The 10 Most Influential Gearheads Who Happen To Be Celebrities

It's not all Top Gear all the time.

Celebrity Car People
Universal Pictures

Kenneth Li, 43; Author of “Racer X”, the inspiration for The Fast and the Furious

Little did Kenneth Li know that a piece he wrote at age 25 for Vibe would end up being the inspiration for a $3+ billion franchise. The piece, entitled “Racer X”, chronicled a man named Rafael Estevez, who was a street racer in New York’s Washington Heights, hedging huge bets among other racers using tuned Japanese cars--not unlike features in the actual movies. Universal Studios bought the film rights from Li shortly after director Rob Cohen read the article and witnessed a street race himself. Two years later, the first film in the series was released, starting a cash cow that is still giving to this day.

Universal Pictures

Idris Elba, 43; actor and host of King of Speed

Did you know that Elba sometimes DJs in London under the name DJ Big Driis? When he’s not scratching records and hip-hopping the beat, the notoriously handsome Idris Elba is an Emmy-Winning actor best known as Stringer Bell from HBO’s The Wire. Briefly, in 2013, Elba hosted the BBC’s King of Speed, a series in which he traveled the world, England to Finland to Detroit and beyond, sussing out the best bits of local car culture and learning how to drive in the regional style, with fearless intensity. (Once, in Finland, he flipped a car rather than let up.) Could he be the next James Bond, pilot of some of film’s most famous cars? Hope so.

James Corden, 37; host of The Late, Late Show

James Corden is kind of a variety show in and of himself. He’s won a Tony for playing the lead in One Man, Two Guvnors, sang sweetly in the movie version of Into the Woods, wrote a BAFTA-winning British sitcom and was featured on the single “Shout” with Dizzee Rascal. In 2014, Corden took over The Late Late Show from Craig Ferguson and founded the show’s most successful property to date: Carpool Karaoke. In his Range Rover Sport, Corden picks up some of the industry’s biggest popstars, Adele, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, for a live singalong of their big hits. With typical buoyancy, Corden elevates the mad screeching everyone undertakes in their own cars to a joyful mix of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and performance art.

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Chris Harris, 41; Top Gear presenter

Prior to being selected as a presenter on the newest iteration of Top Gear, Harris won us over with his unbridled enthusiasm and quintessential British charm found in auto reviews via Evo, Autocar, PistonHeads and others. Entertaining and informative, yes, but he’s not a case where the rubber doesn’t meet the road; the man knows how to drive, too. Whether it’s behind the wheel of a vintage Lister Jaguar at Goodwood, racing in the 24 Hours Nurburging, or smoking the tires off a Ferrari, Harris knows his way around a track (and our hearts).

Patrick Dempsey, 50, Actor and Racer

Women ubiquitously know Dempsey as “McDreamy,” however gearheads know the Grey’s Anatomy actor for his appearances in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Daytona 24, the Baja 1000, the American Le Mans Series and other races. Last year, he and co-driver Marco Seefried finished second in their class in a Porsche 911 RSR. Dempsey’s told reporters that he would love to focus full-time on racing if he could walk away from acting, though he probably needs the keep the day job to fund his hobby.

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Adam Carolla, 51, Comic and Host

Thank MTV and the defunct 90s sex-advice show Loveline with putting Carolla on the map. However, were it not for his advice to hormonal teenagers, Carolla wouldn’t have the financial means to snap up the bulk of Paul Newman’s car collection. Bless him for that, and for spearheading the incredible documentary about Newman’s legendary and storied racing career, Winning. His personal car collection includes two Lamborghini Miuras, two 400GT 2+2 and a 1965 350GT. He’s raced (and won) in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and still hosts his wildly popular CarCast podcast.

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Chris Evans, 50; Host of Top Gear

Chris Evans has all the makings of a premier British motoring enthusiast: an extensive collection of vintage steel, a position at the head of the third incarnation of Top Gear, and the complexion of a bowl of parsnip soup. After climbing the ranks of BBC radio and purchasing two Ferrari 250s, a ‘61 GT California Spider and a ‘63 GTO, Evans was signed a three-year contract to be the main host of Top Gear, alongside Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz and several dozen others. Parsnips aren’t even our third-favorite tuber, but we’ll give it a try.

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Jerry Seinfeld, 62; host of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”

Despite the griping that made Seinfeld a hit, Jerry Seinfeld himself—whether through Transcendental Meditation, his immense syndication fortune, or an innate sunniness—is a pretty happy guy. Between doing regular stand-up sets, Seinfeld exercises a collection of around 50 air-cooled Porsches, sometimes lending one to the production of his popular web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. He enjoyed a decade of expanding the American lexicon—yada yada, close talker, man hands—and now, as one of the world’s premier Porsche enthusiasts, he maintains top examples of the marque and shapes the market, as when he sold 15 cars from his collection this year at Amelia Island.

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Jay Leno, 66; Host of Jay Leno’s Garage, former host of The Tonight Show

Though we haven’t seen Jay Leno on The Tonight Show for a couple years, we can still catch him on YouTube and NBC (Jay Leno’s Garage), showcasing his immense collection, which spans more than 280 vehicles (and non-vehicles). It’s not just Lamborghinis and Porsches, either; he has an affinity for the strange, rare, and, frankly, obsolete (steam-powered engines, for example). But the best part is that he’s a real car guy. You’ll find no garage queens in his collection, and that includes his multi-million dollar vintage Bugattis. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to worry about any what-if situations, considering his net worth is around $350 million dollars.

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Jeremy Clarkson, 56; host of Amazon’s “The Grand Tour,” occasional pugilist

Clarkson was one of the original presenters for BBC’s Top Gear, though his 27 year career there came to a jarring end with a blow heard ‘round the world. Dismissed from the network, Clarkson and Richard Hammond and James May landed at Amazon where their new show will debut later this year. Jezza’s opinionated and outspoken about said stances, which results in his loving or loathing most marques and getting him into hot water with various manufacturers, cities, and occasionally nations.

See: The Drive's top ten most influential people in automotive technology

and The Drive's top ten most influential people in the car business

and The Drive's top ten most influential car people in sports

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