Conversations with Big Rich

Rich in storytelling, Episode 141 features Sue Mead, Off-road Journalist Extraordinaire

December 15, 2022 Guest Sue Mead Season 3 Episode 141
Conversations with Big Rich
Rich in storytelling, Episode 141 features Sue Mead, Off-road Journalist Extraordinaire
Show Notes Transcript

“Write the story you just told me,” that’s the advice Sue Mead got when she was struggling, “just simply put those words down on paper,” and it wasn’t bad advice. That’s the secret to getting started with just about anything. Begin with what you know. Big Rich was privileged to interview ORMHOF inductee about her life in off-road – they talked Camel Trophy, Dakar, Gazelle, and Baja 1000 among other stories. We could all learn a little about bravery and living life to the fullest from Sue. Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app, then dream a little about what’s next for you!

6:49 – Rural can be different depending on the makeup of people that live in an area

11:12 – my first roll of film had three photos go to the Associated Press

18:22 – 85% of the photography needs can be met with a cell phone 

24:42 – make sure you know your exit before you get on top of things

30:43 – “What I really want to know is how do you get along with people?”

35:01 – “your organs are shutting down, we don’t know if we can save you.”…I prayed two prayers that day.

43:04 – “you didn’t do too bad for a girl”

There is more, so much more; listen in to hear about Borneo, Bolivia, Alaska, and so many more adventures.  When I grow up, I wanna be Sue Mead!

We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine. 

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Welcome to conversations with Big Rich. This is an interview style podcast. Those interviews are all involved in the offroad industry. Being involved, like all of my guests are, is a lifestyle, not just a job. I talk to competitive teams, racers, rock crawlers, business owners and employees, media and private park owners, men and women who have found their way into this exciting and addictive lifestyle. We discuss their personal history, struggles, successes and reboots. We dive into what drives them to stay active and offroad. We all hope to shed some light on how to find a path into this world we live and love and call offroad.



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[00:01:47.640] - Big Rich Klein

on today's episode of conversations with big rich, we have Sue Mead. Sue is a 2007 Ormhof Inductee. That's the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame. She's an automotive journalist and a participant in Camel Trophy. She's made trips to Dakar. She's been in the Baja 1000. So let's get on with this and say, thank you, Sue, for coming on board and talking with us today.


[00:02:18.080] - Sue Mead

Well, thank you for having me on your show, Rich, and for wanting to know more about my history as an enthusiastic offroader, an occasional offroad racer. And I'm very proud to be an ORMHOF inductee. So thanks for having me on the show.


[00:02:42.360] - Big Rich Klein

We're pleased to have you here. For sure. I'm really excited about getting into the Ormhof Inductees. Done a couple so far. I've got a couple more on my list, but hopefully we'll get to everybody and their families that have been inducted so far. But this one is about you. So let's start off the questioning. Where were you born and raised?


[00:03:03.600] - Sue Mead

Well, I was actually born in the town that I'm in again many years later. I was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is in the Berkshires of Mass. That's on the border of New York State and Vermont. And it's an area with I love to describe it as cows and culture. It's in the mountains and we have a lot of forest roads. Some of those roads I use growing up to do some fun four wheeling. And that's been part of the history, or my personal history that made me gravitate. I was not looking for this career, but when it came to me, I couldn't have been more happy. So it's a beautiful area. It's adjacent to Albany, New York, and it's near the site of some Jamborees that Mark Smith put on in an area called Charlemont Mass.


[00:04:10.490] - Big Rich Klein

Excellent. So it sounds like it's pretty rural by the way you described it. And I've been in New Hampshire and Vermont and through that corner and all up and down. Didn't spend very much time except crossing New York to get up into Maine and Massachusetts and on up the actually we made a trip up to Nova Scotia and then did a couple of rock crawls in New Hampshire but really love the area and even the mid sized towns. It feels rural.


[00:04:46.080] - Sue Mead

Well, that's a really good description. It's funny because if I simply say that I live in Massachusetts, it's really not uncommon for people to say, oh, Boston not only. And I say to them, my town is literally as far away from Boston as you can be and still be in the state because I'm on the border of New York and Vermont. So it is rural. And I've had the good fortune through my career which we'll get to of traveling the world. And what I love is I was away from this town for a number of years, and I purposely came back here about 43 years ago to bring my daughter up here in a similar fashion to how I was. Brought up in sort of the sort of epic of living in a bit of a rural area with some art pursuits and theater and other things. I really purposely chose to come back here and it's been the antidote to years where I've traveled as much as I think my top number of days away was 248 one year. So I loved I love coming back to a place that's quiet and as I said, has cows and culture and some four wheel drive trails.


[00:06:18.360] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, that's awesome. Growing up and going to school in those days, it was pretty much basic education. I'm not sure about you, but for us there was really no electives except for like shop or home ec or something like that. And I grew up on the peninsula below San Francisco. Was the schooling there pretty much the same?


[00:06:49.080] - Sue Mead

I think there's been excellent schooling in the county that I live in. It's a bit of an enclave, some of the towns that are more rural or some just rural towns. And I lived for a little patch of time in White River Junction, Vermont, which is another rural area. But rural can be different depending on where it is and the makeup of people that live in an area. Williamstown was one of the things that was prominent feature here was the founding of Williams College and the land given by Ephraim Williams to have a free school on the land here. It's no longer free, by the way, what is but also my mother grew up on a 400 acre farm in South Williamstown, her dad being a farmer. There were nine children in the family. She goes back generations to farm families here that literally work the land. And I once wrote a book I'm a little moving forward here, but I once wrote a book that was called Monster Trucks and Tractors, and my goal was to chronicle the history of traction engines. And I have a picture in that book of my grandfather walking behind a horse and furrowing the ground with a farm implement.


[00:08:31.560] - Sue Mead

And I remember starting to write in my book, this was back in the day, and I realized it was back in the day here. But now that I've traveled the world, there are many people, as you know, that use that kind of horsepower still today. And the other fun factoid about my grandfather was that he sold the first steam engine tractor in Berkshire County and was entrepreneurial and had a little bit of a dealership, if you will, with steam engine tractors. So when I was researching my book, I learned that, and that was just really cool to learn and think about my career.


[00:09:14.840] - Big Rich Klein

So how did you get into, say, the journalist side? Was it something that you started in school with English classes that you just felt that that was where you wanted to go, or what was the process?


[00:09:31.180] - Sue Mead

Not at all, nor four wheeling. I did that sort of naturally, but in terms of writing. When I was living in White River Junction, Vermont, a number of years ago, I had put my husband at the time we're no longer together, but I put him through dental school and waited to finish my own schooling. And I went to a college in Plainfield, Vermont, Goddard College, which was really an incredible experience for me because it was about turning learners on to what they valued and what excited them in learning and saying. So I had just been given a camera for Christmas and was heading off to Goddard for a bit and realized that I really liked taking pictures. And I didn't just like taking family photos, but I liked taking artistic shots and thinking about black and white photography and landscapes and unusual. My eye just gravitated toward unusual and and or fun photos. So fast forward a couple of years, and we then moved to Williamstown upon my request coming back to the town I was born in. And I had a job that was part time. It was 20 hours a week and was bringing my daughter up, who was two years old at this time.


[00:11:12.220] - Sue Mead

And I just longed to take photos. And so I would drive around with her sometimes and just take photos on some of the back roads. And that led to me thinking, well, I wonder if I could get some photos in the newspaper. And I had done this study at Goddard where I did a deep dive in photography and learned how to develop in print and put on a photo show. But I had no and I learned the history of photography and became familiar with the works of some well known photographers. But I had no notion that it could be a career for me. And all of a sudden I found myself just really longing to take pictures. And so I called the local newspaper and asked, would you ever use any of my photos? And I was told, come in and pick up a roll of black and white film and take some shots and turn it in and we'll see if you have anything we might want to use. And my first roll of film had three photos go to the Associated Press.


[00:12:21.330] - Big Rich Klein

Very good.


[00:12:22.580] - Sue Mead

I was over the moon, Rich. I thought maybe one photo would be used. I knew I had some ideas of where I would go with that roll of film, so it wasn't all spontaneous, but some of those photos still just have great merit today. But when I found that out, I would get $25 for a photo that went to the Associated Press, $5 for a photo that would go to the local paper. I was just over the moon. And then when I found out that I had to write a caption, which we called cut lines. At that time I was panicked because I thought, I don't know how to write a caption. I'm just taking the pictures. And then over the next year, I would soup the film in the dark room. I became good friends with the photo staff, soup the film in the dark room and learned how to use I was typing on a typewriter with a newsprint piece of paper, but I would sit and pull my hair out just about to write a caption. And about a year into that, one of the arts editor heard me telling a story about being behind the scenes at the Nutcracker when my daughter was a dancer and what it was like to be in the dressing room and behind the scenes before that was such a popular thing.


