USA Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
USA Insider

Everything to Know About Hot Wheels™: Ultimate Challenge Before It Premieres on USA Network

Let's go under the hood of the hit reality-competition show, now coming to the USA Network.

By James Grebey
Hot Wheels Episode Winner stands in front of his white and red truck

Restart your engines. Hot Wheels™: Ultimate Challenge, the hit reality-competition series, is gearing up for another lap. The show, which had two Hot Wheels superfans face off each episode to see who could better transform a real car into a life-size Hot Wheels-inspired ride, is coming to the USA Network this week following its original run on NBC this summer. Before you catch the first episode on Monday, Sept. 4 at 11 p.m. Eastern, here’s everything you need to know about Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge.

What is the premise of Hot Wheels" Ultimate Challenge?

The 10-episode series is inspired by and heavily features Hot Wheels, Mattel’s iconic toy car line. In each episode, two superfans work with a team of expert car mechanics and modifiers, known as the “car pool,” to give a normal car a radical makeover. The “Inspirationator 5000,” a tricked-out vending machine filled with Hot Wheels toys, gives each contestant some guidance as they modify their cars. A ‘69 Dodge Charger might become a flaming, wheelie-poppin’ hot rod, or a Volkswagen Beetle transformed into a monster, complete with jagged spikes and glowing red eyes. The possibilities are endless. 

Each contestant is given a car that’s important to them or that they have a personal connection with. For instance, "Jerzey" Jim Farrell, one of the contestants in the first episode, was given that ‘69 Charger to work with because the car was very special to him and his late father. This connection helps give Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge a human quality that makes the show appealing to viewers who aren’t necessarily gearheads or toy collectors. 

Hot Wheels team has a discussion with Rutledge Wood, Dalal Elsheikh, and Hertrech Eugene Jr.

“It’s way more emotional than I would have ever guessed,” host Rutledge Wood told NBC Insider at a press event before the show’s premiere. “Sometimes the car that we’re reuniting people with, they haven’t seen since this time or this place in their life, which could be good or bad or indifferent. It’s really wild to see that immediate, visceral response.”

At the end of each episode, the judges (more on them in a second) declare one of the two contestants to be the winner. They get $25,000 — and the chance to return for the finale. In the two-part finale, three past winners come back to compete with brand-new cars and the opportunity to win an additional $50,000 and to have their winning car become an official Hot Wheels die-cast toy. 

Who are the judges?

The host of Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge is Rutledge Wood, a Birmingham, Alabama, native known for covering NASCAR on FoxSports 1, hosting History’s Top Gear, and the Netflix competition shows Floor Is Lava and The American Barbecue Showdown. He’s joined every episode by Dalal Elsheikh, designer for the Ford Motor Company, and Hertrech “Hert” Eugene Jr., car culture influencer. They won’t be the only three judges, as each episode will also feature a celebrity guest judge. 

RELATED: Who Is Rutledge Wood, the Host of Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge?

Who are the celebrity guest judges?

Dalal Elsheikh, Joel McHale, Rutledge Wood, and Hertrech Eugene Jr. on the Hot Wheels set

The celebrity guest judges are not necessarily car experts (though some certainly have plenty of experience!), but each of them brings their own criteria to the judging and their own unique energy and charisma to the episode they’re on. 

RELATED: Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge Guest Judge Terry Crews Has All the Car (and Toy) Credentials

The guest judges include Black-ish star Anthony Anderson, WWE Superstar Big E, Brooklyn Nine-Nine star and America's Got Talent host Terry Crews, Fast & Furious’ Sung Kang, Community and Animal Control star Joel McHale, and the one and only Jay Leno.

“You look for imagination,” Leno, a noted car collector, said of his approach at the Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge press event. “What people perceive as aerodynamic is never aerodynamic. A Prius is aerodynamic, it’s just not exciting to look at. You use your imagination of what you think something cool or exciting would be. One guy had a Firebird that had a big bird on the roof — an actual bird. And you think ‘Well this is going to look stupid,’ but actually, this is pretty cool. There’s some real imagination there.” 

Where can you watch Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge?

Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge will be racing to cable on the USA Network starting on Monday, Sept. 4 at 11 p.m. Eastern. Episodes will air weekly on Mondays through Nov. 6. If you can’t wait that long, you can stream all the episodes of Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge on Peacock right now, and check out the official Ultimate Challenge after-show, Best Builds.