When you meet a Force Recon Marine, you expect many things. Emotional vulnerability — especially within 10 minutes of meeting — is not at the top of the list. But Robert Blanton is sitting behind his desk in the Warfighter Made shop in Temecula, California, describing to a virtual stranger how he was on the brink of suicide just a few short years ago.
Blanton is about what you might imagine a retired Marine in Southern California looks like. He’s tall and obviously fit, facts even an oversized hoodie and a slight slouch can’t fully disguise. Combined with the trucker hat, the shorts, and the Vans sneakers, Blanton could almost pass for any SoCal dad, except for the fact that he still carries himself more like a Marine despite the civilian garb.
During 21 years of service — he retired in 2014 — Blanton saw four combat deployments in the War on Terror: two with the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, and his last with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. During his last combat tour in Iraq in 2008, Blanton and his platoon were involved in an ambush that ultimately resulted in the elimination of an insurgent cell. As a result of his actions during that engagement, Blanton received the Silver Star, the United States military’s third-highest decoration for valor in combat.
“I was also awarded with a diagnosis of severe post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” Blanton deadpans. There’s no hint of a joke or smile when he says it; during those combat deployments, Blanton saw more than his share of ugliness, including the death of a fellow Marine, Sergeant Michael Fersche, during that ambush.
“My post traumatic stress manifested itself in anger issues. I couldn’t control my anger, and I couldn’t control my adrenaline. Back in those times, if I saw somebody walk into a room and I didn’t immediately perceive them as NOT a threat, I’d go 100% adrenaline,” Blanton says. And when the adrenaline started flowing, he had to physically act. “It was creating issues for me,” he says simply.
Blanton tried to manage his PTSD, first by self-medicating with alcohol, then through intense therapy and medication. “But I didn’t stop drinking,” he says. “One night it came to a head: I wanted to kill myself.”
And yet, as bleak as that moment was, it proved to be a turning point for Blanton. “We turned that negative into a positive, and Warfighter Made started to become a reality.” Blanton is glossing over the dirtier, grittier aspects of his mental state, but he is crystal clear about what he learned from wandering in the wilderness: “We realized that when you focus on something that you’re passionate about, it gives you a break from your triggers, your stressors. That’s where adapting and customizing vehicles for our fellow catastrophically wounded warfighters came in.”
There are a couple of key things to know about Warfighter Made:
Blanton is the organization’s co-founder and CEO, and he is a full-time volunteer. In the beginning, he didn’t necessarily envision an off-road focus for Warfighter Made. Although he rode dirt bikes growing up in California’s North Bay area, Blanton’s automotive heritage were distinctly street-oriented. “I remember being four years old, sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s V8 Vega, and then as i got older, I’d do high school drag races and stuff like that at Sears Point Raceway, which is now Sonoma Raceway."
Luckily, Blanton met and became friends with Adam Fitza, a longtime member of the off-road industry, and now the chief fabricator and engineer at Warfighter Made. At the time, Fitza was the main crew chief of a Predator off-road buggy, and through that connection, Blanton began putting veterans into the passenger seat of that buggy during short course races. “That was our introduction into off road, which led us to the Mint 400, where we were introduced to the Merrell Brothers from UTV Wolfpack, who introduced us to Polaris. Polaris wanted to be a part of our program, gave us two machines, and said, ‘Go forth and do great things.’ That was 2014.”
"When you get behind the wheel of a RZR and you go around a corner, and you’re a little crossed up, and then you see the face of a jump, and you hit it and you’re flying through the air, the adrenaline kicks in. It’s a really good feeling for veterans." — Robert Blanton
In the intervening three-plus years, Warfighter Made has grown slowly, but steadily. “When you have support from a name like Polaris, you start to help more vets. As more people see that, you start bringing on more supporters like Odyssey Battery, Kicker, Lincoln Electric, and Lucas Oil. Then BFGoodrich walks up to you at the 2017 Mint 400…”
For Blanton, that was a moment of validation. “BFGoodrich has always been a brand I’ve looked at and noticed, but when I started to get involved in off-road, it became readily apparent that the who’s who were on BFGoodrich. But I started realizing that some of these top drivers were actually paying for their own BFGs because they wanted the best. So when BFGoodrich came to us and said, ‘Hey, we’ve noticed, and we’d like the opportunity to work with you,’ that was massive to me.”
It’s not that Blanton is motivated by recognition or fame. “I know I make a difference in the lives of veterans everyday,” he says. But Warfighter Made isn’t being funded by donations from veterans. Large scale support — the kind that allows for Warfighter Made to sustain its mission — comes from larger entities. “I used to lose sleep at night because I wondered, ‘Does anyone else notice what we do? Does anyone else care?’ When a brand like BFGoodrich comes up to you, that’s pretty awesome.”
