This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.
Photos courtesy Holley & Cleetus McFarland
Cleetus who? Cleetus McFarland, that’s who.
If you’ve never heard of him, it may be because that’s not even his real name. Lawrence (Larry) Garrett Mitchell is a 28-year-old native of Omaha, Nebraska, who is making a name for himself, literally, in the car world.
To tell his story, let’s start by introducing 1320Video, a company launched early in 2003 by Kyle Loftis that was posting videos of car events, primarily street racing, on various message boards, which was the social media platform of the day. Loftis got his start by holding a car wash and using half the proceeds to buy a camera, with the other half going to the Red Cross.
The big break for these guys came in February 2005 when Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim launched YouTube, an American global online video sharing and social media platform headquartered in San Bruno, California. Owned by Google, YouTube gave the world a platform for sharing, exposing and monetizing videos of all kinds that was particularly embraced by the car world. YouTube itself has a revenue of about $30 billion.
CAPITALIZING ON CAR VIDEOS
According to his own YouTube video, Mitchell got his start in a typically serendipitous way when he filmed a car race on his cell phone and sent it to Loftis, who posted it. It was 2012 and Mitchell had just turned 16.
While checking out Instagram, which had been launched by cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in October 2010, he wondered if Loftis had an IG account.
“I looked it up and he had a couple hundred followers and four or five posts,” says Mitchell. “I texted him and said, ‘I see you have Instagram, but you probably don’t have time to post on it. Do you want me to run it for you?’ He was like, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ I made my first post on 1320’s IG in December 2012. And that was basically when I started working for Kyle.”
The following spring, Mitchell went to his first TX2K gathering, a no-prep street car event that was founded in 2000 by Peter Blach.
“I was so young my parents had to sign my friend Chase over as my legal guardian for the weekend, which was super-scary—we did a lot of dangerous stuff. It was my first time filming. It was awesome and we hit 5,000 followers. Over that year and the following year things took off. Instagram went big and we had 100,000 followers and Facebook went big with over 1 million.”
Next up was the SEMA Show.
“I wanted to go to SEMA, but we weren’t really a full-fledged business at that point,” he recalls. “I went ahead and bought my own ticket. I used someone else’s badge to get in and had a freakin’ awesome time. That’s when Kyle and I figured out that when we produce content together, things work really well. That’s when Kyle offered me a job, to be paid to do my work, and I basically took over 1320Video’s social media. It turned into a full-time job.”
Mitchell, however, was also in college at the time, so he would fly out to events most weekends and handle all his work on his phone.
“Even in class I would be constantly posting every hour on the hour from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. We were a freakin’ powerhouse,” he says.
Mitchell flew out to Rocky Mountain Race Week in Colorado, and on a whim he and Loftis filmed a video in the parking lot.
“We had been filming for 16 hours and we made this hilarious video in front of Tom Bailey’s Camaro—3,000-hp Camaro Cleetus McFarland. Little did I know that the video would be what made Cleetus McFarland what it is today. We made the video, which was pretty funny, but while I was asleep Kyle edited and posted it at 3 a.m. I woke up at 8 a.m. and my phone was blowing up and the video, I think, had already reached 1 million views at that point.”
Over the next few months he made more Facebook videos to keep the slow-talking, America-loving Cleetus McFarland persona going.
“But I didn’t really know how to monetize it,” he says. “I went back to school, focused and graduated, but wondered, ‘What am I going to do?’ I loved my job at 1320 so much, but I always wanted something of my own. I applied to law school, took out a student loan and began filming the C7 videos. We were on our 10th video, and it had 5,000 views and I thought, ‘This is it. We’re on it. We’re gonna blow up. We got this.’ We had momentum and, at that point, I went from focusing on law school to all I could think about was YouTube, but it made me no money—1320Video was my only income.”
Not surprisingly, telling his parents and grandparents that he wanted to drop out of law school to become a professional “redneck” named Cleetus was tough.
