By Maj. Michelle Lunato, 98th Training Division Public Affairs Officer
People who are passionate about cars undoubtedly know the MotorTrend Television show, Bitchin’ Rides. Capt. Frank Fanelli of the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) certainly did as a “self-taught hot rod builder and pinstriper” on YouTube. In fact, the U.S. Army Reserve Soldier watched the show often as a form of education, he just never dreamed he’d work there. But after competing in a televised special, Bitchin’ Boot Camp, Fanelli won just that—a job at Kindig-it Design in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“I used to watch the show when I was younger, envious of what they were doing and wanting to be a part of that, and now I actually work there and I am a part of that crew. It’s kind of surreal,” said Fanelli, a Kendall, New York resident who was recently the company commander of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 389th Regiment, 3rd Brigade, in Mattydale, New York.
Fanelli’s surprise job was indeed just that. Out of the blue, he received a phone call from someone who had seen his YouTube page, Fanelli Restorations, and suggested that he apply to be on the upcoming special, Bitchin’ Boot Camp, a televised building competition where 12 highly skilled fabricators compete for a chance to join the Kindig-it Design crew.
Fanelli, being very familiar with the main show, Bitchin’ Rides, said he didn’t even want to try out.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it to begin with, so I didn’t even want to waste my time.”
With more than 2000 fabricators from across the United States applying and no formal automotive education, the U.S. Army Reserve Soldier just figured the opportunity was too good to be true.
“I don’t have a shot at this. There’s got to be so many more talented people out there than me,” said Fanelli.
However, his mother and brother insisted he seize the chance at a dream. So he put together his car resume, gathered up pictures of his work and submitted an audition video from his YouTube page.
“This is my passion right here. I want to bring my skills to the table with you guys. It’s time for me to take it to the next level,” stated Fanelli in his November 2019 audition video.
And with that, he made the cut to be one of the 12 fabricators who would compete for the coveted job at Kindig-it Design. So after being selected, Fanelli packed up his car and headed to Salt Lake City for the adventure, but still didn’t think much of it.
“I thought, I will probably last an episode. Whatever. So I kind of went in there throwing it to the wind and tried my best, but not really thinking I had a shot in it.”
True to the name, Bitchin’ Boot Camp, the 17-day competition kept the 12 competitors moving, on edge and in the dark about what to expect next. There was a mix of individual and team challenges over the fast-paced, ever-changing list of tasks. From making a traditional hot rod speed bulge to fabricating a full, stainless steel dual exhaust system, the competitors were tested mentally and physically on both their skill and teamwork. At times, the competition’s grueling demands took its toll on the competitors, who were let go one by one as the competition progressed.
This is where Fanelli’s military experience gave him an edge though.
“The whole military mindset of understanding change, and how you can get unexpected things coming your way, and adapt to it, totally played into how I was able to keep my cool during the whole show,” said Fanelli.
This ability to remain calm, and even positive, under pressure was noticed by many on the show—so much so it was nick named the “Fanelli Finesse.”
“Frank doesn’t ever let anything affect his positive attitude. As probably the best team player in the Bitchin’ Boot Camp, his inexperience doesn’t seem to be holding him back as much as in the beginning of the competition,” said Hot Rod Magazine’s Week 4 Recap on the special series.
So his inexperience in some technical areas was overlooked due to his resiliency and ability to make decisions in chaos, which came directly from his eight years of service in both the Active Duty and Reserve components.
Fanelli explained that he didn’t always know how to do some of the challenges, or there were a large number of tasks in a short period of time. Instead of letting the stress get to him, he pulled from his military experience, remained calm and moved forward with what he thought was the best decision at the time, which is exactly what he teaches his Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets at SUNY Brockport, where he worked as a government contract instructor.
“This is the same stuff we train the cadets to do. Sometimes you have time to plan, and have the leisure of planning an operation the way you want to. And other times, you have to make a decision on the spot because the mission depends on it. That’s kind of how it felt during the challenges [on the show].”
