Conversations with Big Rich

Mad Cow Hembel, champion speed skier turned rockcrawler on Episode 215

May 16, 2024 Guest John Hembel Season 5 Episode 215
Mad Cow Hembel, champion speed skier turned rockcrawler on Episode 215
Conversations with Big Rich
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Conversations with Big Rich
Mad Cow Hembel, champion speed skier turned rockcrawler on Episode 215
May 16, 2024 Season 5 Episode 215
Guest John Hembel

World champion speed skier turned rockcrawler, John Hembel, shares techniques in improving all skills on Episode 215. Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.

9:48 – I worked ski rentals, at the end of the day there’d be a huge pile in the middle of the ski shop; my job was to pair them all up together and put them awayl 

17:30 – I actually got a soccer scholarship to a school in Mississippi, but I didn’t like the school             

22:40 – the fortunate part is the auto detailing end of things gives you the ability to bring in day-to-day business without knocking on doors

28:57 – It’s the south, so really all you’re wheeling is mud, which is terrible. I hate mud. 

36:11 – We’re fortunate in the people we know that we have a lot of really responsible friends who want to save the lands

48:44 – I always knew I wanted to be a pro skier, I loved it so much.

58:01 – when they brought a speed skiing competition to Snowmass, I was like, I got to go out and do that

1:01:55 – I yelled down to the kid, in French, I think I have mad cow disease…then I took my run.

1:08:27 – 2002, I set my record, 2003, I was world champion

1:18:28 – Almost every time we go out rockcrawling, even three and a half years later, I’m learning something new.

Special thanks to 4low Magazine and Maxxis Tires for support and sponsorship of this podcast.

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.


Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

World champion speed skier turned rockcrawler, John Hembel, shares techniques in improving all skills on Episode 215. Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.

9:48 – I worked ski rentals, at the end of the day there’d be a huge pile in the middle of the ski shop; my job was to pair them all up together and put them awayl 

17:30 – I actually got a soccer scholarship to a school in Mississippi, but I didn’t like the school             

22:40 – the fortunate part is the auto detailing end of things gives you the ability to bring in day-to-day business without knocking on doors

28:57 – It’s the south, so really all you’re wheeling is mud, which is terrible. I hate mud. 

36:11 – We’re fortunate in the people we know that we have a lot of really responsible friends who want to save the lands

48:44 – I always knew I wanted to be a pro skier, I loved it so much.

58:01 – when they brought a speed skiing competition to Snowmass, I was like, I got to go out and do that

1:01:55 – I yelled down to the kid, in French, I think I have mad cow disease…then I took my run.

1:08:27 – 2002, I set my record, 2003, I was world champion

1:18:28 – Almost every time we go out rockcrawling, even three and a half years later, I’m learning something new.

Special thanks to 4low Magazine and Maxxis Tires for support and sponsorship of this podcast.

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.


Support the Show.

[00:00:01.040] - 

Welcome to Conversations with Big Rich. This is an interview-style podcast. Those interviewed are all involved in the off-road industry. Being involved, like all of my guests are, is a lifestyle, not just a job. I talk to past, present, and future legends, as well as business owners, employees, media, and land use warriors, men and women who have found their way into this exciting and addictive lifestyle we call off-road. We discuss their personal history, struggles, successes, and reboots. We dive into what drives them to stay active and off-road. We all hope to shed some light on how to find a path into this world that we live and love and call off-road.


[00:00:45.280] - 

Whether you're crawling the Red Rocks of Moab or hauling your toys to the trail, Maxxis has the tires you can trust for performance and durability. Four wheels or two, Maxxis tires are the choice of champions because they know that whether for work or play, for fun or competition, Maxxis tires deliver. Choose Maxxis.Tread victoriously.


[00:01:13.030] - 

Have you seen 4Low magazine yet? 4Low magazine is a high-quality, well-written, four-wheel drive-focused magazine for the enthusiast market. If you still love the idea of a printed magazine, something to save and read at any time, 4LOW is the magazine for you.  4LOW cannot be found in stores, but you can have it delivered to your home or place of business. Visit 4Lowmagazine.Com to order your subscription today.


[00:01:39.360] - Big Rich Klein

On today's episode of Conversations with Big Rich, I'll be talking with a guy that won a world  Championship in Speed Skiing. Yeah, that's Downhill Speed Skiing, like on big mountains and snow, and has now found a love of rock crawling and hopes to win a Championship in Unlimited. Yep, that's John Hembel. John Hembel, it is so good to talk to you. I saw you just a couple of weeks ago at Cedar City, and we discussed doing this podcast, and it's really good to have you on.


[00:02:13.740] - John Hembel

Thanks for having me, Rich.


[00:02:15.560] - Big Rich Klein

So let's jump right in. And I know you've got an extensive background in competing, not necessarily all in rock crawling. But let's get started with, where were you and raised?


[00:02:32.520] - John Hembel

Well, I'm not sure where I was born. It's worth mentioning, but Worcester, Massachusetts. I stayed for five days.


[00:02:38.510] - Big Rich Klein

Five days in West Mass, huh?


[00:02:41.170] - John Hembel

Five whole days in West, Mass. So, yeah. And spent a little bit of time in Florida up until about second grade. I had some family, mom's family down there, and spent a bunch of time with Grandma and grandpa lived in their house for quite a while and had a very close family. It was great.


[00:03:07.620] - Big Rich Klein

Excellent. And what precipitated the move? Was it work-related for parents or something?


[00:03:16.120] - John Hembel

Worcester Mass, my mom was a single mom and spending time with her godparents. And when her parents found out that she pregnant and not on drugs, they invited her back home and said, Please come and we welcome you. And we're glad you're not doing worse things in the world. So she was welcomed home with open arms. For a Catholic family, an unwed mother was a big deal, particularly late '60s.


[00:03:52.120] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, I understand. I grew up in a Catholic family. Well, my mom walked away from the Catholic Church in the '60s. I think it was about the time she decided to burn her bra.


[00:04:03.570] - John Hembel

Well, my mom was slated to be a nun, so that didn't work out when I came along.


[00:04:08.940] - Big Rich Klein

I guess not.


[00:04:12.280] - John Hembel

The family welcomed us back with open arms. Mom let them help out with raising me for a little while since she was a single mom. I grew up in grandma and grandpa's home for quite a while, and they were a great family to have around. I had several older aunts and uncles and lived with some of them for a while, so they're more like my brothers and sisters. And it was and still is a very close family.


[00:04:47.370] - Big Rich Klein

That's really good to hear. Family is important.


[00:04:51.770] - John Hembel

It is. And when I was about five years old, my mom met who is now my father, and he adopted me when I was seven when they got married. And he's been a great role model, and I really appreciate him being in my life and showing us all the world and lots of different things and giving us lots of opportunities. And moved us to Aspen, Colorado. When I was very young, in third grade, I think, I started living in Aspen, Colorado, and fell in love with skiing for sure. So that was That was one of the first things I competed in. It became a career after a while, but not until I was an adult. We'll get to that eventually.


[00:05:41.870] - Big Rich Klein

What was school like? So your third grade thereabouts, you're moving from Florida to Aspen. A little bit of culture change there.


[00:05:55.640] - John Hembel

A little bit of culture shock, yeah. I was young enough to not really It didn't affect me too much. Made friends pretty quickly, and I was younger than almost everybody in my class all the way through school. I started first grade when I was five years old. My birthday is in March, so most Most of the kids in my class were at least a year older than me. I don't know. I guess I was smart when I was five years old and I never looked back.


[00:06:23.670] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Cool. So you're telling me you're smart?


[00:06:28.140] - John Hembel

Oh, no, I was when I was five. I don't know what happened after that.


[00:06:32.100] - Big Rich Klein

So then what was school like for you growing up? Was it easy? Or were you one of those guys that looked out the window and just wanted to be outside instead?


