Earlier this month a rather unexpected bombshell was dropped upon an equally unsuspecting off-road racing industry. Passionate racer and talented entrepreneur Robbie Pierce announced his purchase of Santee, California-based Jimco, the world’s largest off-road racing manufacturer.
Armed with boundless enthusiasm for the form of motorsports he feels is on par with almost any other in the world, for 58-year-old Pierce the move came nine months after his last business bombshell was dropped – the sale of Pierce’s Impact Racing and MasterCraft Safety to Italian safety company Sparco.
This latest venture in the expanding off-road racing industry is likely Pierce’s final one, a chapter he is anxious to write, “as long as the off-road Gods will allow.” Always quick with a laugh, smile and unexpected honesty, for the former welder and fabricator the chance to drive one of the most iconic and internationally-recognized brands was simply too tempting to deny.
Q: You are one of the few people that have worked – and raced – with a 360-degree vision of modern professional motorsport. Yet, desert off-road racing is still such a driving passion. Why?
Robbie Pierce: Being back in Indiana and around all the top teams in IndyCar, NASCAR and the NHRA, including Andretti Autosport and Hendrick Motorsports, made me appreciate this sport even more.
Q: Really, how?
RP: Because I realized that they are not better than we are. Nor do they have the passion that off-road racers do. I have much more respect now for what a Rob MacCachren or Ryan Arciero or Robby Gordon does because it’s just hard work and an uphill battle. And, I would stack up the technology that’s in a Trophy Truck against anything except Formula 1. It’s amazing.
Q: You have been a Jimco customer and racer for a long time. So, how did that possibly evolve to you owning the company?
RP: I’ve always bled Jimco blue, for sure. After I sold Impact and Mastercraft I returned back to San Diego and re-nested back into our little complex in Santee, which is really the off-road capitol of the world. It’s our Gasoline Alley. Coming back was one of the draws of me selling Impact. As much as I like Indianapolis and as much as I enjoyed the IndyCar community back there – and they really embraced us – this was still my home. People asked me ‘what’s wrong with Indiana? I tell them, “nothing unless you’re from San Diego”.
So I returned and everyone considered me semi-retired, and I stayed busy because I didn’t have 120 people helping me do stuff anymore. During that time I also found myself wanting to help Matt Loiodice [Jimco’s general manager)]with the trials and tribulations of running a business. Things like payroll, cash flow and things like that can be tough. This interest also had roots in how close I am to Mike [Julson], who really showed us what a top-level, truly innovative off-road legacy company could look like. That’s really what sparked this whole idea.
Q: Yes, but you literally just got out of the pressures of running a big business. Why jump back in again?
Robbie Pierce: Look, running a business and literally having your employee’s happiness and welfare and family in your hands is a heavy burden for a lot of people. I have been doing it for so long I’m used to it. It’s weird when it’s not there…
But, I also knew that there was one final chapter out there for me right before I race off in the sunset. This was it.
Q: So, in reality, Robbie Pierce is not coming in to fix a Jimco brand that is broken, correct?
RP: No, I am not coming in to fix it at all. In fact, I have been asked; “are you going to take it to the next level?’ I answer no, I want to maintain the level they have achieved. What would the next level be anyway? They are the premiere off-road truck and car builder in the world. There are some phenomenal competitors and builders out there, but what’s amazing is that many have a Jimco apprenticeship on their resume. It’s not a matter of fixing anything but taking what I have learned in business over the last 40 years – especially being around the other top forms of motorsports – and applying it to the off-road world. Make no mistake about it, off-road racing, especially desert racing, deserves to stand right along side NASCAR, IndyCar, sports car and NHRA in terms of stature, technology and history.