[00:14:00.340] - Sue Mead

And she said, I saw a couple of your photos. I want you to write the story. And I did and all of a sudden but I said to her, I don't know how to write. And honestly, I didn't know the craft of writing. And I've been asked many times over the years, how do you write for so many different publications, from newspapers to magazines and magazines that are car based or other based? But I knew none of that craft, and some of it is a craft. And when I wrote that first story, I was really struggling. And the best advice was, you just told me a great story. Write the story that you told me. Just simply put those words down on paper and it is not bad advice, especially when you and I know some of my greatest adventures have been spending a month in Borneo or racing with Rod Hall in my first Baja 1000 and driving all over the world. But my enthusiasm, if I could get back to that point of just tell the story, sometimes worked. And of course, depending on the publication, or depending on what manufacturer I might want to grease that we raised the Kia Sportage across Africa, I would have to give some material about the Kia Sportage, and I learned how to do that.


[00:15:40.820] - Sue Mead

So I didn't have any background in English that stuck out. I was an avid reader. My mom would not let my brother and I watch much TV at all, and so I did a lot of reading. I never thought of writing as a way that I would earn a living and see the world. And again, photography sort of really struck me as something that brought me joy. But I never thought that the two combined would take me around the world.


[00:16:16.220] - Big Rich Klein

Right. No, it's very important. You can be talented one way or the other, whether it's writing or with photography. But if you can do both, it's a great start. What I try to tell people and what I do myself, like for our magazine or any writing I do, is I just tell the story. I'm not worried about punctuation and sentence structure and all that. That's why Shelley is my editor. That's where she comes in. But I tell the story. She just makes it all come out the way it's supposed to. The storytelling is, to me, the most important part because that's what the reader is going to latch onto if it's too technical or if it's not. I mean, there are some people that will pick apart a story that you've written, and if there's some way type set is wrong or whatever, or sentence structure is wrong, they'll always be that one that emails you in and say, oh, you made a mistake. You know what? They didn't get it. The whole idea is, what is the story? Of course, you want to be as accurate as possible. The photography, on the other hand, you can tell a whole story without words if you have great photography.


[00:17:44.520] - Big Rich Klein

And my degree is in commercial photography and product advertising. But I started doing the photography because I didn't want to sit on the side of the road or out in the pasture or wherever I was drawing all day. So I would go and take the shot that I wanted and then I would get it get it processed and then do the drawings from there. And I found out that I was better with the camera than I was with the drawings, so I dropped the pencils. So you started off with the typewriter because that's all we had back then.


[00:18:22.580] - Sue Mead

We didn't have computers. Oh, my gosh. How crazy is that? My journalism career started in 80 or 80, I think it was 1981 and and it was no, it was 1980 and then my automotive career began in 1988. But for all those years I was a Newshooter and I grew very fond of it as a way to add I didn't make a lot of money. And I remember buying a passle of Canon AE1 camera gear at Sears and Roebuck because somebody would say to me, people would say, oh, what cameras do you use and where do you get them? And over time I went on to have a lot of good camera gear and then started to stop. That when digital cameras were not the boon for me. They're great. But I will tell you that 90% of the time I use my cell phone for pictures and people die over that. But when I'm on the job in Saudi Arabia or anywhere in this country doing a four wheel drive trip or test driving a new car, I find that probably 85% of the needs can be met with a cell phone, especially out in the field.


[00:20:12.680] - Sue Mead

Now, I'm not going to argue with people that just have stunning photos and carry a lot of gear on their back, but that's been the way that I've been able to sort of function.


[00:20:26.320] - Big Rich Klein

Right. And it's not all that bad. Like the iPhones, the top of the line iPhone has a faster processor than almost all the cameras out there unless you get into the multi thousand dollar bodies. So it's not bad. You've given up a little bit on the lens side, of course, but unless you're shooting covers or murals, that's the only time that really you need to step up and have the great lens. Unless of course you're doing the really artsy stuff.


[00:21:04.360] - Sue Mead

Yeah, exactly. And even shooting video. Last year I shot some pretty fun and successful video in the middle of one of the days of the Dakar. And I was media manager and helping manage a race team in Dakar. And that had set up in a couple of different locations to capture the 911 coming through the desert. And not only was I able to get some video that was pretty darn good quality, but also the sound was great.


[00:21:42.680] - Big Rich Klein

Nice, very good. So then you're shooting for the newspaper, writing stories, telling the stories and how did it go from that kind of journalism style from news to magazine?


[00:22:04.940] - Sue Mead

Well, let me back up for just one moment. I was a staunch tomboy, I guess I was going to say a bit of a tomboy. And it's a funny word to use because it's not used so much today. But I had a brother a year younger who was such an adventurer and he always seemed to be my older brother. He was always the one saying, come on, let's sneak out of the house at night, which we did a whole bunch of or let's go swim in the quarry where we're not supposed to swim because it's dangerous. Let's go do those things. And so we did a lot of danger and adventure and let's catch frogs and bring them home for mom to cook in the frying pan. And during my teen years, he came home one day with a small on off road Suzuki, a little 175. And he it had knobby tires. And he said, this is for us. And we had previous to that, we'd been riding our bikes everywhere and riding them, I remember, as fast as we could downhill. So I was always afraid of the downhill and had a spectacular crash one time.


[00:23:27.240] - Sue Mead

But now we moved to this small motorcycle and we were just really good at sharing things. And we lived at the base of a mountain and we would go up one of the fire road trails on this motorcycle. And I remember doing that and riding through the woods on it and just being so enamored. But I'd get to the top of the mountain and I would panic. And I don't know if it was from this bad bicycle crash that was kind of I have no idea. But I did have a fear of going down things. I had a fear of heights for a long time, which can be difficult when you're off road racing in places like over Mike Sky Ranch on the Baja 1000 in the night. Well, it's easier to race in the night because you're looking at your headlamps most of the time. Follow those, not the cliff. But I remember getting to the top of the mountain and I would be panicked and this is crazy. I would turn off the bike and I was even afraid to put it in neutral. And I would just lay on the handlebars and screech my way to the bottom until I was comfortable and then take off again.


[00:24:42.750] - Sue Mead

But I've always been fearless going up things, of course, which presents a problem. And I had that happen. I was in Morocco a few years ago, in 2015. I did the Gazelle Rally and my driving partner and I were so lost that we couldn't see a bit of dust anywhere around us for great long distances. So I said, well, let's just get on top of this mountain of sand or dirt here. It was hard packed, rocky mud rock terrain. And I just went up it in a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van. It was roll caged and had crosswind mitigation. It was so darn much fun. And we got to the top and we could see we were valleys away from where we should be. Pardon me. And then all of a sudden I had to go down. And it was quite precipitous. It just reminded me, okay. And it's a good thing, a little maybe thing to repeat in life, especially when you're an offroader. Make sure you know your exit before you get on top of things. So now fast forward. I was doing some news work. I would take my photos and won a couple of awards with the New England Press Association journalism awards and had a collegial group at the newspaper of folks who were like me, and we all love photographing by day and getting called out for crazy things at night.


[00:26:35.970] - Sue Mead

And I was approached by my good friend Peter McGillivray's. Mom came up to me when I was photographing at a meeting one night and said, Would you look at my son's photos? He think Pete was 16 then, or 17, and would you look at his photos? He really likes photographing, but his dad doesn't think that's a career. And I said, sure. And I had no idea. And she said, well, he has a scanner, and he listens to what's going on in our community and sometimes rides his bicycle to go to check out whatever's happening. And I saw Peter's photographs, and I was blown away. Not at the artistic quality, his news eye, but his artistic quality. And so for one year before he went to college and he was a senior at the local high school, I would give him a ride to the newspaper in the morning and he would hitchhike out to the high school. And this is so important to my story because I just enjoyed helping him. And I can't really say that I mentored him. I probably have used that word. But he knew what he was doing. He just needed a forum.


[00:27:56.960] - Sue Mead

And he had work going to the Associated Press. And then he went off to college at Bu School of Communications. He and I kept in touch. He met Diane Nishigaya, the woman he would go on to marry, who was from California. And at the end of four years of school, pete moved to California. We had kept in touch, and we talked to News all the time. He worked for UPI in Boston, and we were friends. But it was one of the things that cemented the friendship, was talking about photography and news. So Pete got out to California, and it was the summer of 1988, and he called me and said, I've gone to work for a magazine called Four Wheeler. And he said it like that because it was not mainstream. He wouldn't have said four wheeler. He had to enunciate. And then I said what? And he said, yes, go to the Guns and Ammo section of Cumberland's Arms and look for the magazine. And he said, I couldn't get a job in News. And this man named John Stewart, one of the grace in our field, who was the editor of Four Wheeler, had found Peter.


