Former Four-Wheeler writer, Robin Stover gives us some insight on what it was like to travel during the heyday. Dakar, Baja, South Korea, it’s all there! Listen on your favorite podcast app. This is Episode 150 – feels like a milestone! Thank you for your support and encouragement!
2:56 – my first exposure to the off-road scene was on the Big Island
10:17 – there’s a story to every single repair, the beginning, the middle, and end
16:19 – they handed me the keys and said, “here, we want you to do part two.”
22:15 – Looking back I guess Baja would be the one thing that was the biggest takeaway
31:03 – we don’t want people coming home in coffins
34:50 – we got to go into tunnels that actually extend under North Korea
47:54 – Live coverage begins tomorrow of Top Truck Challenge, so I promptly quit my job…
57:40 – I feel like I aligned myself with the right person in life that really has his sh*t together
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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, 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 off road.
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[00:01:47.480] – Big Rich Klein
On today's episode of Conversations with Big Rich, we have Robin Stover. When I first met Robin was about 2002, 2004. Somewhere in there, maybe three. He was a freelance writer and photographer with Four Wheeler Magazine. He was also has worked as a marketing director and now he's I believe it Lavender Brothers Automotive.
[00:02:11.600] - Robin Stover
[00:02:12.370] - Big Rich Klein
And I want to say, hey, thanks for coming on board and being part of Conversations.
[00:02:18.380] - Robin Stover
No, thank you for having me. It's an honor.
[00:02:20.570] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, it's awesome. So let's start off right away. And where were you born and raised?
[00:02:27.140] - Robin Stover
Well, see, I was born in Aptos, which is a little town near Santa Cruz, California, and didn't spend a whole lot of time there. My parents were on the move, and basically I grew up in Hawaii. That's where my early childhood memories started. Which island lived? Big island for about five years. And then when my parents split up, I got kind of batted around between the Big Island and Oahu for about two years.
[00:02:55.070] - Big Rich Klein
[00:02:56.140] - Robin Stover
And that's where I first got my exposure to the off road scene was on the Big Island. We lived in a very remote area in the northern tip called Kohala, and one of our favorite things to do, my dad would take us out and has a subaru car and go splashing through the mud puddles on the back roads. That's kind of where my passion started for off road. Awesome activity. Yeah, it was cool. So that was a neat place to grow up and plenty of opportunities to get your tires in the mud and dirt there, especially if you know the locals.
[00:03:32.110] - Big Rich Klein
Right. That's what we did. We went to vacation there on the Big Island and we spent, I think it was close to two weeks. And what I realized is that the Big Island is not so big. It's two days every paved road.
[00:03:50.240] - Robin Stover
Yeah. You can definitely get around it in a couple of days.
[00:03:52.870] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, absolutely. Your parents went from Aptos they're outside of Santa Cruz over to Hawaii. Was that work wise?
[00:04:07.700] - Robin Stover
Yeah. So my dad was a classical musician, does Latin American style classical guitar.
[00:04:13.070] - Big Rich Klein
[00:04:13.960] - Robin Stover
He passed away four years ago, but in his era of his passion of guitar, he became one of the world's leaders in a particular genre, and that took him a lot of places like Hawaii where he could play at clubhouses and that sort of thing. He's also very accomplished in music. He's got many albums and books and long history and classical guitar music. So that was having him as my father. That kind of dragged us around to places where he could make money. And when my parents split up, my mom ended up getting in custody of my sister and I. And we moved back over to California, to La Quinta in the desert, Palm Desert area. And we spent a year there and then basically moved back up to the Bay Area where my family my mom went to high school. Right. And that's where her life was as a young adult. So we moved back into my grandfather's house in San Jose West Gatis area.
[00:05:13.750] - Big Rich Klein
Okay. Very familiar with that area.
[00:05:15.910] - Robin Stover
Yeah. And that's where I went to school, middle school on up to high school. A little bit of college there in the Bay Area as well. And then I moved down to La. When I got the job at Four Wheeler. And that was in about late 2002, early 2003.
[00:05:31.220] - Big Rich Klein
[00:05:32.720] - Robin Stover
That's really where my immersion into it. Before that, I had a Jeep in high school and I was into rock crawling. When I graduated from high school, I got a toe rag and started going to MOAB Easter Jeep safari every year and took on the whole rock crawling scene full on. And what you may not know is I actually started writing before I was writing for Four Wheeler. I started with a website that some local guys that I knew in the Bay Area had started called Twisted Axle.com. And that's why I got my early beginnings of writing articles.
[00:06:07.150] - Big Rich Klein
And what about what time frame was that?
[00:06:10.860] - Robin Stover
That was before I moved to La. So let's see, it'd be 2001 timeframe.
[00:06:16.900] - Big Rich Klein
Okay. Because if I remember I met you, I want to say it was at our Moon Rocks competition.
[00:06:26.160] - Robin Stover
Yeah. Maybe moon rock or the CALRocs event. That was up in Roseville or somewhere up there. Foothills of the Sierras Tahoe region.
[00:06:38.300] - Big Rich Klein
[00:06:38.900] - Robin Stover
Yeah, we did.
[00:06:41.540] - Big Rich Klein
But it was the early days, we were at Donner and then at Moon Rocks, and for some reason I thought it was there. And that was about 2003.
[00:06:53.480] - Robin Stover
Was it the Cabo Rock crawling thing that happened? Because I remember I think you were involved in that one, too, the one.
[00:07:01.260] - Big Rich Klein
In in down in outside Cabo Rocks?
[00:07:05.110] - Robin Stover
[00:07:05.680] - Big Rich Klein
No, that Baja Rocks one. I was not involved in that except that I sponsored Bob Roggy and Dustin Webster in the event CalRocs all over the vehicle.
[00:07:20.800] - Robin Stover
Yeah. Now that was the era that I got into it. The people that I looked up to at the time were the Ned Bacons of the world in the magazine world. Right. I was rooting for a spot in the magazines back then. That's why I started writing articles. I learned that that was a natural job you could get, and I went, wow, that's right up my alley. So I really targeted Four Wheeler because I'd been a reader for many years, and they happened to do an event right in Hollister Hills, which isn't too far from where I grew up in the Bay Area.