[00:06:48.130] - John Hembel

I definitely wanted to be doing other things. When I applied myself, I did very, very well in school. I think when those challenges arise and you When you say, I'm going to meet that challenge, you can do great things. It was hard for me to really focus. I put things off, typically. But once I really set my mind to it, I did really well in school. And fortunately, Aspen had a very good school system. It attracted some of the best teachers in the world, more the culture there and the lifestyle. It was an extremely expensive place to live, but if you could figure out how to make a living there, it was a great place to be.


[00:07:38.240] - Big Rich Klein

Right. And what made the family move there? Did dad have a job going into that?


[00:07:48.050] - John Hembel

My mom went to work for Delta Airlines when I was very young, and that's where she met my dad. He was a pilot. She was a flight attendant. They fell in love. He could pretty much live wherever he wanted. So he fell in love with the Aspen, Snowmass area, loved to ski out there, started skiing there when Snowmass was first opened in the late '60s and had been skiing there pretty much every year until we moved there in about '75, '74, '75, something like that. And it was very difficult, I think, for them as parents to live there. We made it work, but they both worked out of Atlanta, Georgia. And so Delta didn't even fly to Colorado in the '70s. So it was very, very difficult. They had to take whoever Brand X was. Back then, it was Eastern or Continental or a lot of different airlines, they would have to fly somewhere from Denver to where Delta flew and then get on a plane there and get to Atlanta to go to work. And so I I learned how to fend for myself very young. I had a job after school when I was single digits, making a couple bucks an hour under the table.


[00:09:10.870] - John Hembel

It wasn't actually legal to work, but I didn't mind working for what I wanted. I was able to pay for my own skiing on the weekends. It was a few dollars to get a ski pass as a student. It wasn't much, but it was something that I wanted to do. And even though mom and dad would leave money with a couple of older step siblings, I never saw that money.


[00:09:37.420] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Yeah, this is so that John can do what he needs to do and get fed, and you Yeah. You got the hot dogs?


[00:09:48.670] - John Hembel

I don't remember a whole lot of the food, honestly. I just remember a lot of work growing up and really enjoying it. I worked in a ski shop in Snowmass, Colorado after school, just cleaning up after the daily rentals. Back then, rentals didn't seem to last for a week. They lasted maybe a day. And so at the end of the day, all the skis and boots and pulls would come back in, and there'd be a huge pile in the middle of the ski shop. And it was my job to pair them all up together, whatever miscellaneous items were there, pair them up, put them away, check the skis. If they needed to be tuned, they went to the shop. If they just needed to be put back away, they got hung on the rack. Then, just infect the boots and do all that. It's like being in a bowling alley.


[00:10:38.960] - Big Rich Klein

Then working in the ski shop, separating stuff, piles of Matching skis, matching pulls, boots, rentals, probably gloves, everything, right?


[00:10:52.410] - John Hembel

A little bit of everything. Clothing wasn't a deal, but all the hard goods, skis, boots, pulls, that was a big deal. Putting that all the way and then vacuuming the shop at the end of the day. Like I said, I got a couple of bucks an hour under the table and made some really good lifelong friends, honestly. The manager of the ski shop, the owner, several owners, a bunch of brothers owned the ski shop, and still friends of mine to this day. So it's great.


[00:11:21.440] - Big Rich Klein

Awesome. And with going to school there, was skiing the only thing or were there other... Did you participate in anything else?


[00:11:32.210] - John Hembel

When I was there, there was always stuff in school track and different field events and things like that, but I wasn't real big into that. I wasn't the ball sports really didn't interest me very much. But we did... Personal things interested me, skateboarding, BMX, that thing. Unfortunately, I I wasn't able to stay in Aspen. My parents decided after quite a while that it wasn't worth the work that they were going through to be able to live that lifestyle. Just before I was in high school, they moved us to pretty close to Atlanta, Georgia, just south of there in Peachtree City, which was a big airline town. It was pretty much filled up with airline personnel of some sort. There were a lot of outdoor activities there as well. I got into soccer and competitive BMX and a few other things, but bicycles became a big thing for me for a while, and I competed both state level and national level at that.


[00:12:49.890] - Big Rich Klein

Bmx, you said?


[00:12:51.420] - John Hembel

Bmx, and then BMX freestyle. I was on a couple of teams doing freestyle stuff, jumps, ground tricks, all kinds of ramp ramp stuff. Anything that had to do with a bike. And sometimes on the weekends, I'd get my road bike and I'd go for 120-mile ride on my road bike. So whatever it took to get out there and stay fit, be happy, I was doing it. And then the last couple of years of high school, soccer became a bigger thing. I started playing soccer pretty much right when we moved to Georgia and got pretty good, played for some of the city teams at first, and then tried out for the county classic team, which is all the best players in the county, and hundreds of kids try out. And I got on that team. And then between that team and then playing for my high school, I was playing pretty much at least five days a week for one team or the other. And when I wasn't practicing with one team, I was practicing with or playing with the other team. And so they They seemed to be okay with it. They said, As long as you're out there practicing and doing a good job, then you're helping us win, then that's great.


[00:14:08.990] - John Hembel

We never played each other, so that wasn't a big deal.


[00:14:11.650] - Big Rich Klein

Because what you were on was more like a club team.


[00:14:15.240] - John Hembel

It was more like a club team, exactly. Then the high school team was playing other high schools. That was another big thing. We had a very small high school, so soccer was our big sport.


[00:14:28.640] - Big Rich Klein

Then the club team probably had other high school guys that you played in high school, probably on the team as well.


[00:14:38.670] - John Hembel

Yeah, I never actually saw anybody on that team or playing against that I saw playing in my high school. It seemed like it was totally different people. Georgia had a lot of different soccer teams and a whole lot of schools. My high school was actually a private school, kindergarten through 12th grade. The schools in Georgia at that time were ranked somewhere around 47th in the nation. So the private school was about the only way I was going to get anything close to the education I was getting in Aspen.


[00:15:13.420] - Big Rich Klein

When did you start driving and what did you start driving?


[00:15:22.430] - John Hembel

Well, that was one of the things in high school that was tough for me because I was much younger than everybody else, in my class, at least. Everybody started driving well before me. Unfortunately, I was always dating some girl who was older than me, so I always had a ride.


[00:15:42.800] - Big Rich Klein

Perfect. Ain't nothing wrong with that.


[00:15:44.400] - John Hembel

Nothing wrong with that at all. But, yeah, started driving, obviously, at 16, my dad wasn't too keen on me driving prior to that. He was always pretty strict about those rules and what was set as far as society. And so I didn't really get a chance to drive much before the age of 15 and then drive solo at 16. But first thing I actually drove, I want to say, was a Mazda B2200, which was like a Ford Courier truck, exactly the same body style as the Ford Courier. Mine was a long bed, and it was diesel. The 2000 was a Mazda B 2000 was a gas truck. The B2200 was a diesel. And great little truck, got phenomenal mileage. But man, was it small? Right. And And drove that until I started college, and actually, after the first year of college, and I bought a 1985 Toyota SR5 pickup. So extra cab. Just something. It was actually only a year old when I bought it, so it was pretty new to me. I had about 30,000 miles on it. It was a great truck, solid front I'm glad I didn't get the '86 because the '86 had independent suspension.


[00:17:19.280] - John Hembel

But I was able to lift it pretty easily and put a little bit bigger tires on it and go out wheeling.


[00:17:26.220] - Big Rich Klein

And you started wheeling. Well, where did you go to college?


