Speed TV's "Car Warriors" pits the show's hand-picked team of mechanics against a rotating cast of outsiders in a 72-hour challenge to rebuild a junker. Now one challenger has sued, saying the show cheated to ensure he lost. UPDATE
Rick Sheley owns SKJ Customs in St. George, Utah, and took part in the contest filmed in December but aired last week between his team and Speed TV's "All Stars." The challenge was to customize a junked 1979 Cadillac in 72 hours, with both teams sharing the same garage space, and the winner to be decided by a panel of three judges including legendary customizer George Barris.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court last month, Sheley claims the show broke all of its own rules after it became clear his team's car would beat the All Stars, saying the All Stars threatened to quit the series if they weren't declared the winners over SKJ.
During the filming of the episode in December, Sheley says the All Stars were forced to cut and shorten the driveshaft on their car to get the engine and transmission in — work he says the Speed TV garage wasn't set up to handle. Told to return in a couple of weeks for the judging, Sheley says when his team returned, they discovered the All Stars' Cadillac on a lift, with other mechanics working on the driveshaft because it wasn't safe to drive.
The show's rules say the cars will be judged on several criteria, including how they drive and the finished appearance; the SKJ Cadillac included a big-block V8 and air-drop suspension along with a completely new interior, folding top and flat-black exterior paint.
During the judging in January, Speed TV's producers took both Caddys, which they told the teams would be held off-site and involve a slalom test, a braking test and a 0-60 mph run. Two members of Sheley's team secretly followed the cars to a residential Burbank neighborhood, and found police directing traffic around both vehicles:
At first the Judges could not start the All Stars' car. They worked underneath it for approximately one hour and eventually it started. The Judges were able to drive it a short distance but were unable to do much more with it. It was driving rough and black smoke was issuing from the exhaust. At times black smoke was pouring from the All Stars car. While the All Stars' car was being worked on, the Challengers' car was driven a few times up and back the residential street. Neither of the cars were tested at 0-60 mph or 60-0. Nor were they driven through a slalom course or raced against each other
When the judging finally began, the producers filmed the results from three episodes, including Sheley's. The All Stars won one, but when the judges announced the All Stars had lost a contest before Sheley's, "pandemonium ensued," and he says the All Stars threatened to quit the show.
After a 25-minute meeting with the All Stars and the producers behind closed doors, the judges emerged and declared that Sheley's team had lost the Cadillac face-off.
In his lawsuit, Sheley says that Speed TV and its parent company Fox Sports lied about the rules of "Car Warriors," and damaged his reputation by at least $2 million. But going by the reaction on forums and the Facebook page for "Car Warriors," many fans felt SKJ had the better car by far. As one fan wrote, "The All Star Caddy didn't have an adjustable seat, the judges mentioned that the carburetor wasn't adjusted right, it looked absolutely hideous going through the slalom with obvious body roll and control issues—aside from a 1980s paint job, what exactly did it have going for it?"
It should shock no one that reality shows are stage-managed to get the most entertaining results, and any timed display of a trade — from carpentry to baking to fashion — will always put some talented people in the worst possible light. Yet carbuilding represents the extreme limits of the genre; you can cook a great meal in a hour, and sew fashionable clothes in a day, but would you ever own a car that's been thrown together in 72 hours?
We've reached out to Speed TV and Fox Sports for a response, and when we hear back we'll update. And for the record, here's the final result of SKJ's work.
UPDATE: In a statement, Speed says the two sides were able to reach some kind of agreement, and the lawsuit has been dismissed:
The Producers of CAR WARRIORS and SKJ Customs have reached an agreement to settle their differences. SKJ Customs acknowledges that after it conducted certain due diligence, the circumstances are different than it believed them to be at the inception of this dispute. Both sides agree that the competition was run fairly and according to the rules established prior to production. Both also agree that SKJ built an impressive custom Cadillac in 72 hours, but according to an impartial panel of judges, ultimately lost to the All Star team. SKJ Customs has accepted this decision, dismissed their lawsuit, and fans will ultimately be able to judge for themselves when the episode airs, as it was originally produced, on SPEED.