good guys.
They’re all good people, man; we kinda got here the same way.
M&C: Do you guys help each other out behind the scenes with cars?
SD: Yeah, oh yeah! Horny Mike? Oh jeez, man…they’re trying to build a rat rod right now too for their TV show, so I’ve been trying to direct him on how to do it.
Danny from Counting Cars, he wants me to put a diesel engine in his motorhome.
M&C: Danny has a motorhome? I did not expect that!
SD: Yeah, it’s cool, man.
M&C: We recently wrote an article about the car that you built for Welder Up general manager Joe Giamanco and his son. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about how that came about, if that’s okay? I appreciate that it’s a sensitive subject.
SD: No, no, not at all. That car…I actually rendered the picture of that in 2008. That was a car that I was going to build for breast cancer.
I had it on the backburner forever and I’d been waiting around – I was trying to figure out a good reason to build it, and so when Joe’s little boy came up with the cancer, I switched gears from a pink car to a gold car and things came together with the Cragar blower, and the roses, and it wound up just being a kind of special car.
The whole time I was building it, Joe’s fighting this cancer with his little boy who’s two years old. I didn’t know what to do, how to act, I didn’t know what to say.
All I could do was just keep building roses for that car until my fricking fingers were worn out.
M&C: The roses are a very powerful image. Seeing it [the car] on the show, it really hit home.
SD: I wish the episode was longer to be honest with you, because there was a lot more emotion involved.
Some of my interviews, I couldn’t even get through. I mean, I was bawling half the time because it’s pretty emotional.
Joe’s like a brother to me and he held it together so well — I don’t even know how he did it.
You know, he was just strong and he held it together so well. Anyway, that car was pretty emotional and I thought it was the perfect time to do the show — let’s do it on TV, let people know that this stuff is happening and it’s happening to other kids.
Vegas Rat Rods airs Mondays at 10/9c on Discovery.