Conversations with Big Rich

Rob McKenney: rockcrawler, racer, bump skier, crane operator; great stories for all on Episode 151

February 23, 2023 Guest Rob McKenney Season 3 Episode 151
Rob McKenney: rockcrawler, racer, bump skier, crane operator; great stories for all on Episode 151
Conversations with Big Rich
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Conversations with Big Rich
Rob McKenney: rockcrawler, racer, bump skier, crane operator; great stories for all on Episode 151
Feb 23, 2023 Season 3 Episode 151
Guest Rob McKenney

With the attention span of a 3-year-old, competitor Rob McKenney, shares some great stories. New York to the PNW, this crane operator knows his stuff and his friends. So good to talk to him again. Listen in on your favorite podcast app.

4:20 – early on, I got relieved of my privilege to ride the school bus

10:54 – if I showed up a minute late, I was working Saturdays for free

14:43 – we pioneered the homeless stuff 

21:52 – what are you going to do? I said, Jeff, we’re going to break the axle, and we did

32:02 – the ups I never got great at, but the downhill, gravity is your friend

42:33 – Nick and I had the famous Casey Curry incident where we might or might not have driven over a car he was driving

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

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

With the attention span of a 3-year-old, competitor Rob McKenney, shares some great stories. New York to the PNW, this crane operator knows his stuff and his friends. So good to talk to him again. Listen in on your favorite podcast app.

4:20 – early on, I got relieved of my privilege to ride the school bus

10:54 – if I showed up a minute late, I was working Saturdays for free

14:43 – we pioneered the homeless stuff 

21:52 – what are you going to do? I said, Jeff, we’re going to break the axle, and we did

32:02 – the ups I never got great at, but the downhill, gravity is your friend

42:33 – Nick and I had the famous Casey Curry incident where we might or might not have driven over a car he was driving

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

Be sure to listen on your favorite podcast app.

Support the Show.

[00:00:00.000] - Big Rich Klein

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


[00:00:53.860] - Big Rich Klein

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.


[00:01:20.500] - Big Rich Klein

Have you seen 4Low Magazine yet? 4Low Magazine is a high quality, well written, 4WD 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 to order your your subscription today.


[00:01:47.340] - Big Rich Klein

On today's episode of Conversations with Big Rich, we have Robert or Rob McKenney. He's an old CalRocks, U Rock, W e Rock competitor. He also completed in KOH early years. He tried to help us get into Ellensburg into a big gravel pit up there. When he was working as a tower crane technician, of course, Ellensburg, all the neighbors around there complained, or enough of them complained at the city council meeting or county council meeting that they shut us down. But anyway, Robert, it's nice to have you on board and talking to you again.


[00:02:27.820] - Rob McKenney

A pleasure to be talking to you, Rich. Certainly, thank you for having me. It's flattering that you want to take the time and discuss my rock crawling and racing career.


[00:02:37.550] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, absolutely. Well, your name has come up in quite a few conversations, so let's get started. Where were you born and raised?


[00:02:47.000] - Rob McKenney

I was born in Downstate New York, a small town called Suffolk. Spent until the third grade there, and my family moved to Upstate New York to a rural town called Lafayette, New York, spent my grade school and high school years there. It was farming, mostly communities. Neighbors had all farms. Cows were our neighbors. It was a good place to grow up.


[00:03:15.920] - Big Rich Klein

So you grew up really rural then?


[00:03:19.120] - Rob McKenney

Definitely. Our graduating class was 60, and we all knew each other. That's awesome.


[00:03:26.700] - Big Rich Klein

It was a small town. That's pretty cool. So you were... Was there a lot of farmland around there then, I guess? And were you able to explore the other areas or were the neighbors keep out of our property?


[00:03:42.640] - Rob McKenney

No, it was pretty open, good community, good people around us growing up, at least the farmers were farmers. You worked for them as a kid. Hay season, you bailed it and stacked hay. You drove tractor when they needed it. Usually it was being a kid, you did all the hard labor work, shoveled and stacked. It was good living, though. Definitely nothing to regret on that end.


[00:04:09.520] - Big Rich Klein

And so were you close enough to town for school that you were able to walk or were you given a ride or did you have to bus in?


[00:04:20.210] - Rob McKenney

We had a school bus, but I wasn't always the best behaved kid. And early on, I got relieved of my privilege to ride the school bus. I had a pretty long walk to school. It was about five, six miles and I actually had to cross an interstate where it was a lot longer. And so I'd ride my bicycle or I'd walk to school every day from probably seventh or eighth grade on.


[00:04:48.900] - Big Rich Klein

So crossing the interstate, was that like playing frogger then?


[00:04:53.440] - Rob McKenney

It was. And I had always told my parents there was a culvert, and that's how I crossed it. But there was going to the culvert, always took a lot of extra time, and I'd always chance getting wet. So I always crossed the interstate. And there was a time or two that the state troopers had stopped and given me a ride to school. And then small town again, they knew me, they knew my dad, so I got the ride to school in the police car, which was always tough to explain to everybody in school while I was getting out of a police car.


[00:05:23.240] - Big Rich Klein

So I have to ask then, what were you doing or what did you do to get thrown off the bus?


[00:05:32.660] - Rob McKenney

It was a combination of just being disruptive. I was a disruptive kid and it was causing trouble, throwing things out the window, probably my mouth, a whole bunch too. Just a combination of several events that culminated. They didn't want me on the bus anymore.


[00:05:49.980] - Big Rich Klein

I was going to say, when did you grow out of that? Because I swear, I always thought you were one of the nicest guys out there and never seemed to cause any trouble. So did you grow out of it or did you just learn to control it?


