Lots of people have asked me “Mike, how the heck did you get on television?” The truth is, totally by accident! To tell the story accurately, I’ll have to start from the beginning, in 1999. I had recently moved to the Northwest from Upstate NY (A whole different story I won’t get into here). I had started to build a small clientele that hadn’t seen my type of work in this part of the planet. My friends said “Mike, you need to get more involved with the hot rod community and we think you should set up at the Seattle Roadster Show,” so I did. The show was held indoors at the Quest field convention center. I had paid for a small 10’x10′ booth space and set up my little show. I had a tailgate from a friend’s Dodge Ram pickup truck that had a ram bashing its way through from the inside of the truck bed, some panels with various examples of my artwork, my photo albums, and a framed 24″x24″ piece I did of a lion with its mane made of fire called the HELLION. This ended up being the very first piece of the now famous True Fire! It was Thursday- set-up day, and I was finished with my booth so I decided to take a spin around the show to check it out before the show opened tomorrow. There were tons of bad ass cars there! lots of other cool stuff too. I had never seen anything like this before because I had only been to motorcycle shows across the country and this was a whole new world to me. While I was there looking around, I came upon a beautiful black ’32 roadster. It was up on stands, wheels off, over WHITE carpet! It was surrounded by a very expensive looking aluminum stanchion railing. There were lights and mirrors under the car, and the underside of the car was just as nice as the top! There was a guy actually POLISHING the underside of the front fenders while wearing white shoe covers! I was like, “What the hell?!” As I was standing there admiring the car, I saw something with my painters eye that most people would have not noticed right away- a scratch the with of a pencil lead through the single orange 1 1/6 ” pinstripe just in front of the cars driver side door. I figured if this guy was worried about polishing the damn bottom of his fenders, he’s really gonna be messed up when he see’s this scratch!
I looked at the guy and said, “I can fix that scratch for ya.” You should have seen how fast he came out from under the car! Hahaha! He said “WHAT SCRATCH?” I showed it to him and he asked when I could fix it. I told him I would bring my paint kit tomorrow, and fix it before the show opened. The next day, I got to the show and quickly repaired the scratch. You couldn’t tell it had ever been there. He asked me what he owed me and I said, “I dunno, $20 should cover me for my troubles.” I figured at least I was gonna get my lunch paid for! He told me he knew where my booth was, and would bring the owner by later that day to pay me. I left thinking I’d probably never see that twenty bucks but oh well, I had just made a deposit in the Karma bank. The day went by with people stopping by the booth checking out my work, talking about potential jobs etc. My friend Greg Reid from REID signs in Seattle was there with me when it happened…….. I looked down the aisle and saw the guy who was polishing the car with this red-headed guy walking my way. They came directly to my booth and stopped. The guy said “This is Mike, the guy who fixed the stripe.” The red-headed guy thanked me and handed me a $20 bill. He introduced himself only as Chip. He talked with me for a while checking out my photo albums and artwork. The HELLION interested him in particular. He said, “That’s Bitchin’! Is it for sale?” I told it wasn’t, but I could paint him one if he wanted one. Then he asked me if he flew me down to California, would I consider painting that fire on a project he was working on? I said SURE! So he took my card, and said he’d call me soon. I was like, hmmmm, that was interesting! But I never thought I’d see this guy again.
It was then that Greg looked at me and said, “Do you have any idea who that was?” I said “No, why?” He said, “That was Chip Foose!!” I was like, “Yeah? Who the hell is Chip Foose?” Greg couldn’t believe I didn’t know who he was!! Up to that point, I had only known the motorcycle world. Ask me who Willy G. Davidson was, and I would say, “Hell yeah I know who that is!”
Greg filled me in on his identity, what he was involved with, and the fact that he actually built that car from scratch! He also designed the Plymouth Prowler. “You are SO in!”
From that chance meeting, I went down and painted a ’56 Chevy pickup with the Hellion Version of TrueFire on the sides of the truck. That truck was featured in “Classic Trucks Magazine” and from that vehicle I was called back down to do the same paint job on Mother’s Wax’s PT Cruiser sedan delivery. That vehicle was featured in a magazine, as well at SEMA in Las Vegas. It was there TRUE FIRE met the world!
Not long after that, I received a phone call from Jesse James, of WEST COAST CHOPPERS and Discovery Channel’s hit show MONSTER GARAGE. The call was initiated by Cliff Steiglits (sp) from “Airbrush Action” magazine.
Jesse needed somebody to paint one of his Monster Garage vehicles (the Ranchero mechanical Bull). He told me he’d put me on TV, but he said, “What’s in it for me?” “What do you want?” I said. He told me “I want you to paint my GMC Pickup with that sick fire you do!” “DEAL!” I said. I went down and KILLED it on the TV show, and then did his truck. You should have seen the look on his face! PRICELESS! Hahaha! He knew that truck looked bad ass!
