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Off-road passion leads to business
by Dan McGee
Feb 25, 2013 | 4741 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Samco owner Sam Cothrun (left) stands with his mentor Rod Hall in his Sparks shop. They are by a Class 1 desert racer being prepped for Frank Maciel.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Samco owner Sam Cothrun (left) stands with his mentor Rod Hall in his Sparks shop. They are by a Class 1 desert racer being prepped for Frank Maciel.
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee — There are a variety of projects being worked on at the Samco shop. From a truck in the foreground to a Class 1 buggy to a Jeep Wagoneer (left) being modified for off-road use by a customer.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — There are a variety of projects being worked on at the Samco shop. From a truck in the foreground to a Class 1 buggy to a Jeep Wagoneer (left) being modified for off-road use by a customer.
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Last summer in the U.S. 500 VORRA event, Samco owner Sam Cothrun and Chad Hall shared driving duties in this H-3 Hummer taking off at the start.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Last summer in the U.S. 500 VORRA event, Samco owner Sam Cothrun and Chad Hall shared driving duties in this H-3 Hummer taking off at the start.
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Sam Cothrun not only preps desert racing trucks and buggies but also races them. In 2011, he was the overall points champion in the VORRA series and here is shown tearing away from the start of the U.S. 500 that year.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Sam Cothrun not only preps desert racing trucks and buggies but also races them. In 2011, he was the overall points champion in the VORRA series and here is shown tearing away from the start of the U.S. 500 that year.
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SPARKS — Samco Fabrication is a small business specializing in off road, rock crawling and desert racing. Owner Sam Cothrun caught the off-road racing bug when he attended Wooster High School.

"It started when I was 14 and I decided I needed to get a car. I fell in love with old Broncos and found one that was a total basket case," he said. "I got that going by the time I was 17 and that's what got me going in off road."

Eventually he built a hot rod motor for his Bronco and competed in sand drags, did the Rubicon four times as well as other events.

"After high school I wanted to work at something I was passionate about so I got a job at Complete Truck and 4 Wheel Drive," he said. "Worked there for about a year and a friend of mine, who now owns Twisted Metal, got a job at Rod Hall International."

At that time, Rod Hall International did a lot of different things including military training, military vehicle builds and desert racing.

"Up to that point I had helped out at a couple of local VORRA races back when I was 16 and 17 years old. I thought that was cool but going with Rod Hall International to the races really changed my life and changed my passion," he said. "Not that I lost my passion for the Bronco or any of that stuff. Instead I gained a tremendous amount of passion for off road racing."

He feels that passion he gained led to where he's at today.

"I worked for about four and a half years at Rod Hall International, worked for Rod and both of his sons and it got to a point to where the dealership part of it was going down to Winkle Hummer in 2001," he said

Cothrun explained that everything began to fragment with various part of the business going to different places. And it was time to change his direction.

"I was prepping Rod's Flag H-1 Hummer, the one that's in the Auto Museum right now, and he said, 'you can either start your own business and keep doing what you're doing but I don't know what we're going to do.' So I had about a month in 2001 to decide to go from being an employee to thrust into the fire of being my own business," Cothrun said.

And the name came from racing.

"There's a long history in off road racing of Jimco, Funco and Raceco and it was very popular. I always joked around that my business was going to be Samco," he said.

He added his lack of knowledge at how to start a business made things somewhat hard at first.

"Every bit was me and I'm not the sharpest stick in the shed," he said. "It was a challenge for me. Getting the business license in Sparks was easier because I had good help."

One of those people he's indebted to is his wife, Christine.

"She has really come on board and really helped out a lot. And that's expanded to her having her own bookkeeping company."

The shop's first location was in Reno off Reactor Way and in 2008 he moved it to the industrial area of Sparks. While the current shop is a bit larger than he actually needs, that extra space allows for a variety of projects, including large ones.

"We started off with race preparation for Rod Hall Racing and we're still doing preparation for him," he said.

Most of Cothrun's work had been with production class racers and he's got a shelf of trophies due to his efforts over the years.

"They are all productions stuff starting with the H-1, moving to the H-2s in 2003 and then moving to the H-3 in '05 and '06," he said. "We worked hand in hand with the desert proving grounds and the General Motors engineers. They always prepped a car, we prepped a car and we'd always work together so I'm pretty proud of that."

Cothrun is proud of those years as many things learned from racing production based trucks and cars have contributed to improvements in street type vehicles.

"There were something like 32 production changes directly associated with the race program," he said. "That's the way it should be and we've lost a lot of that in racing now. It was a marketing tool and engineering tool. They would actually send new engineers to the race program to see the challenges."

Over the years things have changed, as Rod Hall International is now Hall Racing and, around 2008, production racing began to go away. As a result, Samco expanded into other areas.

"The last couple of years we've been keeping involved in it. We've been running the VORRA series in my truck that I built for myself and we won the overall points title in 2011," he said. "In 2012 we had a lot of different stuff going on so I wasn't able to focus as much energy so we only ran three or four races."