As Warfighter Made has grown as an organization, its ability to serve has grown beyond simply putting veterans in the passenger seat during short course races. “It’s awesome being in the passenger seat and re-experiencing the controlled chaos, the adrenaline [that veterans experience in combat]. We thought how cool it would be if we could take those vets and put them in the driver’s seat. So that’s where Polaris came in, and that’s where this idea of adrenaline therapy came in.”
The premise of adrenaline therapy is simple. “No matter what your job was in the military, when you go overseas into a combat situation, you learn to adapt and thrive in adrenaline-type situations,” explains Blanton. “When you come back to the civilian world, it’s just not the same. It’s just not there.” Putting vets behind the wheel of an off-road vehicle allows them to experience a similar rush of adrenaline, but in a much safer and controlled environment than combat. As Blanton puts it: “When you get behind the wheel of a RZR and you go around a corner, and you’re a little crossed up, and then you see the face of a jump, and you hit it and you’re flying through the air, the adrenaline kicks in and it’s a really good feeling for veterans.”
Warfighter Made’s adrenaline therapy takes many forms. At a competitive level, the organization ran eight races in a Ford Ranger in the Lucas Oil Regional Series’ Mini Open class with seven different veteran drivers. But there are also off-road day trips with ten veterans at a time, rotating between different Polaris RZRs, as well as week-long off-road excursions.
And yet, the adrenaline isn’t even the most therapeutic aspect of Warfighter Made’s adrenaline therapy. “The hook is driving these machines that have been made safer and look so much cooler through products donated by our outside partners,” says Blanton. But once veterans are on-site, it’s the camaraderie that is most important.
“As a veteran, you looked at the men and women around you and you didn’t even have to say it. You would give your life for them in a heartbeat, as they would do the same for you,” says Blanton. That sense of duty, teamwork, and shared purpose is much harder to find in the civilian world, and in Blanton’s estimation, creates a large gap in understanding between veterans and civilians. “That, to me, was the hardest transition,” he says.
"When you look good, you feel good. For car people, your car is an extension of you. When men and women contact us, they’re contacting us because they’re car people. Their machines are important to them.” — Robert Blanton
Through adrenaline therapy, Warfighter Made puts veterans in contact with each other and renews the bond that exists between servicemen and women. “As veterans are reexperiencing that camaraderie, life lessons start being taught: ‘Hey, this is how I learned to cope.’ And everyone is taking little bits and pieces from everyone’s experiences, and formulating a way to deal with their issues,” Blanton says. “That’s the main service Warfighter Made provides.”
Adrenaline therapy represents the best way for Warfighter Made to impact a large group of veterans, but the organization also helps select veterans on a deeper level by adapting and customizing vehicles for catastrophically wounded warfighters. For Blanton, the distinction is important: “This means they became an amputee or severely burned due to direct contact with enemy combatants.” In short, the sacrifices made by these veterans have life-changing impact on the way they do even the most basic, mundane tasks.
“When men and women become catastrophically wounded, the initial reaction is, ‘My life is over. I will never be able to do the things I used to do.’ We wanted those vets to know that’s not the case,” says Blanton. “You’re not going to be able to do it the way you used to do it, but with a little adaptation, you’re still going to be able to do it in some form or another.”
As it applies to Warfighter Made, that means enabling wounded vets to participate in off-roading, whether as a continuation of a previous passion, or as adrenaline therapy. Blanton describes the creative engineering solutions he and Fitza execute for wounded veterans, including Monte Bernardo, the recipient of a customized Polaris General during Warfighter Made’s 2017 open house.
Bernardo, a former soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division, is an avid hunter, but faced some limitations as a triple-amputee. As a platform, the General proved to be a good balance between Polaris’s performance-focused RZR and utilitarian Ranger. Fitza fabricated a floor-mounted push-pull hand control for the throttle and brakes, which allows for left- or right-handed use without impairing usability for uninjured drivers. While the hand controls served as an adaptation for Bernardo’s injuries, Warfighter Made went further: a Hook-A-Rack game loading and hauling system, a gun rack, and a cooler mounted in place of a seat rounded out the UTV. “Three people and a cooler of beer sounds a lot more fun than four people and no beer,” muses Blanton.
Bernardo’s personalized General serves as an example of Warfighter Made’s tagline: ”Adapted for the injury, customized for the soul.” It’s about more than just making a vehicle accessible; it’s about making a vehicle a source of enjoyment and pride. “We all know it. When you look good, you feel good,” says Blanton. “For car people, your car is an extension of you. When men and women contact us, they’re contacting us because they’re car people. Their machines are important to them.”
All told, Blanton estimates Warfighter Made has been able to help around 200 veterans. While that figure might not impress in terms of raw numbers, he prefers it that way. “The veteran community is very small, and you have to keep it personal,” Blanton says. There are other organizations that can harness the star power and reach of celebrities, but as a veteran himself, it’s important to Blanton to be connected to the people he and Warfighter Made serve.
