MULVANE — The passion Chris Carlson has for cars seems surpassed only by his love for family.

Classic car owned by Chris Carlson
Photo by JENI McGEE

Carlson, a 1990 Arkansas City High School graduate, has become well known in automotive circles, winning awards at car shows and through magazines featuring his work.

His shop in Mulvane, Chris Carlson Hot Rods, is in a near-constant state of motion, with employees working on projects in the garage.

The office, however, is a quiet sanctuary where his family can join him for meals and family time after a hard day’s work.

Photos of cars Carlson has had a hand in restoring line two walls, as well as trophies and some 1950s-themed décor.

“I like the cars from the ’30s to the ’40s,” he said.

Carlson catches the bug

Carlson was influenced by his father, Bob Carlson, who was a founding member of the Ark City Tumbleweeds.

“I wanted to do hot rods,” Chris said. “I’ve got an eye for it — I can look at a car and see what it needs.”

The road to Chaotic Customs was not a particularly easy one. Even Carlson’s father warned him away from it.

“Two days after I graduated, I went to Missouri to work in a shop there,” he said. “Nobody ever gave me anything — I had to work for it all.”

Carlson talked his way into a lot of the work in which he became involved.

“I had to sell my ideas to people, to help them see what I saw,” he said.

The ties that bind

Carlson didn’t stay in Missouri, though.

Asked why he came back to Kansas, Carlson smiled and said it was his wife.

Karma Carlson is from the Mulvane area and she didn’t want to leave.

“On our very first date, we passed this building, and I said, ‘That would make a perfect place for a shop,’” Chris said.

He returned to Kansas and married Karma. Meanwhile, he found work in collision repair shops.

But his dream of owning his own shop didn’t die.

In business at long last

About 10 years later, Carlson finally did open a shop — in the building he had pointed out to his wife.

Since that time, Chaotic Customs has moved and changed its name to Chris Carlson Hot Rods.

“When we built this shop, I put in an office for my wife,” Carlson said. “She came in with a stack of library books.”

The books were returned without being read, however, because the shop was busy.

“I definitely could not be operating at this level without my wife,” Carlson said. “That is fact. She travels with me and she takes care of the social media.”

Family ties

In fact, the couple’s children all have had a hand in growing the business.

Their oldest son, Drew, has been in the shop since he was a little kid.

He is an adult now, with an education in fabrication and welding.

“He can do everything I can. Some things he can do better than me,” Carlson said with a smile.

Their daughter, Jade, is a paramedic in Sedgwick County.

When she still was attending school, she also worked in the shop, helping with everything from final assembly to parts runs.

The middle boy, Troy, helps in the paint shop and specializes in pin striping.

This technique is hard to do because requires steady hands and precise work.

The youngest Carlson, Wes, still is in high school, but he has a love for import cars that his father doesn’t quite share.

Returning home in style

Chris Carlson has come back to Ark City a few times since 1990. One of the attractions, of course, is the Last Run Car Show.

Last year, he entered two vehicles in the show, both of which took home awards.

This year, he plans on returning with three vehicles.

“I absolutely love the drag,” he said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story referred to Carlson’s business as Chaotic Customs. This name was changed several years ago to the current name, Chris Carlson Hot Rods. This story has been updated to reflect this correction.

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