[00:29:16.400] - Sue Mead

And he said, John has offered me a job. Well, I looked at the cover of the magazine Rich. Oh, my gosh. I thought Peter had gone to the devil. I've never said that. But I'll tell you, I couldn't figure it. There were trucks that were built up with, I don't know, back in that day, 40 inch tires, 35 to 40 inch tires, but they were going through the air at the Bloomsburg Jeep Jamboree and on the cover and I thought, what the heck has happened to Peter? Oh my gosh. And I started flipping through the magazine, and there were some vehicle review and a lot of ads for parts, but I thought, this is crazy. And then a month later, Peter Collins said, john asked our team if we knew any women that might be that had to have a journalism background. People always think you just have to have a driving background, and only if you're a full time racer or Top Gear folks. I mean, you have to somehow pay back. And a lot of times it involves, as you said, photography, writing, both racing, co driving. So Peter said, I've told John about you.


[00:30:43.210] - Sue Mead

And I got a phone call from John and he said, Tell me about yourself. And I said, Well, I had this little on off road motorcycle, and I landed up driving a Honda 50 to high school for my senior year when I was in Washington DC. And there were times when I got up on the sidewalk if there was a lot of traffic. So that was kind of four wheeling. Ha ha. John said, well, what I really want to know, pete says, you can photograph and you can write captions. You're a journalist. What I really want to know is how do you get along with people? And it was brilliant because as someone who's now been on many race teams and I've been on many deckars, I've raced in two and I've been on many others the last two years I was with a team. When you're gone for a race like the Baja 1000 and you're prepping for it and you're doing it and you're cleaning up from it, and especially when you're on longer races like the Gazelle Rally or the Camel Trophies and the Dacars, getting along with your teammates, getting along with people is everything.


[00:32:07.820] - Sue Mead

And I've longed to be a trainer of off road racers and folks that want to be competitive to share some of the tips. And that is one, people forget that, and I'm sure you know it. If you're in the middle of the Dakar and you've had a fight with quarrel with your co driver, you might just leave them at the halfway point. And I saw that happen on a $250,000 budget. One walked away, drove away with the vehicle and his wife and left the other person behind. And I've seen guys fighting and had their vehicle go belly up and wondered, did they stop talking? And then maybe the co driver didn't say, there's a series of bumps here, or whatever obstacle. I'm sure people are calling out the big stuff, but being a good teammate is so important. And John asked me and I said, I consider myself really excellent in that arena. And so I went out in 1988, in September for my first four wheeler of the year. And I'm on the COVID of the 1989 January 4 wheeler issue going through the air in the winning vehicle, which was an 89 Range Rover.


[00:33:38.480] - Sue Mead

And I'm with Ken von Holmet at the wheel, and I have a big open mouth, like, what the heck? Because we were going through the air, and I'd never been in a vehicle off the ground like that. So now I've been in many. It's funny, I count the number of race miles, I count the number of expedition miles, but I've never counted what might be the time aloft in a vehicle. But yeah, that's kind of the crazy story that leads up, and I don't want to run on, but I don't want to forget one really important ingredient. In 1985, I developed an upper respiratory illness that I knew from the get go was not a regular cold or bronchitis. I knew there was something pretty serious about it, just the way that it hit me with a vengeance. And I spent eight days either going to the doctor or calling the doctor. And I just kept getting higher prescription doses of penicillin. And one night at two in the morning when I called and said, I'm not sleeping. I haven't slept for two days. I'm in a lot of pain. I was told, do you have any whiskey in the house?


[00:35:01.930] - Sue Mead

Put some sugar, some honey, and some whiskey. Long story short, on day nine, I got to the hospital, and I'm sure by now most people have heard of autoimmune illnesses that shut your body down, and many people die at that point, and my body was shutting down after eight days. This upper respiratory illness was sort of a precursor. It was part and parcel of a dormant autoimmune illness. And when I got to the hospital, I was told, your organs are shutting down. We don't know if we can save you. And that was pretty startling. I knew I was sick, but I had no idea. And by that point I had sores on my body and swelling. And I spent five days in the hospital, most of that time in isolation, quarantine, in a lot of pain, and finally, without all the details, but finally someone figured out that it was a rare, at that time autoimmune illness. And what's important about that story is that it was November, and I was looking out at a gray November snow sky from my hospital bedroom where I was in isolation, and even the doctors wouldn't come into the room because they didn't know what I had.


[00:36:33.770] - Sue Mead

And as I said, I was quarantined. It was a really frightening and painful time. And my daughter was nine at the time. So I looked up on that day and I saw the mountains, and I thought, wow, I've been. Told by a doctor that came on day four that he thought that he was going to take some biopsies. He thought that he could peg this illness and he'd be back actually in two days. So I was there for six and he said, one of the things I think you have is terminal. There's nothing we can do. The other is something that we can put you on a steroid and you should be well in four to six weeks. Well, it took a year, but when I looked out that window and I looked at the mountains, I thought, wow. I've never been further west than South Dakota in this country. I've never been out of the country. I grew up reading National Geographics and I always thought that I'd be able to see the world somehow. And I prayed two prayers. The first one was to see my daughter graduate from high school. And the other prayer was that I would see the world before I died.


[00:37:57.020] - Sue Mead

And I began to think, could I be a travel writer and photographer? And so it was three years later it took me a year to get well enough to work full time. And it was three years later when Peter said, you have this opportunity. John invited me to California. I'd never been to California. And when I saw Death Valley and we went four wheeling there, when we went to Big Bear Lake and Arrowhead and we went four wheeling there, I couldn't believe what I saw and I couldn't believe what the vehicles did. I thought at some point I think it was the Deep Creek Trail where we stopped for lunch. I thought, People are just joshing me here. We're not going to go up that. They're saying, yeah, after lunch, sue. We're going to climb up those rocks. And I thought, yeah, right. Well, we did. And so what was wonderful for me was that I began a career and I took every opportunity. It was part time at first, to see the world before I died, and that was 30, 88. That was 34 years ago. I just began to put my foot further and further into any adventure I could get trained for and sign up for.


[00:39:32.130] - Sue Mead

But I'll tell you at another point about driving through the pages of National.


[00:39:37.700] - Big Rich Klein

Geographic, wow, that's quite a story. And I can understand the concern with the illness, and I'm glad that you got over that. And that all led to the push to travel and to do what you have done. So let's talk about some of those places and things that you've seen and been.


[00:40:07.080] - Sue Mead

Well, I'm a small town girl and I came from a middle class family, and I would have not had the means, I wouldn't have had the money to see the world without a pocketbook to do. So journalism and offroading have become that for me. As I've said, I'm so fortunate because I was really impassioned but also along the way after Peter helped me get to four wheeler and John Stewart took me under his wing, I was working with folks like Stu Bordon, Rick Payway, and a number of other david Freiburger was on one of our teams. Men that guys that are great today in the off road business, greg Whale, Mark Williams. Greg and Mark were on my first four wheeler and Stu bordon with Peter. And what also is so important to say, I have found by and large, almost without exception, I found the men in this career really have become my friends very quickly and really gentlemen and who have wanted to help me. And so I began to say, look, obviously I don't know what I'm doing here, but I said to John Stewart, I've always wanted to go to Alaska, would you buy a story if I go there next summer, like on fly fishing and four wheeling, for example?


[00:41:51.430] - Sue Mead

And he said, sure, I'll give you $500. And I said, no way, that's great. So I went to Alaska the next summer and set up a four wheel drive trip with Anchorage four wheel drive group and their club. And I went out with eleven guys into the wilderness, and I said, guys, I don't go into the wilderness with eleven guys. We're going to have to figure out, can we pick up a couple, could you get your wives, can we pick up a couple of women along the way? And they said, oh, we just don't think about that here, it's what it is. So that began the element of travel adventure. The next year I had a cousin living in Alaska. The next year I went back and did gold panning and four wheeling, and I began to know a group of people in Alaska, some of whom are still my friends today, that I began to do adventures with. And so that was one element and important to say for people who might listen to this podcast or think, oh Susan, the offred motorsports hall of fame, I'm not a racer and I don't have the money to travel the world.


