Road Hauks exclusive: Interview with Kenny Hauk on going from concept to four-wheel masterpiece

Kenny Hauk of Hauk Designs and Road Hauks fame. Pic credit: History/Steve Howard

History’s latest docuseries Road Hauks is an American born, sleeves rolled up, wild-assed ride where hard work and engineering smarts create works of art on four wheels.

The show sees a talented team of mechanics and designers make magic happen in lead designer Kenny Hauk’s Pennsylvania shop.

Hauk Designs’ builds are an entertaining twist on what could happen to a vehicle if you imagine greater.

The crew of expert mechanics and fabricators create vehicles themed to businesses or ideas and which all have one thing in common: They are ultra-powerful, one-of-a-kind machines that turn heads and can go anywhere.

Taking inspiration from iconic styles and designs from firms or historical events, their vehicles must be drivable, and it goes without saying that they must be absolutely show-stopping.

The show’s star Kenny Hauk is a force of nature, raised with American values of self-sufficiency and a thirst to expand his knowledge base on just about all forms of machining, design and anything construction related.

Nothing was impossible or unlearnable for this kid who grew up building damned near everything.

We spoke to Kenny and got the inside scoop on how his company caught the eye of the History channel…

Road Hauks takes ordinary vehicles to dizzying heights of imagination thanks to the designs of Kenny Hauk. Pic credit: History

Monsters and Critics: At what age did you start engineering and designing things to build?

Kenny Hauk: I don’t know the exact age, but my family are all builders. So when it comes to construction of houses or anything that needs to be built, we usually try to do it all ourselves.

I learned a lot from my dad and my mom on how to do things like that. It was second nature and part of what we did.

M&C: Were they developers or builders, or is there an area that they specialized in?

KH: If my parents didn’t know how to do something they learned how to do it. Of course, that was before the internet so they read a lot of books on how to build houses and how to do different things.

I learned a lot of carpentry from them and how to frame houses, lay block, how to do roofing, the plumbing, electrical…so yes, when I was getting older and we had the internet, we had YouTube that I could watch and teach myself how to weld.

I tried to absorb everything I could. I was homeschooled and we are big proponents of being self-sufficient and learning how to do everything you can yourself. I really value that.

M&C: Was the homeschooling out of necessity because of their schedules or was it a religious preference?

KH: We are pretty far out in the country, so I would have been the first kid on the bus and the last one off the bus. There would have been a tremendous amount of time spent on the bus. My parents just wanted to have a real active role in my education.

They made the decision to do it before homeschooling was popular and so they had to get approval from the school district to do that. I was one of the first kids in our area to be homeschooled.

I did go to high school for my junior and senior year, a vocational school, and enjoyed that. I took electronics class there. It was just the way I was doing things to try and get as much education as I could and use the time wisely.

M&C: Talk about your company River Raider Off-Road, and how you began the business in 2006, how did you get it off the ground in that tough time?

KH: I didn’t have any business training. But I saw a demand for quality parts. So much of what was being made was overseas and the quality was not so good.

I enjoyed working and I was tired of working for companies that would just at the drop of a hat lay off 300 people at a time and hire other people.

It just seemed transient and no matter how hard you worked you were never appreciated or valued.

I thought this was an opportunity to go into business for myself and have that stability that goes along with that.

Little did I know that it’s not really that easy. It’s a lot of work to run your own business. I just gave it my best shot and I did some guerilla marketing, some natural, going to every little Jeep group that would get together.

I would go out with them and hear that what they were looking for was not available.

I’d learn all the needs and wants, and try my best to fill a hole in the market where there wasn’t anything to fill those needs. I worked really hard to develop new products.

I patented a few items that were new and innovated. I just worked really hard to get it out there online. It was very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, I’m not going to lie.

I got online one night, for example, and a guy was so frustrated there were no good brackets to hold hi-lift jacks in the back of their vehicle.

A hi-lift jack is this heavy duty jack that you use on trucks and Jeeps. And they were just bungee cording them in and duct taping them to the back.

I designed some mounts and thought ‘that would be really cool’, I could make a mount that would securely mount it so it was safer and I actually made it as a new product on the website right then and there without any pictures or anything.

I posted anonymously to the guy, saying: ‘Oh look, River Raiders is making this product for you’ and I sold several that night sight unseen.

People were buying them before I even built the product. So the next day I took old frozen pizza boxes and drew up a design on a box, cut it out and made a prototype of the shape and replicated it in steel, and next thing I know I had a working model.

Within a few days, I went from a concept to a product with instructions and started shipping them out.

Today we have sold thousands and thousands of those kits. It was very much find a need, make a product, and get it out to the public as quickly as possible.