[00:06:04.850] - Rob McKenney

I learned to hide.


[00:06:05.490] - Big Rich Klein

It better. Learned to hide it better. There you go. So when you were in school, what did you like about school? If any.


[00:06:17.080] - Rob McKenney

I was definitely not a good student. I stuck it out because that's what you did. I did do some things that were different for not being a good student. I was editor of the yearbook for a couple of years, which was pretty contrary to my academic career. I didn't do well, didn't get good grades, but that was something I enjoyed doing. I had some really good teachers that supported me in town. I had an English teacher who was also the faculty staff for the yearbook, and he became a mentor and a good friend over the years and probably got me through high school, truth be told.


[00:06:57.360] - Big Rich Klein

Were your credits that you got for doing yearbook, were they English credits?


[00:07:05.730] - Rob McKenney

No, I did that because I liked it. We actually didn't get any academic credit for it, as.


[00:07:10.730] - Big Rich Klein

I remember. Wow. See, our high school, I got English credits for doing yearbook, and I do not remember taking any other English courses. I certainly.


[00:07:22.120] - Rob McKenney

Could have used it because I struggled in English class.


[00:07:26.780] - Big Rich Klein

So then what classes did you like besides yearbook?


[00:07:34.980] - Rob McKenney

I always enjoyed science classes. Physics, we had a great physics program at the school I grew up in, and math was always a place I excelled. So I always spent time in those classes and enjoyed them.


[00:07:47.200] - Big Rich Klein

So you were about five or six miles away from school, if that's what you had to ride or walk. When you got old enough to drive, did you have a car?


[00:07:59.400] - Rob McKenney

I did. At that point, my dad got a new car and they didn't want his car as a trade in. He told them to keep it. My dad let me have that car to drive around. It was a 1981 Ford Crown Victoria L TD giant boat worn out. I think it had 300 and something thousand miles on it. It was rough, but I was certainly excited to have a car to drive. I had to pay my own insurance. As long as I did that, I was able to drive the car to and from school. My parents kept a leash on me with the car for a while. But it was certainly nice to get freedom at that point.


[00:08:47.600] - Big Rich Klein

And being upstate New York, was it a little rusty?


[00:08:52.020] - Rob McKenney

A lot rusty.


[00:08:52.810] - Big Rich Klein

A lot rusty. Not Flint's rusty? You still had a floor in it?


[00:08:58.560] - Rob McKenney

It's still had a floor, but it wasn't too far from losing it. You're well aware of what upstate New York cars look like, honestly, that's spot on. They all rust out pretty darn quick. Yeah.


[00:09:10.860] - Big Rich Klein

Did your school have auto shop classes or anything like that?


[00:09:17.660] - Rob McKenney

Not really. We had a wood shop and a metal shop and not something I really participated in a ton. I don't know why I never participated in either one. I took some required wood shop stuff, but I don't know why I didn't land there. I had a couple of jobs outside school, probably, and those kept a lot of my attention, too. I worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant when I started there when I was 13. And I worked my way up to even cooked at the restaurant. It was a French restaurant not too far from home. And so it kept me busy. I could work as many hours as I wanted, and it was different than working stacking hay. So I definitely did a lot of that. And also there was a machine shop not too far from my house that one of my good friends dad's owned, and he let me sweep the floors and occasionally run some machines and wreck some parts. I was definitely a teenager and had the attention span of a three year old then. And so I didn't do too good making parts, but he was hard on me, really hard on me.


[00:10:24.210] - Rob McKenney

And he made me pay attention and made me learn a bunch of stuff, which was fantastic. And so I got a lot of different experiences working for him.


[00:10:34.620] - Big Rich Klein

That's good. Being able to have that experience young and have somebody that's going to ride you a bit. Too often, I think too often kids don't get ridden enough, especially nowadays, whether it's at school or at home or at work.


[00:10:54.280] - Rob McKenney

I agree 100 % we coddle our kids way too much. He was anything but that. If I showed up a minute late, I had to work on Saturdays for free. I came in on Saturdays and I cleaned the floors, which involved toothbrush use on my hands and knees around all the machines. It wasn't pleasant, but in hindsight, it was very beneficial to me career wise.


[00:11:21.280] - Big Rich Klein

And you stuck it out. I don't know if I had an employer that says, Okay, if you're going to be late, you have to work on Saturday for free, and here's your toothbrush, clean the floor, I would have probably walked.


[00:11:35.680] - Rob McKenney

I didn't have quit in me, and I was going to beat him. He wasn't going to beat me. And really, in hindsight, I'd never beat him because he was way more stubborn than I could ever imagine. But I also wanted to learn what he had to teach. And he did take a ton of time and taught me a lot as well.


[00:11:54.680] - Big Rich Klein

So after high school, did you did you go into college then?


[00:12:03.320] - Rob McKenney

I had a couple of runs with college. I went to Syracuse University for a couple of semesters as well as a community college for a couple of semesters. But between my extracurricular activities, I was skiing a lot at that point. I had a couple of jobs. I had three jobs then. I wasn't focused on school. I didn't know better. I didn't know the value of school. I didn't know that I really did need to stick it out and go to college. So I gave up on it. And I had worked as a helper for an elevator company for a summer while the ski shop was closed and the restaurant had slowed down. And so during that time, I worked as a helper for the elevator company. We did a job for a tower crane company that was based out of New York City. And the guys that I worked with there liked me and they said that I was unique and I wasn't scared to climb up on tall things and work at heights. And they had offered me a job down in New York City to go work on tower cranes. And I said, No way I don't want to work in New York City.