[00:07:58.170] - Big Rich Klein
[00:07:58.590] - Robin Stover
So it was tangible to actually go down there and get to know those guys, and that's exactly how I did it.
[00:08:06.930] - Big Rich Klein
So when you were in school, did you take a lot of English classes and try to become a writer then.
[00:08:13.730] - Robin Stover
Or something you picked up later? I actually hated school. It wasn't my thing at all. Yeah, I'm more of a hands on guy. So for me, the school thing was like I couldn't wait to get out and get into the real world and get my hands dirty and getting into writing, I guess. My dad's a writer, so I kind of had an knack for it just because of him. But it wasn't until I really saw it as a tangible, dream job that I focused my efforts in writing. I was in all the lower English classes in high school. I wasn't gearing myself up for college and becoming a writer. I had no concept for that, actually, until I learned about the job at Four Wheeler was a possibility. And at the time when they hired me, I got really lucky because they had to fill the spot and they were going to lose it if they didn't. And there was very few people rooting for that spot. I was one of two, basically, that applied for it and then they hired me. Excellent. Yeah, it was an amazing step up without a degree. And my deal with my boss at the time was actually to continue going to school for a journalism degree, which I continued down in Glendale at the community college while my first year at Four Wheeler I did.
[00:09:31.580] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. So do you just jump right into this? We tell a lot of our freelancers and people that write for us for the first time. We have a lot of people that first time exposure with our Four Low magazine. They go, how do you want it written? And Shelley is the one that came up with this because she does a lot of writing. She goes, Tell your story. She goes, I don't care how grammar, how your grammar is and your punctuation. She goes, I'll clean that up. You just tell your story in your words and it seems to have been working. What do you do when you were writing?
[00:10:17.320] - Robin Stover
Well, for me, it's very specific time of the day for me when my creative juices are really flowing and I can actually make an article come together quickly. And that's usually in the morning when I first get up. So that's when I generally do write. Now, at my current job, I'm writing a story for every single repair that we do. We do general automotive repair along with custom four by four buildups. When I'm doing general automotive repair, every customer has a concern that we're there to solve. So there's a story to every single repair, the beginning, middle and end. So I'm constantly telling stories so brief every day throughout my job, and I'll say this, when I have to write an in depth tech story or something, I work on it for probably four or five days in the morning. I'll take little snips at it in my free time and it all come together by the end. But I have to force myself to sit down and write an article. It's not something that I naturally want to do. Right. I don't gravitate to using words. I'm much more of a physical person. So it's definitely something I've learned of the craft over the years and kind of tuned my skills towards it, which really makes me a better guy at what I do as a service writer every day as far as explaining technical.
[00:11:41.450] - Big Rich Klein
Details to a customer, and I think that's important. I was in automotive repair for years with Sears and some other smaller shops, up to management, whereas training guys how to service, right? And it was making sure that they used the correct vernacular and described what was happening and not try to scare the customer. Back in the day, Sears got in a lot of trouble for that. Oh my God, you're going to die if you don't change your struts. That's not necessarily true. So it was more about being completely honest with the customer than it was the hard sell. And I always appreciate that when I run across that.
[00:12:32.340] - Robin Stover
Yeah, it's a difficult thing because the average consumer out there really doesn't know much about cars and they come into the problem and they're putting everything on the line that they hope that you're an honest shop to work with and do things right along the way. And I'm really fortunate to work with Toby, who has an amazing reputation in our area and is basically poised for success because of word of mouth. So it makes my job a little easier. But don't get me wrong, it's a lot. I mean, I kind of pride myself in having the Mac to bring the customer along for the ride and educate them about their problem if they so choose to know. Not every customer is that customer, but from customer service standpoint, I'm all about helping someone figure out and understand what the nature of their problem is and then lead them to the solution.
[00:13:22.970] - Big Rich Klein
[00:13:24.420] - Robin Stover
It's a lot of fun to me.
[00:13:25.810] - Big Rich Klein
So when you stepped into Four Wheeler, do you remember what your first your first article got printed?
[00:13:36.540] - Robin Stover
Yeah. So immediately I was under the management of John Thompson and the first thing he did was he gave me the Rpm news column of four wheeler and instantly I had to immerse myself in press releases and what's going on in the industry, what's the buzz and new vehicles to things that are going on from like trail use and just industry wide. What's the news of the industry? That was from my beat at the first. So I remember doing a lot of studying and trying to make my craft as good as I could at that time, which I didn't know a whole lot, so I was learning a lot from my colleagues. Luckily, at that time, we were all in one building downtown in La. Not downtown, but on Wilshire Boulevard. A lot of these guys kind of were friends and we'd all go to lunch and stuff and I got to learn a lot from the Fred Williams and David Kennedy's and John Cappas of the world. Early on, working at Four Wheeler that luckily helped propel me to be successful at it.
[00:14:50.740] - Big Rich Klein
What was one of those early awe moments for you with the magazine where you went besides getting the job?
[00:15:00.020] - Robin Stover
Yeah, I guess it was getting the free rein one thing, getting your office in a high rise without a college degree and you can look out the window and see the Hollywood sign. You feel pretty special. And then the realization of, well, there's any given month, it's 300 to 500,000 readers at that time that we're basically reading Four Wheeler magazine regularly. That's a huge projection. Right. You're capturing a huge audience. So for someone with very little experience at it, it was kind of a big deal. And I took it pretty serious. I mean, I was working probably 13, 14 hours a day, mainly because I didn't like having to deal with La. Traffic getting home. So I just put it in my life into that job and I moved down there kind of on the whim, hoping I'd get the job, and I ended up getting it. And so I was doing everything in my power to keep it, and it was definitely challenging. The first three years was a lot of both political negotiating and just picking the right things to get myself involved in. It took me a long time to kind of fit in, but once I did, I think really the reality was when they kind of me with a build up of my own to do, right?