“I ran special operations for the Marine Corps. I’ve got 500 jumps out of airplanes. I’ve got probably 50 hours of bottom time of underwater diving. I’ve shot probably a million rounds of ammunition in all sorts of different capacities,” Blanton says. “This is the hardest job i’ve ever had. But I volunteer here because I was in that dark place, and I want veterans to know there are other opportunities.”
Editor’s note: Here’s a Team Hybrid holiday special in red and gold. Archie Concon’s 2000 Mitsubishi Mirage transcends its humble compact car roots — with an AWD conversion and nearly 900AWHP, it’s basically a 2-door Evo.
I started having an interest in cars when I was in the US Air Force back in 1998. I was stationed in North Dakota where there is nothing much to do, and my military friends were modifying their cars, and that got me into doing the same.
I wanted a Mitsubishi Eclipse at the time, but I was only 18 years old at the time, so my insurance was pretty expensive. Instead, I settled for a Mirage. What’s cool is the first car my family bought here in the US when we migrated from the Philippines was a ‘95 Mirage. I loved the car, and so I stuck with owning one and modified it like crazy.
I was really inspired when I saw the Jackie Chan movie Who Am I? in 1999 — there is a chase scene where he drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV. That inspired me to build this car and put a little twist and my taste along the way.
My car is heavy modded. It’s converted to AWD, and I swapped the motor, which is making close to 900AWHP. I’m running BFGoodrich g-Force R1 racing tires in 285/30-18 — mostly because I need as much traction and control I can get with this much power at the track and on the streets.
There’s also a Varis ASSO wide-body kit for the Evolution 5/6 fitted onto my Mirage. Varis Japan once told me that I’m crazy to butcher their ASSO widebody kit just so I can fit it onto a 2-door Mirage. The only things that are stock in the car are the windshield, carpet, and the doors — that’s the easiest way to describe my car is. Everything else is modified. In the future, I would like to do full chromoly rear and front subframes, and I’d also would like to do a full carbon fiber driveshaft.
Besides my car being ridiculously fast, I love when I hear people telling me that my build inspired them to build and finish their own car and be different.
As for how I joined Team Hybrid, I saw them at a SPOCOM show in 2008 and was introduced to one of the best import teams in the US, let alone in California. The team was established in 1995 and next thing I know, I'm running the Las Vegas Chapter and helping make Hybrid History for the last 9 years. Most my most prized and important accolades have been achieved through the team — teamwork makes the dream work.
Thanks to our founder and president James Lin, Team Hybrid management and family, the Hybrid Hunnyz, and plenty of Hybrid Luv to our team title sponsors BFGoodrich, Meguiar's, Mishimoto, K&N Filters, AMSOIL, Whiteline, Password:JDM, and NRG Innovations. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a team.
Neill Bird planned a one-month trip to Morocco in October 2017 with some members of his off-road club OverlandBirds as part of the BFGoodrich’s Good Project. From Liverpool to the Moroccan desert, Neill and his wife Julie travelled more than 8000 kilometers. They were accompanied by their Land Rover called Henrietta, and other off-road enthusiasts.
This wasn’t Neill and Julie’s first overland trip. In 2009, Neill and Julie decided to travel the world in a Land Rover. One year later, they embarked on their first long trip, which covered 46 countries over 974 days. In order to prepare for the second part of their round-the-world trip, Neill bought a new Land Rover, a former military ambulance named Henrietta.
On October 1, 2017, Neill, Julie, and Henrietta crossed 1600 miles from England to southern Spain (Gibraltar) to meet other overland teams and took the ferry to Tangiers. They were ready to begin the adventure!
From Tangier, they drove across untouched landscapes and superb historic cities and ruins like Volubilis, a partially Berber and Roman town, and the surprising ski resort of Ifrane, near Meknes. Along the way, Neill and his travel companions had some nice encounters with locals: in a garage in Zagora, Neill handed out BFGoodrich stickers and sunglasses to pay for Henrietta’s service.
It's quite strange going from normal life to overlanding life and it does take a bit of getting used to. We certainly wouldn't be getting that used to it in 3 weeks. Some of the things we drove up we're unbelievable.
Along the way, Neill and Julie encountered plenty of rain, mud, and fun driving. “The torrential rain generated puddles, and some of the sections of road were very muddy, very wet, and very long. I think we must have had about 100 kilos of dried mud under the Henrietta we got home,” laughs Neill.
As for their most striking memories? The couple remembers crossing a river about 2 meters deep, as well as visiting the fortified village of Aït Ben-Haddou, which is featured in loads of films like Jewel of the Nile, The Living Daylights, and Gladiator.