[00:13:13.970] - Rob McKenney

That sounds terrible. And a couple of weeks later, I thought it through and I said, I want to get out of the Syracuse area. It's time to move on. And I called them up and they sent me a plane ticket. I flew down a couple of days later and had an interview with them and started working for them a week after that.


[00:13:32.600] - Big Rich Klein

Wow. Okay. You said you skied and everything. You're about the same age as Tom Ways, who.


[00:13:43.060] - Rob McKenney

You talk about. Yeah, we're about that. We're within a few months.


[00:13:46.440] - Big Rich Klein

Did you know him then?


[00:13:48.680] - Rob McKenney

I did not. He was down in Pennsylvania. I was in upstate New York. I was skiing moguls at that time. I think Tom was skiing Gates. He was a racer. We scoffed We would have scoffed at each other if we saw each other on the hill. I like this. moguls skiers and racers.


[00:14:06.200] - Big Rich Klein

Were different. On the East Coast, it must have been. The West Coast, it wasn't so different. I think all of us that raced at any level also loved the bumps. So were you more like a free style bump skier?


[00:14:20.400] - Rob McKenney

Yeah. I was skiing. We had a year. A season, I skied almost 300 days in the air. I did ski 300 days in the air. We started skiing in early season in Killington, Vermont, and I ended my season in August at Whistler Blackcomb that year. And it was the last I really skied. I burned myself out doing it.


[00:14:42.820] - Big Rich Klein



[00:14:43.380] - Rob McKenney

I was trying to ski moguls competitively, and I had a buddy that I was traveling with, and we uprooted ourselves and drove to Whistler. We drove to Whistler in four days in S 10 Blazer that I had, and that's where we were living, too. We pioneered this homeless stuff. And we spent a summer living in it. In it and out of it, in it and out of it. We had a tent too. And we we skied. The only four days we didn't ski up until the time Whistler closed was when we were driving across the country.


[00:15:17.840] - Big Rich Klein



[00:15:18.660] - Rob McKenney

Yeah, it was quite an adventure we had that year.


[00:15:21.980] - Big Rich Klein

So did you you skied in high school as well then?


[00:15:25.280] - Rob McKenney

I did. I started skiing when I was 10 or 11. And I lived 20 minutes from Ski Hill, a little small Podunk Ski Hill, but we skied just about every day after school. We skied every day on the weekends. We spent a lot of time skiing.


[00:15:42.790] - Big Rich Klein

Nice. Did you suffer any injuries that still bother you, or did you figure your knees all tore up?


[00:15:51.140] - Rob McKenney

My knees and hips are sore a lot. I don't know if I could solely attribute that to skiing, but I'm sure it did not help.


[00:15:58.460] - Big Rich Klein

I think a lot of bump skiers have that issue. I know that I hurt my knees working out at event sites with the rock crawling and stuff, but I know that it didn't do my knees any good, knees and hips any good from all that skiing?


[00:16:18.750] - Rob McKenney

No, for sure not. We skied all the time. We had night skiing at the place we skied. I worked as a ski instructor a couple of nights a week there when I wasn't doing other stuff. And so I was there all the time. And a lot of hours on the slope skiing.


[00:16:36.150] - Big Rich Klein

Nice. So you definitely were bumming it then.


[00:16:41.300] - Rob McKenney

We played Ski Bum for a while.


[00:16:44.280] - Big Rich Klein

What what's your favorite place that you've ever skied?


[00:16:49.800] - Rob McKenney

I'd still throw it out. The old days, Blackcomb was awesome. Before it got commercialized, it was spectacular. That's awesome. Maybe there or Mad River Glen in New Hampshire.


[00:17:03.820] - Big Rich Klein

And who were some of the names of the guys that were top bump skiers back then?


[00:17:11.480] - Rob McKenney

Well, the guys we always looked up to and wanted to be like were Glenn Plake and Mike Hatch up and Scott Schmidt. They were our heroes back then. And they made a bunch of low budget ski movies, the Wizard of Oz, License to Thrill. And probably we watched those until we wore the VHS tapes out several different times.


[00:17:33.400] - Big Rich Klein

Now you're really aging yourself VHS tapes.


[00:17:37.830] - Rob McKenney

That's all we had. There was no DVDs for those movies. I bet you those movies never came out in DVD. Right.


[00:17:46.440] - Big Rich Klein

Well, that's interesting. I didn't know that. That's something I bet a lot of people will be surprised to hear.


[00:17:52.560] - Rob McKenney

That was how actually Tom Wayes and I first clicked is we both knew we rock climbed and we skied. And so that's something we both started talking about shortly after we met. We had some stuff in common.


[00:18:06.140] - Big Rich Klein

Let's talk about some of that how you guys met. You comp+eted early with Cal Rocks, U Rock, and W e Rock. I think it was like we figured maybe around 2004.


[00:18:20.540] - Rob McKenney

Yeah, I think that's when we first started.


[00:18:22.780] - Big Rich Klein

I know Tom used to compete with us as well. Is that where you met him?


[00:18:28.440] - Rob McKenney

That is where I met him. It's a pretty funny story how.


[00:18:31.250] - Rob McKenney

We met.


[00:18:31.880] - Rob McKenney

It was at a Cougar Buttes event. I couldn't tell you which one, Rich, but it was Cougar Buttes event. He was spotting for Derek. Okay.


