A warm breeze blew through the tree branches on Disc Drive in Santa Cruz County as guests navigated its gentle curves. Hundreds of people gathered in the sun, sipping on wine and beer on the patio outside FOX’s worldwide headquarters.
Trophy trucks, rock crawlers and side-by-sides littered the front and side entrances, welcoming folks from all parts of the globe, drawn here by their love of outdoor sports and appreciation for excellent suspension.
That suspension was about to be put on display in a brand new way for FOX; this wasn’t the announcement of a new product line. For a company that’s known for pushing things forward, FOX was taking a rare moment to pause and look back as it opened its doors to the new FOX museum on the bottom floor of its Scotts Valley offices.
There was something electric in the air when this many people gathered in one place, all with a passion for riding fast and pushing the limits. Motocross racers mingled with engineers. Pro mountain bikers chatted with desert racers. X Games athletes got invited to drive trophy trucks. The passion was palatable. Combine that passion with an event like an opening, where these folks would be the first to unwrap the visual history of a company as influential as FOX, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was a bit like Christmas morning.
As the crowd grew to more than 400, so did the expectation. What would they find inside? Even outside was a feast for the eyes. A black and gold ribbon bearing the FOX logo waited to be cut, trembling from the breeze and anticipation. In a welcome befitting a company that got its start in motocross racing, the crowd was beckoned from the beer gardens to the front doors by the sounds of a revving motor. The smell of exhaust perfumed the air.
Dan Robbins, FOX’s director of marketing, welcomed the crowd briefly and brought out John Marking, one of FOX’s long-time employees and vice president and general manager of the off-road division. With longevity comes age, he joked, as he put on his glasses to read a short speech introducing the guest of honor, Bob Fox.
“For the last twenty years I’ve been fortunate to have a front row seat, watching this company evolve and grow into what it is today. What started out as a small business working out of a borrowed garage has turned into what you see before you.”
Bob Fox echoed Marking’s sentiments, putting on and taking off his glasses as he addressed the crowd. While the building with his name stood behind him, he made it clear that certain people attending the opening that made everything the crowd saw now and in the museum possible.
“Without these three guys back in the 1970s and what they did, I wouldn’t be here today, and FOX and this museum wouldn’t be here either.”
Bob Fox thanked the professional motocross racer Brad Lackey for his testing, rider feedback and unspoken endorsement of AirShox by bolting them on his bike. Kent Howerton was another motocross athlete he thanked for choosing the AirShox to race the AMA race season after a day of testing.
“I had no idea how important that decision was — how important that day was going to be for my future. Kent ended up winning the 1976 500 cc AMA National Motocross Championship that year. He won it using Fox AirShox. That really put us on the map in a big way. And we have the actual bike Kent won the race on in the museum today.”
Bob Fox extended his gratitude to Marty Smith, another motocross racer who rode Fox AirShox and won the 1977 national motocross championship.
“He did the same thing Kent did in 1976 — only difference was he did it on a Honda,” Bob Fox said. “Those two back-to-back championships are what truly what launched my career and launched my business.”
With all the current and former athletes attending, the sentiment was well-received. “It was neat to see how much he appreciated the riders that put him on the map,” Levi LaVallee, snowmobile racer, said.
Bob also took a moment to thank the employees who had stuck with him through thin years — some of whom are still with the company today.
“Several times I had to ask guys to hold their checks for a couple of days. We still have at least one of these guys here who held his check and trusted me. I’ll never forget that,” he said as his eyes welled with tears. “And you can see I haven’t. Wow.”
After rounds of hoots, hollers and applause, he was ready to cut the ribbon.
“There’s a lot more to the story than just FOX AirShox. There are more stories. There are more products. And there are a lot more talented, dedicated people who helped make it all happen. And we tried to capture the highlights with the new museum. So without further ado, let’s drop the flag and get on with it. Who’s got the scissors?”
The double doors opened wide, welcoming the eager crowd into the lobby, past a mountain bike hanging in a bike stand. Each step in drew them closer to a brilliantly designed welcome sign: the distinctive FOX logo, in its original orange and black that backslashed into its present day incarnation in black and white. The exhibit was aptly named Defining Moments: Then & Now. Looking to the left, vintage Bob Fox was staring back, looking cool and unfazed, sunglasses on, cigarette hanging out the left side of his mouth. This is where it all began.
A replica of Bob’s first motorcycle sat in the center of this first display of history, telling stories of his drag racing and college days. The story moved lyrically around the walls, combining photos of Bob’s first car, a 1951 Oldsmobile, with images of other work he did after college helping to design rocket fuel devices. There’s almost a magical quality in the large quote that frames this wall: “…but then something special happened. My brother introduced me to motorcycles.”
The rest is history, so they say, and so rarely does one get a chance to see that history. The motocross bike Howerton won the AMA 500 cc championship on sat next to a replica of Smith’s bike. In between was Howerton’s jersey, in dazzling red and white. All around the bikes were magazines, press, photos and race memorabilia. But for those who love to get their hands dirty, the real beauty of this display were the cross sections of the AirShox, the spring rates and engineering work done by hand. It is one of Bob Fox’s favorite parts of the museum.
