Heather Storm host of 'Garage Squad' talks classic cars and small towns [INTERVIEW]

Los Angeles isn’t for everyone, but it certainly calls to some people – for example, Heather Storm.

The Philadelphia-cum-Montana native with an environmental science degree from Oregon State spent some time post-graduation surfing and enjoying the beach life while working on sustainable tourism initiatives in Puerto Rico. But ultimately, she felt the pull to the entertainment business, moved to Los Angeles, and has since become a successful television host with a host of other endeavors.

Storm is perhaps best known for hosting the hit Velocity show Garage Squad, which follows Storm and two male co-stars, a mechanic and a National Hot Rod Association champion driver, as they crash private garages to help refurbish peoples’ classic hot rods back to road-readiness.

In addition to Garage Squad, Storm just launched a YouTube series called Drive Yourself Local, in which she travels across America in her ’65 Mustang exploring local culture along the way. She is also the co-founder of the boutique event company Black Lab, co-hosts the podcast Man Seeks Adventure, and manages a lifestyle blog, On the Road.

Storm recently took some time out of her busy schedule to speak to our own Amanda Ostuni about the upcoming fifth season of Garage Squad, her experience on the show, and more.

Here’s what she had to say:

*Note: this interview has been edited for length and precision*

Amanda Ostuni: How did you first get involved with Garage Squad?

Heather Storm: Garage Squad was searching for a female host, just at Season 2, and my manager at the time found it and I submitted a self-tape. I had been working on cars with my dad in the garage when I was growing up and helping him around the house, remodel our house. My dad wanted to make sure that I was a girl who was independent and hands-on with tools and capable, so I appreciate that. So, when they were looking for a female host for the show I said, “I can get in there with the guys and get dirty, I can use those tools and it will be fun.” …Lo and behold, I got the job.

AO: So how much about fixing cars did you actually know and how much did you have to learn?

HS: Well, the interesting thing about working on cars is we’re learning every day – everyone is, because some things you’ve just never done before, and every brand of car is different, every type and style is different with different parts. So, even though, essentially, it’s the same machine and the same thing going together, it all goes together differently.

We just worked on a ‘59 Studebaker in this season, and none of us, I don’t think, had worked on a Studebaker before, so as we’re figuring out how some things go together, we’re learning for the first time. I have learned a tremendous amount – being able to simply, easily help my father with a few things on the engine or do some breaks stuff is a whole different game from getting in there and doing a project car in a week.

AO: How does it feel to have the show be entering its fifth season?

HS: I am so thrilled. You never know what’s going to happen and how a show is going to turn out and be received by people, and we’ve just had such a great response from all the fans, and the people who have heard about the show, or had their car done on it, and it’s really, really awesome to be able to continue to help people out with their project cars and inspire other people who are watching on the TV.

AO: How has the show evolved over time, in terms of cast chemistry or the narrative direction?

HS: I definitely see a difference in the chemistry because we all know each other really well now. We were always joking around together, but now we know the little quirks of each other, as well. Like finding out [she says, laughing] someone hates the sound of Styrofoam rubbing together, or random things like that, so it’s a lot of fun. We can find the funny in a lot of stuff as we’re working together, as we get to know each other better. And just the stories themselves have really, really been great. We’ve been able to work on some amazing cars with amazing people who really appreciate it, and it’s been good to tell their stories because everyone has one and it’s all different.

AO: What do you think has been the key to the show’s success so far?

HS: I think the key really is that we’re helping car owners out with their projects, and it’s for the everyday person. We’re not doing $100,000 builds. We are doing things that real people can do, go out and do in their garage as well – maybe not in seven days – but the level to which we get the car up and running again. And that’s inspiring because when you see something all decked out and it takes months to do it, a lot of people know they’re never gonna be able to do that to their car. But with our show, people know that they can actually do it, too, and that’s inspiring, and I think that that’s why people watch it.

AO: So, is that aspect what sets you apart from other shows about classic car rescues?

HS: I think working in the garages with the owners – we don’t have one garage that we’re in, or a shop, so we actually go to the homes of the owners of the car and work in their garage. So, we come and unload our van and get in there, and that makes us very unique in that way. And it also sets a different environment every episode, so it’s a new garage every episode, new owners that are working with us, and like I said, we get up and we set our tools all out in their garage. It’s definitely unique in that way.

AO: Nostalgia is probably built into the show given the topic. But the overall cultural climate today is also more nostalgia-riddled than ever, so have you seen that reflected in car submissions or anything?