[00:16:19.490] - Robin Stover
I remember it was Craig Coroni was in charge of the TLJ 97 Jeep Wrangler project build up that four wheeler had gotten. It was a dollar vehicle from Chrysler, and the magazine did a mile on it. And I was reading that my senior year in high school. So I knew all about the 97 Tljeep, and when they handed me the keys to it and said, here, we want you to do part two, that was kind of the pinch me moment when I went, wow, this is real. I'm really living my dream here. And besides going to all the cool rock crawling events, I got to do some amazing things. That first year, luckily, that really propelled my career. Going down to Baja and getting my feet wet down there was kind of the beginning, and then through the process, meeting all the people that run all the businesses that make it all happen, that's really where you start to grow the connections and networking ability of that career field. I was pretty aggressive in networking and getting myself out there. And they basically pay for your travel, right? So I was traveling 80% to 90% of the time.
[00:17:37.540] - Robin Stover
And I mean, while I had a room, I was renting the house. I was never, ever there. Whether I was moving on events for the magazine or going to take tours of factories to learn how things were made, there was always some opportunity coming along and more so than you could do with it. So it was an amazing place to start out. As far in this industry, you have the keys to pretty much any company that you want. You can get in and learn anything you want. And I did. I took advantage of it wholeheartedly.
[00:18:17.140] - Big Rich Klein
What was kind of the favorite spot that you got a chance to go to and either write about or experience?
[00:18:28.360] - Robin Stover
Well, I luckily got going down in Baja, right? And that to me, is the holy grail of offroad, really. It's kind of the wild west and anything goes and there's a level of danger that comes with it. So if you're a thrill seeker there's that offers you, and I don't know, going down to San Felipe and chasing the 250, that's one of my favorite pastimes doing the peninsula runs. Anything in a higher end race vehicle down there was right up my alley, and I got to do a lot of that. Fortunately, it's got to be Baja. I would say I was doing rubicon and moab and all that on my own, but really the high end desert racing stuff is what really the keys unlocked for me that I probably wouldn't have gone there otherwise.
[00:19:23.740] - Big Rich Klein
Were you able to attach yourself to a team when you went down there, or were you just kind of hovering? Or what was the modus operandi when you were down there?
[00:19:36.620] - Robin Stover
Well, it starts with what makes sense for our readership and for us, really. The trophy trucks for two wheel drive vehicles, they don't even get coverage in four wheelers in the news section. So we kind of had to focus on four wheel drive capable vehicles. So for me, it was stock full, because really, the higher end trucks didn't have all wheel drive yet. At least it wasn't well figured out, so there wasn't a lot of guys doing it. So for me, it was stock full and or seven, or there's a few guys that I could race with, like early on, Donahoe and the FJ cruiser that they campaigned, I got to do some racing in that paint. Croker and his dodge ram cummins. That was kind of my very first race. We did the 500 in that one and then 1000 thereafter. And we were actually the first Cummins powered diesel vehicle to ever cross the finish line in Baja. It's like not to say we came in first, but we did cross the finish line, which was a big deal for a stock full truck with that heavy of an engine.
[00:20:46.580] - Big Rich Klein
Now, were you in the truck? Did you get to navigate?
[00:20:49.720] - Robin Stover
[00:20:50.330] - Big Rich Klein
[00:20:51.400] - Robin Stover
Yeah, in fact, I did the whole race, start to finish. I was in the truck for 27 and a half hours the first time I did 1000, and it was a three seater. I was in the third seat for part of it and then navigating for the second half. And it was the beginning of my racing experience, so I learned a lot. And at the time, it was an amazing opportunity that doesn't come along very easily. This is someone who is trying to prove his suspension right. They wanted to stamp Baja proven on their, basically Bolton lift kits for these trucks. And going down there and doing that and me publishing stuff about it was kind of the key to his success of this product. He wanted to have that approval rating of a go fast product for the average consumer to bolt on in their driveway. And so that was a unique opportunity. And of course, I helped him develop the program with sponsorships and stuff, and that led on to other opportunities. And I raced with Kent many other times down the road from that. And then I kind of decided that I kind of played out that stock full category or segment before the other magazine readers knew about it.
[00:22:15.440] - Robin Stover
So I was kind of looking elsewhere for other opportunities. And I did get embedded a couple of times with a lot of bigger, higher level teams. And that was amazing. But, yeah, looking back, I guess Baja would be the one thing that was the biggest takeaway. That was just amazing about that, right?
[00:22:36.070] - Big Rich Klein
I've never been in a race car in baja. I've done a lot of pre running and crewed teams and been at the pits and then raced to the next pit, all that kind of stuff, or made our way to the next pit. I don't want to say race, because the teams that I went with had strict rules on how fast we were allowed to go on the highways down there. But I wanted to get into a car, and then I didn't want to get into a car, you know what I mean?
[00:23:06.160] - Robin Stover
[00:23:06.820] - Big Rich Klein
I didn't want to be the guy that screwed up the race. So it was always one of those things where it was like, no, I'll stick on the outside and one day I'd hope to race myself, but I think those days are behind me. I had one opportunity, Dave Cola asked me to help with his when he went down there and race. That the 4400 car the first time, and I was like, no, not getting in the car. Sorry. I'll be part of the pit crew.
[00:23:35.720] - Robin Stover
Yeah. I had a couple of opportunities to drive, and I like to think I'm a good driver, but when you ride with a true professional race car driver, like I got to, you realize you think you're a good driver, right. And so you're really going fast with a real driver, you don't really know what you're doing out there. There's a huge difference in level of capability.
[00:24:01.040] - Big Rich Klein
[00:24:01.670] - Robin Stover
[00:24:03.940] - Big Rich Klein
You know. The nice thing about racing, though, and going fast, and why more people like to go fast than, say, technical crawling, I believe, is that no matter how fast you are, you could be the slowest guy on the course, but you're going as fast as you can. That's exhilarating.
[00:24:23.960] - Robin Stover
Yeah. I mean, put it this way, there is not a more dynamic form of motorsport, period. I don't care what you try to put yourself against, a trophy truck is the pinnacle of dynamic offroad or just motorsport racing in general. I don't see, short of maybe what Jessi Combs was doing in those high speed runs, I can't see how there would be much more dynamic. You're off the ground more than you're on the ground in a tropical truck, and you've got all these variables that just don't exist in other formats of racing. So it's just a whole different level of engagement. And the guys that solo, I remember one year, BJ Baldwin solo all the way from Ensenada to LaPaz, a year, like, I think he drove through someone's canopy or tent or something, trying to catch up to someone else. And you look at that level of driving for that distance, and that's the ultimate, in my opinion. You might as well be an astronaut at that point.