“I really like the old drawings and hand-written notebooks on display — the pre-personal computer stuff. The younger generation needs reminders of how much more difficult many things were back then — not just two or three times more difficult, but in some cases a hundred or a thousand times more difficult and time consuming. I’ve already heard comments indicating some of that awareness coming from young engineers after seeing the stuff displayed. I think that’s good. I think they need to know that.”
The AirShox were just the beginning of the display. Folks moved on as FOX moved into superbike and IndyCar Racing, experiencing more race-winning excitement and all the behind-the-scenes stories that went with it.
“Oh wow! Look at that old snowmobile!” Hibbert gestured toward the Polaris XCR “I didn’t know what to expect, but this is awesome. I love the mix of mountain bike and snowmobile stuff. When I look at all this old stuff — the bibs, the sled — I think of my dad.”
Hibbert’s father, Kirk, was instrumental in early snowmobile suspension with Arctic Cat in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. One of his dad’s inventions, the crosslink, was mounted on the wall.
Winding around a bit farther into the 4000-square-foot space sat a mountain bike suspension time capsule. Starting with some of the earliest forks and shocks in the ‘90s, there were plenty of cross sections, photos and old advertisements for any enthusiast to geek out about.
“It’s really cool looking back to see how far we have come. I remember being a jealous kid wanting suspension like that,” said Greg Minnaar, a downhill racer who has plenty of podiums with FOX suspension.
Minnaar was joined in by other bicycle greats like Gee Atherton, who was the first to win a downhill championship on FOX suspension.
“It is amazing to see where all the technology started,” Atherton said. “It’s easy to forget how much history there is in the company, and it makes me feel proud to be a part of it all. Racing has really been the No. 1 focus for the whole journey.
Aaron Gwin, the first American male to win the downhill World Cup Series marveled at the museum as well and was featured prominently on one of the final displays.
“It’s great to see the bike in here and some of the photos and stuff. It’s humbling. It’s a total honor to be up there with all those other guys.” Gwin said as he was trying to make his way over to meet Bob Fox. “It’s cool to see an awesome guy — this hard worker — make his dreams come true and now doing the same to help us out: the riders, the company and a whole bunch of people. He’s just giving back.”
Opposite of the entrance across the long halls of the museum sat the RAD display, a monument to the Racing Applications Development program that FOX uses to make some of its most ingenious products like the Cactus Cooler, an off-road bypass shock cooling component.
Jesse Jones, trophy truck racer, scoped out the exhibits. He drove the first trophy truck to race with FOX shocks and won the 2006 trophy truck championship with them. His rider feedback within RAD was instrumental in the development of the Cactus Cooler.
“What an evolution. It’s pretty cool when I look at all the stuff we did together. And we did a lot more stuff than just what they’ve shown. They brought a lot of the finished stuff but not all of the R&D pieces.”
When chatting with Bob Fox, it was clear that the museum is a work in progress with plans in the making, so perhaps some of what Jones talked about will be featured later.
“We want the museum to have some rolling exhibits where we can change what we display in certain spaces over time. The #70 Maico will be done in a couple months and will be added. Maybe we’ll add a Brad Lackey bike if we can locate a ’77 RC500 Honda. But they’re very hard to find. It was never a mass-production model; maybe only a handful of them still exist.”
The evolution of off-road suspension for ATVs, side-by-sides and trophy trucks was mounted on the walls and was one of desert racer and King of the Hammers Rock Race Champion Jason Scherer’s favorite things.
Videos of the technology in action allowed viewers to get a feel for where the shocks were placed and the kind of punishment they took as they roamed through the desert sands and rocky terrain. Vivid images showed Jones testing the Cactus Cooler and racing the Baja 1000 with shocks still intact after a race that leaves most shocks destroyed.
As guests mingled through history, wait staff offered snacks to accompany the wine, beer and nostalgia. Final panels of the museum featured some of FOX’s newest athletes, who are the backbone of FOX’s tagline “Redefine your limits.” Hibbert, the six-peat snocross racer was sandwiched between stories of Paul Thacker and Johnny Greaves — both jumped 301 feet on a snowmobile and 800-horsepower truck, respectively.
Monster Mike Schultz, an adaptive athlete who uses FOX mountain bike shocks in his prosthetic knee and ankle design for active sports filled the final panel of the museum. Folks milled around his Moto Knee and the sled displayed with it.
“It’s hard to put this into words. FOX is such a huge company and for me to be a part of it is pretty special,” he said. “Looking at some of this vintage stuff, these old sleds and shocks — it’s come a long way in the last 20 years.”
As folks took a little break from the sensory experience in the museum, they wandered into the dining area where snacks and drinks were served. Choosing from fresh ahi, shrimp cocktail, chicken sautee and loads of sweets including the likes of maple and bacon cupcakes, people sat around tables and caught up. Many were old friends from years of working in their respective industries. Others just met but engaged in lively conversations, learning and teaching the lifestyles they loved. A three-piece band played, backing up the banter with some pleasant guitar, bongo, drums and keyboards.
By all standards the evening was a success, from the smallest children stoked to get autographs and photos with a favorite athlete to the big kids drooling over the toys they’d like to have at home.
“It feels good that we now have roots and history — more or less the legacy of the company — laid out. That should help current and future employees understand the founding values and help our company to continue to be strong and productive.”