However, seeing the value in these particular skillsets only came from the vantage of hindsight. Prior to winning, Fanelli said he was more concerned with the technical aspects of the competition. He knew he had skill and passion, but he just wasn’t sure if it was enough for the level of expertise at Kindig-it Design.
“Not that I really doubt myself so much, I guess I was trying to really measure up what I thought my skill set was versus the potential of other people, but I really didn’t consider what they may be looking for in an employee. It wasn’t just somebody who is the best car builder in the world with skills, but somebody who was a team player, was passionate about it, and could fit in there.”
The fact that I had more to offer than technical skill was what pushed me to the top, said Fanelli.
“In the Finale, KevDogg [shop foreman-Kevin Schiele] told me, ‘The reason why we are picking you is that you are very skilled and talented, but your passion for cars and your desire to learn—I can teach anybody to weld, but I cannot teach people work ethic and the drive to want to learn and get better, and that is something I see in you.’”
And in that moment, everything changed for Fanelli. He was offered the opportunity to work at Kindig-it Design in Salt Lake City. That meant a lot of change for this New York ROTC instructor/Reserve Company Commander.
Fanelli said he was not only ready for the change, but in fact, he had been seeking it. Though he truly enjoyed working with the cadets, he knew it was something he would not do forever. And, his time as the commander for Echo Company was drawing to an end. So several months prior, the U.S. Army Reserve Soldier had applied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
As the FBI process was taking months, and nothing seemed to be happening, Fanelli admits to feeling lost prior to the dream job offer.
“I felt like I had become directionless,” explained Fanelli. “[Getting the Kindig-it Design job] changes things in the sense that I am doing something full time that I am passionate about, instead of just floating through life the way that I felt I was, sort of directionless and not sure who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. So it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Fanelli joked that maybe the delay in the FBI application process worked out just perfect for him in hindsight.
“Ironically, the same day that I got the job with Kindig-it, I got a call from the FBI saying that they were ready for me to move onto the next phase exam. I had been waiting for six months at that point, after passing a few other tests, and almost forgot about it.”
Working for the FBI would have been fun and cool, but it didn’t quite hold his passion as much as cars. So the dream opportunity at Kindig-it Design is really a significant moment in my life, said Fanelli.
“This is life changing. It really is. It means so much to me…I wasn’t sure I’d ever, one, be good enough to do something like this in the car industry; and two, I wasn’t sure if working in the car industry would spoil my passion. You know, sometimes you do something every day, and as much as you love it, it kind of becomes a job. So I didn’t want to take something I love so much and turn it into a daily grind and become just whatever with it. I hope it’s not just the honeymoon phase for me, but every single day that I go to work here, I am really enjoying it.”
Relocating for his dream job has even come with some additional perks. As a part of the Kindig-it Design crew, Fanelli will be part of the upcoming fall show, Season 7 of Bitchin’ Rides. And, while getting settled into a new city and state, the Soldier was able to find two roommates who work in the car industry as well.
“So I am living my car life almost 24/7,” laughed Fanelli.
Stumbling upon this too-good-to-be-true job, and everything aligning just right with it, has put Fanelli in a place he never thought he find, but he couldn’t be happier to be there.
“Since I got to the show, I didn’t want to leave and go back to my house in New York. It was just so amazing for me to be here, be involved in this and doing this. I never thought I would find a career that I would really care that much about. It’s like the old saying goes, people say, do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. I always felt like, that’s just an old saying and maybe I will never find that. But I actually feel that way at work for the first time ever.”
|Date Posted:||08.09.2020 16:26|
|Location:||SALT LAKE CITY, UT, US|
|Hometown:||KENDALL, NY, US|
This work, 98th Soldier Wins Dream Automotive Job at Kindig-it Design, by LTC Michelle Lunato, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.