[00:25:28.700] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely. It's pretty incredible. What are some of the things that happen down in Mexico that will always stick with you memory wise?
[00:25:43.780] - Robin Stover
Well, there's lots and lots of racing experiences that were pretty unparalleled pulling people out. When you come up to something in a silt bed in a four wheel drive diesel truck, it's like you are there saving grace. Right? You can't just keep going. You got to get out and help them. And I was after those stories, too, to do that. So it was less serious for us when we were in the lead, so we could actually do that. We could stop and pull people out of the mud and remember there was a guy in this was like, I want to say an early Bronco, but it was pretty set up. Baja race car, and I think his full drive, we hadn't been working because he was a four wheel drive Bronco, and we pulled him out of a bad mud hole. And this is in the southern half of Baja. It was probably 25 hours into the race. So these guys were just wiped out and we were there saving grace. And those kinds of experiences were really the ones that I look back on fond of.
[00:26:44.900] - Big Rich Klein
And what was the scariest, most nerve wracking.
[00:26:55.640] - Robin Stover
You know how you push so hard when you're sleepy and you're driving those situations? I had a couple there where I should have called it and not been in the driver's seat because I was just too tired to continue. And you hit with the tires and people in your truck are like, okay, time for you to sleep, when you realize, holy shit, I could have just ran us off the road and killed everybody in the truck. Those are the low points where you realize you're a human and you got to rest. But getting to that stage without knowing it, that's the scary part of Baja when you're chasing, because those roads are far more dangerous than being on the race course.
[00:27:38.280] - Big Rich Klein
Shelley and I were 1000. We were going into La Paz. It was nighttime. I'd been up for like, 48 hours at that point. 47 hours. I was convinced I was on a really twisty road, and I had to slow down to like, 25 to keep the car on the road. Both of us felt like the road was really twisty. And we were on a cliff. Two days later when we left La Paz and started driving home on the same road, there wasn't a turn on that road.
[00:28:11.460] - Robin Stover
[00:28:12.050] - Big Rich Klein
And I couldn't understand why people were honking at me and blowing by me, and it was like, you know, and then then I realized that was the one time I realized, man, I I cannot push that many hours without sleep. Yeah, 47, 48 hours at that point, because I think we finished the car, got there just after we did, and we got to LaPaz like, 49, and I was like, okay, we're never doing that again.
[00:28:39.100] - Robin Stover
Yeah, that was like, the whole reason that Bob published that whole about you thing. I remember one year there was like, six chase trucks that got in head on collisions, and, man, it really made you realize, holy cow, what we're doing is so far more dangerous in these chase trucks than what these guys are doing on the race course with our safety gear.
[00:29:01.180] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, I've had chase trucks that I remember. One was I won't even mention the guy's name, but they were a one car, and we were following the trophy truck, and our trophy truck was in the top four. And that one car, they were not in the mix. But this guy pulling this double car trailer with his big dually four wheel drive pickup and two other guys in front of him with all their lights on with smoke bias. And he didn't realize that his trailer was so long as three times that he passed me. He almost put me over off the road because of his trailer.
[00:29:44.630] - Robin Stover
[00:29:45.140] - Big Rich Klein
So every time I'd see those guys coming after that, I started pulling over and letting him go. And then we'd get to our pit, and then the truck would go by, and then I'd jump back up on the road, and then the next thing I know, these guys are passing me again, and I'm just thinking, these guys are going to die or kill somebody. I was so mad after that race, I went looking for him, but I was told I was sitting on the guy's trailer at the next race, and the team that I was with, it was Roger Norman at that race. And he comes up and he goes, Rich, what are you doing? And I said, I'm sitting here waiting for this driver of this truck and trailer. And he goes, Why? And I said, well, this is what happened at the last race. And he goes, do you realize that it's probably not even the same guy driving that truck and trailer? And I said, well, he's going to take one for the team because I’m so mad about almost getting run off the road. And so he put his arm out, grabbed my collar, and said, come on, let's go to breakfast.
[00:30:53.600] - Big Rich Klein
But I was sitting there in the.
[00:30:54.770] - Robin Stover
Parking lot waiting for that guy to tune him up.
[00:30:57.850] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, I was mad, you know? I mean, I felt like he almost tried to kill me and didn't give.
[00:31:03.100] - Robin Stover
You that's the thing. That environment down there kind of breeds that behavior, unfortunately. And you got to keep your eyes brewed in. If you got a serious team effort, you got to have meetings with your guys and explain, hey, this is the front we want to put on. We don't want people coming home in coffins. We need to adhere to these policies and rules. That's one thing nice about going down there with Kent Croker and his team. He's military, he was a Marine, and so everything was a battle plan. Everyone gets a published copy of the battle plan, which had all the. Calm numbers. Everything was well figured out when you went down there with those guys. I kind of learned that early on, luckily. And that's what I tried to align myself with. Ntem went down there. There were definitely times when I got to see the other side of the equation where everything is just a shit show. But, man, when you get the taste of the good, well organized efforts, it's a well oiled machine, and there's so many of them that aren't, and those are the ones usually the guys are taking humongous risks.
[00:32:09.210] - Big Rich Klein
Yes. And the teams that have that are large enough to have enough pit support to where the same guys, six guys, don't have to be at every single pit stop makes a huge difference. When I was running with Pistol, we were one of those teams that we could do every other pit stop. So we like leapfrog. But he was the one that said, nobody drives over the speed limit ever. And we tried to adhere to that because we'd be in groups, too. Two, three cars, trucks together. But with Roger Norman now there's a different story. He's got pit support lined out. Nobody has to race to the next no leapfrogging, anything like that. And that was a class act. So writing, you got to go do some things in other countries, too, correct?
[00:33:19.780] - Robin Stover
Yeah. I did see Dakar rally. Went down there to South America a couple of times to see that. Went to South Korea for a look at how tires are made. That was a pretty cool whirlwind of a trip when I got to sit in first class with Rick Pewe the whole way. That was fun.