When they got to the south of Morocco, the landscape changed dramatically: welcome to the desert! “The one thing I wanted to see in all of Morocco on this trip was Gara Medouar, a massive volcano crater in the Saharan desert. It was so beautiful,” remembers Neill.
After 8000 kilometers and 830 liters of diesel, it was time to return to the port and take the ferry back to Europe and England. Now, Neill and Julie are thinking about their next step with Henrietta: a full circuit of Europe to the East and back through into West Africa.
Looking back, Neill reflects: “It's quite strange going from normal life to overlanding life, and it does take a bit of getting used to, we certainly wouldn't be getting that used to it in 3 weeks. Some of the things we drove up were unbelievable.”
Editor’s note: When we last heard from Dan Grec, he was 9 months into an expedition to circumnavigate Africa. Since then, he’s continued along his journey and driven through another handful of countries. Here’s an update on his African adventure.
Where have you gone since you last checked in with the Garage?
Since my last update in March, I have made my way south along the west coast of Africa. From the Ivory Coast, I have driven through Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and I'm in Angola now. Up next is Namibia, and after that, South Africa to reach the end of the continent!
What are some of your favorite places you've been?
In the last eight months, I’ve experienced an endless list of amazing places. Nigeria is like no place I have been on earth: extremely fast paced, and everyone is very friendly. Gabon is possibly the best-kept secret on the planet, with tens of thousands of square miles of national park in the jungle with elephants, gorillas, and extremely small dirt tracks to explore!
The people are super friendly and welcoming, and the landscape defies belief. Angola is also exceptional - it's clear the people here want to get on with a happy and loving life, now that the brutal civil war is behind them. They are friendly and happy to see tourists.
Are there any experiences that stand out to you?
Crossing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an experience I will never forget in my life. I took a tiny, tiny, border crossing where there was basically no road. I was on walking trails and dirt tracks for miles in the thick jungle, until I finally popped out onto a "road." (What the DRC calls a road the rest of the world would call a mud pit.)
For hundreds of miles, I slogged through the mud in intense heat and humidity. Although the people have so little, they are always very quick to smile and shake hands, and they are always welcoming. I helped pull and tow a couple of vehicles out of the mud, and everyone was extremely thankful.
Crossing the Congo River on the smallest ramshackle ferry of my life was also an unforgettable experience.
Camping on Shipwreck Beach was also a unique experience. At night, I could hear the waves moving the steel around, creaking and groaning. It added to the eerie feeling, almost like a graveyard.
How are your tires holding up?
The All-Terrain T/A KO2s have performed flawlessly. From gravel to mud, broken pavement to rocks, they take everything in stride. Never once have I been stuck — even in mud pits deep enough to drag the belly of the Jeep and water crossings that submerged the hood.
I have put almost 30,000 miles on the tires now and they look to still have more than half tread depth. Given the intense heat and road conditions, I think that tread life is excellent. I had been wondering if I would need a mud terrain for the DRC mud, and the answer is certainly no. The KO2s have eaten everything in their path.
What’s field maintenance been like on your journey?
I perform a tire rotation and oil change every 6,000 miles, and often have no problem finding a garage or a gas station with a pit where I can do the work myself. I like to do it myself so I can have a good look around at everything and make sure the work is done right. Doing maintenance is part of the expedition and I look forward to getting stuck into it. I did do a tire rotation in a grassy field in Angola recently - not my usual choice, but it worked well enough.
In traveling through countries with troubled recent history, what has stood out to you about the land and the people?
I have found that the more troubled a country’s past has been (DRC, Angola), the more friendly and kind regular people on the street are. I think because they have been through so much in their lives the understand the importance of helping individual people whenever possible. They are also sick of violence and problems, and seem to work really hard to push that out of their lives and be joyous and happy. People in Angola have the horrible civil war in their memories, so they are well aware they have a lot to celebrate and be happy about just living a normal life.
I was expecting West Africa to be a challenge and difficult in many ways: the heat, humidity, roads, malaria (I just had a second round...). In a lot of ways, that has been true. This expedition through West Africa has been the most difficult undertaking of my life.
That being said, the friendliness of the people and the genuine kindness I have been shown has far outweighed the difficulties I have faced. From tiny villages to large cities, I am constantly greeted by smiling people eager to say hello and ask if I need anything at all. I'm sure the hard times will fade in my memory, though I am certain the people I have met and the experiences I have had will stick with me for life!
I'm looking forward to a more relaxed leg of the journey through Namibia, Botswana and South Africa to reach the southern tip of the continent. After that I will turn north, and aim for Egypt in the northeast!
Editor’s note: Valerie Pichette and her husband Tom are the team behind a heavily updated 1988 Pontiac Trans Am GTA. Tom’s the crew chief and builder, while Valerie drives in autocross events throughout the country. Here’s the story behind Valerie’s love of driving and the build affectionately known as the Dragonlady.