[00:18:43.640] - Rob McKenney



[00:18:43.800] - Rob McKenney

Derek Trent. Derek Trent and Bob Roggy, Derek Trent, and Bob Roggy was the official on the course. We were in line behind them and Bob Roggy made a call Tom didn't like. We had just introduced ourselves to Tom and Derek and didn't really know him, but he seemed like a pretty cool guy. Well, Tom got a little heated with Bob, and you know, Bob's not a small fellow, nor is Tom. But when you stand Tom next to Bob, Bob's huge. Tom tore his shirt off his back. It was a Wee Rock shirt. He tore it off. It was maybe a Cal Rock shirt, and he threw it on the ground and he stomped on it, and he challenged Roggy to a fight over the call. And we were all with him. We were getting behind. We got you, Tom. And that's how we really got to know each other. And I thought.


[00:19:37.350] - Rob McKenney

I  like this guy. And on that road, he.


[00:19:39.910] - Rob McKenney

Was scared. Not a bit. Not a bit. He stood in the ground with Tom and backed him down. And it was all good in the end. But boy, this guy tore his shirt off and is going to fight this giant. I like him.


[00:19:56.440] - Big Rich Klein

That's awesome because Tom ended up fighting a bear off out of his cabin or his house up in Tahoe. I guess that was a little precursor was challenging Bob.


[00:20:11.380] - Rob McKenney

Never quite thought of it like that, but I would agree. You tell people the story about Tom and the bear, and nobody really believes you because they don't know Tom and they've never seen him in action. And if they did know him or they'd seen him in action, they'd believe.


[00:20:27.590] - Big Rich Klein

The story. Absolutely. So let's talk about those early days of rock crawling. What were you driving?


[00:20:35.520] - Rob McKenney

I started out with a 71 FJ 40 with a small block Chevy in it. It was my daily driver, and I was competing with it for a while. I wasn't making great decisions in my life at that point. So competing with something you had to drive to work wasn't exactly smart. And I evolved out of that pretty quick because I realized it wasn't going to work. It was something that we put together, me and I had some great friends, have some great friends. And I would say a significant amount of my friends that I have now, I made through rock crawling, offroading and competing. And we all still keep in touch. Todd Hall, who owned Olympic Off Road, was where we all got our parts from and learned from. And he encouraged me to start competing and supported me, helped me with parts and helped me wrench on stuff from time to time and went to competitions with us. And he was our motivator initially with the Land cruisers because he had a LandCruiser and a whole bunch of the guys we hung around had Land cruisers. So that was what we all wanted to have and wanted to compete with.


[00:21:52.780] - Rob McKenney

So we completed with the Land cruiser for a couple of seasons and we hit a point where we couldn't keep it together, that the tires had gotten bigger and better and the parts hadn't kept up with it. And we could break parts at Will. Particularly, we were at Fernley Reno Raceway and I had the tires turned and a good buddy of mine, Jeff, was spot and he said, What are you going to do? I said, Jeff, if we go, we're going to break the axle. You know it. He said, Well, break it or just sit there. And so I broke the axle and we were dragging the car off the course. And he said to me, he said, Rob, when are you just going to quit throwing good money at this thing and build something to compete with? And that was the last time I competed with the Land Cruiser. He hit home for me and he was spot on that we were never going to be able to make the LandCruiser competitive.


[00:22:48.600] - Big Rich Klein



[00:22:50.680] - Rob McKenney

Went home and I started walking in circles and thinking and looking at the magazines with all the real cars in it. Shannon Campbell was always bubbled to the top. He was competing a bunch at Eerox, and he was doing really well, and his cars were really cool. So I started making copies of all the pictures in the magazine of them, and I put them all up in the shop, and the walls were lined with them, and I was trying to figure out how to build the car and what I wanted to do. And so we started building the car with PVC pipe first to try to mock it up because I had no idea how to bend tubing and cope tubing. It was way past our skill set at that point. And we built some roll cages, but nothing as complicated as a whole car from scratch. So I wanted to try it out simpler first. So we built it first out of pipe cleaners, then out of PVC tubing on a bench, and then we built the car. And it looked like Shannon's, I thought, but I'd missed a lot of key details. We spent months and months building it.


[00:24:00.610] - Rob McKenney

I made a ton of good friends through building it. A bunch of the guys came over and helped us fabricate. We all put our best thoughts into it and learned a ton from each other. We got the car finished and we went to our very first event was one of your events. It was put up or shut up at Cougar Buttes. And Tim Lund had given me Shannon Campbell's number. So I called him up before the event and I said, Are you going to be there? And he said, Yeah, I'm going to be there. I said, Man, I'd really like to meet you. He said, Oh, yeah, come on over and see us. And so I was really excited because he was my hero. I really wanted to meet the guy. And so we went to the event and we went on, we hit the first obstacle and I flipped the car over backwards and broke a bunch of shit. And they had no idea what we were doing, obviously. And this old guy came up to us and he said to me, Kid, how much weight you got in those front tires? Don't look like it's enough.


[00:25:00.480] - Rob McKenney

And I looked at him real sideways and said, Weight in my front tires? I ain't weight in my front tires. What do you mean? He said, You ain't got any weight in those front tires? Come on over to our trailer. I said, Which trailer is yours? And he pointed over and it was the Campbell trailer. It was Don Campbell. It was Don Campbell. I was like, All.


[00:25:18.800] - Rob McKenney

Right, you.