[00:17:30.170] - John Hembel

I went to college at Florida State University. So not too far from where I was in Atlanta. It was about three and a half to four hours from Atlanta. I had some family who went to Florida State, an uncle who actually met there, and I checked out the school and really liked it. I looked at a couple of other schools. I actually got a soccer scholarship to a school in Mississippi, but I didn't really like the school, so I didn't take it. I looked at Florida State, I looked at Auburn, looked at a couple of other schools, thought about going back to Colorado for college. Logistics were a little too difficult for me, and I wanted to stick around and be closer to family and be closer to friends that I had made over the basically five years of being in Georgia. So it was nice to be close to there. And Florida State was a great school.


[00:18:26.610] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Seminoles.


[00:18:28.730] - John Hembel

Seminoles. And beyond that, it was like five and a half girls to every guy when I started there. Really? There was that.


[00:18:36.620] - Big Rich Klein

It's like the opposite of Alaska.


[00:18:38.850] - John Hembel

Yeah. Florida State used to be an all girls school once upon a time. It's been a long time since it's been that way, but still more girls than guys at that school. So it was a good experience.


[00:18:53.940] - Big Rich Klein

I don't know what the ratio was, but UC Santa Barbara Which was always one of the top party schools when I was in college. And I went to school in Santa Barbara, but not at UCSB. The girls there had to outnumber the men as well. It just seemed like no matter where you went, there was tons of girls and very few guys. So that's not a bad place to be.


[00:19:26.510] - John Hembel

Not bad for a heterosexual, right?


[00:19:27.940] - Big Rich Klein

That's good. Exactly. It's pretty easy to choose there.


[00:19:32.890] - John Hembel



[00:19:34.650] - Big Rich Klein

So then what was your course of study?


[00:19:40.050] - John Hembel

So at first, I really had no clue. I was still young. I started school right after I had turned 17. I started college. And so I was super young, didn't know a thing. Of course, you think you know everything, but you don't. And so I just said, okay, well, study business. I didn't really know what I wanted to study. But my second year at college, took off for summer, lived with a girlfriend in Naples, Florida, and started my business there. I started a window-tinting and detailing business, automotive. Basically, put myself through the last couple of years of school. And so as I was studying business, and I owned a business, I realized that what they were teaching was pretty useless. It was a lot of theory that wasn't practical whatsoever. I'm pretty pragmatic. I want that practicality. I'm like, This doesn't make any sense. And at the time, the girl I was seeing was studying interior design and architecture. And for her first and second semester, I doing the majority of her work for her, and she was getting A's off my work. So I swapped majors to that and basically put myself through the last couple of years of school doing that.


[00:21:14.770] - John Hembel

And I excelled at it because it was something I really liked. So I never actually really used it because at that point, and when I graduated, I had already had my business for about two and a half years at that point. And I I wanted to move back to Colorado. And I knew I really didn't want to go to work for somebody else at that point. And as an architect, you're pretty much obligated to go work for somebody for several years before you can then go out on your own and almost start over again. And I didn't like the idea of that. So I didn't really want to intern with somebody and do all that and go through that hassle. And I liked it, but I didn't love it. So it wasn't something I was really going to pursue. And I just decided, you know what, I'm going to find a way to start my business over in Colorado. And I had moved back to the Aspen area, right as pretty much as soon as I graduated. I graduated mid-December, and by Christmas, I was back in Aspen. And didn't look back. I was there for another 30 years.


[00:22:22.830] - Big Rich Klein

Thirty years. Okay, let's talk about that time in Aspen. How was it getting the business started there? I would imagine you were up against competition already there.


[00:22:40.750] - John Hembel

There was some competition. The fortunate part is the auto detail rambling end of things gives you the ability to bring in some day-to-day business without worrying too much about knocking on doors or doing anything like that. I was able to make quite a few friends around the area and get referrals from friends and start the business on a shoestring budget, basically. And within probably the first year, I was able to put together enough money to really start the architectural end of the window-tinting business, which I was doing at the same time as the automotive end. So I was doing both, but I knew the architectural end was where I really wanted to be. It's where the money was. It was easier work, but it was harder to get into. So I knew it was going to take time to build. And so I kept the auto-detailing end of things until 1999. And so I think it was December of '90 when I moved back to Aspen, and '99 when I actually stopped the automotive the end of things entirely, and just went strictly architectural.


[00:24:05.080] - Big Rich Klein

Interesting. And the architectural, because windows in buildings are typically not curved. They're plate glass, so it's flatter. And that's all being done on the inside, correct, of the windows, not on the outside?


[00:24:22.720] - John Hembel

99% of the time, it's on the inside. There's still a lot of challenges with it. You have to understand the glass itself. You can damage a lot of glass by several means. You can scratch glass fairly easily. If it's a tempered glass, and if it has some imperfections on the surface, you actually drag those imperfections across the glass and scratch it. You can break glass by putting the wrong film on that absorbs too much heat, and all of a sudden it expands too much compared to, say, an outer pane because you're dealing with almost all double pane glass. So You get some energy issues, you get some imperfections in the glass, you get a lot of things that people don't know starting out in the business. And they just say, oh, I'm going to slap some film up there and get paid to do it. Well, you can do that for a while until you start running into problems. I had a competitor who did all the windows in an $18 million house and broke 90 % of them.


[00:25:25.350] - Big Rich Klein

Holy shit. Not while he did it, but when it heated up.


[00:25:29.810] - John Hembel

Oh, no No, no. After it was already done, after it was already tinted, everything was done, 90% of the windows in the house broke because he put the wrong film on the windows.


[00:25:38.950] - Big Rich Klein

That cost him, or at least his insurance, if he had insurance.


[00:25:43.960] - John Hembel

Oh, he wasn't a competitor after that.


[00:25:45.780] - Big Rich Klein

Right. File bankruptcy, leave the country.


[00:25:49.570] - John Hembel

Yeah, pretty much. The knowledge base in the business is very, very important. I'm fortunate to have surrounded myself with some really good people in the industry and learned a lot along the way. I was able to get together with some of the bigger companies and talk to them about how to develop different films and We had a dealer council for one manufacturer who would get seven dealers from around the world who represented the rest of the dealers around the world for that particular manufacturer. I was on that dealer council for several years and trying to implement different policies and update policies and help them develop some of their marketing materials and help them work on developing different films and just get some good hands-on input, basically, is what they were looking for.


[00:26:50.790] - Big Rich Klein

Nice. I'd imagine there's conventions to go to for that business, or at least tied into with With other things, like paint or something?


[00:27:04.840] - John Hembel

There are. I think I've never been to one of the glass, the Glazer conventions, but I would imagine that there is some There's a lot of the stuff, the inting aspect there. Typically, one of the big ones for us is SEMA. Granted, that's mostly automotive, but it's all the same manufacturers of product. They're They're using their films for architectural. Now, they are different films. Architectural and automotive films are different.


[00:27:35.770] - Big Rich Klein

But they make it all. But they make it all.


[00:27:38.090] - John Hembel

They're the companies that make it. You pretty much go to Sema to meet up with those companies. Depending on what manufacturer you're with, they'll have national conventions at least once a year as well, on their own for that particular brand.


[00:27:55.450] - Big Rich Klein

And so for a motorhead as well, that kills two birds with one stone.


[00:27:59.490] - John Hembel

It does, yeah. SEMA is a good place to go, particularly now that I'm only a couple hours away from Vegas.


[00:28:06.340] - Big Rich Klein

Right. You don't have to fly in. So then, when did you When did you get your feet wet in off-road? You said you had the '85 Toyota pickup, and in Florida. Did that truck go with you to Aspen?


[00:28:29.830] - John Hembel

It did not. I actually sold that about a year before I graduated college. I needed something fairly efficient. I got a little Honda Civic CRX, a little hatchback that I could basically put myself and my dog in and travel around pretty easily. But it was sure hard to haul anything with it.


[00:28:50.870] - Big Rich Klein

But it made the move with me out to Colorado.


