CNN/Money One for credit card only hard offer form at $9.95 One for risk-free form at $14.95 w/ $9.95 upsell  
Personal Finance

Show's losers hand over their cars
New show has car owners drag race against each other with their own cars as prizes.
August 25, 2004: 1:27 PM EDT
By Les Christie, CNN/Money contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - A show scheduled to debut this February on the Speed Channel combines the thrills of drag racing with high-stakes poker, and with more than a dollop of "American Graffiti" thrown in. It's PINKS, a new entry to the reality show category aimed squarely at tickling the fantasies of Nascar dads everywhere.

Host Rich Christensen's is the last face contestants might see before their cars are towed away.  
Host Rich Christensen's is the last face contestants might see before their cars are towed away.

The show adds an element of risk absent from Survivor, The Apprentice, American Idol, and other reality offerings. PINKS pits drag racers against each other with the stakes put up not by the show's sponsors, but by the contestants themselves, in the form of titles to their cars (the pink slips).

Will anyone be crazy enough to gamble his or her car away on a best two-out-of-three drag race?

"We've been inundated with contestants," says Rich Christensen, the show's creator and host. "We put up a very low-profile call up on a casting Web site a couple of weeks ago and we've already received more than 10,000 hits." The responses have come from virtually every state and Canada and include many women.

"We have guys building cars from the ground up to race on the show," says Christensen. "Guys with $65,000 drag racers call me and ask, 'Where and when do we go?'"

Bring your bus pass

The show puts the real back in reality show; losers will really lose their cars.

"If at the end of the night you don't intend to turn over your car keys you have no business being there," says Robert Ecker, VP of programming for Speed Channel. "Anyone not prepared to walk home had best not show up."

PINKS will match cars with others in the same class and contestants will negotiate handicaps. After the first heat they renegotiate to account for the cars' varying degree of speed.

Tim Gangl with his Model A dragster work-in-progress  
Tim Gangl with his Model A dragster work-in-progress

What if the winner of the first heat refuses? "I want it to be about driver error," says Christensen. "They all have to agree to allow me to give the cars to whomever I want. If someone won't agree on a handicap, I can give his car to the other guy."

Some contestants are building or renovating cars just for the show.

Tim Gangl, who sells hot rod parts in Mantorville, Minn., has entered a 1929 Model A Ford, which he found in the woods. Getting it ready to race will take hours of work, says Gangl. "We'll chop the roof and do some neat hot rod things."

Merrill Lynch stockbroker Brad Shaffer, will race his shifter kart. He describes these vehicles as the closest things to a Formula One racing car you can get. "Mine goes from zero to a hundred and back again in seven seconds," he says.

Not all potential contestants are willing risk their wheels.

"I had guys call who were willing to put up $30,000 or $35,000 to race, but not their $25,000 cars," reports Christensen. "One said he's rather lose his girlfriend." (No word from the girlfriend.)

For most of the racers, though, it's not about the gamble. It's about the cars and the sport.

Ecker says Speed Channel has bought an initial run of four shows, which will be available to 65 million viewers.

With the show's high-stakes concept, it should attract some of the country's many car racing fans. But how will the contestants feel when they lose their cars?

"I don't think I'm going to lose it," says Shaffer.  Top of page

How can I protect my investments from inflation?
How to catch up on retirement savings in your 50s
How do you know you're really ready to retire early?
7 things to know before the bell
SoftBank and Toyota want driverless cars to change the world
Aston Martin falls 5% in its London IPO

graphic graphic