[00:25:19.980] - Rob McKenney

Get that car fixed and come on over. I said, I got it fixed right now. He said, What do you mean? I said, I got it fixed, it's running. He said, Really? He said, Yeah. So I drove it over there and he talked to a couple of the guys. And before, you know it, they had my car jacked up and they were putting a set of Shannon's front tires on my car. And he said, What are you doing? And he said, You need some weight in those tires, kid. What you got going is good, but it isn't going to work. And so they put a set of front and spare front tires on my car, and we went out and competing and we did okay. It was a whole new world for us. And we went and had dinner with them that night and became fast friends after that. It was one of those opportunities where you have somebody that you see in the magazines and you read about and they're great. And then you get to meet them and they're way better than you ever could imagine. They took time to teach us a ton of stuff.


[00:26:16.210] - Rob McKenney

Anytime we went to Arizona, my car ended up in the shop and Shannon spent a day or two working on it, trying to help me make it better. Always had an idea on how we can improve things. I wasn't allowed to stay in hotels in Arizona. They were insulted if we didn't stay at their house. They took us under their wing as their little stepchild and certainly was added to our rock crawling a ton.


[00:26:41.180] - Big Rich Klein

That's awesome.


[00:26:42.640] - Rob McKenney

Yeah, it was fantastic.


[00:26:45.880] - Big Rich Klein

We'll back up a little bit. When you got into to Wheeling, how did that all come about? Were you in New York at that point or had you already moved? Let's even go there. How did you get up from New York work and end up in Washington?


[00:27:03.760] - Rob McKenney

So the job I took with the Tower Crane Company, I had already spent a couple summers out West, a summer out West skiing when we took our Blackcomb trip. And so I knew I wanted to live in the Northwest. And so when I took that job with the Tower Crane Company, I said, Listen, I have no desire to live in New York. I'll take the job, but I want to live in the Northwest. And they said, Perfect, we have an opening there. And so I worked on the East Coast for them for a year. And during that time, I actually got married during that time and got trained. And then my wife and I moved to the Seattle area. We picked everything up we had, which wasn't much. We put it in a small trailer that I built, and we towed it behind a... Was it an '89 Nissan Pathfinder across the country. And that's all we had. Wow. It was a pretty big pretty bold move for us at the time. We were 22, and we'd been married for six months and hit the road.


[00:28:09.480] - Big Rich Klein

So your wife's a real trooper then?


[00:28:12.620] - Rob McKenney

She is. We've known each other since the third grade. We never dated in high school. We were always friends and did a lot of stuff together, but we didn't date until her college years. I was working at the time and screwing off. So she knew I definitely had a rambunctious side and liked to do things differently than everybody else. And yeah, she's a trooper. She puts up with a lot. I mean, she put up with the years of rock crawling and KOH, and all the other stuff we do, which we all know takes a toll on everything.


[00:28:50.340] - Rob McKenney

Financial and time.


[00:28:51.830] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, financial and time, correct. And to have a woman by your side that is supportive really makes a difference.


[00:29:03.500] - Rob McKenney

No doubt. I didn't say supportive. She puts.


[00:29:05.400] - Rob McKenney

Up with it. She puts up with it.


[00:29:06.900] - Rob McKenney

Okay, well, that's... She's smarter than that. If she supported me, she knows it'd get way worse out of hand. No, she always did support me in it, too. She was always encouraging and supportive, definitely.


[00:29:20.220] - Big Rich Klein

So then how did you end up with LandC ruiser?


[00:29:27.170] - Rob McKenney

I wanted to get an old Bronco, and I couldn't find one that I could afford. I found an old LandC ruiser that was pretty cheap and I bought it and I still have it. I had it for 26 years.


[00:29:41.070] - Big Rich Klein

Wow. Okay. The idea, it's still probably hard to afford an old Bronco. Those things keep jumping in prices.


[00:29:52.920] - Rob McKenney

Boy, they certainly do. I went from wanting an old Bronco to a scout to what I could afford, ended up being a land cruiser. I'm pretty darn glad I landed there because all the guys that have land cruisers, Oh, you had a land cruiser? They're a friend right away. They don't even need to know you. You know they're a friend. I met a lot of people that stopped me on the road that had a land cruiser and they wanted to talk to you.


[00:30:15.050] - Big Rich Klein

Right. That's awesome.


[00:30:16.540] - Rob McKenney

I was definitely always glad I ended up there.


[00:30:19.780] - Big Rich Klein

Let's talk about your very first event. That was that Pacific Northwest crawling. I forget what that was called, but it was up there along the Columbia River.


[00:30:28.790] - Rob McKenney

It was the Columbia River Gorge, just outside of Vantage.


[00:30:34.230] - Big Rich Klein

Vantage, that's it.


[00:30:36.040] - Rob McKenney

Yeah, there's a Vantage.


[00:30:37.370] - Big Rich Klein

All those lava bluffs with all the sand, right?


[00:30:41.940] - Rob McKenney

Yeah, they were basalt and columns, I think, and sand at the top and sand at the bottom and big drop offs and not great climbs. It was a ton of fun. We went there and we had spent weeks and months preparing the car and we were going to win. We were sure of it. And we did do pretty good. But it was pretty eye opening to us how inexperienced we were at it, really. We had done a bunch of wheeling, but competing was a whole different thing. It's like when the flag drops, everything changes.


[00:31:22.110] - Big Rich Klein

Yes. That's one of the things that I always try to warn teams about when they call up and they say, Okay, we're coming out to compete. So often I get the, Well, we do the most extreme crawling. Me and my friends, we're the best extreme crawlers in our area or state. We're this this, or that. I'm like, Okay, you got to remember, you're not getting to pick your own line. You can take your own line, but you have to drive mine. Then reality hits when they start walking the courses before they actually run them.