HS: I think that for any classic car lover, it’s all about the nostalgia, whether it’s just the coolness of the car itself – but mostly it’s the nostalgia and memories that they have with that car and the other family members or friends that are associated with that. So, the nostalgia is a very rooted and deep nostalgia when it comes to stories that we’re doing, versus just like, ‘oh this old coke machine is cool.’ I think there’s a lot of weight to this type of nostalgia with our stories that I think is really great.

I don’t know if we’re seeing different people submitting necessarily, it’s just people who have a love for the craft in classic cars and have one that was in their family, and typically that’s the storyline: that it’s in their family, so if it’s been passed down or inherited, then the people who want to keep that alive had some nostalgia with that vehicle.

AO: Since Garage Squad is a male-skewing show and you’re the only female costar, I was honestly surprised at how practical you dress versus some Hollywood ideal. Is that purposeful on your part or the show’s?

HS: Well I knew they were looking for someone who could get in and get dirty with the guys and really work on the cars so—I actually dress myself, I pick the wardrobe and for me personally, it was purposeful because I’m not trying to be eye-candy, that’s not the point. Although obviously I’m the female in the group and I’m gonna stand out, that’s fine, but I’m not going to make it about my wardrobe or in any way sexualize it. I’m there to get the work done just like the guys are and I think that’s what I want to do as a part.

And honestly how I’m dressing is functional for a reason, because I’m getting dirty and greasy and it’s important for me to be realistic. You start wearing tight tank tops in 100-degree garages and that tank top is just drenched in sweat, and that’s not a good look. So, I like to have flowy, cool shirts that the breeze can get under. It’s pure functionality for me – I try to have fun with some bandanas and stuff like that, but also that’s functional, gets the hair out of my face, so I can get in there and work.

AO: Have you had the sense that you’re a role model for young girls interested in cars?

HS: Yeah, I have come across that, recently – in the beginning, I really didn’t think about it so much that way, and then I was like, “oh this is great, what an opportunity to have a good influence on young girls,” because I think we need more of that, no matter what.

I had an encounter [with this girl], I think she was 10 or 11 years old, and she was watching the show with her dad a lot and eventually [we met up]… and she was all nervous and it was so cute, because I never even thought about it that way, and it was just so sweet and she was so excited, and [my friend said later], “you made her day by meeting with her.” I’m like “oh well, that’s the best thing that could ever happen then.”

I didn’t really even realize I could positively affect young girls when I started this show. I think it’s a really great position to be in and I definitely want to continue with that.

AO: I read somewhere your work on the show inspired you to get your current ’65 Mustang. Why’d you choose that car?

HS: My lease was up on my BMW and I was thinking about getting a classic car, and since we’d been working on them I was excited to dig in – because having your own is different. I work on one car a week really quickly, it’s like bam-bam-bam, but you can really get to know your own car. I can learn a lot more by getting my own car, so [“Wreck-it” Ronnie from the show] showed me a picture of [his and his brother’s car]. It was a beautiful silver blue with a white luxury interior… I went and drove it, and that was it.

AO: Tell me about the conception of your YouTube show Drive Yourself Local.

HS: Being out in rural Illinois a lot for shooting Garage Squad – in small towns and searching for something to do sometimes by myself, just somewhere to eat or go out for a drink… I would always end up talking to such interesting, amazing people, and having conversations.

One night I came back to my hotel room and I was like, “oh my God, I need to really explore this a little bit more and find these gems and these cool local businesses and these cool local people and share that,” because I feel like – there’s a lot of divisiveness in our country right now and what I’m seeing out there when I go out and meet people is just that people are people and they all really will have the same basic needs, and I think we need more things that bring us together and things that we can identify with in that way. So, I just started to explore a little bit, and after I got the Mustang I thought, “this is exactly what it’s meant to do – cruise America and go through small towns.”

*Drive Yourself Local is currently created by Storm, as producer and host, and a cameraman. Two episodes have been released so far. Storm plans to do more once filming on Garage Squad wraps.*

AO: Who do you hope sees this show?

HS: I really think it’s for anyone who’s interested in learning about America and having fun with travel. I think anyone who has an adventurous spirit to get out on the road and loves traveling and meeting people, that’s what this is for – everyone, I think.

I just want to reach people to give them some thoughts of meeting different people out there, and I think that there’s some stigmas also about small towns and in the end, like I said, people are just people, no matter where you’re at.

AO: How will you pick what to do for the show going forward?