[00:28:57.230] - John Hembel

I started getting my feet wet and off road not long after I got that '85 pickup. I didn't lift it right away, but I kept going back and forth to Georgia and had a lot of friends who were into just going back on some back roads and different places It's the south, so really all you're really wheeling is mud, which is terrible. I hate mud.


[00:29:22.600] - Big Rich Klein

I agree. I'm right there with you.


[00:29:25.760] - John Hembel

Just such a pain. Gets in everything and nearly impossible to get it all out. Yeah, not my favorite thing to wheel, but it sure does make you learn how to find traction.


[00:29:40.420] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Then when you get to Colorado, you You got your Honda, and obviously, you're not off-roading the Honda.


[00:29:51.880] - John Hembel

No, it wasn't long before I got rid of the Honda and bought a Jeep. Okay. So bought a little YJ that I was able to at least run up and down the hills and rent it a cabin up on a mountain. The Honda wasn't getting me there, so I had to have something. We bought a Jeep Wrangler. Not long after that, I bought a '67 Toyota FJ40, so we could have a couple of vehicles to run around in. I wheeled both of those for quite a while. The Jeep, just local wheeling, stuff like that. The FJ40, I started taking to Moab and different places where it was a little more interesting to wheel.


[00:30:41.080] - Big Rich Klein

When you started to go to Moab, how did you end up in Aspen, and then with the Jeep, just using it for a better commute vehicle, you ended up going to Moab? Was somebody said, Hey, let's all go to Moab?


[00:31:03.210] - John Hembel

Yeah, I had a business next to a guy who had a CJ5 that was somewhat fixed up, and he wheeled a lot, and he started talking to me about the local four-wheel drive club. I said, Oh, I'd be interested in that. So went to a couple of meetings in the Four Wheel Drive Club and got to know a few people and started going down with those guys to Moab. And one thing led to another and ended up President of the Four Wheel Drive Club for a I know how that goes.


[00:31:32.850] - Big Rich Klein

That happened to me in Cedar City.


[00:31:35.860] - John Hembel

Yeah, it happens. But I was part of that Four Wheel Drive Club for a long, long time and still very close to a lot of those people. In fact, just had some of them come down this way a couple of weeks ago to play around. It's been been really good to develop those relationships in the off-road. They're not as active They're not as active as some of the other clubs, but they do a lot of trail maintenance up in high country. They work on a lot of land issues, keeping things from being closed, and they're active in that way, but not as active in the day-to-day wheeling world, which is fine. We need both.


[00:32:22.570] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, we do. That's why I'm now part of the Rubicon Trail Foundation as a board of director. I'm trying to give back to that side of our industry, instead of just the competitive side that I've been involved with for 25 years. I understand. Yeah.


[00:32:44.800] - John Hembel

It's great. Yeah. And in that particular area, the Aspen area, there's a lot of surrounding wilderness, and the organizations there are adamant about closing more. So the fight is real. And we were front lines on some of that in that area. A lot of the Western Colorado stuff that they were trying to shut down, we were some of the ones that kept them from getting it shut down. They termed one of their closures that they were attempting, hidden gems. And so we made up little red circles with a slash through it, no hidden gems. And we distributed about 20,000 1,000 of those stickers. And everywhere he went, he saw those stickers. And guess what? They didn't get it pushed through. So we actually learned that we needed to work with them instead of a hard line against them to be able to be effective. And most off-roaders, they want this hard line where you just say, No, I don't want the closure. No, I don't want the closure. And You can't have that attitude. Look, I don't want the closure. You're right, but you can't be public about that. You have to basically find a way to be diplomatic about it and say, Look, I'm willing to look at this proposal.


[00:34:19.470] - John Hembel

I'm willing to work with you on the different lands that you think you want to close. In the back of your mind, you're going, We don't want any of it closed. We want more access. And so you've got to find that balance. And we were very effective with that balance in our fight up there, which was great.


[00:34:40.410] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah. Man, I've always been. I've I've not been one of those guys that, you might call it, pussy foots around. The whole compromise to save, I have a real issue with.


[00:35:02.090] - John Hembel

So do we.


[00:35:02.980] - Big Rich Klein

You have to find that fine line of cooperation, but with me, without that compromise.


[00:35:15.130] - John Hembel

Well, it's basically a game. You have to play their game, whether you want to or not. For us, it wasn't about, Okay, you guys want 1.5 million acres. We're going to give you 200,000. We didn't to give them a single acre. But we had to look at, Okay, what are the things that we can absolutely live without, and what do we absolutely need? It turned out to be about 75,000 acres out of the 1.5 million that they wanted. We didn't get trail closures, and we didn't get any of that stuff lumped into it. Ultimately, it was a win for us.


[00:36:00.270] - Big Rich Klein

Colorado has been a battleground state for land closures, and as well as Utah.


[00:36:11.340] - John Hembel

Oh, absolutely. 100 %. They're beautiful places, no doubt. Unfortunately, there's user groups that don't really care for the lands the way that some other user groups do. We're fortunate in the people we know that we have a lot of really responsible friends who really want to save the lands and save them for the next generation to be able to utilize, whether that's motorized or non-motorized or whatever it is, but keep it open to everybody.


[00:36:41.750] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Yeah, because once it goes to wilderness, it's closed.


[00:36:46.640] - John Hembel

You're done. Yeah, you're absolutely done. That are monuments. People don't understand the difference between wilderness that they see on TV. Oh, Alaska wilderness. We can go in that. No, that's Little W Wilderness. That's not Big W Wilderness. Big W wilderness means closed off forever to anything motorized.


[00:37:06.200] - Big Rich Klein

Or even beyond that. It's anything mechanized.


[00:37:13.070] - John Hembel

Let's put it that way. Anything mechanized, correct.


[00:37:15.020] - Big Rich Klein

And they're even going after the horseback riders now.


[00:37:18.460] - John Hembel

Yeah. Mechanized can mean a peton in the rock if you're a climber. It can mean something as simple as that. Sorry, you can't use that little anchor in the rock because that's a mechanized piece. Right.


[00:37:31.360] - Big Rich Klein

Or your boat down the river.


[00:37:33.660] - John Hembel

Right. So, yeah, it's a big deal. So, yeah, that fight is ongoing. I don't think it's ever going to stop.


[00:37:43.580] - Big Rich Klein

No, it won't.


[00:37:44.960] - John Hembel

It's unfortunate.


[00:37:47.170] - Big Rich Klein

So then you get to go into Moab, and what was... Do you remember what the first trail you did at Moab was?


[00:37:58.870] - John Hembel

Golden Spike.


[00:37:59.450] - Big Rich Klein

Golden Spike. Golden Spike. Okay.


[00:38:02.660] - John Hembel

Yeah, I do. I don't know. I had, I think, 33s underneath my FJ40 at that time, and some really stiff spring lift. That was miserable. No lockers, but managed to get through everything just fine. If you learn how to drive with no lockers, you can definitely drive with lockers. Correct.


[00:38:25.180] - Big Rich Klein

That's how I learned.


[00:38:25.500] - John Hembel

Not enough people learn without. And still, at that time still manual and all that. So three-footing the whole thing and having a great time. So loved it. A lot of throttle got me through some things. There probably wasn't a lot of finesse the first few times out, but it was still a lot of fun.


[00:38:49.270] - Big Rich Klein

And what is your most favorite trail of the normal Moab trails? And when I mean normal, the ones that you find in the and everything, not the hidden gems that nobody... Not the Kevin Carroll type trail. I get that.


