“While you’re standing in your own way, please get the heck out of mine.”
You won’t find this bold yet sagacious aphorism buried within a novel or hiding out in a motivational reference book. This quip is from Courtney Hansen, an established Neapolitan who believes in seizing the day. Actually, strike that. Hansen believes in seizing every minute. She likes to go fast.
A Barron Collier High School and Florida State University graduate, she is an automotive aficionado, as well as the lead character and executive producer of Ride of Your Life with Courtney Hansen, a reality docuseries produced for Discovery networks that airs on MotorTrend and MotorTrend+.
This quick-moving show spotlights a female boss (Hansen), who leads ROYL Garage, the backdrop for elaborate and dramatic custom-car makeovers. Once the cars are revamped, they are eventually presented—at no cost—to deserving individuals and families across the nation in surprising, heartwarming reveals. Hansen, who is the first female executive producer in television history to create and produce a series of this type, is assisted by an all-male staff and is in fact the owner of ROYL (Ride of Your Life) Garage.
“Creating this show and bringing the concept to life has been a dream of mine for years,” she relates. “I love the idea of reuniting people with the same year, make, and model of a dream car or truck they once owned but had to part ways with due to difficult times.”
Hansen is used to living life with the hammer down in the left lane. However, Ride of Your Life was filmed amid the dregs of the COVID-19 pandemic, making production of the series particularly arduous and demanding due to shutdowns, product shortages, uncertainty of sponsor backing, and other concerns. At one point, Hansen herself was hospitalized after contracting COVID.
Scott Messick, executive producer/showrunner for Ride of Your Life, notes the many responsibilities Hansen had throughout the show’s creation: “Courtney wore many hats, from concept creation to hiring the talent to scheduling to handling countless other logistics required for the show’s production.”
“It was nearly impossible—a very bumpy road,” Hansen explains. “To see it come across the finish line is truly astounding. It’s extremely gratifying that this show was executed, is one of MotorTrend’s top shows in prime time, looks amazing, and is resonating with viewers.”
Hansen also appreciates the compassionate and charitable slant of the show. “I love seeing our team carry out the designs; I love the reveals and the energy and emotion of witnessing people receive their dream cars. It’s beautiful, magical, and sometimes even surreal.”
The Road to Success
While Hansen, who is married to well-known Neapolitan Jay Hartington, CEO and owner of Marissa Collections, has lived in Naples since age 11, she spent her early childhood years living on Lake Minnetonka, located west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. That she loves all things automotive should come as no surprise. Her family owned Brainerd International Raceway, and growing up, she and her siblings spent time there, as well as other racetracks spanning the Midwest.
“My father [Jerry Hansen] was a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racer; he won 27 SCCA championships and is the winningest driver in history,” says Hansen. “The racetrack was my playground, and my siblings and I all have a love for cars. Gas runs through our veins; it’s in our blood.”
Though they owned a condo in Naples already, in the late 1980s, Hansen’s family decided to trade the brutal Minnesota winters for the balmy climate and sunny shores of Florida. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she intermittently worked as a model and did television commercials locally, even becoming a local car dealership’s spokesperson, appearing in 22 of their commercials.
“My mom and dad were actually anti-modeling,” she explains. “When I was growing up, I would take jobs here and there, however. I made my own money, and I liked that.”
After graduating from Florida State with a degree in marketing, Hansen returned to Naples before teaming up with Wilhelmena modeling agency and working in both the Miami and Chicago markets. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles, California, after landing a role in a pilot called Killer Golf.
“I sold everything, including my car, and moved out there with two suitcases 21 years ago,” Hansen says.
If her move to L.A. was a risk, it’s one that’s yielded huge dividends. Her big break came when she locked down a role on Overhaulin’, a reality automotive series that aired on TLC; Hansen appeared on the show for 24 episodes in 2004 and 2005.
“One day, my agent called me and asked, ‘Do you really know cars?’” I replied, “Of course, I do!”
Even with all her empirical knowledge, Hansen immersed herself for three straight days in auto science reference books and materials, once again putting the pedal to the metal to achieve her dream.
