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Local News

Local mechanic to appear on reality show about cars

Mechanic Joe Zolper prepares to film a car customization tip May 14 during a taping of "Garage Squad," a new television show on the Velocity channel.
Mechanic Joe Zolper prepares to film a car customization tip May 14 during a taping of "Garage Squad," a new television show on the Velocity channel.

JOLIET – It took more than 10 takes for Joliet-area mechanic Joe Zolper to perfect a half-minute clip for an upcoming reality TV show on Velocity, Discovery’s auto channel.

About 15 people working on the show huddled behind the camera Wednesday in the garage of a Joliet resident as Zolper gave future viewers a tip on how to save big on interior insulation for a car.

“It doesn’t usually take this long. I really needed to eat something,” said Zolper, who others on set describe as quick-witted and sociable. “The candy bar helped.”

Zolper, the owner of Prison City Choppers auto and bike shop in unincorporated Kendall County, is the head mechanic for the show “Garage Squad,” which is scheduled to premiere Aug. 1 on Velocity.

“We help those who send in submissions wanting to fix or restore their cars,” said Ted Lega, “Garage Squad” director. “These people sometimes want to renew their interest or they have run out of money.”

The show has deep ties to Joliet: The crew has filmed several times in the city already, along with other locations in the Chicago area.

“But Joliet is the big car town,” Lega said. “That’s where I got my love of cars.”

Lega grew up in Joliet and follows a legacy of giving back to the public. His father, who has the same name, is a staple of music in Joliet, and his mother, Marsha Lega, is a local artist with several works on display in the city.

Lega said the show received more requests from Joliet residents than any other area.

Lega moved to Chicago after graduating college and got his start in the film industry as a founder and executive producer for Eightball Films, an agency that created spots and music videos. Eight years later, he closed that business and eventually wound up at Bow + Arrow, a commercial production company.

After gaining recognition in the industry, Lega said Velocity came to him and his partners to create the show. 

“TV is more like a free-for-all,” Lega said. “With reality type programming there are so many unknowns.”

One of those unknowns was a diamond-in-the-rough find for Lega while he was directing the pilot episode of the series. 

“The owner of the car brought [Zolper] along. And after 10 minutes of speaking with him about the car, we found our third host of Garage Squad,” Lega said. “Joe is like the Energizer Bunny.”

Zolper was ecstatic.

“I heard [the owner] needed help with the paint job for a TV show,” Zolper said. “I was so busy that day I almost called and canceled. … Really this is so crazy, it’s like winning the lottery.”

Zolper grew up cruising Jefferson Street in his teens, but now he is one of three co-hosts of the show. He brought with him several other Joliet area mechanics.

“Joliet has a huge following and respect for muscle cars, custom cars, the racing scene,” Zolper said. 

Zolper’s dream job in third grade was a diesel mechanic.

He started working on making dirt bikes faster before helping his father and brothers on their cars. He bought his first muscle car when he was 17 and from there worked as a mechanic before opening his first repair shop.

“All of this just comes natural,” Zolper said. “I just don’t consider it a job. This is what I do and I feel like I fit in well for the show.”

Zolper and Lega were on set last week helping Joliet resident Brian Meyer fix his 1968 Chevelle Malibu for a future episode.

“These guys are great,” Meyer said. “They accepted me and treated me like I’m part of their crew.”

While Meyer said the filming sometimes interfered with work on the car, the progress at the end of the week would have taken him a whole summer.

“Joliet is full of cool cars,” Zolper said. “We’re helping these guys and it’s a lot of fun.”

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