[00:43:04.240] - Sue Mead

What turned me on just as much and still does today is just doing an adventure with a four wheel drive vehicle and the people that I'm doing it with. And so now we'll go into the early ninety s, and I'm learning as much as I can. Stew Bordon had come to visit me. He was going to do a shoot near here. And we went off on a trail by ourselves in the woods in Charlemont, and we ran into this guy named Mark Smith. And Mark watched me drive through a really gnarly patch with mud holes and stumps that required a little bit of technical driving. I had to keep up my speed, but manage to have control of the vehicle. And Mark was really impressed with the way that I drove it. And anyone who would know him would know. He would then say to me, you didn't do too bad for a girl, which was one of his favorite things to say to women. But we became friends, and I then began to do a couple of the Jeep Jamborees. And the next thing I said to Mark, I would really like to do this thing called Camel Trophy.


[00:44:27.170] - Sue Mead

And Peter had gone on to Camel Trophies. A couple of other people, because I was reading the magazines, had gone and I said, I want to do it, but women aren't going at this point. And he said mark said, I'll introduce you to Tom Collins. And Tom, for people who know him, was Mr. Campbell Trophy for the US team for years and noted four wheel drive trainer for Land Rover. He did some Baja racing for jeep. So Tom introduced me to I'm sorry, Mark Smith introduced me to Tom Collins. And Tom said in 1994, we're not letting women try out this year. Don't complain about us too loudly, but we will next year. So at the same time I said to Mark, Well, I want more. I not only want to learn about how to do slow speed, extreme slow speed driving, I'd like to learn how to do offroad racing. I'd like to learn how to do fast off road driving. So Mark said, okay, I'll introduce you to Rod Hall. So in 1995, I was with mark had introduced me to Tom Collins. I went to the Camel Trophy tryouts in Grand Junction, Colorado, and out of nine journalists, I earned a seat.


[00:45:54.910] - Sue Mead

There were two of us that got seats that year. I was with Daphne Green and Jim Sweat, who many people know. They went on to become Land Rover experts and did a lot of four wheel drive training and trips around the world. And we went to Central America to Mundo Maya in the summer that year. And it was so many different things. Shocking how hard it was. There was very little mud, but the heat went over well over 120 degrees with 100% humidity. Frightening because there were scorpions and spiders of great renown on the ground. Like sometimes tarantulas, when it would rain, would be all over the ground in our campsite. And I thought I would think I was going to die. I was always afraid of spiders, and so I started sleeping in a hammock so I could stay away from them. But you still have to get out of that hammock sometimes even in the night. So I used to call it the Oreo because I had a top over my hammock. I had a cover and then cover below me and above me, but I was the sandwich in the middle and sometimes had to slip out of that and at the same time so that was my first Camel Trophy.


[00:47:21.110] - Sue Mead

I went on to do four Camel Trophies. The following year. I went to Borneo, and it was unheard of for a journalist to go for more than one, really. And I went to Borneo for a month. Another level of oh, my gosh. This mud has sucked my boots off. My wellies, that came up to my just below my knee. They're in the mud below me. That's how deep the mud was. And we are building bridges to go across ravines with sand ladders and ropes and then one person would go in the vehicle because we were afraid if the vehicle went over. That was one of our techniques. Don't put everyone in. And just incredible adventures. Borneo was fascinating. And I look back at those times and they were kind of the green sue me became brown with the mud and the world around me. And then the the next year, I went to Mongolia and spent almost a month in Mongolia. Actually, I think about six. Weeks in total in Mongolia, which was a fascinating country. And then I began to do Land Rover treks and Land Rover wreckies like to Bolivia with Land Rover to do a wrecky for one of their events and to global G Four challenge to go to Australia.


[00:49:09.460] - Sue Mead

So my Land Rover career included the Camel trophies, some of the wreckies and the events. And also I became good friends with Bill Baker, another name for so many, and at. The end of the day, because of my friendship with Bill, I probably went to about 40 countries with Land Rover and would do drives like from London to Turkey in a vehicle that was going around the world and so I NAB another eleven countries and go to Jordan on 1000 miles trip and that goes back to what I was saying is sometimes people think of folks from the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame as racers only and that it's all about going fast or climbing rocks. It can be so many different things. But we back up to 1995 and I was with Mark Smith in URA, Colorado, on another adventure, my first of many there, and my fear of heights was about owning me, going over imogene and some of the high mountain passes, which, as you know, have great exposure if you go over. So they're death defying, for sure. But Mark then drove me. Back with him and called up Rod Hall and I went back on his way to go back to Placerville and he dropped me off in Reno.


[00:50:51.600] - Sue Mead

He had called Mark, called Rod Hall rather and Rod said sure you can do the Baja 1000 with me and oh, you want to do a story? Okay that's great and you want to learn how to offer a race? Okay, well, you come out to Reno, and I'll show you how we do it. And at that time, Rod was so generous. Rod said, I'll take you to my place. I've got training grounds. And he taught me some very different tips from what I had learned from my Camel Trophy that year and what I learned over many years of off road racing. So I've been off road racing since 1995. What I learned is that they're certainly similar, but they're very different. There are different techniques and one similar mantra is you have to know how to you have to go slow to go fast. And a lot of people will use that. But Tom Collins used to say especially in the jungles, you are a turtle and your vehicle is the shell on your back. Protect it, protect it, protect it. And I learned a lot of respect for how to drive a vehicle. I've never really been involved in a crash offroading.


[00:52:26.030] - Sue Mead

I wasn't at the wheel. But I've been so fortunate that I haven't crashed and I've driven more than 3000 vehicles now, so I am very fortunate. But I also feel that some of the training has just helped me keep the wheels out from under me and keep the wheels under me and know when to go fast and know when to go slow.


[00:52:57.100] - Big Rich Klein

That's important. That absolutely is. And it depends on the style and what you're doing. I see that a lot with snow wheeling. As an event promoter, my summers and springs and falls are typically pretty tied up with work. But the wintertime was when I always used to be able to get to go wheeling. So I've wheeled in lots of parts of the country in the wintertime in the snow. And the snow is different everywhere. It's just like sand. You have to drive it. Each place you drive is going to be different and you have different styles. So many people think you just have to bomb through snow.


[00:53:38.540] - Sue Mead

I'm so glad to hear you say that because I've spent a lot of time in Alaska and even had a one room cabin with no running water that I lived in for three months a few years ago. And did a lot of I did a dog training with sled dog training with a friend of mine, and so I went to 50 Below with her sometimes. And so we had a lot of snow and snow conditions. And by the way, I went to Prudo Bay on a drive in 1995 with Ford and MotorWeek TV and we hit temperatures of 80 below. I'll never forget that. That was cold. I can handle 30 below really well with the right clothing, really well. But 50 gets tough and you really need to protect your skin. 80, you need to eat all the time and drink all the time. But like as you said, I have driven in the Sahara Desert in a number of locations. The Atacama Desert, a lot of snow in different places. Wyoming. Snow, Alaska. Snow, New England. Snow. And it's very it's very interesting because sometimes I will say to people that are just starting sand driving I was telling some rebel rally gals this year when I was giving them driving tips.


[00:55:06.760] - Sue Mead

Think about it like snow and get your footing, but then figure out what kind of speed you can carry and again, when to go slow and when to speed up. But as you know, one thing that happens with sand and dunes and heat, in the morning, you have a much harder pack sand. And then in the hot spots or in the afternoon, that same sand when it's warm, you're going to sink into more. And we can have the same thing with snow, right?


[00:55:42.680] - Big Rich Klein

Yes, absolutely.


[00:55:48.020] - Sue Mead

So I started both ends of the spectrum and I did as much of each as I could. And I made a name for myself while I was having fun. Some of it, to be honest with you, was I did a lot of adventure and my name got out there. I was writing from many different publications, newspapers. I had a column called Get Off the Road that went to 200 newspapers at one time. And I started to write for different magazines. But it was my friends that made a tremendous difference. And then I raced with Darren Skilton in 1999 in the Arablest town 250. And that was a marker. And we were in a Kia Sportage because I didn't know Darren. Christine Overstreet, who was working for Kia at the time, got the two of us together and she was looking for publicity. But I had done a little bit of offroading with Rod and my first Baja 1000, which I just skipped over. We'll have to go back to that. But all of a sudden I was hooked up with Darren and a different world opened up. And I want to tell you my story of Darren, but I realized I'd like to go back and tell you what it was like to show up for the Baja 1000 and Rod Hall and his Hummer H.