[00:32:02.580] - Rob McKenney

Certainly change things. That event was where we learned that we were good at going downhill by we me. I wasn't scared to fall off things, and that was something that I don't know if I just picked it up then and decided I wasn't scared, so just keep going with it. But whenever you had a good obstacle rich with a big drop, I was always excited because I knew everybody else would struggle with it, and that was always where I was happy. Nice. The ups I never got great at, but the downhill is, gravity is your friend, and if you work with it, it always works back with you.


[00:32:35.350] - Big Rich Klein

Gravity is your friend. There's some people that will argue that with you. Lord. So out of the places that you got to crawl, what would you think was your favorite event site or event area?


[00:32:54.480] - Rob McKenney

That's a tough question.


[00:33:00.140] - Big Rich Klein

Which one's had the biggest, the most downs? Donner?


[00:33:06.800] - Rob McKenney

Donner was... I'd say you're probably right on there. Donner is probably scenic. It was a ton of fun. Donner was always a great event for us because we always stay at Burger's house. Then Burger would have a great big rock crawl party and it'd be a huge event for us. Everybody wanted to go hang out at Castle Burger. And the event set up sites, you always put on spectacular events there. They were definitely in the top couple. Good drop offs. Paris, you had a spectacular drop off.


[00:33:41.660] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, that one where we put the hay bales at the bottom.


[00:33:43.680] - Rob McKenney

The hay bales at the bottom. That was a great one. That was probably one of the bigger ones.


[00:33:48.880] - Big Rich Klein

I know some people when they first saw that, they were like, What is going through your mind? I said, Hey, my son set those.


[00:33:59.740] - Rob McKenney

It was a bonus line. You didn't have to do it.


[00:34:02.340] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, like everybody said, if you put codes on it, we had to do it.


[00:34:08.180] - Rob McKenney

The rule for us always was if there's a bonus line and you don't try it, just go home. There's no point in being there if you're not going to take the bonus lines.


[00:34:19.470] - Big Rich Klein

I think it's gotten a lot more calculated now.


[00:34:28.100] - Rob McKenney

So still a bunch of bonus lines, but people don't take them?


[00:34:32.420] - Big Rich Klein

They take them when they need to, but like I said, it's very calculating. There's guys that could probably nail all of the bonuses but won't necessarily take them because as it could switch. You take a 40 on a course nowadays because you roll over on an obstacle like that, or you break out, you have no chance at all. So guys roll the dice and just see how things are going to fall until the last two or three obstacles of the weekend, and they'll let things slide. Wow.


[00:35:11.340] - Rob McKenney

That's definitely changed.


[00:35:13.010] - Big Rich Klein

Yes, it has.


[00:35:14.230] - Rob McKenney

For our days, everybody took the bonus lines, unless nobody made it at all before you and then you thought about it.


[00:35:23.380] - Big Rich Klein



[00:35:25.320] - Rob McKenney

Yeah, we always took the bonus lines, and that was Jason Polly, Tracy, yord, and Shannon. They all took bonus lines. There was no option.


[00:35:34.820] - Big Rich Klein

Exactly. So we started off with how you got your Toyota or why you got it. Your beginning of the rock crawling and everything. When was it that you just finally said, Okay, I'm done with rock crawling. Was that after you started racing KOH?


[00:35:57.380] - Rob McKenney

I wouldn't tell you I'm done, Rich. Okay. I just changed jobs and I got really busy with other stuff. And I did start racing KOH as well, which I enjoyed a ton. It was a matter of finding time to do it all and the finances. Between the traveling and keeping a car together, it's not cheap. Correct. So between all that, it just got to a point where I had to pick something and KOH definitely landed on the top. I definitely talked about it even recently that the new cars are pretty amazing with portal boxes and four wheels steer. And I thought, man, it'd be a ton of fun to get back into some rock crawling. And I'd love to maybe get my son out there doing it, get some driving experience. I don't think there's a better way to learn how suspension works and what a car can and can't do than rock crawling. And if he wants to race side by sides in KOH or race a real 4400 car, I think you need to spend some time behind the wheel rock crawling to learn the ins and outs of that before he could evolve to driving through the rocks fast.


[00:37:13.080] - Big Rich Klein

Oh, I agree. I agree.


[00:37:16.380] - Rob McKenney

I don't think there's a better training ground or proving ground to learn how to drive hard technical obstacles than competition rock crawl.


[00:37:25.380] - Big Rich Klein

How old is your son?


[00:37:30.320] - Rob McKenney

He turns 18 today.


[00:37:33.100] - Big Rich Klein

Okay, tell him happy birthday.


[00:37:36.100] - Rob McKenney

I will definitely do that.


[00:37:37.910] - Big Rich Klein

Then, yeah, it's a good time to get him started. What's the first event you're going to come back out to?


[00:37:47.240] - Rob McKenney

Good question. I wish I could give you a solid answer on that. I don't have a plan, but it's definitely it could be in the cards for us. He's been racing some side by side stuff. I could see him maybe... I think you have some side by side classes now? Yes. I can see him taking one of the side by sides out and see how he does with that. And if it's something he wants to draw a little with, see where he takes it.


[00:38:10.960] - Big Rich Klein

Well, I think it's end of July, August, we'll be in in Goldendale. And we have a couple of UTVs that show up for that one, that's for sure.


[00:38:24.080] - Rob McKenney

Well, you might get us there then. That'd be perfect. That's an easy close event for us.


[00:38:30.000] - Big Rich Klein

Cool. a.