He credits his company's survival during the economic meltdown to, "having the right type of clients." And as time progressed he's diversified, which has helped but also brought challenges.

"It ends up sort of watering you down for some stuff but then it helps you out for other stuff," he said.

Diversifying has been one way to keep the business rolling as well as adapting to the market.

Besides prepping vehicles for either racing, off-road or pre-running, Samco also builds specialized parts; not large runs but enough to keep the doors open.

"I'd say that racing is our biggest passion and probably 50 perecent of our work," he said.

In addition there is a retail side as he keeps Master Craft seats, fire suits, helmets and safety items for the off road or racing customers.

"So it's a combination of retail, the vehicle modification and that's anywhere from rock crawling, recreational off-roading all the way to the racing side of things. Just whatever fabrication that needs to get done," he said. "What we don't do is go beat everybody else's prices on building you a custom this or that as we build high quality components, do high quality work and we're not always the cheapest."

Another aspect of the business is that Cothrun is willing to help those that do most of the work themselves.

"We try to pride ourselves on being a company that a do-it-yourselfer can come down and pick our brains, he said. "We try to help so they can do 80% of the job. If we can help them they're going out and do it but maybe down the road they'll bring us a project"

He also tries to advise customers on what he feels they actually need rather than just agreeing with what they might want.

"Another thing I pride myself on is trying to talk the customer out of something that they don't need. We want return customers and we don't want to just sell them something to make money," he said. "Basically our slogan is 'from Rubicon to Baja,' and any vehicles associated with that so we can help them choose the right thing."

Another of his passions is suspension and shock tuning so a customer can get the best ride possible from their vehicles.

He's also noticed changes both in the sport due to the economic situations and people's increasingly positive attitude about this region.

While he doesn't think the sport of off-road racing has shrunk, he feels the entry level racers have diminished, while there are more entries in the more unlimited higher dollar classes.

"So it's the old adage of, 'the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,' but I don't know if you're seeing the grass roots organizations grow," he said.

He used the example of VORRA series, which has seen new people join as the older veterans leave. He did compliment series boss Wes Harbor for the efforts he and his team have been putting into this desert racing series.

"There's always a couple of guys that have a few bucks that can afford to do some nice stuff, they show and you've got some cool rigs," he said. "But there's always the guys in the garage that are building it themselves, the bread and butter, the heart of off road racing and those guys are still there. But I would say those guys are having a harder time, pinching pennies and coming up with whatever way they can do it so I don't know if that's grown as much as Trophy Trucks and Class 1 cars."

While the market for sand cars has tanked, the side-by-side market on the recreational side has taken off. In fact, Samco has fabricated roll cages for some of these.

"Jeepers have always stayed real strong but they're taking them to shops less and less. More guys are doing it them selves, more guys are just pinching pennies and that's a good thing in a sense as it teaches people discipline.

Cothrun is also bullish on motorsports in this area.

The one thing you're seeing with the Reno-Sparks area is motorsports in general are really taking off. This Wild West Motorsports park short course is huge, it's an amazing facility, they're still working on it," he said.

He hopes to do more work with short course vehicles in the future. Along with the Wild West Morotsports Park, he explained that between VORRA, Roger Norman's HDRA, as well as the Rubicon and Moon Rocks for OHV and rock crawling, both off-roading and racing are growing.

And the effect is being felt far from this area.

"And I think for people from Southern California, Southern Nevada and Arizona all of a sudden, it's not as far away as they really thought it was. I see it not being such a big deal to go way up north to go do a race, or to do this and that," he said. "And in the middle of summer it's 20 times better here than it is down in Southern Nevada or Arizona."

All this has Cothrun excited about the future for racing and OHV activities in this area. And he's hoping to service that growing market.

"Just having all those races up here you're going to see a lot more people getting into it. So I do have a positive outlook for racing and off roading," he said.

And he feels the business will grow with the sport.

Those wishing more information on the services Samco offers can check their website at, www.samcofabrication.com. Or they can call the office at, 775-856-4100.

OTHER RACING NEWS

•NASCAR's Las Vegas trio were at the Daytona International Speedway this week. Things began well for the Busch brothers as Kyle won his race in Thursday's Duel 150's, while Kurt was fifth in his.

In Friday's Camping World Truck event, Kyle Busch finished second for the third year in a row, while Brendan Gaughan ended up 29th. In Saturday's Nationwide race they didn't do so well as Kyle finished 31st after his motor overheated and his brother Kurt was involved in a crash and ended up 35th.

On Sunday, in the Daytona 500, Kurt started 11th and finished 28th, while Kyle began the race fourth and finished 34th.

•This weekend SMRA begins its racing year as the Over The Hill Gang hosts the season's first motocross at the Sand Box (Fernley Lion's Motocross Track) in Fernley. As usual, the first moto begins around 10 a.m. Sunday.
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