[00:33:44.380] - Big Rich Klein
Was he wearing shoes or sandals?
[00:33:46.630] - Robin Stover
He was in sandals. Pretty cool. Yeah. And let's see what other I did some stuff in Canada. Didn't make it over to Europe at all with four wheeler anyway, but I've done a fair bit of travel before that, so I've got to see a lot of the world already. Before I was working at four wheeler, I really was gearing myself towards the opportunities that I couldn't get otherwise. Getting to go inside the facility and see how Bilstein shocks were made, things like that. Those are the things that really I was attracted to having a mechanical mind, wanting to understand the things that you can't see otherwise. So I took advantage of that. Got to go a fair bit of places that the average person would never get eyes on.
[00:34:41.870] - Big Rich Klein
So when you went to South Korea, what tire company was that?
[00:34:46.160] - Robin Stover
Yeah. Hancook. Okay.
[00:34:48.240] - Big Rich Klein
[00:34:50.880] - Robin Stover
Hancook. That was actually a pretty eye opening deal. They were pushing the green tire thing at that point, so they were showing all the press. Here's how we take I don't know. I think it was palm oil to make tires. And they took us into their laboratories where they do the R and D, and that's like, usually no one ever sees that stuff. So it was pretty cool. And we actually got a 15 minutes Q and A session with the president of the company at the time, which was a big deal. And of course you're in downtown Seoul, South Korea, so you're in a hustling and bustling place. And of course they wi and dine you as a editor because they want you to have a good experience. And it was just neat seeing the difference in how things are done over there versus here, both in automotive stuff and just life in general. It was cool. They took us into the Demilitarized zone underneath North Korea. We got to go into tunnels that actually extend under North Korea. So I get to say I've actually been in North Korea.
[00:35:54.600] - Big Rich Klein
Nice. You don't want to go back.
[00:35:58.600] - Robin Stover
I think the South America stuff was really where I got the most out of it. Going down to Chile and watching the Dakar rally come through, that was mind blowing. How many people go to Dakar, right? And how many people get a front row seat? It's just a really cool experience.
[00:36:17.180] - Big Rich Klein
Were you embedded with a team at that point?
[00:36:20.640] - Robin Stover
No. So there was a little four wheel drive club in the northern Attacama Desert, the northern part of Chile, that reached out to me and they basically were interested in having an American magazine come cover it. So I responded. They paid my plane ticket down there and put me up in a hotel and took me out with a four wheel drive club. And basically they knew all the spots that the race was going to be coming through. And we got to see some of the best action in the sand dunes in the outcome of Desert right up front. And I was the only American that was doing daily updates on the four wheeler website at that point showing the race team. The American teams that were racing at the time were what we were kind of following. But just seeing how that how many people have been to the Bivouac site of the car and seen that not anybody can just get in there. You got to be part of a race team. So if you're not a media guy, there's not really a way to get in there unless you're racing. And so that was a pretty cool I remember walking through the Bivouac, and this is Kokiapo Chile area.
[00:37:36.740] - Robin Stover
And just at night, they have all those inflated lights. They're up high and going down on the trucks, and all the mechanics are doing work on the trucks, and they're just looking around, going, man, this is like its own city. It's just super passionate and focused on their efforts. And here I am, just some guy off the street that has nothing to do with this. Getting to come in here and like, I'm involved see it all first hand. That was pretty cool.
[00:38:03.600] - Big Rich Klein
I would imagine that would have been. And then the guys from that club from Chile, when you get their tickled pink that you're there and they get to share that with you.
[00:38:19.300] - Robin Stover
Yeah, and then I returned the favor. I invited the guy that hosted me, Patricio Rios. I invited him up to America, and he came up and did the Baja 1000 with me in a stock full effort that I was doing at the time in a Nissan Titan. And it was really cool because they went to the Baja 500. And then we didn't finish the BA 500, unfortunately, but we made it back up to Hollister Hillstrom top truck challenge. And he got the Experience top truck challenge. So he took me to his world and showed me their cool four by four scene. And I did the same thing for him up here. And we even got in an evening out at Watsonville Speedway. He got to see how roundy round racing goes on in America, which was kind of a neat little bonus for him, but it was a nice little thing for that. And then he's invited me back several times, but I just haven't been able to make it happen. And then they've moved Dakar, so there isn't really a go down their reason otherwise.
[00:39:20.290] - Big Rich Klein
Right. So you had mentioned that you had done some extensive traveling before traveling for the magazine. How did that come about? Was that with your dad in his music?
[00:39:33.600] - Robin Stover
Yeah, so my dad's music took him down to South America quite often in the country of Paraguay. He's the foremost authority in their musical equivalent to, like, Elvis, the guy that's on their $50 bill was their musical claim to fame. And my dad was the world authority on that guy.
[00:39:56.020] - Big Rich Klein
[00:39:57.620] - Robin Stover
Yeah. He got lots of opportunities to go down there and play concerts and do master classes and things like that. So he was actually living in Costa Rica, my senior high school, and went down there for two weeks and got to see the whole Costa Rica thing. Then my dad moved to Puerto Rico, was there for a couple of years. I got to visit him in Puerto Rico a couple of times. Then he moved to Paraguay and I went down there for the Dakar rally and then went over to Paraguay and got to do some dealing with an ARB dealer down in Paraguay. It was pretty cool.
[00:40:31.750] - Big Rich Klein
[00:40:33.440] - Robin Stover
But, yeah, I've been to Europe before that, before high school, I traveled a bit. I grew up in Hawaii, of course, but I went down to Costa Rica before I graduated high school. I'd been to Canada. Then when I graduated, I went for three weeks. Euro rail, backpacking, hostels, the whole deal in Europe, which was really neat. And I would definitely recommend that to any youngster that doesn't know what they want to do yet in life, because that's where you form bonds and figure out what the world is really about. You're traveling in another land where you don't speak the language and have no assets, no resources at all, but what's on your back. That's a pretty cool way to learn what the world is about.