[00:38:31.200] - Rob McKenney

actually, my daughters have both expressed interest in doing stuff, too. So who knows, we might have a couple of them competing.


[00:38:38.140] - Big Rich Klein

Excellent. Let's talk about your days at KOW. You were there early in the time, especially if you were friends with the Campbells then. Yes, I was.


[00:38:49.610] - Rob McKenney

I raced in the first official KOW. I was Tom Way's co driver in '08. And Tom had his first car, which was an evolution of what he rocked, crawling with, and ran trails with. So things were pretty primitive back then. But Tom and I had a great time competing and racing together. It was very different than it is now. It was an adventure. The next year, I got my own car and I say my own car. I was the luckiest guy in the late 's, I, Shannon, and nick Campbell had put together a deal where if I helped pay for the car, nick and I would split KOW. He'd drive half I'd drive half. And so that was the start of my K08s driving as nick and I had a car that I flew down to Arizona and helped them finish. And we went to the Lake Bed, we raced. We did that for three years in a row, and we did really pretty well. We had a couple of top 10 finishes and a couple of top 20 finishes. We had a good run. And then Bailey and Whelan started coming of age, and the extra cars weren't available anymore, which I knew was coming, and certainly was lucky to have the run I did with the Campbells.


[00:40:21.590] - Rob McKenney

They taught me a lot about driving, a lot how to keep the car together, how to prep a car, how to build a car. It was a privilege to get to do that.


[00:40:33.360] - Big Rich Klein

That's cool. Was that a two seater that you were racing?


[00:40:38.280] - Rob McKenney

We did a two seater for a couple of years, and then we had a single seater the last year that I raced with them. That we ran. The single seater was more modeled towards what Shannon was driving at the time, more of a low slump rock buggy type car as opposed to a full chassy, bigger car with two seats. Hadn't evolved two seeders into anything small at that point yet.


[00:41:09.580] - Big Rich Klein

Let's talk about some of the runs down there. What was some of the most memorable occasions while you were racing KOW?


[00:41:21.220] - Rob McKenney

Every time you finished was pretty memorable for one back then because attrition was pretty high as 20 people were finishing. And then the race was, I think the first year when Tom and I ran was only 50 miles. And the finish was, we were pretty darn pleased with it at that point. The next year was nick and I, and we ran pretty hard for what we had going on. And we had a few problems with the car that we were able to fix on the fly, stealing bolts out of one part to keep another part together. And it always was fun. The rock trails, you they were hard. And we had been on vacation down there. I'd been down there with Jason Shear, Jason Berger. Actually, Shear wasn't there. We took a bunch of trips to Johnson Valley just to have fun and play. And the memorable thing in my head was that we took hours to run trails that we ran in under 10 minutes in KOH, and I couldn't wrap my head around that. That we'd go up on that trail and it took us a whole day to run it, and we just did it in 10 minutes.


[00:42:33.560] - Rob McKenney

Nick and I had the famous Casey Curry incident where we might or might not have driven over a Campbell car that Casey was driving, and we didn't make any friends there, but he was in the way and we needed traction, so it had to happen.


[00:42:53.510] - Big Rich Klein

Lord, that's awesome. And those early days is when spectators were right down on the race course, too.


[00:43:01.000] - Rob McKenney

When you drove into Jackhammer, the crowd parted to get you so you could get through it. And you were worried about hitting people because they were right on the course. They were touching your tires always. They were leaned against you. They were right in the middle of it. It was pretty awesome. It was quite an experience.


[00:43:19.490] - Big Rich Klein

And then BLM said, What the hell are you guys doing? And made everybody get back up on the hillsides.


[00:43:28.020] - Rob McKenney

It's a good thing they did that before anything serious happened. We got away with it for the first four or five years of KOH. It was definitely them stepping in wasn't necessarily bad. It was fun and I miss it, but it was the right thing to do.


[00:43:46.580] - Big Rich Klein

Let's talk about your work a little bit. You're still doing tower crane stuff, but you're no longer a tech. You're selling them?


[00:43:59.300] - Rob McKenney

Nope. I run operations for a tower crane rental company based in Seattle. I'm an office guy now. I sit at a desk and have a computer, and I drive around and visit customers and put out fires. So more I'm a firefighter and a babysitter.


[00:44:15.020] - Big Rich Klein

There you go. Which did you prefer? Being out in the field or doing what you're doing now?


[00:44:22.160] - Rob McKenney

That's a tough question. At the time I was in the field, it was the right place for me to be. I'm older now. I don't need to be running up and down cranes. I don't know if I want to be out in the rain and the cold anymore. There's definitely pros and cons to both. The office is tough. Sitting behind a desk is challenging for me. I don't sit well. And as I mentioned earlier, when I was 18, 20, I had the attention span of a three year old. That hasn't really evolved much. I still have the attention span of a three year old. So the office is challenging for me in that respect as well.


[00:45:01.820] - Big Rich Klein

Understood. And what do you and your family do for fun, besides your working? I'm assuming your wife works as well?


[00:45:12.720] - Rob McKenney

She does. She is a mental health specialist, a counselor.


[00:45:19.620] - Big Rich Klein

Well, that explains a lot.


[00:45:24.440] - Rob McKenney

Most people have a lot of insight at that point when they understand what she does.


[00:45:31.680] - Big Rich Klein

So was she into that beforehand or is it just something that came natural after you guys got married?


[00:45:38.320] - Rob McKenney

That's what she went to college for, and she's since evolved it into she has a Masters and a bunch of alphabet soup along with her name, a bunch of specialty she has, and she has her own practice that she runs now. So it's evolved a bunch since we got married, but that's where her direction has been.