[00:39:08.510] - John Hembel

For years and years, I was going down there for the main trail. I know them well, Golden Spike is great, but it's so long and it's so far between obstacles. It's beautiful, scenic, all of that. But man, it's all day long, and you're not really getting a lot of true wheeling in, not the way we like it these days. Probably my favorite down there was Moab Rim. Just scenic-wise, it's just beautiful on the Colorado River. It doesn't take you long to get up and down that trail. You've got a lot of great obstacles on the way up and on the way down. That was always one that I had to do, whether it was the Sunday morning we were leaving or at some point on one of the evenings that we were there or at night or whatever it was. It's It's a lot of fun, and it scares a lot of people because it's off camber down towards the river on your first climb. But honestly, if you're careful enough and you're not doing anything stupid, you'll get through it.


[00:40:14.300] - Big Rich Klein

Right. I think it's one of my favorite trails down there. That's for sure. The other is doing Pritchet and then to behind the Rocks, but there's the one in between. I can't ever remember the name. Something Canyon. Oh, yeah. Not Fisher Canyon. Anyway, there's that little trail in between the two, so you don't have to do the dirt roads. Right. Then when you come out of that, then you're up white knuckle and then across. So, yeah.


[00:40:48.630] - John Hembel

So then- All good stuff.


[00:40:49.920] - Big Rich Klein

When was your first time to Sand Hollow?


[00:40:55.300] - John Hembel

So some of my friends went to the first Trail Hero, and when they came back, I was looking at their pictures and I thought, Man, I have got to get down their wheeling. That looks awesome. And at the time, I had my '67 FJ40. I had several other vehicles. I built a Exo cage, linked Samurai, and I had several other vehicles along the way. But I always kept my FJ40. And at that time, when my friends had come back, I was just finishing up a 10-year build on that FJ40, going to tons, going to, I don't know, probably the fifth V8 I had in the thing, but fuel injected and swapping sides on the T-case and everything, going to the automatic. Basically, going to 42s, linked suspension front and rear. The thing was going to be amazing. I was basically building it to be a buggy, be a full-bodied buggy. And so I was finishing up on that, and they showed me these pictures. Man, I got to get down there. So immediately, I booked a trip for Winter 4x4 because that was the next event that was up. I was like, well, at least I'll get down there for Winter 4x4.


[00:42:22.840] - John Hembel

People can show me around. It's a good event. I didn't know much about it. I just looked it up online and I I found the trails that they were running. And I was like, well, sounds like nine rated trails is where I want to be. So we'll go for those and see what happens. And so we came down for a winter 4x4 that year, and Man, it just poured rain and half snowed that whole weekend. It was miserable, but we had a great time. So when the weekend was over and we hadn't broken anything and we had some great trails, I think we did Nasty Half, we did Joint Effort, we did The Maze. I don't remember all the trails we did at that time, but several pretty good trails and a great group of people. I met some people from Colorado on that trip that are actually living here with me now in Southern Utah. We both We decided after that trip that we might have to move there.


[00:43:33.970] - Big Rich Klein

Right. A lot of Californians have done that, too.


[00:43:37.350] - John Hembel

Yeah, I know that. But after that trip, we booked for the next Trail Hero and the next Winter 4x4, the next Trail Hero. Then I took some friends from Glenwood Springs, where the Fourwheel Drive Club was. I brought them down to Sand Hollow and showed them around at some point in there before I had moved here. Got a good group of Coloradoans together and brought them all down to show them around Sant Hollow for their first time. They've been back several times since, so they love it, too.


[00:44:12.320] - Big Rich Klein

At what point did you say, Okay, I'm loving this too much. I got to move here.


[00:44:19.780] - John Hembel

Well, I think I made the decision in early 2018 that I wanted to move. I wasn't sure how that was going to happen because at that point, I didn't really have any prospects for selling my business, and I wasn't sure how that was going to go. I knew I could put my house up for sale. I wasn't sure how the business, if it would sell, if it wouldn't sell. I had no idea. That was all up in the air at that time. But in 2018, we had a big forest fire that was only a mile or so from our house and coming our way, and we had to to evacuate. And I think that was on the third of July or fourth of July. I can't remember that it started. And we had just had our house up for sale, and we were supposed to have a showing the next day. Everything got closed down. All the real estate sales got shut down for the rest of the summer. So there was no selling the house that year, and we had to wait till the next spring to put our house up for sales. So 2019, And it gave me time also to look for a buyer for my business.


[00:45:33.010] - John Hembel

So that wasn't such a bad thing. 2019 rolled around, and I was able to put my house back on the market, sell it within, I think, about three weeks of putting it on the market and also sold my business the same month. So we moved down in August of 2019 to Hurricane. And man, haven't looked back. It's been great. Made more friends in Southern Utah within the first year of living here than I made in a lifetime in Aspen. I think part of that is the transient nature of Aspen. It's so expensive that people just can't afford to stay there. I've been fortunate to make friends all over the world. My skiing career helped with that. We haven't talked about that, but I'm sure we will. I've got friends all over Europe all over Scandinavia, pretty much all over North America, a few in South America. I've been fortunate to be able to travel all over the world skiing. And then as soon as I moved to Southern Utah, I quit. I don't ski anymore.


[00:46:49.810] - Big Rich Klein

So two hobbies can be very expensive.


[00:46:55.060] - John Hembel



[00:46:55.760] - Big Rich Klein

So before we get into the rock crawling competitions and stuff and how that all came about, let's talk about skiing. How did you go from skiing as a kid, to Florida, Atlanta, or Florida skiing as a kid, Atlanta.


[00:47:16.770] - John Hembel

Atlanta, then Florida, yeah.


[00:47:17.900] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, and then back to Aspen, and then you picked up skiing again, and you were just doing it as a recreational then?


[00:47:30.160] - John Hembel

Pretty much. So when I moved or when we moved to the Atlanta area, because my parents both worked for Delta, we could pretty much fly anywhere we wanted to at a moment's notice. And so skiing, I never gave up skiing. Even moving to Georgia, we would fly to... Salt Lake was the easiest just because you can fly into Salt Lake, be on the mountain in 45 minutes. If you got your ski gear with you, you don't have to go rent ski gear or anything else. You can be there really quickly. So it was super convenient. Delta flew into Salt Lake, so we could get a direct flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake, be skiing, maybe just go for a long weekend or whatever It didn't really matter because we weren't really paying for flights. We had to go on standby. But typically you look at, okay, what flights have availability? And let's work around that, and let's work around those days. And so my parents would take me out of school for a few days. When all my friends were going to the beach for either Christmas vacation or spring break or whatever it was, I was going to the mountains.


[00:48:44.370] - John Hembel

And so I was like, I'm going skiing, sorry. And I'd come back with the skier tan, goggles, burnt face, and the whole thing. And they'd be tan all over and I'd be white. But I didn't care. It was a lot of on. And growing up skiing, I always knew that I wanted to be a pro skier. I didn't know that I wanted to be a pro competitor, but I always wanted to do something in skiing. I loved it so much. And then getting torn away from it just before high school. It gutded me, honestly. I mean, I found other outs. I found other avenues to compete and do all that. But it was just something that was always this burning desire in me to be able to to see. And so every year that we would go, say, Salt Lake, or we'd go to Aspen every once in a while and go back and see people and do whatever there. But I would work on a particular skill every time I would go skiing. So I would get there and I would work on a carving turn, or I would work on moguls, or I would work on something the first day I was back and then perfect that while I was there.


[00:50:05.100] - John Hembel

And then the next time I would go back, the very first day, I would revisit that skill and then work on a new skill. And so every time I went back, I was working on different skills to be able to be a well-rounded skier. And I didn't know that I ever wanted to do anything with it. I just knew I wanted to be a better skier. And so that was fun to me. Okay, I perfect I directed this skill. Now let's work on another skill, and let's be better at what we're doing. And just I always wanted to be the best at whatever it was I was doing. So that was the goal, and it worked really well for me over the years. And every once in a while, being in Georgia and Florida, I would go to East Coast skiing. We'd go to North Carolina. I'd have friends in high school or in college that would say, Hey, let's go on a ski trip. And of course, I was always up for that until I learned what the skiing was like in North Carolina. Right. I was like, Oh, that's terrible.