[00:57:36.110] - Sue Mead

One, I had to prove to Rod that I could get those mammoth tires. I could get one in the event that we had a flat off and get it back on the spindle on the back of the truck. And let me tell you, that was a lot of work. And as you know, it's not just lifting it, it's technique on how to lift it and get it up. But Rod and I were going to do the second half of the drive and the truck was going to be brought to us in San Felipe. And we got there and we got word that the Hummer was down and it was in a dry wash and it had run out of fuel. And so the guys chasing the truck had to go in and fuel it and it was going to be late. And I remember looking over at Rod in this hotel room and thinking, oh my gosh, I am with the winningest racer of the Baja 1000 and we're not going to win. By the time that truck got there, we were 2 hours down, and I remember being a little sort of dismayed, a little sad, because I thought and Rod, he wasn't thrown by it at all.


[00:59:02.550] - Sue Mead

I mean, honestly, not thrown by it at all. And I kept saying, Are you doing okay? Yeah, we'll be fine. We'll be fine. Don't worry. I thought, we're 2 hours down. So I got in the Hummer with him, and we got in at midnight, and I had no idea what to expect, even though I'd been through some Camel trophies that was not high speed, and certainly there were times that were jarring. We took off over The Whoops as coming out of San Felipe, and I couldn't believe how painful it was. It was like being in a pickup truck and ramming into a rock or a couch every 20 seconds for a period of time, and then 30 seconds, and then 50 seconds as The Whoops changed, I couldn't believe. And I thought, I have no idea why anyone would find this fun. This will do me, and I'm done. When I'm finished with this ride, I'm done. Well, a little did I know. I learned so much. The other thing that started to happen was now we're 2 hours behind, people would go by us, and I would think, Rod, what are you doing? People are going by us.


[01:00:31.420] - Sue Mead

And he would look at me and cast his eyes in this wonderful spirited way. He was so good natured and fun and funny. He would say to me, they're going by us. They're going by us now, but pretty soon we'll be going by them. And half an hour down the track, or an hour down the track, we'd go by that person, and they'd be pulled off fixing something. And I'd think, wow. Because sometimes they were driving faster or too fast. But other than going over the finish line in first place on that race, what I'll always remember is that Rod had trained me the night before, and he said, we're going to be running up the beach of the Pacific Coast as the sun comes up in the morning, and we're going to have a cup of coffee. And I said, what? He said, yes, I'm going to train you right now how to have it, and you're going to keep the coffee in your race suit pocket overnight. And I said, okay. And he said, here's the coffee, and it was a little caffeine. Here's one for you, and here's one for me, and you put that in your pocket, and when the sun comes up, I'm going to say sumi.


[01:02:01.880] - Sue Mead

Let's have a cup of coffee. And lo and behold, he did. And he made me practice how he was going to put his hand out, and they got it. And I put that in, and he'd say, okay, now let's have our cup of coffee. And I will never forget how that moment in time where the whoops and the pain, the 2 hours down the world went away, and it was magical to be driving up the Pacific beach as the sun came up. In the morning with someone who had won so many races and was in to the joy of it, not just let's slam up the beach and cut people off. So that was my first off road race, obviously set the stage. And I did a couple other offroad adventures and races and then I was asked to go with Darren Skilton and we did the Terriblestown 250. We broke down in the middle of we got stuck in a drywash that someone sent us into and we got horribly stuck and Darren was pretty frustrated and I just said, hey, let me jump out and see if I can find some rocks or whatever.


[01:03:37.390] - Sue Mead

And was there trying to be very encouraging. We got out of that and then in the middle of the night and it was freezing cold as the desert can be, I believe it was I'm trying to think it was a December it was a December race and we were so cold with fuel line, there was a leak in a fuel line. And so Darren had to call. We couldn't have help on the course, he had to make calls and our guys had to send someone in who was still running to bring us fuel. And it was really cold and we had fuel all over our hands as we tried to fix things. And Darren looked at me and he said, look, I'm going to get you a ride out of here. This is no fun. And I said, oh, Contrera, I'm not leaving, this is fun, I'm cold and I wish we weren't in this predicament, but I'm not leaving. And at the end of that race I had said to Darren, what's your next move? And he said, I would like to do the Dakar. And I said to him, you're going to think I'm crazy because I'm a baby in the babe in the woods with this, but I'd love to do the Dacar myself to be honest with you.


[01:05:01.670] - Sue Mead

And he called me a month later and said I liked your spunk, I like your enthusiasm, I like the fact that you didn't get in the next race car that came through that could fit you in it and take off on me and would you like to do the Deckar with me? So I did my first deck car in 2000, the following year with Darren, darren and I, I was his navigator copy lot, as they say, and Deckar speaks. And our second car was driven by the famous Kurt LeDuke who's also an off road hall of famer and we started at the Eiffel Tower. It was set up in honor of the millennium to start in Paris, as the Peri Dakar once did and we went all the way to the pyramids of Egypt. We put our cars on the boat at the port of La Harve. And then we started formally in Dakar, Senegal. And that was an adventure. You can read in one of my books, and when I do the big book, it will be one of the top adventures, because part way across Africa, there was a terrorist threat as we approached the Sahara.


[01:06:23.030] - Sue Mead

We were at the beginning of the Sahara, we were in Niger, and the French Foreign Ministry and the CIA uncovered a plot of 350 men hiding out that were Islamic dissident terrorists. And they wanted to do harm to us. And why? To make a political statement. And they had been marauding and murdering, so it was credible. And we had to be airlifted from Naomi, Niger, where we hold up for four days, all of our race cars, helicopters, cooking gear, personal gear, and all of us were airlifted over the course of two days of Russian Antonoff and 747 to Libya for safety. Wow. Yeah. That's been one of my greatest adventures. Was it frightening to land at an air base in Sabah, Libya? Yes. And there were men in Green Berets with AK 47s that saw us off the airplane. And I was pretty panicked that night that we slept at that military base on the ground. And we then finished our drive, and I think everyone on that deck are cried. When we saw on the skyline, we saw the pyramids of Egypt. I was just with Kurt LeDuke at this year's Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame dinner, and we told that story again and we cried.


[01:08:15.300] - Sue Mead

It was quite an adventure, to say the least.


[01:08:21.220] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, I can't even imagine something like that. The stress that that must be when the military shows up to escort you because of the danger.


[01:08:38.280] - Sue Mead

And we were going to go through a section of Libya on our way to Egypt, but it would not have been at a military air base. And the decar organizers had worked that all out so that there were private encampments. This was a very different thing, and it was a credible terrorist threat. It came at a cost of $15 million to airlift us. And my greatest worry was that my family back home would hear, and that's often a worry for me, and I think for some of us that do adventures. As you know, Chris Collard, who's also in the off road Motorsports Hall of Fame, is your friend. I helped champion him, along with Mark Smith to get in. And Chris is one of the greatest four wheel drive adventures. I encouraged him to come in, stop his day job, and come into this career because he was so good at what he did. He had much greater background when he came in than I did, and he was a photographer. But Chris and I've talked about it. We did an adventure a couple of years ago across Australia. And I remember him calling his wife susie in placerville from Birdsville as we headed out into the great Simpson Desert with some dangers.


[01:10:03.850] - Sue Mead

And he wouldn't be able to speak to Susie for I believe it was five days then. But I was looking at a post that he just posted on his trip to Antarctica. And I think in the midst of some of the great adventures, one of the hardest things for me, one of the fears, has been not about my safety, although I sure care about it and the safety of my teammates, but really about the worry for people back home. And if they hear that I'm in a location, I've been in a few, where there's been something going on, that's a danger. And I certainly had some few little terrace events as part of my four wheeling career because I've put myself out. And I've now been to 72 countries and as many of us that have been Baja racers, both the 1000 or in the Mexican 1000, there can be some once in a while. There can be a few tough things that direction. Mostly it's been great. I've had a few moments that have been a little hair raising. More so in the early days when there would be a whole dug to try to literally trip somebody up.


[01:11:40.660] - Sue Mead

But these days the course has been pretty clear. But I remember training one time and coming across an airplane in the middle of nowhere that had landed somewhere in the sand and a few guys and it sure was a bit of a drug running operation. But I don't want people to be afraid of going to the Baja because it's a wonderful place filled with wonderful people. But if you put yourself out and you start to travel the world I've been in Saudi Arabia two and a half months in the last two and a half years and people are really worried about that. And then I have tried to quell their worries and say we now live with a higher level of danger in our own country. Which is sad to say. And sometimes the best place we can be is in the backcountry floor wheeling, right?


[01:12:43.640] - Big Rich Klein

Absolutely. I try to stay out of cities anymore.