[00:45:58.370] - Big Rich Klein

Excellent. And I kid you, you're a great guy and lots of fun to be around, that's for sure.


[00:46:04.820] - Rob McKenney

But you're not necessarily wrong.


[00:46:09.040] - Big Rich Klein

What do you guys do for fun when you're not working?


[00:46:14.120] - Rob McKenney

We, wintertime, we do a bunch of snowmobiling. When I got burned out on skiing, it got too crowded, too expensive, and I just burned out as well. I pretty well gave up on it. And I started snowmobiling. And since taking snowmobiling up as something I enjoy, probably what I enjoy the most, and the family does, too, that we go out. There's a lot of great mountains around us, and we spend weekends out there riding when we can. And in the summer, side by sides. And I do some fishing in the summer. Springtime, side by side, fishing summer. The fall, we do some hunting. So a mixed bag of stuff.


[00:46:59.930] - Big Rich Klein

Cool. And do you still keep up with what's going on in the rock crawling world or KOW?


[00:47:06.420] - Rob McKenney

I do. I still stay in touch. I guess a little further in KOW, after I stopped driving, I co drove for Tom a couple of years. I think it was 18 and 19, I co drove for Tom at KOW. So got back into that arena for a little bit with him. And that was a ton of fun. It was amazing to see how everything had evolved and where everybody was, driving wise, and the cars were. Definitely had grown a bunch. So I keep up with that. I talk to Jason Berger at least once a week. And Steve Bissick and I talk a lot. He stays very involved in things as well. So I get a lot of updates from him. I talk to Shannon and usually see him once or twice a year. We try to run into each other. I catch up with them in an event. So stay a little in touch. Yeah, definitely. Not as much as I like to, but as much as I can with other things going on.


[00:48:11.580] - Big Rich Klein

Well, awesome. It's good to hear. And so we talked a little bit about possibility in the future of bringing your kids out to wheel, but where is Robert going in the future? Where do you see yourself?


[00:48:31.260] - Rob McKenney

I'd like to grow somewhat of a family team and have the kids doing some racing and rock crawling as they want to. I could see a couple of them really getting into it. Maybe started out with some side by side racing, which we have already. The kids have raced the side by sides and some local stuff. We had a King of the Castle, which isn't too far from here. It's down in Southern Oregon. Alex raced that a couple of years ago and did pretty well. It was a 100 mile desert race. He's definitely expressed interest in wanting to do that. I could see a little evolution there into doing some of that. Ultimately, I'd love to figure out a way to get a 4400 car again and get back into that. But that's a big step right now. The time commitment, the financial commitment is huge where that is. And the other direction, definitely, I could see doing some rock crawling over the next couple of years, whether it's via the side by sides or we build another car or look for one to buy. It'd be definitely something that I could see us participating in on and off via to be a ton of fun.


[00:49:48.370] - Big Rich Klein

Absolutely. Well, I know that it'd be really nice to have you back out there. I miss you. I don't know if anybody else does, but I have missed you.


[00:49:58.840] - Rob McKenney

Do I know anybody that's still.


[00:50:01.080] - Big Rich Klein

There, Rich? You know what? There's not a lot of guys that are still competing. Cody Waggoner, he took off this last season, but I think he's coming back out for most of the year this year. Awesome. Jesse Haines is still competing. He was East Coast but moved out here. He's the top gun right now. Him and one of the guys out of Northern California, Dave Wong, he's now down in Sand hollow area of St. George. He's another one of the top dogs. He was around in those years, but it was more as staff helping at the events and they used to help with some recovery and stuff. He was with the Sierra Posse Club. But those are the guys you're going to know. I know Tracy Jordan was talking about getting his daughter involved, but that hasn't happened yet. It. So we'll see.


[00:51:02.300] - Rob McKenney

Where that goes. That'd be fantastic.


[00:51:04.300] - Rob McKenney



[00:51:05.380] - Rob McKenney

Don't see Cody playing second fiddle to anybody for long either. He's pretty darn competitive.


[00:51:10.260] - Big Rich Klein

Oh, yeah, absolutely.


[00:51:13.740] - Rob McKenney

That'd be a tough one for him.


[00:51:16.570] - Big Rich Klein

Well, Robert, I want to say thank you very much for coming on board on conversations with Big Rich and talking about your history and your life in general and rock crawling and racing. I really appreciate you spending the time with us.


[00:51:33.160] - Rob McKenney

It's my pleasure, Rich. It's certainly great to talk to you and definitely miss spending time with you guys and everybody else out there rock crawling and racing. I said we made a ton of great friends that we still stay in touch with. When all the dust clears and we park the cars, it's all those friends that you really have and remember. And over those years, we've acquired quite a few and it's been a pleasure.


[00:51:59.170] - Big Rich Klein

Absolutely. And hope to see you in Goldendale.


[00:52:03.560] - Rob McKenney

Looking forward to.


[00:52:04.410] - Big Rich Klein

It, Rich. All right, Robert, take care.


[00:52:07.120] - Rob McKenney

You too. Take care. Bye. All right, bye.


[00:52:09.820] - Big Rich Klein

Well, that's another episode of Conversations with Big Rich. I'd like to thank you all for listening. If you could do us a favor and leave us a review on any podcast service that you happen to be listening on, or send us an email or text message or a Facebook message, and let me know any ideas that you have, or if there's anybody that you have that you 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. Follow your dreams and live life with all the Gusto you can. Thank you.