Saturday, July 20, 2024

Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge… An Exclusive Interview with Co-Host Dalal Elsheikh

Taji Mag had the pleasure of catching up with Dalal Elsheikh, the charismatic co-host of Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge on NBC. As the show continues to grow its audience with the customizing of dream cars and the excitement of competition, we sat down with Dalal to get into the heart of the action. From discussing the show’s development, her favorite car that sets her heart racing, and even her passion for designing cars, Dalal shared exclusive insights into her world of wheels.

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What inspired you to pursue a career in this field, and how did you get involved with Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge?

Dalal Elsheikh (DE): I’ve always been someone who liked to draw. I kind of think that kids grow up as designers naturally, whether they know it or not. We like to tinker with things and take things apart and build. I just grew up having a passion for that, and it never stopped. I know there comes an age when kids kind of stop drawing or maybe stop tinkering, but I never had that gap in my time.

I was always drawing, building and taking things apart, despite my parents’ disapproval. That kind of snowballed into a career in design. Later on through my undergrad design experience, I kind of realized that I loved cars, and I never understood that there was an actual career path to do that.

And I think that’s the case for a lot of people. They don’t realize that you can go and become a car designer or someone in automotive. So once I was empowered to search that out, that’s really what got me started. I ended up going to grad school and studying transportation, it was just history from there.

DDF: You are one of the few women, Black women as a matter of fact, in your field. What has your experience been like as a woman in the automotive design space? 

DE: Design itself, luckily, is about 50/50. There are a lot of women in design broadly, but in automotive design, there are much fewer of us. Um, so it’s been really difficult throughout my schooling. I was one, if not sometimes, the only Black woman or the only woman I saw. Even in my professional career, I was oftentimes the only woman in the room, especially if we were doing something like physical design or something that was strictly automotive-related.

So that’s been really difficult and really disheartening. It’s hard to understand why because I know so many black women and so many women of color, so many women in general who are interested in automotive design and interested in these things that are seen as male-dominated or seen as, you know, boys hobbies.

It’s been really disheartening, but I see that there is some change going on in the industry, and I hope that in my lifetime, I see us get closer to that 50/50 split.

DDF: As an automotive designer, what challenges do you face in creating cars that perform well AND look aesthetically pleasing?

DE: That’s a great question. So I’m actually an experienced designer. I have the luxury of not having to think about how well a car performs on the road or on the track. Luckily, I get to let our very talented engineering partners have the burden of figuring that out. But I will say it does become difficult sometimes when maybe there are feature sets or designs that you’d like to add that kind of go against the performance of a vehicle or it might go against the cost-effectiveness of a vehicle.

So sometimes those two concepts do butt heads a little bit. The most aesthetically pleasing car isn’t always the most aerodynamic. So there is that kind of challenge. Those two concepts will butt heads occasionally, and you’ll see that in the design or automotive profession where the designers and the engineers struggle.

The challenge is just reckoning those two things and making sure that they can play in harmony of each other. 

DDF: How do you approach the creative process of Hot Wheels Challenge? You have your co-hosts, Rutledge and Hertz; what goes into developing this show with them, putting this show together?

DE: We wake up every morning with a smile on our faces. Honestly, that’s the thing that really keeps the show running. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Rutledge Wood and Hertrech Eugene Jr. but they are the most playful, just adult children I’ve ever met. So they wake up every morning, real giddy, real ready to go, Red Bull in hand, and just ready to party.

We’re filming long hours throughout the week almost every day and that can be really tiring. But we love what we do and we get to sit around and look at cars all day. Some really classic, really iconic vehicles, and then get to watch people’s dreams come true and watch them recognize these really incredible designs day after day. When I tell you from day one they have already transformed the vehicle, it’s insane to see that. And so there’s never a boring day on set. You know? It’s always so exciting.

DDF: Do you have a favorite episode or one that’s most memorable to you? 

