When it comes to the unique relationship between one particular custom car company and MMA’s top fight organization, it’s a marketing equation of cars and combat, and the common denominator is muscle.
These days, if the UFC wants a custom car designed for one of their Ultimate Fighter coaches, they call Findlay Customs. If they want a Kenne Belle supercharger installed or custom-cut fiberglass speaker pods, they call Findlay Customs. When you see Rashad Evans cruising down Las Vegas Boulevard in a tastefully tricked-out Escalade hybrid with a paint job that makes it look like it’s been dipped in water—all the time—chances are it has Findlay Customs’ fingerprints all over it. But look hard. You probably won’t find a single smudge on it.
At their 13,000-square-foot facility in Henderson, Nev., the Findlay Customs crew is busy at work on a couple of their latest UFC creations. Just two days earlier, they rolled out a customized Dodge Challenger for Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, a peace offering from UFC president Dana White. In the garage is White’s 1971 Barracuda 440 Street fighter. At any one time, the garage might have three or four UFC cars to build.
Like an MMA gym to a fighter, Findlay Customs is a one-stop shopping place for exclusive custom car work. Owner Travis White (no relation to Dana) calls his 15-man staff an “all-star team” of custom builders, several of whom used to run their own highly respected operations but closed shop to work for White.
“It cost me a lot of money, but it was worth it,” White laughs.
Growing up in the Nevada construction business with his dad’s well-known contracting company, Nevada Framers, it only seemed natural White would eventually earn his degree in civil engineering and construction management and go back to what he knew best.
“I worked for a couple of home builders, but I got sick of it,” White says. “I got out at the right time, too, because a couple of months afterward, the housing market went south. So I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to take all of my money and gamble with the rest of my life on one thing, it’s gotta be something I love.’ And I love cars.”
Sounds a lot like a fighter.
It’s lucky that his best friend, Robby Findlay, loves cars, too. The Findlay Automotive Group is the largest in the Las Vegas area, with 27 dealerships. After discussing their business plan with Robby’s dad—and group president—Cliff, over Sunday dinner, White and Findlay partnered up and opened Findlay Customs in 2005. They started doing simple stuff: window tints, basic audio and video, stereo systems. In 2009, Findlay Customs performed work on more than 5,000 cars.
“Sure, a lot of that was dealership stuff, but a lot of our work comes from word of mouth, not a lot of advertising,” White says. “These people have a ton of money, frankly, expendable income, so they’re not going to the phone book or the Internet. They’re just asking one of their buddies, ‘Hey, where’d you get that done?’ Even Chip Foose [of TLC’s Overhaulin’ ] made his name on five or six clients. It’s all about building that reputation and maintaining good relationships with your clientele.”
Those names started when then-Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Reed Johnson purchased an Escalade from Findlay Cadillac in the summer of 2006 and was referred to White’s shop for about $10,000 of custom work. Johnson then referred other baseball players, including San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand and then-New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi to Findlay Customs.
About the same time, The Ultimate Fighter 6 had just wrapped up primary photography. UFC executive vice president of operations and production Craig Borsari approached Findlay Customs to redesign a car for TUF coach Matt Serra. The UFC had purchased a Chevy Tahoe from the Findlay Chevy dealership and eventually met with White about customizing it.
“They wanted us to do some things to it, wheels, a bunch of other stuff,” White says. “So we met with Craig Borsari when we were all done with it, Dana [White] and Craig loved it. They gave me two tickets to the next fight, and sat me next to their car guy, A.J. Brown. Let’s just say A.J. buys the cars, and I fix them up. Ever since then, it’s become even more comfortable with Dana. Now we do his personal cars, then we started doing Lorenzo’s [Fertitta] cars.”
To be sure, MMA fighters and muscle car/hot rod owners are very different. But they do have a common desire—the desire to standout. Fighters must discern themselves from the pack. How else do they call themselves the best? Similarly, in the film Gone in 60 Seconds, Nicholas Cage observes that any “self-indulgent wiener” can own a Ferrari and drive it to Starbucks. However…
“If I was driving a 1967 275 GTB 410…”“You would not be a self-indulgent wiener, sir. You’d be a connoisseur.”“Precisely. Champagne would fall from the heavens, doors would open, velvet ropes would part.”
“I think when guys get some money, they want something different, but they don’t want to break down on the side of the road,” says Findlay Customs vice president of communications Adam Bonaldi. “Let’s build a car that is an example of your personal taste and style and also runs very good.”
The marriage between Findlay Customs and the UFC—muscle cars and MMA—seemingly couldn’t be more appropriate. As bright as the spotlight burns on some of the UFC fighters, correspondingly, those fighters want rides that are just as hot.
“Our customers—and the fighters—want to stand out, and that’s what keeps them coming back,” White says. “They want to have cool rides, stand out, and get to live the lifestyle they want to live.”
“Dana’s into everything American muscle. There’s a very heavy theme of American pride,” Bonaldi says. “Dana wants a UFC theme, but it’s also about giving him a great car. We don’t just want UFC stickers and stuff like that. It’s got to have the real muscle. That’skind of how the whole journey went. We came up and met with him and said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to just do a couple of cars for you. We want to join up with you and put out a real product that you back,’ and he was down with that.”
It might not look like much now, but the stripped-down 2010 red Camaro will be the prom queen at the UFC 2010 Fan Expo on May 28-29.
Findlay Customs is building a series of 10 UFC Camaros, with the prom queen to be auctioned off and proceeds to benefit Dana White’s charity, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The remaining cars will be sold to UFC fans. While special features of the Camaros remain secret until the Fan Expo, Travis White did say the cars would showcase fighters’ autographs, Findlay Customs’ new Modern Muscle of Las Vegas brand of three-piece wheels, custom paint, a “crazy” stereo system, and a 650-horsepower engine. That’s a lot of muscle.
“But all of it is tastefully done,” White says. “That’s kind of what we do.”
Indeed, besides the glitz and glamour, White and Bonaldi also understand the UFC has become a legitimate brand on its own. Their cars, if tastefully done, will keep, if not increase, in value. There is the very real possibility that 20 years from now, collectors and aficionados could hold UFC cars in the same regard that Harley-Davidson motorcycles are.
“The UFC has become bigger than a bunch of people fighting. It’s a brand,” Bonaldi says. “All the meetings we have with the UFC marketing department, they say they want this Camaro to represent their brand well.”
And it seems as if Findlay Customs has earned the trust of Dana White.
“It all comes down to trust,” Travis White says. “Dana is all about trust. We just stripped down this 2010 Camaro. If you can’t be trusted, you’ve just lost the total value of this car. He trusts us to do what we want and make a badass car, and it’s all good. I think we’ve established that level of trust with Dana. The concept of taking a brand-new car and actually improving it—the UFC and all their athletes kind of feel that from us.”
Findlay Customs took a Camaro that normally retails for about $35,000 and built it into a collectors’ item that probably will sell for at least $150,000.
They do everything from mild to full custom work, including tint, alarms, audio, wheels and tires, exhaust, interiors, superchargers, paint, body work, and full restorations. A complete restoration can cost as much has a $100,000, depending on the shape of the car or what the customer wants done to it.
It’s hard work to be a champ, but the rewards are pretty damn nice.