HS: I’ve been getting a lot of recommendations from fans and people who are following different small towns that they love and recommend… [but] whatever feels right.

For example, Bien Chido Mexican restaurant in Plano, Illinois was the first episode… I was staying in that town while we were filming Garage Squad and I was looking for some really good food… I want to find the best– I want to find ppl who care about what they’re doing, and care enough to use quality ingredients, care enough to cook it right, care enough… to make their plates nice enough to be presentable – it doesn’t have to be fancy, just nice – and when I walked into [Bien Chido, which had rave reviews] it was all of those things, and [Dalia, the owner] was so warm and friendly.

She came and sat down with me and we had a great conversation and then she told me it was her birthday and [after she closed down the restaurant] we shared some beers, and then her boyfriend came and brought a cake, and I celebrated her birthday with her and her boyfriend there at the restaurant. And we had so much fun, and I just thought, “this is the fun moments in life that it’s about.”

So, when I decided to do this show, she was one of the first people I called and I said, “I want to come back to your restaurant and eat there and we’ll do a whole thing about it,” and she was excited, so it just kind of happened organically and I think that that’s the best way.

AO: Before you got into entertainment, what made you want to pursue a degree in environmental science?

HS: I’ve always been passionate about environmental sustainability. As human population increases, we have to be aware of how our individual choices impact the environment, and many people are not, and so there needs to be a lot of people who are looking out for the environment and our resources, and everything. Because it’s a beautiful earth and we don’t want it to be trashy, we want it to be nice. We want to enjoy clean air and trees and there’s so much beauty in there and I just don’t want that beauty to go away, so it’s important to understand our impact and how we can preserve it.

AO: Tell me about your eco-friendly beverage catering business Black Lab—how’d that get started?

HS: I was working in luxury spirit sales while I was auditioning and hustling my way through Hollywood, and… because of that… I saw that you could go to these great cocktail bars in the city, but you would go to a wedding and all there would be is a vodka tonic. So, I said, “there’s a missing element here and that’s good cocktails at events.”

We were one of the first companies in LA to really start providing fresh cocktails that you could do in a quick manner at events, and so we’ve had the company seven years now and we’re still going strong. I partnered with a mixologist so we were able to just really hone our operations, and we serve a lot of different types of weddings and corporate and celebrity clientele, and it’s been fun.

AO: How do you juggle your different jobs plus still have time to work out and stay fit?

HS: Good question. Still figuring it out. Any project that I have an idea for, I really try to break it down in smaller steps… and also prioritize my different projects, of how important they are, of what I need to get done this month, this quarter, this year, and then try to space things out. Inevitably, I add too much to my calendar that I can’t do, so some things get lost in the shuffle, like a blog I was gonna put up forever ago or something. But it’s important for me to have my authentic voice with my blog and write everything myself so that – I’d rather get fewer out there and have it be myself, and my life. And I recognize that and forgive myself when I can’t get some things done.

There’s times where I’m really stressed out, like these next few weeks where we’re finishing up production and we have interviews, and I have a lot of things going on with my other business, and it’s just been really, really busy. There’s times where I’ve gotten to the gym and I’m like on my laptop in my car thinking, “oh maybe I just don’t have time to go to the gym,” and I’ve said “no, close the laptop because you’ll actually feel better if you even get a thirty minute workout in, than I would staying thirty minutes on my laptop,” so I have those conversations with myself to remind myself that even though it might feel good at the moment to keep working, I’ll feel a lot better if I keep myself healthy.

And I eat very healthy – I bring all of my food to set every day, so I’m able to keep healthy by controlling my food, meaning I just  go to like a Whole Foods and I pack a lunch and I make a lot of things, and then I don’t have to be tempted by, “oh no it’s Chinese today,” or something like that that isn’t gonna be very healthy for me.

AO: And back to Garage Squad, what can you hint at for the upcoming season?

HS: Gosh there’s SO many good stories. Well, we wanted to take the opportunity, and I think it’s fun, that we really wanted to get some younger generation gearheads in the mix and make sure that we’re speaking to everybody’s level and interest, and I think that that’s really fun that we were able to do a couple episodes with the younger millennial-type-age people who are into cars and into fixing them and going to school for that. I think that there’s some fun elements there with some of the storylines.

AO: Anything else you want to add?

HS: I think I’m just really excited about this season. I think it’s gonna be our best season yet for Garage Squad, so I’m hoping everyone agrees.

Season 5 of Garage Squad premieres August 29 at 9 p.m. ET and will air through October.

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