[01:12:48.540] - Sue Mead

I do as well. I do as well, definitely. I've learned a lot. My Camel Trophy years taught me a lot of survival skills training how to put a vehicle fire out, how to treat a teammate that has had a machete go wound, deep gash in their leg or other various things that we've come across. I like having the first day survival skills training for myself and for others. But some of that training has also helped me to think about what to do when I'm in Charles de Gaulle Paris airport and think, okay, I've even had some handgun training. What happens if something happens right now? What do I want to do to keep myself safe? And then who do I want to save. If I want to make that decision, and how do I do that? So I've often tried to compliment for willing without in any way taking anything from track races. A lot of people in my early years would say, you're just tearing up the road, you're just tearing up the backcountry. What value is that? And I was on the tread Lightly board of directors at one time. And I remember I came up with this notion that no one criticized the Indy 500.


[01:14:41.060] - Sue Mead

It was a test bed. It is a test bed for fuels and lubricants and tires. And what I started to say to people was, my first offroad race with Rod Hall, we were testing high intensity discharge lights and night vision. Those quickly became available as an option or standard on high end vehicles. And we wouldn't even we don't even really talk about those necessarily today because they're so integrated. And what I tell people all the time is off road racing is a test bed for many manufacturers and many who support many racers, and for many aftermarket companies and folks who want to put their vehicles through the test. But the other thing I like to tell people is you have a crash driving the Indy 500, you have an ambulance pretty close by, really close by, and maybe a helicopter that's going to pick you up and get you to help as quickly as they can. When you're off road racing, your fellow racers and sometimes folks along a track, or if you're in the middle of a desert, your fellow racers are going to be the first ones there, and your teammate, if your teammate is fine.


[01:16:16.720] - Sue Mead

And I really am very proud, I guess I would say, of taking the years to learn the skills and taking like, frostbite and Hypothermia classes and Igloo building when I was going to fly through the Iditarod, literally took that as a class, but to be prepared and to not be a liability. And we do know we lose people, which is always just so tragic, but we lose a lot of people on the highway and in their everyday life. And many of us, including me, would say, if I'm going to go, let that be the way, and the day that I'm out on some great adventure.


[01:17:16.480] - Big Rich Klein

Yes, I think that we all, or most of us, would like to, if it's going to end, doing what you love to do. I think that as a racer, somebody in the vehicle strapped in, especially in a vehicle that is gone through tech or built properly, the likelihood is less. There's always that chance. We had Zandy Williams from Ultra four, and he raised dirt right as well with us, who passed away at Crandon this year. But you just never know when something like that's going to happen. One wrong bounce or land impact, but typically, once you're in the car, you're the safest. Down in Baja, the biggest concern I always have is driving the highways while you're chasing the race or, you know, I mean, and it doesn't matter if you're with a team or you're a spectator or your media, you're still following the team, the teams as they go down the course. And that's where most of the accidents happen.


[01:18:40.220] - Sue Mead

You're absolutely right. And I heard that. And in my six Baja one thousand s, the only accident in a Baja was with Darren Skelton's brother Gavin, who I believe fell asleep at the wheel in the middle of the night and just drifted and had a crash and survived it well, but with some injury and that's also there. But for the grace of God go we who are racing. And I have so much respect for our chase teams, for having been both a driver and co driver for everyone who is associated with the race. Because if you're doing a race like the Baja 1000, non stop people are staged throughout the course. The roads can be dangerous. They're poorly lit, they're off camber. There are people who come at you in the night, whether you're racing or on the road, as you know, with one headlight instead of two, and you don't know which one it is. It can be dangerous. And as you know, we lost another young man this year who was a photographer, and that can happen. It was just so tragic. He was a young man and I thought of all of us, and I reached out to Barbara Rainey right away and I said, Barbara, do you know if it's any of our folks?


[01:20:23.890] - Sue Mead

And I said, it doesn't matter who it is. I just want to know for all the people I know and love, which included you and Chris and many other John Reddy and many other people. And then I realized a life is a life. And this young man was, I believe, 21, and he was in a little photo tent to the side of the track. And so that was just so tragic. But as you know, it happens on the way to the race. It happens for all of us on the road as well in our everyday lives. But back to getting me closer to home here to today. I began to do some more adventures. I was invited on record setting drives across Australia in a vehicle that was going around the world. I did the Australia leg in a Ford Focus and just a variety of things, as I said, going to 80 below in a 1995 Ford Explorer and the Land Rover Discovery that went around the world. I drove that and a record setting drive with some folks that were raising money for Parkinson's research. I drove from Singapore to Bangkok, and that was very meaningful for me.


[01:21:55.950] - Sue Mead

We started at the Parkinson's Institute in the US and ended there. I only did the one section with them, and we had a little episode that I won't go into, but just to say we were in badged cars and some of the guys on the expedition went to a place where no trespass. Don't do that folks. And there were some folks that appropriately took issue and shot guns above and below their feet and just many different experiences and episodes. But back to the Parkinson's, raising money for Parkinson's research, I really enjoy seeing what happens in our world where with the Baja 1000 and Mexico, lots of folks have donated money and helped build missions and help build schools. I know walker Evans does some. And.


[01:23:03.920] - Big Rich Klein

Cameron Steele.


[01:23:05.460] - Sue Mead

Cameron Steele. And Ivan, ivan Stewart has a school as well. Thanks. And again, these are fun to be coming up with these names because these are all warmhofe inductees. So it's really another whole aspect to offroading and all of a sudden I've done a bunch of this and that and I was nominated by Mark Smith to become an inductee into the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007, which was before I had my Deckar win that was so incredible, which was 2011. But Ormhoff inducted me as a pioneer in the field of journalism. And what that meant was my journalistic career. Being a writer and photographer, starting out with a Sears Canon Camera pack and typing on a typewriter had now taken me my vigor, my illness, which motivated me to try to see the world before I died. And all the help, all the hands of men that held me up when I was inducted into Ormhoff that night, I could barely contain myself to speak because I realized so many men had put me on their shoulders and carried me forward to that point. And that because of being a woman. I got some rides because of my vigor and the things I had done.


[01:25:03.460] - Sue Mead

But also sometimes having a woman on the team for some manufacturers started to have a bit of a ring to it or play to it. And so many men were just really happy to champion me and teach me even when I knew nothing. And when I stood there the night that I was inducted, I was overwhelmed by the fact that 90% of those men, and maybe more, would never be in the off road Motorsports Hall of Fame. And that I was not because I was better than them, some were so much more talented than me and different arenas, but that I had taken on this career and had learned how to offroad race and learned how to do Camel Trophies and had now done record setting drives. But really the value to Ormhoff was also that I publicized it and I think of the Jean Calvin and the early dusty times and many of the ways that the word got out and all the different roles that people play from advocacy to all the different motor sports. But I'm so appreciative that Ormhoff at that point rewarded me for my journalism career in the way that it dovetailed with offroading.


[01:26:40.760] - Sue Mead

And I then went on. I had made up my mind when I did my first deck car that I wanted to be the driver of record, and that became a goal for me. And I went to the deck car, the last deck car sort of on the European continent at that point. It was starting in portugal, and it was going to end in it was going to go through Mauritania and end in Deckar. And I went the year before with or I had gone with Mitsubishi motorsports, thought of setting up all women's offroading team and realized if I did that, I'd be spending at least half of my year working with manufacturers. And I wanted to just keep on with the wide adventure swap that I was on. And then I decided that I wanted to throw my hat into the ring and I went to the Portugal deck car as a little bit of a support driver for VW. And as you might remember, the portugal deck car start for decar was also disrupted. And that was a year that didn't go off the start because there were nine people killed in Mauritania, a family of five French folks picnicking on the side of the road, and four Mauritania military as a threat to dekhar coming through Mauritania.


[01:28:18.160] - Sue Mead

And that was Al Qaeda. And then that's the derivation or how the origin of how the deck are. The following year moved to south America. I went back in 2010 with VW and got to see the terrain of south America from Buenos Aires over to the ocean in Chile through the Atacama Desert. And I decided that I would go back the following year if I could find a way and to be the driver of record. And I hooked up with Ford and was able to get a 2010 Raptor. It was a V six, which was really great because the fuel economy not having the eight was something that was good. And after sort of casting my net a little bit, I landed up with Darren Skilton again, who said that he would co drive with me and he would also be our team manager. And he very quickly and thoughtfully took over the reins of helping Stewart. Chris Collard became our media manager and came with us. Troy Johnson of the Fab school, who's someone I love to give a shout out to. He had been with us on our 2000 deck car. He came along with one of the other guys at the shop, james, whose last name I'm forgetting.


