American Chopper Stars Before The Fame

Since its release in 2003, the Discovery television series "American Chopper" has filled the homes of viewers with a look inside the workings of Orange County Choppers, a custom motorcycle manufacturing shop in Newburgh, New York. The show presents the entertaining yet dysfunctional dynamic of the Teutul family, with father and owner Paul Teutul Sr. as the head and sons Paul Teutul Jr. and Michael Teutul as his employees. "American Chopper" has also shown some incredible builds and designs of customized motorcycles since the start of the show.

Throughout the years, "American Chopper" has garnered a large fan base and has inspired several spin-off series, including "Senior vs. Junior" and "Orange County Choppers." The show turned the once unknown Teutul family, as well as other OC Chopper workers, into celebrities overnight and made them household names, but what about their lives before the stardom? Here's all you should know about the stars of "American Chopper" before their fame!

Paul 'Senior' Teutul Sr. started building motorcycles in the 1970s

Before his "American Chopper" days, Paul Teutul Sr. was in the Merchant Marines. He joined when he was 18 years old, and this time helped to shape his attitudes in both work and his personal life. He has had a love for motorcycles all his life, but work and family obligations postponed his passion until he was finally able to start building motorcycles in the 1970s. On how he started to nourish his passion, Teutul told CNBC, "I started building bikes from the ground up... I had a house and I dug a hole in the back and cut a door in there and made a ramp outta steel and got the bikes down into the basement and that's how I started."

He worked at his business, Orange County Ironworks, for nearly two decades before leaving to start Orange County Choppers in 1999. In 2020, Teutul moved Orange County Choppers from its original headquarters in New York to Pinellas Park, Florida, and he also owns a restaurant/museum in St. Petersburg, per the Tampa Bay Times. Regarding the change in location, Teutul spoke with WFLA, saying, "Where I'm at in my life, it's time for change and you feel the freedom in Florida, you don't feel it so much in New York anymore."

Paul 'Paulie' Teutul Jr. was not into motorcycles at first

Though he is known for his detailed motorcycle designs and builds, Paul Teutul Jr. was not always into motorcycles. When growing up, Teutul was surrounded by motorcycles due to his father, but he was more curious about building things in general, as well as playing sports. When he was 12 years old, he started an apprenticeship at Paul Teutul Sr.'s steel business, OC Ironworks, according to his website. His love for motorcycles did not start until his late teenage years, around the age of 18, when he got his first motorcycle.

Prior to "American Chopper," Paul Jr. "worked in the steel business for 10 years," as he told Biker Swag, but he didn't dedicate any time to fabrications and creating designs until the start of the show. Teutul recalled, "...[I] then had the opportunity to have creative freedom with building motorcycles. Only then did I realize my God given creative abilities and started really exploring what I was capable of." As of 2022, he manages his own company, Paul Jr. Designs, which specializes in custom builds of motorcycles, and he hosts a podcast titled "The Paul Jr. Podcast" that centers on a variety of topics ranging from hobbies to "American Chopper."

Michael 'Mikey' Teutul followed in his brother's footsteps

Michael Teutul was a self-described "weird kid" growing up and always felt out of place. When he was 12, he started working for OC Ironworks, following in his brother's footsteps. In an interview with Jim Benson of TV Time Machine, Teutul indicated that the kind of work at OC Ironworks wasn't really for him, saying, "I just never took to it, I couldn't take it. ... I think ironwork is one of those things that's either in your blood or it's not." He further described himself as a "wimp" and as being "far too soft" for the roughness of the steel business. Instead, he wanted to get a spot on "Saturday Night Live" and pursue a career in comedy, with dreams of doing stand-up and other comedic ventures in his sights.

When Teutul was 20, he moved to Tempe, Arizona, with a school friend for a change of lifestyle and environment, per TV Time Machine. This was short-lived, however, and when Teutul moved back to New York, he went straight to work at OC Ironworks. Seeing that he wasn't a particularly good fit at the job, Paul Teutul Sr. offered him a secretary position, handling paperwork and general office functions at OC Choppers, and that is the "Mikey" we grew to know on screen. As of 2022, Teutul is mainly out of the spotlight, but does appear on his dad's Instagram from time to time.

Vincent 'Vinnie' DiMartino grew up with the Teutul Family

Growing up, Vincent DiMartino was close friends with Paul Teutul Jr., with the two living in the same town and going to school together. DiMartino's love for building and all things automotive started when he was nine years old and was constantly in his dad's auto repair shop. By his teenage years, he worked at an engine repair shop and continued to pursue his love for building and repairing motor vehicles. Per DiMartino's bio from the Paul Jr. Designs Facebook page, he "was rebuilding cars and motorcycles and pretty much anything else he could get his hands on."

He began working for OC Choppers in 2002, shortly before the reality show took off, and DiMartino ultimately left in 2007 to start his own business, V-Force Customs (per his website). As of 2022, DiMartino is the owner of DiMartino Motorsports and mainly focuses on auto repairs, not custom designs and builds like he used to.

Rick Petko has had a love for motorcycles since he was young

As a kid, Rick Petko was always surrounded by anything on wheels, ranging from dirt bikes to go-karts. He was inspired by his father, who loved choppers and had a hobby of painting motorcycles. His interest in building started young, when he broke too many of his bikes, and rather than buy new ones, he had to figure out a way to fix them. According to Petko in an interview on the now-retired American Choppers Paul Jr. Designs Facebook page, it was during this time that he bought his first welder.

Upon graduating high school, he worked as a crane and cold saw operator in a steel service center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He also studied welding during this time, per his website bio. Petko started working for OC Choppers in 2003, eventually leaving in 2016 to dedicate more time to his family and nurture his passions of fabrication and custom metalwork. As of 2022, Petko lives in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and is the owner of RPD & Co., which specializes in custom chef knives and also makes custom wedding bands. 

Nick Hansford started at OC Choppers while in Florida

Originally from Pennsylvania, Nick Hansford attended the American Motorcycle Institute with fellow OC Choppers star Christian Welter. After graduating from AMI, Hansford stayed in Florida to build his career and skills at Pompano Fats and Daytona Choppers. According to "American Chopper: At Full Throttle," Hansford met Paul Teutul Sr. at Daytona Bike Week in 2000, and quickly became a part of the OC Choppers company as a bike servicer and southeast distributor.

Just two years after meeting Teutul, Hansford relocated to New York for familial reasons in 2002 and ended up working at OC Choppers as a mechanic. He appeared as a regular on "American Choppers" as well as "Orange County Choppers" until 2019. Though not as big as other names on the show, Hansford was often seen working alongside the other crew members, including Vincent DiMartino and Paul Teutul Jr. As of 2022, Hansford is married and lives in Virginia with his family, per his Facebook page.