I grew up in a family far removed from cars, but as a little kid, I would literally drag my mother “window shopping” at Mecham Pontiac a few blocks from our home in Glendale, AZ to drool over the Macho T/As, and later the MSE cars that were created there. I’m sure in some small part it was also the culture of the later Gen Xers that included a nightly dose of cool car shows like Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider that played a role in fueling my desire to get a driver’s license and go as fast as possible.
Right after college, I started working for a local Chevrolet dealership. I met my husband while working there when he enticed me into a first date — in part to see the 1998 Camaro SS he had. It was love at first sight for both him and the car. As a birthday gift the following year, he ordered me a 2002 Camaro SS convertible. I promptly took it to the strip and blew the 10-bolt out of it (3 times in the first year).
The constant rear end failures on a car we wanted to keep fairly stock led us to purchasing this 1988 Pontiac GTA 8 years ago with the hope of drag racing and having a good time with it. I wanted any color but red, so naturally, I got a red car. The car was stock at the time and had been the daily driver of a person who traded it in on a Corvette. The paint was rough, the spoiler was split, and overall the car showed its age. And with age, the original engine gave up about 4 months after purchasing the car.
Right after completing a stock engine refresh, the local F-body club we are in was invited to an autocross event hosted by AZ Corvette Enthusiasts, and I was completely hooked. My very next event was a Pro-Touring event from American Street Car Promotions called Run to the Coast at El Toro, CA, in early 2010. We went with the goal to “not finish last,” and with a mid-pack finish at that event, the direction of the car took a quick right — then left — turn. Since that time, I’ve been competing in Pro-Touring events, road courses, and autocrosses across the country while constantly updating the car to be competitive. 2017 saw the car competing in 10 states, in 18 events, with 35 days spent on track.
The car itself has evolved from a stock 350 TPI engine with a 700R4 automatic transmission and a 9-bolt rear end to a 418CI LS3, a T-56 Magnum transmission, and a Moser 12-bolt. In between, the engine bay has held a high-compression, high-revving 383 and a stock cube LS1, along with a series of transmission rebuilds. In total, the car has seen 5 engines, 3 different types of transmissions, and 2 different rear axles since coming into our possession.
The car was designed to look as good as it runs, with the exterior paint completed by Rich Malley, a custom hood and intake airbrush work done by Moe Madrid at Bad Boy Designs in Peoria, AZ, an Aero Wing from Mecham Performance, and a custom roll cage created by Brian Finch at Finch Performance in Nashville, TN.
Almost all the mechanical work was completed by my darling husband Tom Pichette in our garage at home, with help from our friends when tasks required additional hands. A thank you to William Garrett, Kris Burns, Casey Aldridge, and Joshua Jones for their assistance over the years with engine and transmission swaps. In the last 18 months, it has also seen some work done by Finch Performance (a rear end gear replacement) and UMI Performance (complete front suspension rebuild).
Prior to 2015, the car ran whatever tire was available in the stock 16-inch size, and later a 17x9 size. This included the BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp 2, among other tires. Then in the spring of 2015, Bill Howell invited us to be part of the BFGoodrich Share the Ride program. For those not familiar with this program, it involves having a group of cars at each Autocross Guys event that provide rides to spectators. Anyone wanting to ride in the passenger seat for a lap around the autocross course can sign a waiver, get in line, and take a lap with one of the drivers. All of the cars participating in the program ride on a BFGoodrich tire. Initially it was just the newly introduced Rival, but now it can be any BFGoodrich tire. After the invite into the program, we switched the car to the Rival and haven’t looked back. Initially we ran the smallest tire in the group with the 255/40/17 being the largest Rival we could put on the 17 inch wheels we ran. In 2017, with the addition of the 18x10.5 Forgelines, we moved up to a 315/30/18 Rival.
Participation in the program for the last 3 seasons has given us the opportunity to provide rides to thousands of spectators and convince some of them to bring their own car to the autocross area and give it a try. Those 3 years have also seen us burn through about 18 sets of Rivals while enjoying every minute of the events and camaraderie that has developed within the group participating in these events. For 2017, BFGoodrich provided 2 base model Mustangs to be the primary cars for Share the Ride, but the core group of drivers still take riders as needed to keep the line from getting too long.
Since getting this car 8 years ago, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive this car literally coast to coast, from San Diego, CA, to Hilton Head, SC, and on well-known “Driver’s Roads” such as the Pacific Coast Highway from Dana Point to Monterey Bay in CA; Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles; and Tail of the Dragon in TN/ NC. However, my favorite road is probably in my home state of AZ: State Route 89- 89A that takes you from the foothills of Wickenburg, AZ to the majestic red rocks of Sedona, AZ, and ending a mile high in Flagstaff, AZ. The road has many switchbacks, twists, and turns, and for most of the year, not too much traffic. It’s what the car was originally built with in mind, and it stays true to its roots as not only a vehicle that can hold its own on the track, but is truly a pleasure to drive.