[00:51:05.580] - Big Rich Klein

Like me, the first time I went to, when I was in college, there was a guy I skied with named Dave Quinny, and his parents owned a ski resort in Utah. And he goes, hey, we're going to go skiing down at Big Bear. And I'm like, Big Bear? Okay. I grew up at Squaw Valley, heavenly. It was like, I didn't even go to the the little places around there. Kirkwood was steep enough, so that was okay. And in Tahoe area, so we went to Big Bear, and I'm like, okay, where's the hardest run? And they go, Oh, we're going to go up on this run here. I don't remember the name. And we skied down and I'm like, Where's the hard run? I thought we were going to go to the hardest run. They go, Well, you were just on it. And I was like, Oh, okay.


[00:52:00.860] - John Hembel



[00:52:03.510] - Big Rich Klein

It was a bummer.


[00:52:05.810] - John Hembel

I had one of those experiences in North Carolina. I think Sugar Mountain, North Carolina. They said this one particular run I think it's called Tom Terrific. They're like, Oh, yeah, that's the steepest thing on the mountain. You got to go ski that. Well, I jumped the entire run. I launched off the catwalk at and I landed at the bottom, and I missed the whole run. I'm like, Well, that wasn't very interesting.


[00:52:35.660] - Big Rich Klein

I get it. I get it exactly.


[00:52:41.590] - John Hembel

Yeah. My first day when I graduated college and I moved back to Aspen, my very first day back skiing, I ran into one of my lifelong friends, one of the best skiers I've ever known in my life, and just super talented athlete, ran into him on the hill and he said, hey, they're getting ready to open up this particular run on snowmast that's a super steep run. And it was all socked in that day. You couldn't see the run at all, but it was way steep powder. And I hadn't been in any of that thing in years. And so I was like, hey, I'm up for it. Let's go for it. And we had to hike up to this thing and ski down. And I had no idea what I just skied down. All I knew it was steep and deep. And I was like, well, that was a lot of fun. I love that. And I eventually saw it. I eventually saw it later, and I'm like, oh, yeah, that's pretty cool. And so that stuff we would just go ski all the time. But having that person who could show me that stuff that was never available when I was a kid.


[00:53:49.510] - John Hembel

That was not terrain that was ever open to anyone when I was a kid in that area. And they had opened up all this super steep terrain and off-piece stuff that was just phenomenal skiing, all double black stuff. But at that point, that's all I wanted to go ski. After I ran that, it's like, Oh, I want something steeper. I want something deeper. I want trees, I want I want all this technical stuff. We always pushed it every time we went out.


[00:54:22.520] - Big Rich Klein

That's how I grew up at Squaw. I didn't physically live there, but we skied every every weekend, and sometimes it was Friday through Monday, so it skied four days a weekend. But it wasn't the runs that everybody was on. We would climb over the fences and jump the cornets. The signs that said this area closed or whatever, those signs became blank to us, and we just went for it. I mean, oh, you can ski from Squaw Valley to Alpine? Well, let's try that. What, there's a backside? There's a backside to Squaw Valley, and you can come into the village from the backside? Well, let's try that. We just went and hunted it. We didn't really... I never hooked up with any locals. It was just the ski club that I was with. But we got to the point where Ski Patrol would see us, and they'd start facing us. So they never caught us.


[00:55:34.910] - John Hembel

Yeah, I never got my pass pulled, but there were times when I thought I was going to, for sure. We would duck ropes and get into some terrain that only the locals knew. Fortunately, I had my friend Franz, who had lived there all his life, and he never moved away when I did. He knew every inch of that mountain. We would just duck a rope and go find some really cool stuff and have a great day and duck the rope again and back onto the lift.


[00:56:09.480] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah. I think that in seventh or eighth grade, we went up to Mount Rose Ski Mountain up on... It's near Reno, between Reno and North Lake Tahoe. And there was a van there, and they were doing demo skis. And I looked over and I told my parents, I said, I think that's Wayne Wong and Airborne Eddie Ferguson. And they were like, who is that? And I said, oh, you got to know who Wayne Wong is. Exactly. And it was after that first year of the hot dog competitions. I mean, it wasn't called free... I mean, it was hot dogging. And so I went over all the other kids and, Can we ski with you? Can we ski with you? And they were like, Okay, this is what we're going to do. First run in the morning, at this time, we're going to go up this chair. And if you get to the bottom with us, then you can ski with us. And I was like, gung ho. So I went up to the top of the mountain, waited for them to get there. And then there was probably 30 kids there. And they took off down the mountain and I just, I stuck with them.


[00:57:34.210] - Big Rich Klein

And get down to the bottom, they looked around and I'm right there 20 feet behind them or so. And there was nobody else you could see. And they were like, okay, come on, let's go. And they taught me how to do a helicopter that weekend.


[00:57:49.860] - John Hembel



[00:57:50.700] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, eighth grade, and I'm doing a helicopter. I loved it.


[00:57:56.540] - John Hembel

Very cool.


[00:57:58.210] - Big Rich Klein

It's probably why my knees are bad now, though.


[00:58:01.140] - John Hembel

All those bumps. I think within about four years of moving back to Aspen, Snowmass area, they had a speed skiing competition in Snowmass. And as a kid, I followed Steve McKinney and C. J. Mueller and all the guys who were setting records, basically, speed skiing. And it was just I was in awe of these eight-foot long skis. I couldn't even reach the top of. And there was a pair in the corner at the ski shop. And so when they had this competition in Snowmatch, I was like, oh, man, I got to go out and do that. So I said, I'm going to sign up. And I got, I was like, I don't have any gear for this. I'm like, I'm going to run just downhill gear, but I didn't even own any downhill gear at that time. So I actually borrowed some skis from a friend of mine, some downhill skis, some 220s. And my boots did not fit in his binding. And so rather than redrilling his binding, which I didn't want to do because they're his skis, I borrowed his ski boot and put my liner in his boot. Took up some of the extra space, packed something in there to take some of the extra space up.


[00:59:19.790] - John Hembel

And I borrowed a downhill suit. I borrowed pulls, like wrap around pulls and and competed in the amateur division and went 97 miles an hour. Wow. Man, that was awesome. I got second place, which was pretty good for that. My first time out, I was like, Man, that was great. I got to come back and do 100. So then it got to be all about the big numbers to me. So every time there was a competition, it's like, well, I got to go out and do 100. I got to try to do 110. Well, 110 on downhill gear, you're not getting there. It's just not aerodynamic enough. And so it's like, Well, Well, the only way I'm going to have this happen is if I step up to full on speed gear, step up to the pros. And so it was like, okay, game on, buy all the gear, get some practice in, learn how to do it. And I had a friend in Aspen who at that time was a world champion speed skier. And he had a shop in Aspen, Jeff Hamilton. And he had this shop in Aspen, and he had all his speed gear in there.


[01:00:33.440] - John Hembel

And his partner in the business was an ex-speed skier as well. And so I was able to get some pointers from him. And he's like, John, if you really want big speed, you got to Come over to Europe with us. Oh, okay. You didn't have to twist my arm for that. And so I think it was '98 or '99. We just We said, Okay, we're going to make the track. I traveled with Jeff that year to Vars, France, and got up on the hill and started just Running practice, maybe 120 miles an hour, or something like that. And on those hills, it's nothing. Honestly, it's not hard to do 120 miles an hour. And so we're hanging out in this little French village in Vars, and we've got probably two weeks before our first competition. We've got several days to go up and practice. I'm hanging out with this kid who's a speed skier in the village, and he knew I was trying to learn a little bit more French, and I grew up in a French family, honestly. My grandparents were French, so I had heard a lot of French, but I wasn't fluent.