[01:29:56.010] - Sue Mead

But we went in 2011 and we were the last vehicle standing in our class, and so we were winners. I got to take home driver of record. And one of the things I love to say is that I beat Robbie Gordon.


[01:30:21.660] - Big Rich Klein



[01:30:23.260] - Sue Mead

Because Robbie was competing that year and he had a really difficult thing happen he broke down before, on day six, before the start of that section, and he waited for his part to come. And by the time he did, he had timed out. And so the last half, the last six days of the 2011 deckard, darren and I were the only two in the running. And if you think that's easy, it is not, because it's yours to lose on your nickel. And we had some tough times, and you can't time out. You've got to go off the start at your start time, and you have to be in in time before it to refuel and yourself and your vehicle and get mechanic work done. And in my case, I had to go to the medical tent the night that we spent the night out. I had a little hole that had been rubbed skin off my back from my hans device, believe it or not. And so we went across the finish line first, and Darren and I shared the driving. Darren is not yet in the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. He might very well get there, because I think you might have heard this year, just recently, the news that his Sonora Rally is now going to be on the Dakar circuit.


[01:31:59.830] - Sue Mead

And he has really, who's been an offroad racer for many years, he's done a number of Dacars, and he's now made the Sonora put a tent peg in the sand with a Sonora Rally. So Darren and I went, we had a great team again. Chris Carlord was documenting the whole thing, and it was one of the finest days of my life. I felt so fortunate, so blessed, so fortunate. We went over the podium with a broken suspension mount, and it was just an incredible experience. And I've done only a bit of racing since I did the Gazelle Rally. And I quickly learned during the prologue, it's not my kind of competition. I keep getting asked by my friend Emily Miller to do the Rebel Rally, and I keep saying, Emily, I did the Gazelle Rally, and I was lost eight out of nine days with my that's right.


[01:33:15.880] - Big Rich Klein

If you do the rebel and you get lost, you get me, because that's my job, is to come sleep.


[01:33:23.460] - Sue Mead

Okay, in that case, that's not how I want to see you.


[01:33:28.650] - Big Rich Klein

No, it's true. I always tell all the ladies you want to see me first thing in the morning, because I'm typically the first green checkpoint, and then you do not want to see me the rest of the day.


[01:33:41.900] - Sue Mead

That's right. Well, the Gazelle Rally in Morocco, at the end of the day, I was with Shannon Marshner, who worked for Mercedes Benz, and she was my navigator. And we were just lost every day for eight of the nine days. And Emily would just she frowned. She'd pull her hair out night after night. We were so late that the food tent would have maybe croissants left and I was too tired to shower, and I just go to bed in my suit, race suit, and oh, my gosh, it was but the last day. We were the first in the what was called the newcomers class. Shannon and I finally got it, and but I sort of vowed that I would never do it again. I like going fast. I like racing. As you know, when you're racing, you still have to know where you're going and grow through rate points. And I do want to go speaking of waypoints, I want to go back to Robbie Gordon. I robbie was such a and still is, was such a hero in the decar circuit. And when I did the 2010 dakar, oh, my gosh, the crowds were fawning over him.


[01:35:05.910] - Sue Mead

I remember him going over the start in Buenos Aires. I do remember him going over the start and then backing up after he was announced and just torquing on full power and putting his vehicle in the air right off the podium. And I thought, oh, my gosh, you've got 10,000 miles to go here. What is he doing?


[01:35:26.620] - Big Rich Klein

He's a showman.


[01:35:28.460] - Sue Mead

He is a showman. But anyway, I landed up finishing, and Robbie didn't. And so I would jokingly say I beat Robbie, but I would always say, look, Robbie is a far better racer than I am. Robbie beats himself at the end of the day. I couldn't beat him. But in 2000, I'm going to say 17 and 18. I worked with Amy Lerner during the Mexican 1000 and the Baja 1000 on a movie on Rod Hall. And Rod finished his 50th Baja 1000 on his 80th birthday. A lot of tears there. He was in a wheelchair by that point, as you probably know. But I was in the car with Rod for a little bit. I was in the car with Shelby hall for a little bit, and I had some downtime where I wasn't with the film crew. And I went out on both of those years, rode with Robbie. The first time I was going to get 50 miles with Robbie, I went to him and said, hey, can I get in the first section, go 50 miles with you. I'd love to do that. And he said, sure. And we got to the checkpoint, and I think it was Kellen, who was his Walsh, who was this co driver at that point, I think wasn't there yet.


[01:37:14.310] - Sue Mead

Robbie just blew through the time, and he looked at me and he said, you know what? You're really good. You want to go the rest of the way? And I was with him for 500 miles that day, and I did some praying. I am kidding, let me tell you. I also had to say what I learned was native Americans would embrace the day that they died and say, this is a fine day to die. I said things like that because Robbie would say to me, have you ever gone this fast at 130? And I said, yes, I've driven that fast on off roads. Have you gone this fast at 135? And then we got into the said, no, I haven't. And it was both true. But I also felt like I don't want to go faster right now. We were in his Gordini, and I rode with him the next year for another I can't remember, I think it was 300 miles. And I'm very fond of Robbie. I respect him a lot and that he put on his stadium truck racing and initiated some things. He's a very talented racer. I don't know that I'll be right seat with him again.


[01:38:45.180] - Sue Mead

He knows that. But I'm very fond of him.


[01:38:52.560] - Big Rich Klein

He drives on the edge.


[01:38:55.280] - Sue Mead

Well, I said to Darren when my first time behind the wheel was in the Prim 300. And Darren gave me lap one. So 100 miles in the Kia because we were on our way to Africa. And he said, you need to know how to drive this Kia in the event that I torque my wrist or am sick. So I got Lap one. And I remember being at the start and Darren saying to me through the helmet, so what do you think? How are you feeling? And I said, I'm really excited and I'm a little scared. And by that point I'd done a lot of codriving, so but I said, I'm just a little scared. And he said, good, keep that. Keep them both. And I said, but what do I do? I don't know how to drive the edge. And he said, look, sue, learn how to drive the edge and just back off a little. And once in a while, honestly, you're going to go over it, but learn how to drive right up to it. And you're right. That's what Robbie does. And it's paid off for him at times. We all have seen videos of him doing complete rollovers and landing on his feet again and shaking himself off.


[01:40:24.850] - Sue Mead

And his co driver couldn't get out. And then he'd get out and check everything and say, okay, we go again and get going again. But, yeah, let me just say it's a different technique from Rod Hall, who also would practice tortoise and the hair. He would say, we're the tortoise, they're the hair. And he also taught me when we were racing, one of the techniques he taught me was with throttle control. He would say just my inclination was to see something that was a ditch or something that with a change of terrain and brake. And he would say, first of all, pick a speed and stick with it if you can. There are times you're going to have to break, but stick with that speed because you don't want to be on throttle, off throttle, on throttle, off throttle, because you're torquing your drive line. And that was one piece of advice he gave me. And the other thing he saw very quickly was what I had learned was to break through a ditch. And he taught me you break before the ditch and you hold your brake and then you let it up so your compressed suspension pops to life.


[01:41:51.740] - Sue Mead

And you're not going through that ditch with your suspension compressed.


[01:41:56.760] - Big Rich Klein



[01:41:57.090] - Sue Mead

So I'm telling you things, you know, but really valuable tips and tortoise and the hair really worked well for Rodhaw, one of my absolute heroes.


[01:42:12.640] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah. Just talking on the technique of driving, it really has come down to depending on what class you drive in now.


[01:42:23.940] - Sue Mead



[01:42:25.540] - Big Rich Klein

Whether it's like the top class at ultra four, like at king of the hammers, or in the desert racing where it's like the trophy trucks or whatever trick trucks or whatever each organization calls them, they're so good that you can't say, oh, that guy is going to break. So I can just take my time in the lower classes, especially after you get past class one and the trophy truck, there can be a lot of that in there where you can make up two or 3 hours. But in those top classes, it's like, who doesn't break? They're driving the edge the whole way.


[01:43:15.140] - Sue Mead

Yeah, I've been reading I'm so glad you pointed that out, because it's a different crazily. I was going to say ridiculous. It's not ridiculous, it's just the way of our world today. Off road racing has become many different things, and thank goodness there's still lots of classes where every man and woman can compete. Right. But the big money that people have to spend to be in a trophy truck and the difference between those classes and class three and class eight, both of which I've raised in, the difference is night and day. And I've been reading more and more as I read the finished notes from folks like with this year's Baja 1000, and see that what they're saying is we couldn't lift at all. At all. Sometimes they're full bore, although sometimes somebody breaks down or briefly, has something happened? And then they make it through and they can still be a winner. But mostly those classes, as you know, they're just straight out the whole time. And honestly, obviously, that's not going to be me ever as a driver. And honestly, I've wanted to do some racing with the red lines. Shane red line is a good friend.