DE: I think out of the episodes that I’ve filmed so far, or have aired so far, Jaipur Jewel was one of my favorite builds. Another is the Monte Carlo versus a Dodge Caravan. And that’s a really fun episode because they are probably one of the wildest transformations so far in the season. I’m really excited for people to see this one because when I tell you party is an understatement. That one was fun, there’s going to be a lot of dancing. 

DDF: How do they balance the classic Hot Wheels style with their first take on designs and how do you judge their creations? 

DE:  I don’t envy what they have to do because they really do take this iconic, classic car, something that they grew up with and they have to transform it completely. And that can be easy to take something like a ‘69 charger, a dream car for so many people, and then have to transform and cut it up when, honestly, it’s kind of perfect as is. That’s something that a lot of our contestants run up against, where it’s like, “Okay, I have this car that I already thought was beautiful. How could I possibly make this better?”. So it’s hard to meet that task. It’s hard to meet that challenge of really transforming something when you already loved the original so much.

So it’s been fun watching them try to figure out how they could even possibly make something better. That’s been challenging for a lot of our contestants, balancing that transformation versus celebrating what the car already looks like. But it’s fun when they do it well. Some people have really, really executed it, and that’s been fun to watch. 

And as far as how we judge them, well, we have a list of criteria, which includes the transformation and their personal story and how much of that we see in the build, the Hot Wheels, iconic design elements, things like loud, vibrant colors. Does it look fast? Does it look bold? Does it look epic? Those are the things that we’re looking for. 

DDF: Who would be your two dream contestants, and then who would you like to work with and who would you pair your co-host, Hertz, with?

DE: Oh, that’s a great question. Well, I think it’s gonna be a cheat, but Hertz would have to work with T-pain because they’re already doing the Nappy Boy automotive.  I think T-Pain would be such a great contestant and I would love to have him. Oh, you know who would be great? Nicole Byer, who’s already done a few TV shows, and I know she’s a huge car enthusiast, which people don’t know about her. I just think she’s such a great personality and I would love to see her on the show. She’d be on my team. We’d kill it for sure. 

DDF: What do you think is most appealing to young viewers about this show? 

DE: I think what’s most appealing to young viewers and maybe people who haven’t really worked on cars is that it’s not necessarily a gearhead show. It’s a show about transformation. So it’s a show about doing something that’s super imaginative, that’s super wild and crazy, and I think kids really love seeing these bold, bright colors, thinking outside the box and doing something that you wouldn’t normally see done to a car. Kids, because they have such large imaginations, I feel like they’re the perfect audience for this show.

DDF: What advice do you have for the young women who are watching or who aspire to be in your same field? 

DE: Wow. I would say to those young women, never stop doing what you’re doing. Keep drawing, keep looking at inspiration. Look for other women who have done what I’m doing, or even better. There are so many women in automotive that are incredibly inspiring. One of them being the woman who designed the N S X, which is, I think, the first supercar to be designed by a woman. Like, that’s incredible. People like that and stories like that I find incredibly inspiring. So there is a way to get into automotive. There is a way to be a designer. There is a way to break into these male-dominated spaces. So never stop. Being unique and being different in the room is your superpower. 

DDF: What is your dream car and what are the perfect shoes to wear? Because I saw your post earlier about loafers not worth driving in. 

DE: My dream car is a Ferrari Testa Rosa. And then my shoes, I’m going to have to bring it back to like the original Michael Jordans, Jordan 1’s,  because he has a Ferrari Testa Rosa. I’d have the red and white colored shoes, it kind of matches the red and white of the Ferrari. 

Dalal Elsheikh’s passion and enthusiasm for Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge on NBC shines through with every word. Her dedication to delivering heart-pounding entertainment and inspiring the next generation of car enthusiasts is evident in her every move. Beyond the screen, Dalal’s love for designing cars showcases her diverse talents and deep-rooted connection to the automotive and design world. As the show continues to rev up excitement and ignite the thrill of racing in viewers of all ages, we can’t wait to see what jaw-dropping ventures Dalal and Hot Wheels have in store.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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