[01:01:55.540] - John Hembel

I knew very little, but I had taken French in high as well. So I knew the grammar part of it, put it that way. I didn't know how to speak it. So he knew I was trying to learn more. And on my way through JFK, on the way to France, I picked up a French phrasebook, and on the cover, it said, even new phrases like mad cow disease. I'm like, oh, okay. So when this kid asked, hey, John, look in your phrasebook, learn how to say something in French, and try it out on me the next day. So we're up on the hillside the next day, getting ready to take my run. And I yelled down to the kid,, which roughly translated means, I think I have mad cow disease. And I gave out a big... And I put on my helmet and I took my run. And I went like 130 miles an hour and everything was perfect. I was like, Man, I got to do that next time. And so the next time I went up, I just gave out. I didn't say words, but I gave out the big bellowing moo, and I took my run.


[01:03:14.510] - John Hembel

And it was a great run again. So it just became a habit. It's just every time I went up. And so all of a sudden this French kid that's living in the village, he's calling me La vache folle, the mad cow.


[01:03:25.540] - Big Rich Klein

There you go.


[01:03:26.000] - John Hembel

The name stuck, and I got my nickname in France.


[01:03:32.070] - Big Rich Klein

Nice. So what was the highest speed that you attained on skis?


[01:03:41.360] - John Hembel

153.1 miles an hour.


[01:03:42.990] - Big Rich Klein

Holy shit. I did that fast once on a motorcycle.


[01:03:49.650] - John Hembel

Yeah, I've never been that fast in a vehicle, unfortunately. So I've been close. I've been 143. But the problem is, you're basically on an open road most of the time. If somebody would put me on a track, I'm sure I could go whatever speed I wanted.


[01:04:11.160] - Big Rich Klein

The Autobahn.


[01:04:12.600] - John Hembel

Well, even the Autobahn is limited. I mean, 150 is pretty much maxing out the Autobahn in most places. I've been probably 135 on the Autobahn. You're passing a lot of people at that point.


[01:04:30.510] - Big Rich Klein

Right. And hoping they stay in their lane.


[01:04:34.860] - John Hembel

Yeah. The Germans have this great system where if there's a wreck, they just pull this semi in that has a big gray wall on one side, and the other side opens and they shove everything into the semi and close it up and leave.


[01:04:50.760] - Big Rich Klein

Wow. Okay.


[01:04:52.750] - John Hembel

Yeah, it's super efficient. And work out the details later. They don't care. Just get it off the highway.


[01:04:59.420] - Big Rich Klein

Right. So then what are some of the places that you skied besides France for speed?


[01:05:08.520] - John Hembel

For speed, we raced a couple of different places in France. Lazard, France, is where I set my record. Vars is where the current world record is set at 158 miles an hour. We raced in Switzerland, Italy, Austria. They're currently racing. I think they've had some races in Slovenia. They've had some races in Spain. We had races in Norway, Sweden, Finland. We went all over the place. I mean, if somebody was putting on a race, we had the World Championships in Finland one year up in the Arctic Circle in this tiny little town of Salafinland. It's like 15 kilometers from the Russian border. It's Crazy, crazy cold and not much daylight. Certain times of the year, we went up there for a training camp one year where you don't even race during the day, if you want to put it that way. You have about an hour and a half of daylight, and the light is so bad that you don't want to ski. You have to wait until it's dark, and so you run under the lights. And so you're running like 100 miles an hour in 20 below weather in a skin tight suit with no insulation.


[01:06:34.010] - John Hembel



[01:06:34.260] - Big Rich Klein

Because you're shrink-wrapped.


[01:06:37.150] - John Hembel

Pretty much, yeah. They call it a rubber suit. It's not rubber. It's a four-way stretchable material that has a super thin fleece lining that's... You basically just sweat inside of it. And so that sweat turns to icewater real quick. You said your record, that was...


[01:06:59.660] - Big Rich Klein

You You mean your personal best, or did you have a world record at one time?


[01:07:04.650] - John Hembel

I didn't have the world record. I had the US record. I had several track records. But yeah, the world record was set in 2002 by a Frenchman when I set my personal best and the US record. And then in 2006, I tied my record to the thousandth, which Which really pissed me off. But it was in the semifinals of the biggest race of the year, basically. And at that point, when the record falls, So my Italian friend who I had beaten, I was world champion in 2002, which was a points thing, just like NASCAR. You don't always have to be at the top of the podium, but you have to have a lot of the best finishes. And we have that in We Rock as well. You don't always have to be at the top of the podium, but you have a lot of the best finishes, and you're going to be national champion or whatever it is. So that year, I think I only had two races where I wasn't on the podium that year, something like that. And so it was a really good year for me, and I ended up world champion.


[01:08:27.740] - John Hembel

Well, I think the next year, 2002, I set my record, 2003, I was world champion, and then 2004, the Italian that now or that held the world record or set the world record in 2006, he started his world champion run in four. And at this point, he's still racing and has 13 world championships.


[01:09:07.940] - Big Rich Klein



[01:09:09.190] - John Hembel

Yeah. So I was happy that I beat him, at least for a year.


[01:09:14.780] - Big Rich Klein

So how is he able to do that? Is his technique just that good? Or has he got some secret with his skis and wax?


[01:09:25.910] - John Hembel

Yeah, I mean, the racers definitely don't give up their secrets on the skis. He's got great technique. He's a phenomenal skier. He was a World Cup, he was a World Cup downhill guy for years and got hurt and then picked up speed skiing. And he's got great technique. He's a good overall skier all around, which I was fortunate to be in that realm as well. There's a lot of speed skiers who aren't great free skiers. They're very good at the technical sport of speed skiing, but they couldn't hit an off piece slope to save their life.


[01:10:06.590] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Okay.


[01:10:09.160] - John Hembel

I think that's changed nowadays. I think the guys who are at the top of the sport now are all good all around skiers. I think it's gotten to that level where you can no longer just be a specialist in speed. So I think it started to change with, probably started to change with Jeff Hamilton But it definitely changed with me and with Simone, who's the Italian, Simone Oregone. And his brother set the world... He set the world record. His younger brother set the world record after him. And so it's a great family legacy for those guys as well. But I had a great career. I can't complain. I had a good 10-year career. Got to travel all over the world, got some great sponsors, actually made money in the sport, which not a lot of skiers make money skiing. Sponsors definitely helped with that. I got a watch with my name on it, which there's very few athletes that have a watch named after them.


[01:11:22.230] - Big Rich Klein

There you go. That's cool. So then you get the bug to to Rock Crawl. And did you move to Hurricane first before you competed?


[01:11:43.730] - John Hembel

I did. Okay, you did. Yeah, I moved to Hurricane for a couple of reasons. One was definitely the off-road ability of the area. Just everything that the area had to offer off-road was a amazing. But ultimately, the decision was business. That was the primary decision. And being in Aspen, it's a very small community. Although I made good money, I knew I wasn't going to be able to scale the business, to be able to retire there eventually. It was just too expensive and too small a place for scaling a business to be able to step back from the day to day operations. But I knew with the growth potential in the St. George area, Hurricane, all of that, scaling the business was a good possibility. I knew it was going to take some time, and COVID definitely slowed down our growth for the business. But it has been a really good place to grow the business, and it is growing at this point. And I'm super happy about the way that that business is going, and I'm looking forward to the future there. But because of COVID, I actually got a lot of four wheeling in the first year I was here.


[01:13:04.200] - John Hembel



[01:13:06.690] - Big Rich Klein

Social distancing.