[01:44:59.770] - Sue Mead

He helped me in my aviation career. I helped him a little bit when he and Jack got into some offroading and they just flew through it. They had the time and the dollars to build really good vehicles and they started in some of the bottom classes and really worked their way up. And I wanted to go race with them or be in the helicopter with Shane because he flies over the races. But there are times when I see Jack flying through courses and think it's one thing to be the driver. And it can be a very different thing to be a co driver. And that's why I'm so glad that the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame has now begun to recognize co drivers. And our whole field has begun to realize for so many years, the only person that got any publicity was the driver of record.


[01:46:19.600] - Big Rich Klein



[01:46:20.180] - Sue Mead

And I was fortunate because I was writing up when I was the co driver navigator, I was writing up the story, so I always got myself in it. But anyway, well, I have told you a lot of stories. My final one right now. Unless you've got other questions. My final story is going to be that over the last couple of years, I decided that I really wanted to give back that I'd done six Baja, one thousand S, a couple of Mexican, one thousands the Nevada 1000, a couple of deck cars. Three decades at that point, full course. Two as a competitor. And I decided I didn't have any interest in redoing the same thing. And I thought, if there's something really new that comes down the pike, I would like to do it. But it's so much fun, but it's a lot of time ahead of time during it and after, it's a little bit aggressive on your body. And I fashioned myself being able to do this as long as Rod Hall did not as well, but as long and who knows if that's going to happen. But Amy Lerner asked me if I wanted to do a race in the Middle East with her.


[01:47:40.750] - Sue Mead

And I said, I don't love to be your team manager. And when she signed up to do the 2021 to think of the dates and 2022 Decar Rally, I was with her. And honestly, I learned a lot because just like I'm not a Rebel rally or Gazelle rally racer, I'm not a TSD racer for pleasure. I also did not think that in a million years I would be enamored with the vintage class of the Deckar. And I had seen some vintage vehicles in the middle of nowhere on the Mexican 1000, a variety of crazy vintage vehicles, including a couple of Porsches, would come through the sand. And I'd think, what the heck, where did this come from? But it didn't make me want to be in one or be part of their team. And when Amy started to make plans to do her first deck car, she was looking at a Range Rover, a Land Rover, and a Porsche 911. And when she told me that she thought she was going to go with the Range Rover, I said, thank God, you're not going to be in that 911 with a manual transmission in the desert.


[01:49:22.190] - Sue Mead

It's a rear drive, and my gosh, it's the size of a postage stamp. You don't want to be in an accident. And that and then the next day she called me and said, guess what? I bought and I was dismayed. I didn't tell her. I mean, she knew how I felt about it, but I didn't tell her until we finished the first year. I was out of my mind nervous about you. But what I learned is there is such a role for bringing back the Heritage vehicles. After all, the vintage class of the Dakar, which Classics just started two years ago, and my gosh, the first year I think there were 38 vehicles, and then this last year there were 50 some that registered and now I think they've cut off the registration. My numbers aren't perfect on this right now, but they had more than 100 requests for entry. And I think within that Classics class this year, I've only looked at the course in a few videos of this year's Deck, our presentation, which was last week. But what is really exciting, and again, back to let's make this be a sport, let's make it be an adventure that allows people to bring back the heritage.


[01:51:00.080] - Sue Mead

Those were the early Deckar winners. Jackie Eeks in the portion 911, who I think he's coming back this year. He came and visited us last year at the camp and I had raced with Jackie in 2000. And I'm so excited that I was able to join Amy for not one but two years. And by the way, I was really proud of her this year. She had a stage win. And for people who haven't done that car, a stage win is a big deal. It's a really big deal. She had some misfortune with a stuck issue and a tire issue and didn't place as well as she looked like she was going to place in the beginning. But that's when we go to one of the things that Kimmel Trophy taught me and even Rod Hall to finish his to win, right?


[01:52:07.770] - Big Rich Klein

Yes, absolutely.


[01:52:10.720] - Sue Mead

So that's where I am today. I was on course. I also went over for the all women's rally jamil in Saudi Arabia this March as a journalist and brought John Reddy and Amy Lerner with me. We were quite an adventure, some team in our own little car. I got some speeding tickets that came to me after the fact that I had to pay, but we had so much fun and now Amy is sitting out this year's deck car. I had hooked up with someone and was going to be part of an all women's training team for seven months, racing from Italy to Morocco to Dubai and the Dakar. That all fell apart. Not a great story, but it was going to be a movie. The good news is a number of us that had the passion to do that have continued. And it looks like the movie might be in a different format for next year. And it looks like I'll have a role with that. And then training for that, of course, would begin sometime next year and it wouldn't be. Till 2023. No, it would be 2024. That's the funny thing. Deckar is a year ahead of time.


[01:53:38.460] - Sue Mead

This year's deck car is 2023. Right.


[01:53:41.330] - Big Rich Klein



[01:53:43.020] - Sue Mead

So thank you for asking me a number of good questions and just letting me ramble.


[01:53:55.520] - Big Rich Klein

Those are the best ones. Those are the best ones, though, because you get all the information in the stories. I love it.


[01:54:03.220] - Sue Mead

Well, I took you on an off road adventure on your podcast for the Offroad Motor Sports Hall of Fame. And after all, that's what it's really about. And I think the big takeaways for me are I had a zest for adventure, learned how to take a few photos, learned how to write a caption. And the next thing I knew, I was taught how to write a story and had the good fortune of being critically ill and caught off guard and thinking, if I get out of this hospital bed, what am I going to do? And realizing that one of my second greatest desire, other than my family and my daughter, was to see the world before I died. And I said, I'd get back to the pages I used to read National Geographics growing up, and I remember my first deck car through Africa feeling like I'm driving through the pages of National Geographic. And I never thought I'd be able to see the places I've seen and have the adventures that I've had and meet the people that I've met.


[01:55:30.540] - Big Rich Klein

That's awesome. I mean, that's what life should be. Too many people live day to day to just make ends meet. And while I give all the kudos in the world to the people that have done that and eke out a living so that they can survive, those that have stepped out and taken the risks and done something different so that they can actually live their life is incredible.


[01:56:14.600] - Sue Mead

Well, not everyone has an opportunity to have a health care or life changing moment where you're caught up short and then you come to that crossroads. And one of the things I've said to people is, I learned to say, seldom in life are you going to be given two parachutes, and sometimes you have to jump off the cliff with one. And remember, I was afraid of spiders, and I was afraid of heights. And sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff with one parachute and pray that you'll land. And if not, it'll be that day that we talked about, which is, this has been my adventure. And I never thought that when I was 35, and now I'm a little more than twice that, that there was a point when I was told, we're not sure we can save you. And to have the gift of not only the years and the people who have helped me, but to have had the gift of saying, I'm going to take this risk, and if I get out of this hospital bed. So I've been asked to write the book I was in the past. I've already have the title and all the stories.


[01:57:58.300] - Sue Mead

I just have to put it together and I can end with that. And that is it will be called Driving for My Life inner and Outer Journey.


[01:58:10.300] - Big Rich Klein

Nice. Everybody write that down.


[01:58:14.180] - Sue Mead

Yes. I just have to hold still and write it.


[01:58:16.900] - Big Rich Klein

But please do.


[01:58:17.860] - Sue Mead

It's such a metaphor for what driving can do for all of us.


[01:58:25.420] - Big Rich Klein

Absolutely. Well, with that, it's a great segue sumeed. Thank you so much for spending the day and recording this and talking with us and sharing your stories and life history and what were your motivation was. And that's all we can ask. Thank you.


[01:58:49.420] - Sue Mead

Well, I really appreciate that you took the time and had the interest, and I hope that I see you somewhere out there soon, but not at the end of the day. Waiting for me somewhere on the side of the trail.


[01:59:04.580] - Big Rich Klein

There you go. All right. You take care. Thank you.


[01:59:08.680] - Sue Mead

Thank you, Rich. Bye bye.


[01:59:09.930] - Big Rich Klein

Bye bye. Well, that's another episode of Conversations with Big Rich. I'd like to thank you all for listening. If you could do us a favor and leave us a review on any podcast service that you happen to be listening on or send us an email or text message or a Facebook message and let me know any. Ideas that you have or if there's anybody that you have that you think would be a great guest, please forward the contact information to me so that we can try to get them on. And always remember, live life to the fullest. Enjoying life is a must. Follow your dreams and live life with all the gusto you can. Thank you.