Living the life of a Corvette enthusiast, Bower caught the eye of BFGoodrich at a time when the Brand was in the early stages of marketing performance tires to car clubs. He accepted the offer to go to work for BFG in 1977 and found himself at the Mint 400 as a pit volunteer. The fixation transformed into a deep passion for off-road. From that day forward he would make a huge impact on the world of off-road racing in a variety of roles. Pit volunteer, chase crew, race team manager, pit manager, program manager, winning co-driver, winning driver, ESPN TV color analyst, and teacher. Bower’s goal was to have a positive impact on whatever he was doing. His philosophy of “be alert, listen to what people have to say and always use the truth” served him well.
It was 1982 when BFGoodrich put him in the role of Off-Road Program manager. With very thin budget resources available, the challenge was to provide support for the contracted teams and win races. Bower’s race strategy was very straightforward… “You start winning rather than finish winning.”
Bower’s vision was to establish a common direction on the race course and in the pits, and bring all the teams into one big BFG team. “The direction we’re heading is very, very clear.” “That is to be the best between the green and checkered flags”. Bower launched the BFGoodrich Pit Support program. To this day the BFGoodrich Pits are arguably the most successful and widely used pit service in Off-Road Desert Racing.
The 1985 Baja 1000 ended early for Bob and his teammate Mike Randall in the Class 4 Honcho when they got off course and lost, ending up sunken to the frame in a tidal mud marsh. It took two days for the team to find and retrieve them. Bower swore, and promised his wife Necia, that we would never be lost like that again in Baja.
He would make detailed maps of the race course, highways, and chase roads (KM mileage included), along with other information like fuel and food locations. The chase crews knew at any given time they could drive to the correct chase road and how long the drive should take. Teams raced with a higher degree of safety for their chase crews because of those maps. In the early 1990s Bower turned the map making over to BFGoodrich in order to make it available to the masses. By widely distributing the maps, all of the chase crews could support their teams with a higher degree of safety.
Bob wrote “What About You?”, a powerful piece that has been included in almost all pit books over the past 20 years. It remains fresh and relevant today because of its absolute raw truth. “What About You?” is Bob’s heartfelt advice to everyone in off-road, about safety and taking care of yourself and those you are with during the race. Many are convinced “What About You?” has saved lives over the last two decades. Bob says he was “simply speaking from the heart.”
Over the years Bob has shown his passion, humility and wisdom. They are matched only by his unshakeable ethic. There have been many young racers who have been helped along their way by Bower. He’s always been a champion of the little guy. Sometimes it’s a quiet conversation, sometimes a few hours of highway windshield time, other times simply introducing them to others in the sport who could help them get better. Young stars like Robby Gordon, Ivan Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Arciero, and Rob MacCachren all have had Bob help them along in their racing career in one small way or another. For Bob Bower, it has been a labor of love. “I never wanted to change things in our sport, I just wanted to do what I could to help it along.”
Bob’s personal motto is “Life Is A One Lap Race!” He seems to be running a rather good lap!
Learn more about ORMHOF inductee Bob Bower in these Conversations with Big Rich Podcasts:
5:13 – earliest memories were reading MotorTrend and a feature article on Bill Stroppe’s teams on the PanAmerican rally
7:32 – learned to drive in a 5 mph old military jeep
10:58 – worked in a body shop and that immersed me in to being a car guy
16:56 – Tom Johnson’s Union Oil was a rite of passage in the neighborhood
19:05 – Religiously cleaned all the windows, front and back – but wait, that’s plexiglass on that Corvette
21:38 – cruising VanNuys Blvd in a Corvette
23:14 – I have an opinion
24:37 – I was getting trained as a speaker – and I didn’t know it yet
26:28 – wouldn’t you like to hook up with the people who set the trends instead of follow them?
32:26 – I didn’t know squat about tires
36:19 – slow hands, slow feet – that’ how you pit
42:40 – recognizing what is at stake when I’m talking
48:58 – here’s why off-road racing is expensive
53:37 – See’s Candy marketing built the BFG pits
56:50 – my first co-driver gig – I had finally arrived
59:11 – made ESPN’s Crash of the Week with that one
1:03:25 – if you’re in the air, you can’t accelerate, you can’t stop and you can’t steer
1:06:01 – the key to winning a long-distance desert race is not going faster, but going a little less slow
1:08:47 – Retired from racing on my terms with a win at the 50th Annual Baja 1000
"I’m going to forego the Show Notes for this second part of the Bob Bower interview because if you listened to part one, you already know you want to listen to part two..." -- Big Rich