I knew that once Jesse was seen driving around in that truck, the whole True Fire thing would take off like crazy! In fact, that actually happened when he was filmed in an AUTOZONE commercial with the truck! That, plus the other two vehicles I had already done with Chip Foose! Having my name and the True Fire Technique connected with those two giants was a win-win situation! Now here’s where it gets interesting… Right after the “Monster Garage” episode, and doing Jesse’s truck, I was sent two motorcycles from Jesse’s shop. One was his own personal bike, and the other belonged to Kid Rock. Holy shit… Now what do I do? Jesse wanted a Frazetta / Death Dealer motif, and Kid Rock’s bike was getting a True Fire job with the “General Lee” painted on the rear fender. These two bikes were featured on “Motorcycle Mania 3” on the Discovery Channel. This is the show where they rode their bikes to Mexico’s copper canyon. From there, I was asked to do 5 more “Monster Garage” episodes. Now, while I was doing an episode of Monster Garage, I was invited to appear on a new show on TLC called “OVERHAULIN'” So I went from one show in Long Beach to another brand new show in Huntington Beach Ca. with my old friend Chip Foose. What a week! After I got started on “Overhaulin'” it was one show after another! Now that I had done so well on camera, and produced killer work, I was offered another show called “Rides” on TLC from the same producer of “Overhaulin'”. The show was going to be called THE ART OF THE FLAME . They came to my shop here in Snohomish and filmed me doing a ’34 ford coupe with my signature True Fire. My part was only supposed to be a small portion of the show that featured other artists they had already filmed. It was only after they had filmed at KP that the called me, and said they had so much great footage that they decided to do the whole show about me! OH MY GOD! “You’re kidding me, right?” I said. Nope! And that was the one show that put me solidly on the map! My very first one-hour special! This was HUGE! After that show aired, my website received TWO MILLION hits! The phone rang for days. While on one call, the call waiting would beep two to three more times (missing two to three other calls) and we had three people answering emails at a time. Once we answered a bunch, and figured we had taken care of the pile a whole new list of them would drop in! It reminded me of that arcade game centipede! It was amazing. After that, we hooked up with DELL computers, and did a special limited number of edition XPS gaming systems signed by Michael Dell and myself. They were sold for $10,000 each, and were sold out BEFORE they were released! Amazing!
From that “Rides” episode came two more, then I did “Hot Rod Television” for the SPEED channel. I was asked to do MIAMI INK soon after. Then I did a show for the OUTDOOR CHANNEL called ROCK THE BOAT. I’ve done EVENING MAGAZINE twice here on local TV, and I’ve also done a show called Garage Mahal on the DIY network. Recently, I have done a hunting show called “Turkey Thugs” for the Pursuit Channel.
Now think about this for a minute. All this happened with a single tiny stroke of a pinstriping brush that Friday morning at the Seattle Roadster show!!!! Believe it or not! This just goes to show you that you never know what situation you’ll find yourself in that will change your life forever! You might be late to a flight and miss your plane and be all pissed off. Then, while waiting for the next plane, the one you weren’t supposed to be on, you sit next to someone who will find what you do fascinating, and offer you a deal you’d never have gotten if you were on time! Don’t laugh, it happened to me!
I believe in karma. I believe things happen for a reason, whether you believe it or not. I believe in god, and I believe in myself. Opportunities may come your way, and you’ll need to know how to make the most of them!
Do good things, and good things will come to you. I was extremely lucky, and lightning struck in a bottle for me. BUT, if I had these opportunities and didn’t do my part, and produce work that was exceptional, the rest of it would never have happened! I was lucky, yes! Worked hard, YES! I took advantage of unique situations, ABSOLUTELY! Handed a free ride to success? NO WAY! A lot of painters out there feel like they deserve the same deals I got, and maybe for some that’s true. For others, probably not! I get a lot of jealousy out there for my success with the television stuff. I don’t know how to take that, because the reason they’re so busy with their own fire jobs is because of me being on TV. They are making tons of money directly because of my being out there making it a world-wide phenomenon! Don’t bash me because you’re not on there. Be happy you’re reaping benefits because of it! My ultimate goal is to get my own TV show. I’ve been trying for 5 years to get one, and have come close 3 times. But for one reason or another, the networks can’t seem to understand how a show about custom paint can sell advertising dollars, and keep an audience entertained week after week! OMG! how wrong are they!?? I say as a test, put me in a glass box in any mall ANYWHERE in the world, and film me painting on hidden camera. Watch and see how many people stop and stare for hours! I DARE YOU! LOL!!!
I feel the time for us artists to shine on TV is coming soon, I hope I’m gonna be part of it!!! If not, I’m proud of what I’ve done, and VERY grateful to those who made it happen!