I met my friend Robert Kline in the fall of 2002. I’d just been hired to take over the promotional duties at Champion Motor Speedway in Carson City, Nevada. Being brand new to town, I immediately started searching for a top-notch race director. Someone who had lots of experience and respect -- someone who could stand up to the riggers of the role.
Several names quickly surfaced. After performing my due diligence -- one name clearly stood out head and shoulders above the rest -- Mr. Robert Kline. Robert had a reputation for being kinda tough nosed. But Robert was a genuine racers racer and he had a wealth of motorsports knowledge in hand. In short, he was the real deal -- he’d been there, done that.
Robert’s racing resume started back in 1957 on the southern California motorcycle circuits. He raced crotch rockets up until 1961. From 1963-1966 Robert raced go-karts. Then he took to the dragstrip before finding his true nitch, stockcars. Roberts fulltime stockcar career spanned 18 successful years from 1970 to 1998.
In his first year of racing on asphalt ovals, Robert met his future wife Carleen at Saugus Speedway. At that flat ¼-mile bullring, Robert won the season championship in the paint-to-pass Bomber division. From there he kept moving up the Jalopy, Street Stock, and Sportsman ranks until he settled into the Late Model division. Roberts final race was last year at Champion Motor Speedway when he piloted Dean Heller’s #21 Super Late Model to an exciting top five finish.
At Champion Motor Speedway, Robert, Greg Hein (our director of competition) and I spent endless hours around my kitchen table tweaking (and re-tweaking) the 2003 rules and regulations. We didn’t always agree on all matters, but we did manage to establish a program that provided a combination of safety, affordability, and competitiveness. The truth is Robert and Greg did most of the work and I simply over saw the process.
We held several drivers meetings to discuss (and sometime negotiate) the final draft. One of Roberts’s best attributes was his ability to be firm in his belief, yet flexible enough to listen to both sides of the story. He didn’t have to ‘own’ every idea. He asked questions, accepted advise, and then made a balanced decision. In short, Robert was open and fair-minded with everyone.
He was as dedicated to our racing program as anyone could possibly be. He invested untold hours on the phone co-promoting our program. Robert and I spoke several times a day, almost every day. His bosses at 7-Up graciously allowed him to work on CMS business, while doing his daily 9-5 duties. In fact, it’s important to note that his employers at the 7-Up Bottling Co. in Reno supported Robert all the way to the end.
The only philosophical hiccup Robert and I ever encountered was determining the content of our events. Robert was first and foremost, a racer, who was in the “racing” business. I was the wacky promoter, who was in the “entertainment” business. I felt strongly that we needed to present a show, and not just a race. Sometimes it took Robert awhile to warm up to my ‘off the wall’ ideas. I remember the day when I told Robert about my new Screamin’ S’KoolBus idea. He just laughed and shook his head. So I looked him right in the eye -- and asked him if he thought I was crazy? He smiled and said, “yes”. Robert always gave me an honest answer.
Without a doubt, Robert is the best race director I’ve ever had the privilege to partner with. Robert didn’t work for me, he worked with me. He was my partner in crime. He commanded the pits with tenacity, authority and respect. Old school racers were reminded who was in charge, rookie racers quickly learned who was in charge.
Unfortunately, fighting in the pits before Robert took over the reins was commonplace. However in 2003, we only had one disagreement. It involved two Hustlin’ Hornet racers. Thanks to quick intervention by Greg “the enforcer” Hein, that difference of opinion never had a chance to escalate. Just a couple of entry-level wantabees who’d probably seen Days of Thunder a few too many times. When push came to shove, they were simply no match for Robert and Greg!
Robert had a zero-tolerance policy for on-track beatin’ & bangin’. That saved the racers lots of money and grief. It also kept the show on time. I had many out-of-town racers tell me they were very impressed with our program. That meant Robert (and his staff) were doing a great job. I was proud of the fact that Robert never lost control of the pits. No fights, no cops, no bad press.
In fact, we didn’t get any complaints from the surrounding neighborhood either. I’m told that was the only year the neighbors didn’t complain. That’s because Robert made sure the show started on time -- and ended on time. We never had a show run past 10:45pm the entire season.
Not even on the night I spent 45 minutes giving thrill rides during intermission in our now semi infamous Screamin’ S’KoolBus. About halfway thru the rides, I remember calling Robert on the radio and apologizing for destroying his schedule. I said, “Robert, they just keep coming and coming out of the grandstands. It’s gonna to be real hard to say no more rides tonight!”
His reply back was, “Jeb, if the fans want to get a ride in your silly school bus, then we’ll give them a ride in your silly school bus”. I was shocked, because I was fully expecting a completely different demeanor from Robert. But amazingly, he kept his cool and told the drivers to be ready to go when they got the track back. Those were the best main events we presented all season long. And once again, Robert finished the “show” right on time!
Robert’s commitment and passion to motorsports raised the bar in Northern Nevada -- and as a result -- the local racers & fans reaped the benefits. The late great Dale Earnhardt was Robert’s favorite Cup driver. So Mr. Earnhardt, you now have a championship caliber crew chief joining your race team. And with Robert at the helm -- you won’t ever lose a race!
Some of Roberts other racing accomplishes include the following:
1999- Silver State Raceway Promoter
2001- INEX Technical Director
2002- President & Race Director Nevada Go Kart Association
2001-2005 Team Manager & Crew Chief for the Dean Heller #21 Super Late Model and Western Modified.
But the accomplishment I’ll remember the most will be:
2003- Champion Motor Speedway “Award Winning” Race Director!
I also want people to know that Robert was a loyal friend to many. He never walked away from someone in need, or a challenge, no matter how steep the mountain was. For those that didn’t realize just how dedicated Robert was to racing, his email address was Racer4Life@… Now it probably should be modified to RacerInHeavan@…
Robert fought his final battle -- with courage, dignity and faith intact
God speed Robert -- you will be missed
Rest In Peace