[00:41:16.890] - Big Rich Klein
I didn't get a chance to do that, but we've done a lot of traveling in the last 12, 13, 14 years, and I appreciate it, because my thing is, when we travel, I try to be one with the country. Even when we vacation, I don't go to cancun we go to, like, Quepos in Costa Rica?
[00:41:53.160] - Robin Stover
Get off the beaten trail?
[00:41:54.340] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, we get off the beaten trail. We rented a Land Rover 110 in Australia and did 18 days driving through the bush and down the coastline. We didn't get into the outback. Next time I go to Australia, it's going to be for, like, six months, but it's immerse yourself in with the country to really learn what it's like. I try to do that. Even with the wheeling. Every place that we've gone, we've had a chance to go wheeling on the Big Island of Hawaii. I hooked up with the Big Island Jeep Club, and I wanted to rent a Jeep so we could get around, and there was no jeep rentals available. And so I called the president of the Big Island Jeep Club and said, hey, this is who I am. I'm coming into town. There's going to be four of us. Can you set us up with it? You guys doing any trail rides during this time frame? And they took us out, like, four times.
[00:43:00.080] - Robin Stover
[00:43:00.800] - Big Rich Klein
So it was pretty cool. And get to wheel with the locals and did the same thing in Costa Rica, driving through the rainforest and through the creek, the river beds and all that kind of stuff, that's high mountain stuff and everything. That's really a trip. Doing all that kind of stuff with the locals that know the good places to eat, the good terrain, the good sightseeing, the stuff that you'll never see in the brochures.
[00:43:31.080] - Robin Stover
Yeah, I'm with you on that. My dad living there. When I visited, we luckily had that not the touristy version of it. We were in the northern part of Costa Rica and Guan Acosta, and the most touristy thing we did was we went out to the beach and got to take one of those tours where you get to watch the turtles lay their eggs under the red light on the beach. That was, like, the most touristy thing we did while I was in Costa Rica. So I'm right there with you. It's so much better when you're not on a resort playing the things that tourists do. I'm completely in agreement. You want to immerse yourself in the culture, you get off the beaten path and meet some locals. That's really the best way to do it.
[00:44:20.600] - Big Rich Klein
Let's see. We've touched on your traveling. We've touched on four wheeler there's got to be more to four wheeler. What was it like working with payway on a trip like that? Rick and I have been trying to get Rick on here and I just can never connect with him, just like I did with you over the last month. But Rick is whenever we see Rick, Rick, first thing he does is he like nods at me and he goes, give my wife a hug. And I'm like, okay, wait. I got to wait five minutes till to say something to me. But he is quite the character. Loves sitting down, having dinner with him or something like that. But what's he like to travel with?
[00:45:04.260] - Robin Stover
Well, to me he was a superior. So I got to look at it from that set of eyes right here's. This guy much higher up the ladder than I am. So I got to be on my best behavior when I'm traveling with him. But he's a down to earth guy. I remember at the time we were really concerned about layoffs and everyone was worried about their job and having lots of conversations about how we could all maintain our jobs with pay cuts and that sort of thing. I remember that was the discussion that kind of took us on that trip. But Rick's a really good dude. He is full of amazing stories of collecting Jeeps and driving them back, not knowing anything about them and things like that. He's a really fun person to be around. Just full of interesting topics to talk about and world experiences surrounding him.
[00:46:01.290] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, that's why I want to get him on here because I know we'll probably end up talking like with Bob Bower Baha. Bob, we talked for like 6 hours and I cut it down to two, two hour segments. But I mean, we easily could have done 6 hours of conversations with just Bob. And I would imagine it's going to be that way with Rick too. Just he's done it. Done all of it.
[00:46:25.520] - Robin Stover
Yeah. He really is a legend in this game. He's what we all looked up to.
[00:46:30.530] - Big Rich Klein
Exactly. So what you're working now with lavender? Let's talk about the badass beadlock thing.
[00:46:42.520] - Robin Stover
Yeah, so that was something that kind of came out of the four wheeler thing for me. And essentially I was in top truck challenge as a co driver before I got the job at four wheeler. And that was a complete happening. That was unplanned. And I was working for this was rough. I got to high school since 99, I believe, in 2001, and I went to I had a job. I was working for Accessories Plus. It was like a full apart store in the Bay Area and competitors for the parts. And the day I started on with them, they took us all in the office and said, okay, we want you to know that we just filed bankruptcy today and nobody here is going to be able to actually sell any parts to customers that come in and buy these parts. So I knew it was, well, this is not a long term job. I got to find something different and I wasn't taking it super serious as such. So I'm looking at internet for other ways to do what I wanted to do. And luckily that day it just so happened that we were magazine had started.
[00:47:54.890] - Robin Stover
Live coverage begins tomorrow of top Truck challenge. So I promptly quit the job and drove down to Hollister Hills and hid my truck, basically and went in there and became part of Top Trip Challenge by force, basically. And in doing so, Kevin Kalin kevin Kalin needed a co driver and his co driver had his mom or someone had passed or gotten cancer and was not doing well. And so they couldn't have to bail out last minute. So he came out here alone from South Carolina with no spotter. And for him I was a dream come true. Some guy that's local that knows the terrain is in the rock crawling. He was much more of a mud kind of guy. So for him to find me and me get on his team and then we basically make it to third place in the event because of our collaborating efforts was a pretty special story. And of course the editorial team at that time glommed onto it and made a big deal of that in the magazine and a friendship formed. Right. He was a state trooper in South Carolina, but he had seen a lot of carnage from rollover accidents involving buses.
[00:49:10.740] - Robin Stover
And he was trying to figure out a better way to do a wheel where a bus tire would not debate and cause the bus to roll over and basically peeling people off the pavement. You start thinking of other ways that the bus can do the same thing. And he figured out the bad bead lock through that effort. And then basically us being into offroading, we said, well, let's prove it. And off road it's off road could use a different type of bead lock when it's dot legal. So we basically attacked the offroad as a segment to bring that technology into the fray and make people aware of it so that we could then make that technology available for other vehicles like buses and over the road trucks. And in doing it I learned a ton. I had no crap about wheels, and I became the marketing director for Bad Wheels, and so I had to learn everything I could. And it's funny, Kevin is actually calling me right now. It's funny. Oh, really? Yeah. We never did get it to that over the road truck demographic that we wanted to. Kevin's health started sliding and he was building every single wheel by hand himself.
