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“Stacey strikes again.”
Rodger surveyed the wreckage as he opened the door. His latest project had been a hauler — a dually truck with a big, bright red crew cab and a trailer that held a delicate tube chassis race buggy. An absolute feat of schoolkid engineering, this truck was cool. It was innovative. It was magnificent. And now, it was scattered across the carpet of his bedroom floor. Destroyed, like many masterpieces that came before it, by his kid sister.
Stacey had wrought some classic six-year-old Godzilla-style annihilation on another Rodger Lee custom. But she also wrought something else: a clean slate. A reason — an excuse, really — to set aside the Lego hauler and build something new. And nothing thrilled Rodger more than the vast, untold potential of his next build.
Smiling, he swept up the Legos, hopped on his bed, cracked open a tattered copy of Street Rod Builder, and started to dream.
Luck in the traditional sense doesn’t figure into Rodger Lee’s story. As he sees it, luck is something you build yourself. As reflected in his attitude about demolished Lego creations, Rodger got through life by seeing every step backward as an opportunity to take a few forward.
This attitude served him well the day he lost his job as a tractor mechanic — one in a stream of mechanic gigs he had throughout his early career. His departure came a few months after he started renting out a garage with a few friends as a space to work on their cars. Rodger made a deal with the landlord: in exchange for doing some tenant repairs, he would move from the 700-square-foot box he worked in to the 1,800-square-foot space up front. The rent would gradually increase toward the new rate each month, which lit a hot fire under Ironworks Speed & Kustom — Bakersfield, California’s newest fabrication shop.
The fire worked, and so did Rodger. Seven days a week, many hours a day. He lived in that garage until it burst at the seams, and he had to move into a larger space. With 4,000 square feet and a lot more foot traffic downtown, Rodger could hire more hands, service more cars, wow more customers, and, most importantly, try a few things out.
“I'm a gutsy guy. When I opened my shop, I had never built a complete car, and I hadn't done a lot of welding fabrication projects. I just had the ability to try, and if it didn’t turn out, try again. I'm a firm believer that a failure is only a failure if you don't learn something from it.” – Rodger Lee
The first decade of Ironworks Speed & Kustom’s existence was a trial by fire, full of more ups, downs, and lessons than Rodger could ever count. One of the most challenging lessons that every successful entrepreneur must learn is how to hire.
It’s next to impossible to find someone as passionate about and dedicated to your business as you are. But still, there’s a difference between someone who cares about their work and someone who’s just counting down the minutes until closing time. This ability to care is the first thing Rodger looks for when hiring someone new.
“It's great if someone comes in and already knows how to weld. But I would rather have a guy who cares but can't TIG weld than a guy who can TIG weld like nobody's business but doesn't care. You can always teach skills. You can’t teach caring.”
Second to caring is ego, more specifically, a lack thereof. As someone with strong feelings about how things could always be better, Rodger seeks employees who share his lack of complacency, always searching for and rooting out even the slightest imperfections in their work.
If you aren’t ready to build something as extensive and custom as the cars on Rodger’s shop floor, you can still transform the performance and aesthetic of your car. Start with these three modifications for maximum effect.
Smart tire selection can give you the stability and traction you need to drive, corner, crawl, and stop like a pro. Whether they’re flying through the desert or just down a bumpy highway, it’s your tires that impart confidence when you drive. Find the tire for you.
Custom wheels are a great way to express yourself and differentiate your car from the standard model look. Wheels are a relatively affordable mod to perform; they add instant visual appeal to your vehicle and often add resale value, too.
When it comes to suspension, there are two common mods. A lift raises your vehicle to add ground clearance, enabling you to handle taller and deeper obstacles on the road. A lowering decreases your vehicle’s height, giving it a sporty handling that’s incredibly responsive as you drive.
Together, these mods work to maximize your vehicle’s traction — the primary translator of your engine’s power. No matter where you’re headed, you need traction to get there. These three modifications will help you obtain it.
As the leader of one of America’s most celebrated custom hot rod shops, Rodger has a lot to be proud of. Through trial, error, and a lot of persistence, he managed to build a remarkable business. And in true anti-complacency fashion, about a year ago, he decided that that wasn’t good enough. Now it was time to build a community.
What started as a private Facebook group full of automotive leaders from around the country is now a weekend-long business development intensive that Rodger puts on about once a quarter, open to anyone who operates their own automotive business. The classes explore the ins and outs of managing people, pricing work, finding efficiencies, writing contracts, improving productivity, and increasing profits.
During each session, Rodger shares his hard-won wisdom and invites industry guest speakers to do the same. Ultimately, the course becomes more of a roundtable summit, where business owners of all walks of life and experience levels share the life lessons that have helped them stay booked, busy, and sane.
“Every class, I come away with something new I want to try. I don't think that a business is ever fully dialed. There's always something that someone else is doing better than you. There’s always a way to be better.”
Rodger’s knack for seeing opportunity, his gutsy comfort with failure, and his general perfectionist aversion to complacency have all paid off. Those magazines Rodger poured over in his childhood bedroom now feature Ironworks Speed & Kustom projects regularly. And that 4,000 square-foot space is now 9,800 square feet, complete with ten in-progress builds, most receiving the highest level of customization imaginable and destined for magazine spreads of their own.
When the Ironworks Speed & Kustom crew shows up to a show, they turn heads, raise eyebrows, and bring home hardware. But Rodger prefers a different way of marking the shop’s success.
“I take tremendous satisfaction when a guy wants to build another car, especially when it's someone who is fun to build a car for. We have a lot of guys who build second, third, sixth, or eleventh cars. And that's bigger than all the awards and press in the world.”
Another car. Another clean slate. Another night spent in the thrilling company of the vast, untold potential of Rodger Lee’s next build.
To see that next build for yourself, follow Ironworks Speed & Kustom on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
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