I like to think that I have done an amazing job of raising my three sons. Mainly because I have thoroughly brainwashed and indoctrinated them into loving Jeeps and everything off-road. My oldest boy, who is 17, daily drives a 78-year-old Willy’s MB to school every day, and his Christmas list included things such as an angle grinder, new bead-locks, and an LS engine. Santa is gonna need a 3rd job.
My middle kid just turned 16, and on a daily basis, he texts me at least five CJ-2A Jeeps that he has found for sale on Craigslist, E-bay, Facebook market place, and the like. There is nothing he wants more than a CJ-2A.
My youngest is nine. He has seen every single Dirt Everyday episode at least six times, spends countless hours playing with his RC rockcrawler, and reminds me always that he is getting my Jeep when I die. All three of them have complained that we did not run the Rubicon enough this summer, despite doing the trail like five times. Yep. My kids are completely brain-washed.
“Fifteen years separate these two pictures of my son”
While many people may think that the brain-washing of my sons is just plain sickening, here is another way to look at it: they love what I love. Not only do we spend hour upon hour talking together about wheeling and Jeeps, but we have also spent countless hours on the trail and camping together. Our shared passion for wheeling brings us together.
As a high school teacher, I am surrounded by teenagers every day, and I totally understand the importance of parents being involved in their kid’s lives. Unfortunately for this generation, most of these kids go home, sit in front of a computer game, and never leave the house or even talk to their parents.
So if you love Jeeping and off-roading, and have a kid at home that you want to create a life-long bond with, here are five steps to get them indoctrinated into the off-road lifestyle.
1. TAKE YOUR KID TO 4×4 EVENTS
Way back in 2009, I took my boys to an old-school CalROCS Rock Crawling competition in Brown’s Valley, California. It had dumped rain all week, and the parking lot was a massive mud-pit. When my oldest hopped out of my truck, he sank knee-deep in the muck and pulled his foot out of his boot when he tried to get it out of the mud.
The courses for the competition were even worse. It was just a muddy frickin mess, and my kids ended up dirtier than most of the vehicles in the competition. Logan was crying because there was mud in his shoe, Peyton was whining because he was cold and thirsty, and they spent half the time pouting about being there. It was beyond horrible for both my wife and me. (The top picture for this article was taken at that event.)
Here is the crazy thing about that entire miserable experience: to this day, a decade later, they both still talk about it. They don’t remember the miserableness or mud AT ALL. What they do remember is when Jeff Mello did that front dig with his engine screaming that pulled him out of a roll, when Whitford flopped his rig on the side, sending up a cloud of white smoke, and when Jeremy Farell crawled out of his rolled rig in the middle of a mud pit and gave both my boys hi-fives with his hand covered in mud. All of those experiences stuck in their heads.
“The boys love exploring Johnson Valley.”
This coming year, my littlest boy has a hockey tournament in February, so my family cannot attend the King of the Hammers. My oldest two sons are absolutely LIVID about that. At least once a week, I hear one of them whine, “Can’t we just go to KOH for a couple of days this year, dad?” Why do they want to go so bad? Because for multiple years, it was a huge family trip for us, and going to that race became a big part of their childhood.
“Shannon Campbell takes some time to talk to my little boy Brady.”
My son Logan is always smiling, but I can identify the biggest smile that he has ever had. Shannon Campbell had just won the King of the Hammers, and when he pulled his car off the stage onto the lakebed, my son was there with his Wraith RC rockcrawler waiting for an autograph. There were hundreds of people that wanted to talk to Shannon at that instant, but instead of running right to the media guys, he jumped out of his rig and immediately got down on a knee next to my son.
Shannon took the time to talk to my little boy, then autographed his RC car. Logan ran up to me afterward, smiling ear to ear like HE was the one that won the King of the Hammers, and held up his autographed RC car like a trophy.
Unlike NASCAR or other professional sports, rock-sports competitors are way more accessible and considerably more friendly. At many races like the King of the Hammers and NorCal Rockracing, you can even cruise through their pits before the event. This makes these events way more interactive, especially for kids.
“Kids are more involved when they have someone to cheer for, especially if they have met that person.”
If you are walking them through the pits before a race, try to get a couple of drivers to give them an autograph, take a picture or just talk to your kids. In this way, when the race is going on, you can point out which car that driver is in, and your kids can cheer for them. It makes it much more personal for your kids.
So when you go to an event with your kids, do not just drag them in tow. Point out things to them and explain what is going on. Get them involved.
“Even when they were 6 and 7, my boys were already taller than Dustin.”
On a side note here: Gauge the pit activity before you bug a team or ask for an autograph. Many of the pit crews may be on a tight schedule and need to get something critical done on the car. If a pit seems busy, it is best to pass them by and leave them alone.
2. GET YOUR KID AN RC ROCK CRAWLER
Years ago, THE radio control rock crawler to get was a 1:6 scale Nylint that came either as a Jeep Wrangler or the famous Scorpion buggy. Since you could buy them at the time from Walmart, we called them “Wally-crawlers.” Not only were they cheap (about $35), they were geared really low with squishy, aired-down tires, and they crawled over boulders like nobody’s business.