[00:50:28.390] - Robin Stover
He got raw castings from American Eagle. A whole container of them would show up at his house and he would sit there and he's got a bad back. He's had multiple back surgeries and stuff. So for him, it was very hard to do the physical assembly of each wheel. And that's where we were basically stopped. And he didn't have the money to spool it up as a big company, and it was just a really hard thing for him. So we decided what was best was to sell to someone who was far more capable than us, and he sold the patent, the idea, everything, to this new group in Colorado. And unfortunately, right after that, bad wheels had to cease because American Eagle shut down the facility that manufactured the cast wheel for us. So it wasn't really anything about it. We'd already sold the company to the new guys, and I was supposed to go on with them, kind of part timer marketing for them. But it all came crashing down when American Eagle pulled the plug, and I couldn't find anyone else in the US. To build them. Our whole premise was American made, so we weren't going to look out going to Taiwan or China for casting.
[00:51:37.880] - Robin Stover
So it just kind of fizzled. The idea is still out there, and it's still a great idea, and it works really well. And I think we have a really special product, and I think there's still a lot of room for innovative wheel products in the industry. And someday I'm hoping someone will pick that back up and run with it. I know it's on my agenda if I ever won the lottery or something.
[00:52:05.660] - Big Rich Klein
That was like an internal bead lock.
[00:52:10.240] - Robin Stover
Yeah, it was pretty ingenious. So what he did was he redesigned the wheel to have a deeper drop center, which gave you the ability to change the orientation of the tire. When you're physically mounting the internal locking elements, you need to really get your hand in there, which was the hard part to figure out. And he figured out by making the cavity of the wheel a different shape, that when you set the beads of the tire with our system, then you break down the front bead. So you have a rear bead that's set, but you're working from the front part of the wheel. And because of the deep drop center, you can twist the carpets of the tire on the wheel to get room to get your hand in there to physically assemble the block product. So that was kind of the whole secret to it. It was very successful, and our goal was to build the most robust cast aluminum wheel possible. And it was heavy, but it was very strong, and we had some really innovative features that you could add on to it, and it was well received. We won a Global Media Award the first time we showed it at SEMA, and sales wise, we were doing what we could, but we were limited by how much Kevin could physically build in his shipping container each day.
[00:53:27.780] - Robin Stover
So it wasn't going to be a long term thing. For me, it was always, well, maybe someone will buy it and I'll get brought on. And that was all looking really good. But then it fizzled. So it was unfortunate but still a great product. I've still got three sets of them and I'm definitely planning to use them.
[00:53:47.100] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. And then after that, is that when you went to Toby's?
[00:54:00.480] - Robin Stover
So for a while there, I actually worked for a company in the Morgan Hill area called Kodiak Industries. And they did dual battery management systems and they were like the West Coast dealer for Premier Power, Welder and Coal Pal. And it just so happened I lived pretty close to them and I knew them from doing stuff in the magazine and mainly off road expo. He always had a booth there. So I really wanted to learn the art of automotive wiring. Big cable, all two gauge and up stuff to do it properly. Because I had been accused at one point of wiring a vehicle to the point that it would have burned down, I learned like, okay, I don't want to have that reputation of doing crappy wiring jobs, so I'm going to learn the art of this. And I did it. That was really cool. Kind of like going back and learning a trade. Working with battery cables, you don't think of it as that, but when you get good at it, it's just another trade, really. It's large cable, electronic work. There's lots of good reason to know that in the automotive space I'm in now, all my guys do exactly the same thing I learned when I was working for Kodiak Industries.
[00:55:15.720] - Robin Stover
And I'd say that it's probably one of our top selling things we do at Lavender Brothers.
[00:55:22.210] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. I know that I have a reputation out there. I don't like to lift the hood of my Cherokee because everybody looks at it and goes, oh, my God, how have you not burned this thing down yet? It's tried on numerous occasions, but I've always gotten the wires moved before total meltdown.
[00:55:44.420] - Robin Stover
[00:55:45.080] - Big Rich Klein
One time we were in West Virginia and we parked for the night, and the next morning I get up and we're walking to the Jeep and I'm like, why is the inside of the Jeep all foggy and it was smoke? The wire did it.
[00:56:04.460] - Robin Stover
[00:56:05.410] - Big Rich Klein
No. It had probably started 1520 minutes before we walked out. So I opened the door, popped the hood, was able to get the the ground disconnected, and then I traced back to where the smoke was coming from. You know, I let all the smoke out from under the dash, and it was just one of those drill a hole here, run some wires through it and forget about it. The car didn't forget about it, but one of these days I'm going to go through there and do it right. But, yeah, it's pretty gnarly looking. I'm not the wiring guy, and every time I get something from somebody or pick something up and Shelley goes, you're going to put that in yourself? I'm like, yeah, sure, I can do that here out in the park, because we're getting ready to do an event and it's been shipped to me. And she goes, why don't you wait until one of the teams get here and have them do it for you? And I'm like, come on, babe, I can hook a couple of wires up. She was there that time we almost burnt the car down.
[00:57:12.800] - Robin Stover
[00:57:13.650] - Big Rich Klein
So she doesn't trust my wiring.
[00:57:17.760] - Robin Stover
Yeah, wiring is definitely one of those things, man. Once you get the knack for it, when you see a beautifully wired backside of a panel or something like that, you really can appreciate the time and effort that goes into doing those systems. Right?
[00:57:31.410] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely, I agree with the conversation. So then from there it went to Toby's then or was there a stop?
[00:57:40.190] - Robin Stover
Yeah, I went from Kodiak, did top trick challenge that year and then after top trick challenge went to work for Toby and the rest is history with Toby. I've been his main cornerstone of his business for the last eleven years and we've since opened two additional shops and looking to do a fourth at some point in the coming years. But yeah, it's been a great run with Toby. I feel like I aligned myself with the right person in life that really had his shit together, so to speak, and could actually transition from fabricator that really you can't make a lot of money in Monterey off of being a race car fabricator to business owner with three locations. We're really good. We're kicking butt.