[01:13:08.240] - John Hembel

Yeah, exactly. You got 120, 130 days of wheeling in, which was a great year. My best previous to that was 37 days or something like that. So I was having a phenomenal time. And I talked to, I think it was Steve Nantz, who asked me if I wanted to go compete at one point, I think it was after that first year, I think it was 2020, he said, Oh, there's competition coming up in Cedar City. And I said, Well, what's that all about? And he said, Well, he told me all the details of We Rock and what I could expect. And I said, Yeah, sounds like fun. So we went up and competed that year. I think we did two events maybe that year. I can't remember. I think that year they had the national championship in Cedar as well. I can't remember if I just went for that or we did two events. But I think that year there might have been the Super Crawl at Sand Hollow as well that Jessie ran for one year. But anyway, we did a couple of events, and I had an S&N FAB chassis, buggy that I bought as a drag actual car and had Steve Nantes and San Paulo off road, rear steer the car for me while I was in the process of moving to Hurricane.


[01:14:42.410] - John Hembel

I figured I was going to be down for a month anyway, so I'm like, Here's my car. Get rear steer under it. It's already got 40-spline rear, so use all that stuff and reconfigure it for rear steer. So I had a car that was somewhat capable, and we had a good time competing. David Binkert said he had spot for me. He said he had some experience doing it. So I said, Yeah, let's do it. And he became my spotter for several years.


[01:15:18.260] - Big Rich Klein

Right. And then you guys... That was sportsman, and then you decided to jump up into Unlimited and quit messing around.


[01:15:28.720] - John Hembel

We ran a A partial year in Sportsman in that S&N fab car, and then I ended up building a Caleb red and chassis portal buggy. And we ran one more year. We were at a full season in sportsmen A and won the Western and national titles for that year. And it was super close, though. I mean, it came down to running up to Goldendale and competing against Michael Brassanini. And basically, it came down to whoever won Goldendale was going to win the overall that year. And fortunately, I came away with it, but it could have gone either way. Michael's a great driver, and he gives me a run for my money every time we go out.


[01:16:22.400] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah. Michael is a good driver.


[01:16:29.160] - John Hembel

He's a really good driver, and I love just rec wheeling with him. We go out and we push the limits every time we go out. So whether it's Sand Hollow or somewhere in Arizona or Colorado or wherever we go wheeling nowadays, we are always pushing the limits and looking for harder and harder stuff. I honestly think the competitive side of the sport has made me a much better rec wheeler. So I'm thankful for that.


[01:17:03.940] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, because first of all, you're doing things in competition that you wouldn't take that line unless there was cones there. You'd always go, Oh, hey, this line over here, a foot over here is much easier or this makes more sense. But you have to drive the lines that the course designer... And that's what I always called it. It was a chess match between between myself as a course designer, the competitor, and then the playing field, the chess board was, of course, the Rocks.


[01:17:41.100] - John Hembel

And it is exactly that way. You get into some situations As we were, like you said, you wouldn't normally try that line, but now you're forced into that line. You've got to find a way to make that work without either a rollover or hitting a cone or whatever. Let's see if we can do it without a backup or Let's see if we can do it cleanly, or let's see if we can even do it within the 10 minutes you're allotting us.


[01:18:06.930] - Big Rich Klein

So you'd said in skiing that you were very methodical about trying or improving by working on technique or some a skill that maybe you didn't have before? Did you find that you use that same concept when you rock-crawled?


[01:18:28.270] - John Hembel

Competition-wise, I haven't been able to really translate that so much, but what I have been able to translate is improving on different skills that maybe aren't intuitive. And things that I've learned in competition, and I've seen other competitors do, or seen techniques that have worked. Almost every time we go out, even now it's three and a half, four years later, I'm learning something new. You're going against guys like Jesse Haynes who have competed for the last 20 years, fairly consistently. And they've gotten through all those learning experiences, and they have all those tools in their back pocket. And I'm getting to the point where I have those tools, but I feel like I'm not quite there yet. I'm hoping that with a little bit more experience, and now a newer car. I had a 2019 car that was originally built by Jeff McKinley that was a fantastic single-seater, Jesse H. Fabb comp car. I was very, very comfortable in that car. But I thought it was time to upgrade. So I was ready to build a new car this year. And a car came available in California just three weeks ago that happened to be what I was looking for, all the same parts, all the right stuff.


[01:19:59.820] - John Hembel

Stuff. Unfortunately, it's not put together exactly the way I want it. And so it's not working quite well yet. I will tweak it a bit and hopefully come back with a good working car and something that will be competitive the next few times out. But as of right now, it's still work in progress.


[01:20:25.370] - Big Rich Klein

What does the future hold for John?


[01:20:30.320] - John Hembel

Well, hopefully beat Dave long one of these days.


[01:20:35.840] - Big Rich Klein

Just about the time Jesse has his new car done.


[01:20:39.040] - John Hembel

Yeah, probably. Dave has been a great competitor and somebody I look up to in the sport for sure. And Dave and I work together during the week. He used to own a window tinning business. I know you've had him on a podcast as well. He did exactly the same thing I did. We have very similar backgrounds. It's crazy how many similar experiences we have. And then we work together during the week. He helps me with my business. And then we go compete against each other during weekends and go out wheeling. The weekends we're not competing. So it's been a great friendship. And I'm really happy for him when he wins. I'm happy for any of my friends if they win, and I'm happy if I win. But I'm not sad I'm sad when I lose because I've learned something, and I've had a great time during the weekend competing against my friends. So I think just more of that at this point. Hopefully, get a car that's a little bit more competitive and push for the next however long. I still love this sport, so I'm hoping that I can be competitive for another few years and enjoy my time just out on the rocks.


[01:22:03.350] - Big Rich Klein

Right. And when that competitive streak ends for you, when you decide, You know what? I don't need to compete anymore, and you go back to the trail wheeling, it's still going to be there, that desire to trail wheel and push the envelope. And that's something you won't lose. I can tell you that.


[01:22:25.650] - John Hembel

Oh, yeah. I mean, we have such a great time going out on the weekends or Sometimes weekdays with Brian, Woody, Swearingen, Dave Wong, Michael Brassini. There's a whole host of really great drivers in Southern Utah. Tyler Harper, I Man, you rattle off some of the best names in the off-road world, in the rock-crawling world, and they're right here in my backyard. So we have a ton of fun, and I couldn't be happier with where I'm at and what I'm doing right now. Awesome.


[01:23:00.640] - Big Rich Klein

What would you say for somebody that's, say, running in sportsmen now or maybe is looking to get into rock-crawling competitions? What would your advice be to them?


[01:23:14.540] - John Hembel

Honestly, I think go out and do it. It is something that's a ton of fun. You've got a lot of people that are involved in the sport who will help you in whatever you need to do. You'll get great advice from people. You'll You'll get great support, and it's just a ton of fun. And whether you get out in just one of the recreational classes, if you want to call it that, the sportsman, A, B, or C, or if you want to step up to one of the full-level, Pro Trail, Unlimited, whatever it might be, there's pretty much a level for anybody that's out there. And if You're just a typical rec wheeler, man, come out and have fun, and you won't be sorry. I guarantee you. When I first looked at it, I said, Oh, yeah, that might be fun, but I don't know how much I'll really be into it. Man, did I get the bug.


[01:24:20.350] - Big Rich Klein

Exactly. Well, John, I want to say thank you so much for spending the time today and having this conversation with me and talking about your life. I hope some people out there, some of your friends that you wheel with now, just learn some things about you. Of course, I learned a lot about you, and that's awesome.


[01:24:41.960] - John Hembel

Well, Rich, I definitely appreciate it. Thank you very much for having me.


[01:24:45.580] - Big Rich Klein

All right. You take care. And like I said, this thing will air. And if you'll share it, I'd appreciate it.


[01:24:53.240] - John Hembel

Will do.


[01:24:54.040] - Big Rich Klein

Okay. Take care.


[01:24:55.290] - John Hembel

Thanks, buddy. All right. Bye-bye.


[01:24:57.630] - 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 a 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 would 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. Your dreams and live life with all the gusto you can. Thank you.