Along the way, Tom and I have made a lot of great friends and would like to thank the following for their friendship and support:
And special thanks to Alexandra and Fred Zust (Blackwatch Racing), and Dale Betram (Fairway Auto), who have all been more than willing to jump in the passenger seat and instruct whenever the time allows at the various west coast autocross and road course events.
Here’s a full list of modifications made to the Dragonlady:
Follow the Dragonlady on Instagram to see more of this F-Body in action.
Editor’s note: If you’ve paid any attention to the sport compact scene in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen Ryan Hoegner’s 1998 Acura Integra Type R. Here’s how he came to build his ITR and how it’s been an integral part of his career.
Light years ago, I founded the Honda & Acura Club of America. We had a club magazine called Velocity, which was actually available on most newsstands. My buddy, Dave Royce, was the R&D Manager at Eibach Springs, and he’d call me anytime he needed to see a new Honda or Acura. Because of the magazine, we could get new Honda and Acura vehicles pretty easily. At the time, I wanted a new gig, so I applied to Eibach and was hired to manage the spec sales division of the company. 13 years later here I am…
After I started at Eibach, I began organizing and throwing the annual Eibach Honda Meet. And for years, I wanted to build a vehicle at the show in front of the attendees. Three years ago, I was scrolling through the classifieds and found a Type R rolling shell. I pulled the trigger.
I had 3 weeks to accumulate all the parts prior to the event. We ended up completely building the car — brakes, suspension, transmission, motor, interior — in front of 6,000 people over the course of about 4 hours. It was a big hit.
Recently, we’ve completely overhauled the car, which includes a completely built motor, roll-cage modifications, improvement to the safety equipment, and of course, new wheels and BFGoodrich tires. I actually hadn’t had a set of BFGs in a couple of years, but I was looking for a sticky tire in a very specific size. A few friends in the industry recommended the g-Force Rival, and so I ended up with a set of them in 225/45/15. I couldn’t be happier. They have a very large contact patch, they look aggressive, and they certainly get the job done on both the street and the track.
The goal these days is to get the vehicle to a handful of track events throughout the year and simply enjoy it.
Winning is hard. For every person that has stepped atop a podium in first, second, or third, there are hundreds more who, for any combination of reasons — talent, luck, preparation, experience — never even sniffed victory. History books are littered with footnotes of the people who sought out but never found success in competition. To win even once, all the things that go wrong for would-be competitors — talent, luck, preparation, experience — have to go right, in the right order, and at the right time.
So what does that make Rob MacCachren? With over 20 off-road racing championships — not just individual wins, but championships, including — to his name, RobMac is undoubtedly the most successful driver in off-road racing history.
It would be tempting to simply say that RobMac has some mysterious “it” factor or a mystic mojo. How else do you explain his sheer ability to rack up wins? Obviously, it’s more complex than that, and so we talked to MacCachren about the anatomy of his success.
It’s an early November morning when we arrive at MacCachren’s home in the Las Vegas suburbs. He takes us around back to a detached garage where he keeps miscellaneous tokens of his career: old helmets; “Off-Road Challenge,” a Midway arcade game; a 1000-mile marker from Baja; broken parts; a stash of pit bikes; a bottle of wine saved from his 2016 Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame induction. The mementos continue in the garage attached to his home: there’s an old short course race truck and shelves haphazardly crammed full of trophies. “I’m a competitive person. I want to win at everything,” he says by way of explanation.
It’s the week of the SEMA Show, but the Rockstar Energy and BFGoodrich Tires driver doesn’t have any obligations at SEMA until the afternoon, and he qualified for the Baja 1000 a few nights prior. MacCachren seems relatively relaxed, at least by his standards. By anyone else’s standards, he still oozes intensity: the rapid-fire cadence of his speech serving as façade for a mind that churns faster than he talks.
With over 200 individual wins — including four Baja 1000 wins, three of them consecutive — MacCachren has pretty much done what he says: he’s won at nearly everything off-road racing has to offer. But to accumulate those types of numbers, you need to race a lot, which means you need to start racing when you’re young. And that’s what MacCachren did.
“My dad was a general contractor in Las Vegas, and he built commercial buildings for other people and himself,” he says. “In one of his buildings, he had his construction company, but he also rented other spaces out. And in one of those spaces, there was an off-road buggy shop that sold off-road parts.”
The owner of that off-road shop, an Arizona transplant, was a gambler who wound up getting in too deep. He decided he needed to get out of Vegas, so he sold the shop and its inventory to MacCachren’s father. MacCachren, who was 14 at the time, ended up working at the shop after school.