“But it was time to make this YouTube channel happen,” Mitchell says. “I love this job and I love the people and I can’t imagine having let it all go to become a lawyer.”
Corny as it might sound, Mitchell experienced the American dream. Cleetus currently has 3.2 million subscribers to his channel (Cleetus McFarland), which hosts more than 1,300 videos. Obviously, doing outrageous things in cars and posting it for the world to see is one road to success.
Just before the COVID pandemic in January 2020, Mitchell says he spent all he had to purchase Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Florida, at auction for $500,000 and renamed it Freedom Factory.
Owning the 3/8-mile oval track on 63 acres in East Manatee County gives the media company a private, controlled environment for creating content. However, there were some growing pains.
In November 2020, an explosion caused by a radiator hose at a Cleetus and Cars (C&C) burnout event left driver Parker Whitlock with third-degree burns. Reportedly, the reconfigured Fox body Mustang suffered a burst radiator hose that doused Whitlock, who was wearing a helmet but only a hoodie and shorts, with boiling-hot water.
Subsequently, Cleetus McFarland was criticized for omitting the accident from its YouTube coverage of the event. While he did address the incident on his secondary YouTube channel, Cleetus2 McFarland, Mitchell was also criticized for holding an event during lockdown. Drivers have since been required to wear fire suits.
Live gatherings are a big part of the C&C program, and its current schedule lists 13 events that can be viewed either in person or as pay-per view on the Cleetus McFarland website. There is a caveat, however, stating, “This schedule is subject to change, keep up with the videos to ensure if the guys are actually going. Sometimes Cleetus breaks all of the cars and we have to cancel on certain events!”
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Cleetus made his competitive driving debut in April 2022 in the Stadium Super Trucks series in Long Beach, California. He was leading on the final lap of the second race when he spun out after the last jump, allowing Robby Gordon to take the win.
In August of last year, he competed in the Music City Grand Prix, but was involved in crashes in both of his races. Finally, last November, Cleetus took first place in the McLeod Racing Warriors vs. Tres Cuarto category of the 26th Annual Haltech World Cup Finals Import & Domestic Drag Races, running 6.474 seconds at 222.95 mph in his twin-turbo 1986 Chevrolet El Camino “Mullet.”
In the spring, Cleetus returned to Bristol Motor Speedway (his first event there was in the summer of ’22) to entertain fans with various races and stunts. Cleetus himself drove in the Danger Ranger on Dirt competition alongside dozens of Ford Ranger pickups in a 60-lap race on the dirt-covered banks of BMS—Cleetus finished 25th following a blown engine.
Something new for gearheads was the inaugural Demolition Drags. Cleetus describes it as “combat drag racing, where you can do whatever is necessary to try and win the race, including making contact with your opponent’s car.” Pairs of cars raced down the BMS backstretch in a literally anything goes format.
In May, the circus moved to Indianapolis for the Indy 800. The two-day event combined drag racing with oval action. Saturday saw the Cleetus and Cars burnout contest, while Sunday featured the Indy 800 presented by Heatwave Visual—a race on the historic IRP oval with 20 prepped Crown Victorias competing. Top alcohol dragsters were featured on both days, and you could take your own car down the strip in the sold-out Fun Run with the proper safety gear.
On his Facebook page, commentor Brian Lohnes posted, “I was able to be involved in my first Cleetus McFarland and Cars event over the last couple days and to say that this was fun as hell, impressive, massive, and invigorating would be an understatement. If you love cars, you NEED to show up to one of these events; literally nothing else like it on the planet.”
So, are these types of events the future of motorsports? In my humble opinion, it’s comparable to electric cars—while I don’t think they are the complete answer, they are one answer, and C&C is one form of motorsports. It’s not for everybody, but there are lots of fans who attend the events, buy the swag and watch the videos.
Meanwhile, an online search shows Nailbuzz puts Mitchell’s net worth at around $1.7 million. Kid done good.