Bonding and Binging With Dad Over Top Gear

GeekMom TV and Movies
watching top gear
Dessert and Top Gear has become a valuable part of our family time when Grandpa visits for dinner. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

I had been planning to write commentary about BBC’s Top Gear for Father’s Day long before boisterous host Jeremy Clarkson punched out his producer. It just happens to be perfect timing, that I write this the week he gets his official “heave-ho” from the BBC with Chris Evans (the British television host, not Captain America) named as his official replacement.

In 2012, BBC new sources announced Top Gear was the most watched factual television program in the world, and now has 22 series (seasons) under its belt, along with several specials. There have even been international versions for the show, including an American one. I don’t really care about those.

For me, Top Gear has simply been a much-needed bonding experience for my father and my family that I’ve valued greatly.

When my mother passed away rather suddenly a few years ago, my parents were well on their way to 50 years of marriage, and were planning several trips. Not long after her death, my father underwent back and hip surgeries as well as other medical problems that put his own travels on hold for a while. It hasn’t been easy on him or any of us.

As much as I complain about the bleary-eyed television culture today, it has been through watching movies and certain shows together that has given us opportunities to talk.

My father regularly joins my family for dinner, and we began watching just one show over dessert, so he doesn’t feel like he has to go back home immediately. We started out introducing him to all my Michael Palin travel videos, then BBC’s Sherlock, Elementary, and especially Top Gear.

The hosts of Top Gear have started to feel like family to us. Mind you, we don’t always get along with family. Image: BBC.

I grew up in a car and motorcycle-loving home. My father worked as a mechanic in his early years, and was a member of the Triumph Motorcycle racing team. When he got his first teaching job after college, he special ordered a 1966 Fastback Mustang GT 289. Wow! He drove it to his first day of work. He since went on to being named Superintendent of the Year for the State of Texas in his more than 40 years of education, and drove that same car to work just before his retirement. He still has it today.

I’ve watched him re-build the engine, enter car shows, get a new paint job (in the original color), and was even able to drive it to high school a couple of times. I have to keep my distance from that car today, as my mom promised it to my brother. As a result, I just look at it longingly with a touch of sibling-style resentment. Hey, I’m only human. Also, my father did me a disservice by sharing his appreciation of motorcycles with me, then making me promise not to get one of “those dangerous things.”

He did give me an appreciation for the engineering, physics, artistic value, and practicality of the automobile. I built a few models growing up, and knew some little tricks like turning a little plastic Chevy engine into a Ford by changing where the distributor cap set. My father bought me my first set of slot cars, and my Cobra racing jacket.

It just seemed natural that we’d eventually begin drinking the Top Gear Kool-Aid. We had seen a couple of episodes in the past, but became hooked when we watched them make their way across Africa in their little aged estate cars.

There have been times that show has made us all laugh so hard we’ve cried, including my husband who we’ve had to initiate into the Petrolhead fold. We’ve also been fascinated, amazed, and at times, thanks to Clarkson, a little miffed.

Clarkson has really put off my father, a proud Air Force veteran, with his unsavory comments about the United States, but we’ve learned Clarkson is an equal opportunity offender. He has racked up some nice complaints from viewers worldwide. I think he actually had rocks thrown at him in Argentina, if I’m not mistaken. We’ve just learned to take his talk with a grain of salt.

Despite this, my father has bestowed one of the highest honors on Clarkson and the rest of Top Gear threesome of hosts, he can give another man:

“He knows his cars.”

I do like Clarkson, believe it or not. I like all three Top Gear hosts, and over the past few months we’ve amped up our Top Gear watching, they have become just three more of the men in my life. They certainly all remind me of men I know and knew well.

Clarkson is one of those seemingly pompous jerks I avoid like the plague, but then he makes a comment I agree with one hundred percent, and find out he’s the guy I always end up hanging out with and talking to at parties neither of us wanted to attend in the first place.

James May’s laid back demeanor, and reluctance to completely shake what appears to have been quite the rock and roll past, is also familiar to me. I think I may have been married to him for the past 20 years.

Richard Hammond is our family favorite. Even my daughter yells “Hammond!” when he comes on the screen, like she’s the first one to spot a deer. The polar opposite of Clarkson and May, Hammond seems to emphatically love life, and everything and everyone in it. It wouldn’t be a show with his contagious smile. Several “Hammonds” followed me around in college, and I should never have turned one down for that date. It might have been fun.

Then, of course there’s the anonymous racer, The Stig, who makes his way around the track listening to Abba songs in German, while casually tearing up the pavement. Everyone in our home loves The Stig, no matter who is in the suit. We love his international “cousins,” and the Stigisms: “Some say he invented the month of November and has a full size tattoo of his face….on his face!”

We love the set up of the show, and how everyone gets to gather around the cars like the many conversations we’ve had standing around in the garage. We love the Celebrities in the Reasonably Priced Car segment…and all of us agree we really want to give that test track and its “Gambon” turn a go.

Even though the current cast is no more, there are  still nearly 22 seasons of episodes to catch up on. Cover images: BBC.

The show has also opened my mind a little, too. I’ve always been a bit of a prejudice when it comes to cars, as my dad was a loyal Ford Man. How can you not be when you own one of Carol Shelby’s creations? Now, I’m thinking I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a McLaren 650S.

No matter what happens in the future of the show, whether Evans brings it to a refreshing new level or the lack of Clarkson’s lovably offense baritone brings it down. I’ll personally miss the personality clash and camaraderie between the three current hosts, and seeing all 6’5″ of Clarkson try to squeeze into little compact vehicles.

I’ve heard, just in rumor, that Hammond and May are planning on leaving as well, and joining Clarkson on a new venture to rival the show. The future of the “new” show doesn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is what it has done for my family in the past.

It’s brought us together, educated us, embarrassed us, insulted us, and flattered us. It has given us reason to smile, cheer, and think. It has made us want to turn our backs on it once or twice, but always drew us back with its charm and wit. In turn, it has been like a member of the family. We don’t always get along, but we wouldn’t be happy not having them in our lives.

Thank you, Top Gear, with your juvenile phallic jokes and Clarkson’s self-righteous smirk you just want to slap off when he wins a challenge. Thank you for tempting us with cars we couldn’t afford even the tire rims to, and going to beautiful places we may never get to see in person. Thank you for letting me see what a disappointingly bad driver my favorite actor and Time Lord is. Thank you for that awkward moment when my 5-year-old asked “what’s a bellend?”

Most of all, however, thank you for consistently entertaining us and, when real life isn’t always that agreeable, thank you for giving us and my father a place to escape to, at least for a half hour.

Clarkson’s final Top Gear episode will be aired on BBC on June 28.

Bonus Father’s Day Idea: Lego Stig!

Lego Stig: creating the essential Top Gear action figure. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Phenomenon of the Lego Stig is something Top Gear fans have been doing for some time. Hit Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr with #legostig and BOOM!… he’s out there.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Every Top Gear fan should have a Lego Stig. Just put together plain white Lego figure pieces and astronaut or racer helmet, or spray paint them all plain. Use a black face piece, or color a clear one with a black marker.

Now you have your very own Stig!

Some say he’s really only one nanometer tall without his platform boots…and that he’s planning on revealing he is actually being made of Mega Bloks!

All we know is…he’s called Lego Stig!

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