It bears mention that the MacCachrens weren’t strangers to off-road racing. RobMac’s father had raced before, but the recently acquired shop injected new life and interest into racing. “When I was 16, my dad asked if I wanted to try off-road racing. I said, ‘Sure, but what if I don’t like it?’ He said we’d just sell the racecar and move on, so I decided to try it. We raced together in my very first race. It was a 250-mile race and the laps were about 60 miles, so he ended up starting that race and driving the first two lap, and I drove the last three. We finished in sixth place, but all my lap times beat my dad’s lap times, so he quit,” MacCachren laughs. “I loved it, and I wanted to keep doing it. From 1982 to 1986, it was a hobby for me, and then I ended up getting picked up by another team in Las Vegas.”
The feeling I had when we won the 2007 Baja 1000 was like nothing else I’ve ever had before, and I’ve never had it again. I’ve won three more Baja 1000s, but never have I felt like I felt at that finish line in 2007.
But as helpful as an early start was, that alone doesn’t account for MacCachren’s success. To build on his early success, MacCachren adopted an analytical approach to driving and racing. “With off-road racing, you get to see all different kinds of terrain, and over time, you learn how to read it. Even in a lap race, every time you come around, the terrain has changed because there are other cars out there going around,” he says. “It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but when I started, a lot of races in the Nevada area were short laps, but we’d do 15 laps. You were able to practice and come at obstacles and jumps time after time and try to hit them faster. I was also constantly analyzing my lap time, trying to get faster. I got hooked on that.”
That analytical approach developed into a desire for full-blown control as MacCachren’s career progressed. “In 1997, started my own team [MacCachren Motorsports], and I found out I’m more successful if I have my own team than if I’m driving for somebody else,” he says. It came down to doing everything in his control to ensure success: “Obviously, we work within a budget, but I want to win, and sometimes, you’ve got to spend $5000 to try a part or some new technology to see if it’s better. I end up taking money and buying race car parts instead of putting it away in my bank account. We test and try different things to improve, and when I’ve been on other teams, my hands have sometimes been tied.”
The other aspect of running his own team is that MacCachren exercises control over who he drives with and who works with him on his vehicles. “There were a few years where I was at the mercy of how good or how prepared other drivers were on race day. When they weren’t as prepared as I was, it was disheartening because here I am, ready to win the race, but they haven’t put their full effort in,” he says. Ultimately, owning his own team meant that MacCachren could control his own destiny.
As MacCachren has gone from rookie to elder statesman of off-roading, he hasn’t faded from relevance. Instead, he’s as competitive as he has ever been — his 2016 Baja 1000 overall win is proof enough of that. But in addition to his drive and his talent, MacCachren is bringing another weapon to bear: his experience.
“As you get older, the thing you have to look forward to is being wiser,” he says. “If you want to win championships, well, I know how to do that. I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m wise and I’m smart compared to these young guys coming in. They’re super fast, but they’re also crashing and getting flats or whatever, and that takes them out of the championship.” MacCachren intones a mantra his parents imparted to him: “To finish first, first you must finish."
Another saying that has come to define MacCachren’s career? “Surround yourself with successful people.”
“I started racing in some bigger races in 1986 and 1987, and that’s when I realized that BFGoodrich was the biggest brand and had the most support in off-road racing. You would see their support with the pits and all the people wearing BFGoodrich shirts and hats…those were the guys,” he says. At the time, MacCachren was driving on other tires, but he made up his mind that BFGoodrich was what he wanted. He recalls a moment after a race in 1987 when he won by passing Mark McMillin and Bob Gordon: “I’m 18 years old, I’m standing in my buggy on the winner’s podium, and I’m feeling awkward doing my interview on camera, and I look over. Frank DeAngelo is standing 50 feet away. I knew he was from BFGoodrich, I knew he was important, and I knew I needed to get on BFGoodrich.”
MacCachren got his shot a few years later when Robby Gordon gave up his seat with Venable Racing to drive IndyCars. “That was 1991 at the beginning of the Ford-BFGoodrich Rough Riders program, and I’ve been with BFG ever since. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Although MacCachren has accumulated wins and dominated the field with startling efficiency, he isn’t blind to the special moments that he’s experienced in his three-decade-long career. There are, of course, the highs that come from winning races. His first victory at the Thousand stands out in particular. “The feeling I had when we won the 2007 Baja 1000 was like nothing else I’ve ever had before, and I’ve never had it again. I’ve won three more Baja 1000s, but never have I felt like I felt at that finish line in 2007,” he says. “I had worked so hard over so many years to win that race. Every race we do only happens once a year, so when you don’t succeed, you have to wait 365 days to do it again. Only one person gets to win every year, so you work at it year after year…and when that finally came to fruition…”
But there are also smaller, but equally important moments. “When BFGoodrich has a new tire — whether it was when we first had the 37-inch trophy truck tire, or the KR2, the KR3, or even the short course tires — engineers spend all that time designing, building, and testing the tire, and then it gets its first win. To be part of that is a pretty incredible thing,” MacCachren says.