They crawled amazingly well for being so cheap, and they were very well made. Nearly everyone I knew had one in their vehicle on wheeling trips, and we would crawl them around the fire-pit in camp. (Which was gloriously fun, especially if someone rolled their plastic RC crawler into the fire.) There was a good two or three-year run where they were wildly popular.
“Brady with my now-dead Nylint Wally Crawler on an Eastern Sierra wheeling trip.”
Before I knew it, my Wally-crawler became the property of both my two oldest boys, and they fought over it like the dickens. They wheeled that thing over EVERYTHING. Over obstacles made from Legos, tools I left on the garage floor, the dog, etc. At one point, they even built a full-on rock crawling course in the side yard.
Eventually, my Wally Crawler gave up the ghost, and I was horrified to find out that they are no longer available. So both my boys ended up with (much more expensive) Axial Wraiths. Now with two RC cars, the completion got fierce. I spent countless hours with my sons playing with these RC cars and crawling them over everything.
Every wheeling trip we went on, the cars had to go with us. Headed to the King of the Hammers or the NorCal Rockraces? Yep, the Wraiths had to go also.
“My middle son Logan RC crawling at the Rallyventure event in Reno.”
Even on a smaller scale, rock crawling is all about tire placement and taking the right line. If you don’t learn quickly, you will roll or not make it over the obstacle. As my sons got older and into actual vehicles, I was amazed at how much they had learned from their RC cars carried over to the real thing.
Both of my boys are very good at taking the correct line and knowing how much throttle to use. Very rarely do I have to get out and spot them over something.
“Brady loves the Axial booth at the King of the Hammers.”
The other cool thing about getting your kid an RC Crawler is that it is something that you can do with them! Not just playing with the RC car, and but building courses. This also gives you an excuse for you to give to the wife for you to buy yourself one, so you and your kid can compete with each other!
When it comes to RC crawlers, you get what you pay for, and as I said before, the Nylint Crawlers are unfortunately no longer available. You don’t want to buy your kid a cheap crawler from Big 5 or Walmart since most of them will not last and do not crawl that well.
For a decent, entry-level crawler you are looking in the $300 to $400 range. You want a car that is RTR meaning “Ready to Run,” where you can just charge up the battery and wheel. Be careful here though, RC crawlers are like tattoos. Once you get one, you will want more. They can get addicting.
“Dad wheels the 1-1 scale on the Rubicon, Peyton wheels his 1-10 scale Wraith.”
If you want your kid to be the coolest on the block, I highly suggest an Axial Wraith. To be even cooler, get your kid (and you) the Randy Slawson Bomber version here.
3. HAVE THEM TURN A WRENCH
Ok, I am going to get a little nerdy here, but only to make a crucial point. In every movie or story, the hero has an old guy with a beard that is the hero’s mentor. Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan, Harry Potter had Dumbledore, Bilbo Baggins had Gandalf, the Karate Kid had Mr. Miagi, Kung Fu Panda had that rat thing, etc. Essentially the hero always has a mentor that helps them on their quest.
The keyword here: HELPS them. The mentor does not make the journey FOR the hero; they only step in when the hero needs help. The mentor does not save the day; the hero does.
“How many 17-year-old kids nowadays can do their own brakes?”
Now think back to when you were a little kid handing tools to your dad while he worked on a vehicle. Did you actually learn anything? Maybe a little through osmosis, but for the most part, you did not learn jack other than some great curse words. Don’t make your kid just your tool gopher; make THEM work on the vehicle for you! People learn by actually doing stuff, not watching.
“Four-year-old me waiting to hand dad the wrench while learning all the no-no words.”
As soon as my kids were capable enough, I got them wrenching on all my vehicles. One of my oldest son’s first job was replacing brake pads. I began by telling him that “we” are going to change out the brake pads, but I did none of the work. I just told him how to do each step and guided him through the process.
Acting as a “mentor,” I would only step in as needed. As an example of this, he could not get a lug nut loose, so I only broke it free for him, and then handed the tire iron back to him.
“Logan elbows deep into his uncle’s YJ.”
No matter how long your kid takes or how much they are struggling, resist the urge to step in and just do it yourself. Only help a little as needed, explaining what is going on the entire way.
Also, resist the urge to start cursing or yelling at them when they screw up. If you constantly give positive reinforcement, and they actually see the results of the work they have done, they will have a positive experience and understand that they can actually do this stuff. Easy jobs for kids can be things like changing the oil or a flat tire, then slowly advance to things like brakes or replacing something like a starter or alternator.
“I do not know what is wrong with it, son; YOU figure it out.”
Doing this with my sons has paid off multiple times. When my oldest boy was 16 and driving his Jeep to school, his brakes started going out. He pulled over to the side of the road and figured out that brake fluid was leaking from the brake light switch. Without having to call me for help, he “trail fixed” it on the side of the road, bled the brakes with help from his little brother, and still made it to school on time. I doubt very many 16-year-old kids in this day and age could do that.
Part 2 continues with this formula for getting your kids to be a formidable part of our Jeeping and four-wheeling future.