[00:58:31.700] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, that's really good. And opening a fourth, man, most people can't even find enough people to man one shop for them.
[00:58:39.100] - Robin Stover
That is our biggest trouble too, is finding people. I mean, I'm sure everybody's in the same boat, nobody wants to work anymore. It's really a shame.
[00:58:47.110] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. And the younger generation doesn't have the appreciation for vehicles.
[00:58:53.840] - Robin Stover
Yeah. I mean, there are key guys that you can find, but then there's always something about him, right. I had to fire a guy last week that he walked like a slop literally everywhere he went. He just kind of shuffled around and didn't even wasn't the kind of guy you want to represent your company. They put on a great face up front when you're interviewing them and then you get them in for a week and it's like, are you kidding me? This is what you're about, man. What is wrong with the youth today?
[00:59:22.760] - Big Rich Klein
Exactly. I've gone into shops, I do shop visits and I'll have to talk to you about that afterwards. But we'll go into a shop visit and I'm just watching the employees because I used to have like at one of my Sears stores, I had 122 employees. Jeez in 14 operating bays. We had a lot of work. And I can remember I was always on the guys about before you get into anybody's vehicle, you make sure you're completely clean. If you have to put a new shirt and pants on, you do it. You know, we don't want cleaning bills, you know, for upholstery or anything like that. And I'll go into a shop and I'll see guys that are just it's like, when was the last time the guy washed his hands? Yeah, he's got grease behind his ears. I don't think he's taking a shower this week, that kind of thing. And it just amazes me. But they may turn a wrench and they may understand exactly what needs to be done, and they may be a great mechanic, but sometimes there's just something there that's not appealing.
[01:00:39.840] - Robin Stover
Yeah, I'll say that the real gems of that industry have long term careers already. It's so rare that you'll find a new one that's good. Most people, unless they're moving to a new area or something, they're kept very tight leashes by their owners or their companies if they're good.
[01:00:59.900] - Big Rich Klein
[01:01:01.000] - Robin Stover
It's so hard to find a good guy that you can count on. And once you get one, you got to hold on to him. You got to pay them well and.
[01:01:09.030] - Big Rich Klein
Hold onto them because the good ones, somebody wants to snag them or they want to do the work themselves.
[01:01:16.620] - Robin Stover
Yeah, they get cherry picked or there's other things. Life takes you in different directions. Right. I mean, I lost one of my best guys three months, six months ago. He got married, had a baby, and moved closer to their family. And it's going to happen. But finding the guy to fill that guy's spot, it's a challenging thing.
[01:01:39.000] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely. So what's next? I know you're married.
[01:01:45.780] - Robin Stover
[01:01:46.390] - Big Rich Klein
You've been married.
[01:01:46.990] - Robin Stover
I have two kids. Been married since 2014. Kate, my beautiful wife, is a school teacher, and we have two sons, twin boys. They're now seven, and they go to school at her school. We've got a good life here in Prudondale, California. I see myself in the next probably a couple of years getting more back into the writing game part time. One of the companies that's approached me recently, I've started writing some stories for I haven't published them yet, but we're working on it. Metal Cloak. They're looking to make their website more informational.
[01:02:26.190] - Big Rich Klein
[01:02:28.740] - Robin Stover
For them. Yeah, they're great. Matson and the crew, they are just awesome people. So I've been friends with them since early on. When they first bought Rev 111, I was one of the very first guys to do a story about their stuff. And of course, I'm good friends with Scott Becker over there. So it's just a natural fit.
[01:02:49.260] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. Since you found Off Road, you enjoyed it, you loved it, and then you decided you want to make a career in it. You did it by doing the magazine thing and looking for an opening. What do you. Suggest for somebody that wants a career and offroad, whether it's writing or anything else, what's your secret for success?
[01:03:17.140] - Robin Stover
Well, really, it's inject yourself into what you want to do. Don't be on the sidelining. It really when I called John Thompson and said, how can I help? Four wheeler magazine put on top truck challenge. Is there anything that you guys need on a local level that I can help you with? And it just so happened that there was a huge drought, and the winery that's adjacent to Hollister Hills was suing Hollister Hills for dust migration. Right. And they needed water trucks because it was a hot summer event and there's going to be dust migrating. So luckily, I called a friend of mine and networked a water truck to this event. So they had two instead of one that was injecting myself into something that I really didn't have anything to do with. So if you really want to do something, you figure out a way to inject yourself into it, whether you're getting paid or not, and get your feet in the door and mingle with the people involved and basically make some advocates on the other side and then chase it with all your money. When I literally left a good paying job in the Bay Area to move to La.
[01:04:32.030] - Robin Stover
To rent a room and not have a job on the whim of maybe getting this job at Four wheeler, that's a huge leap of faith. And you got to take those leaps, especially when you're young. If you don't take those leaps, you'll regret it in life. So I tell people, any chance you get to do something that's out of this world or amazing opportunity wise, take it. Don't sit on the sidelines. You always kick yourself if you didn't take those opportunities. And when you're yawning, especially, you have time to regroup and catch up if it was a bad choice. So really, I tell people, if you figure out what you want to do, force yourself into it. If college isn't for you, look at my path. I did it. I didn't get the degree that I should have had to be a Four wheeler magazine editor, but I did it, and it still was the best experience of my life. So, yeah, all you got to do is be passionate about something and force your way in. Don't take no for an answer.
[01:05:34.020] - Big Rich Klein
Perfect. What a great segue. That's awesome. Hey, Robin, I want to say thank you so much for spending the last hour plus talking with me and sharing your life with all of our listeners in the off road world, and I really appreciate it. And like I said, I'll call you here in the next couple of weeks. And I'm living in Northern California in placerville right now, so I'd like to maybe make a shop visit and come visit you.
[01:06:05.900] - Robin Stover
Oh, yeah. I would love it, man.
[01:06:07.560] - Big Rich Klein
Okay, sounds good. All right. So thank you very much. Hope you enjoyed it.
[01:06:11.930] - Robin Stover
Thank you. All right. I did. Thank you. Appreciate it. Have a good one. All right. Bye. Bye. Bye.
[01:06:18.940] - Big Rich Klein
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 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.