“Not only is it a win for me, but when I see the faces of the tire engineers, when they see their baby that they’ve been nurturing actually succeeds at the checkered flag and you see the emotion in their eyes — it’s pretty damn cool for me to be able to do that for BFGoodrich.”
Editor’s note: Fastback Mustangs have always been a thing of beauty. But for Chris Williams, those old school muscle cars are more than just metal and horsepower. They are machines that fuel passion and create memories.
How did I become interested in cars? Well, my interest in cars started primarily because I grew up around interesting cars. My mother and father purchased a 1967 Mustang fastback — it was white, but was later painted burgundy — as their first family car. Then my sister and I came along, so I grew up around classic Mustangs.
I have so many memories of my father taking us places we needed to go; being fascinated with the car; and thrilled with it when my dad would open the throttle a little — in a safe and totally smoke-filled, burning-rubber kind of way. I also remember the long drives in the evening where I slept in the little cubby area behind the back seat, looking out the large sloped back window at the stars, listening and feeling the rumble and purr of that V-8 engine.
The day finally came when I was thirteen that I had saved up enough money from delivering countless newspapers, washing windows, and mowing lawns to purchase the 1967 fastback from my mother. Once the deal was complete, I spent the next three years taking the car out on the driveway every week, spending hours upon hours washing it and detailing it, then pulling it back into the garage, until one day they were insane enough to grant me my own driver’s license.
I wrote my own story with that 1967 fastback. From working on the Mustang in the high school mechanics shop, to having fun with it in the high school parking lot, I did it all. But man, some of the stuff my buddies and I did back then…I shouldn't have made it out alive. But we were young and naïve, and we felt invincible.
I wrote my own story with that 1967 fastback. From working on the Mustang in the high school mechanics shop, to having fun with it in the high school parking lot, I did it all. But man, some of the stuff my buddies and I did back then…I shouldn't have made it out alive. But we were young and naïve, and we felt invincible. Eventually the time came where I had graduated and decided I wanted to travel, so I sold my beloved fastback for traveling money.
But I regretted the sale, and when I returned from my travels, I wanted the car back so badly I started saving money. I eventually saved enough to purchase a 1968 fastback with a 289 engine, backed by a 3-speed automatic transmission, and dressed in Brittany Blue. (I just recently had the 289 completely re-built and put a shift kit put into it.)
I really like the styling of the old school muscle cars: the aggressive body lines, the character, the distinctive smell, the attention to detail, and of course, the sound that brings your senses alive. These old things are truly pieces of art. You'll hear an old V-8 from a block or two away, and recognize the tinny, lumpy, and overall just unique sound straight away. There is something about the way companies jammed as much power as possible under the hood that made it that much more of a muscle car.
These days, I really enjoy how these cars can bring all types of people together at car shows. I've gotten compliments from young kids to older folks. It appeals to so many people, and that is what truly makes it a timeless classic. You'll just see the look on some people's faces as they admire the car, and you can tell it takes them all the way back to their childhood.
I especially love that my kids have had a chance to experience something I enjoyed from my childhood. My son has his own love of the classics, and we hop in the car and enjoy the bond of sharing time together, and sharing laughs in our car. I love taking the car out with no particular destination in mind, just the open road, the company of my son, and the moments and memories we will share on that day. We both love seeing people give thumbs up or stop to express their love for American muscle. My son has even started an Instagram page for the car which is getting bigger and bigger by the minute.
The car is now riding on what I believe is my first set of BFGoodrich tires: BFGoodrich Radial T/As. I honestly have not paid attention much to the tires I have run in the past, and this is the first set that I am super thrilled about. I have a few friends who are running them, or used to run them, and they said they could never go back to anything else. Also, while my car was getting worked on in the shop, there was one car in there that always had my undivided attention: an old Chevrolet Nova. I was super impressed at the drag racing setup this guy had, but the one thing that looked the most impressive was the huge BFGoodrich sticky drag slicks on it. When he was leaving that shop, he ripped a huge burnout going down the street and the tire marks left behind were insane. Pure rubber, and the smell!
I looked at my car with 215s on it, and knew at that moment that I needed to upgrade. My tires were half the size of his, and so I followed through with my commitment and ordered the Radial T/A's. I also love the raised white lettering. The end result is an old school racing look that I love so much. It added the life and emotion that was missing back into the car. Also, with the larger rear tires, it not only made the car look so much better, but it puts power to the ground much better as well. I could never go back to anything less than the BFGoodrich quality and look!
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