“I studied and studied and studied,” she expounds. “It paid off; I blew them away.”
As Hansen’s fast-paced career continued, she didn’t stop impressing; she continued to secure noteworthy roles on other shows. For 10 years, she starred as the host of Powerblock/Power Nation, another popular automobile series. She also hosted Destination Wild, an adventure series highlighting fabulous vacation spots; Million Dollar Motors; Rides: Biggest Spenders; Total Outdoorsman Challenge; and others.
Hansen has appeared on several magazine covers, too, including Women’s Health, Hot Rod, and FHM. She was offered the cover of Playboy—more than once—but turned it down because she didn’t want to model without clothing (she did do a lingerie shoot for Playboy). She also worked as a columnist for FHM and other publications and penned a book for a female audience of new car enthusiasts called The Garage Girl’s Guide to Everything You Need to Know about Your Car, which provides car-care tips and need-to-know information for keeping vehicles in optimal working form.
Making a Right Turn
Just as smart and savvy as she is beautiful, Hansen one day had what she terms “an epiphany” about her career in the entertainment industry.
“I realized that—at some point—I was going to be let go for someone who was half my age and who required a fraction of my pay rate. I didn’t want to be stuck, didn’t want to plateau, and didn’t want to find myself in an unfavorable situation.”
That’s when Hansen took a leap of faith. She decided to start creating her own content and producing her own shows, realizing that ultimately she would have the final say about the talent.
“If you produce your own shows, you can’t get fired, right?” she asks rhetorically.
The move from host to producer was a solid one for Hansen. In addition to Ride of Your Life, she’s produced The Ride That Got Away for Amazon Prime, the History channel, and FYI Network through her company, High Road Productions. Through this same company, she plans to continue creating shows, including a second season of Ride of Your Life. But Hansen has other things in the works, too, including producing commercials and different content locally. And, because she owns it, she mentions there’s a blueprint for opening a ROYL Garage right here in Naples that will work as a daily operating business repairing, customizing, and restoring vehicles.
With all systems go regarding her career, Hansen will tell you her greatest accomplishments do not take place in front of the camera. For her, it’s being a wife and mother. She and husband, Hartington, have a daughter, Holland (8), who is highly athletic. There’s a fourth to this busy family as well: a Maltese Yorkie named Violet.
While they have a home in New York City, too, the Hansen-Hartington fam splits most of their time between their Los Angeles and Naples residences, spending summers in L.A., a location that Hansen says could not be more distinct from Naples.
“The terrain is different, the climates are different, the beaches are different, the vibe is different,” she says. “Unlike when we’re in Naples, we don’t socialize on a huge level there. Unless I am doing red carpet events, most of my time is spent enjoying quality time with my family and friends. It’s more low-key.”
Back in Naples, Hansen and Hartington stay busy with myriad philanthropic endeavors. Among other involvement, Hartington serves on the board of directors for the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens and chairs the zoo’s $25 million capital campaign. The Naples Zoo is near and dear to Hansen’s heart, too, as is YouthHaven, a Naples-based charity that provides safe spaces and therapy programs for children and teens; she is involved as a committee member for this organization. Hansen also supports Smile Chain and Operation Smile, two organizations benefiting children with cleft lips and cleft palates.
Besides philanthropic work and events, Hansen—who will pull over on the side of the road to witness a beautiful sunset—says much of her free time in Naples is spent with her family at the beach.
“We love the beach, and we love to hang out with friends, fish off the dock, go boating, and plan pool days,” she adds. “Much of our time is spent watching Holland partake in soccer and other athletic activities, too. We’re always kicking or throwing a ball around the house.”
How does she balance it all?
“I just dive in and do it,” Hansen explains. “Full throttle is the only gear I know, and I thrive on the juggling act. I would probably get bored if I slowed down, and I don’t want to miss out on the excitement of life. I believe in being the best wife and mother I can be, and I will probably work until the day I die. It’s always a bit of a struggle to balance it all, but ultimately—and thankfully—we are firing on all cylinders.”
Hair: Anna Suarez, Naples
Clothing: Select looks provided by Marissa Collections, Naples