M&C: How did History get wind of your business?

KH: We had been building some vehicles and bringing them to events and shows to draw attention to our brand and we realized that the more over-the-top crazy and radical we built them, the more attention to our brand.

We built a couple of vehicles that were on some covers of some magazines and it got the attention of Jason Watt, through Watt Pictures.

He originally contacted us and shortly thereafter that Magilla [a production company] contacted us, so they worked together and made a sizzle reel on us.

They brought it to History. Myself, personally, [well] I was like ‘what am I doing?’ — because the vehicles were really just out there and I wasn’t sure if I was going to find a buyer and I was having a lot of fun building them, but I wasn’t really sure what was going to come from this. It was a little scary.

M&C: It wasn’t your core business…

KH: Yeah it wasn’t, right! Those vehicles had hardly any River Raider products on them. I just wanted to build something crazy and fun, and some other people in the industry were like ‘What are you doing? This doesn’t make any sense at all.’

I thought, well, moving in a different direction from everybody else…well, that’s good.

Always gauge success on that, we weren’t following the pack.

M&C: Talk about your people, did you know Josh and Rick would be comedy gold together?

KH: [Laughs] Rick is extremely talented and really knows his stuff — building drive trains and engines and that sort of thing. I am so happy that nothing is forced.

Rick, left, and Josh Moe are naturals on the show

What you see is 100 per cent of how it is. Their dialogue and back and forth, it comes across so natural because it is. What you see is what you get.

Rick does drive me crazy from time-to-time with the way he does certain things, but I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world.

He’s a great guy with a great heart. I enjoy working with him. It’s fun.

Josh Moe, I hired him on because I feel his personality and his attitude is fantastic. He keeps the guys laughing and light-hearted and that’s really good when we are under pressure.

He is a nice piece of that puzzle that keeps things light. I really like that.

Rob is probably one of the hardest working guys on the crew. He cares very much about what he does and he is a really talented fabricator and, hopefully, we will see more of him in action, especially in the next episode with him chopping and stretching the 45.

He’s just very passionate about what he does. He’s a man of few words, doesn’t say a lot, but he’s one of the hardest working guys we have.

Vianna has proven her mettle on a show with lots of metal

Vianna, my wife, she has no background in metal fabrication and yet she was able to pick it up really fast. I’m really impressed.

She’s really an inspiration to a lot of women in the industry. She runs the table exclusively herself, she cuts and draws all of her steel parts and she’s learned all of that in a few short months.

I’m really proud of her and the shop would be lost without her.

Dylan, Clinton and Brian, they really work well together, they’re a good team. I didn’t know they all were as funny as they were until the show, they’re all pretty hilarious.

M&C: You and Justin are the only clean shaven guys on the crew, the rest are Pacific Northwest bearded types.

KH: [Laughs] Well I’m rebelling. Used to be you were a rebel, you would get tattoos and beards. And now everybody’s got tattoos and beards so I am rebelling against that. I’m really the wild one, you can tell.

M&C: How did Tall Pines Distillery find you to do the last episode?

KH: Danny, one of the founders of Tall Pines, has been a friend of mine for many years.

He came by the shop with a bottle of moonshine…I hadn’t been in contact with him for a few months, and I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing.’

His business has really taken off, it’s a fantastic product. So I had an idea for this show — it turns out they loved the vehicle and the concept so it was a natural fit.

M&C: Now, did they bring you the Camaro or did you have that SS laying around?

Last week’s Tall Pines Camaro copper still on four wheels

KH: In actuality, I did have that, I traded a jeep I had built with another customer for that car.

I always wanted one of those Camaros and the first thing I did with it was cut it up. It was a little ridiculous but that’s how that went down.

M&C: Can you tease us about the next episode of Road Hauks?

KH: The 45 is one of the most technically challenging builds on the entire first season.

We start from the ground up, we basically started with nothing. The chopping, the stretching of the cab is pretty over the top. It’s one of the only Willy’s duelies in the world.

There’s very few of those out there. I searched online and couldn’t find anything like it, and I thought, well that’s what we want to do. Something that hasn’t been done before.

I’m really proud of it, we made it into the top 21 vehicles of SEMA this past year with that truck. I was really proud of that, we were in a class of trucks that had taken several years to build and we built that truck in six weeks.

I was extremely proud of that and what we did in that short amount of time.

Obviously, we would have loved to have had more time but that’s the nature of building on the show.

M&C: Any American vehicle you want to work on you have not?

KH: We’ve got some really cool stuff lined up hopefully for Season 2 — I don’t want to let too much out of the bag but I would definitely love to do a DeLorean. That would be cool.

Road Hauks airs Saturday at 10/9c on History.

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