If you have ever participated in a Lowrider Magazine event, the name Ochoa probably sounds familiar. The last name carries a lot of weight due to the fact that this family has been a part of the lowrider movement for many years, maintaining a strong, yet quiet leadership role in the southwest; thanks to the dedication and diligence of patriarch Richard Ochoa. In fact, Ochoa was one of the first judges ever employed by Lowrider Magazine after exposing the former owner/publisher Alberto Lopez to the Mesa Lowrider Show. Over the years, Richard has truly given his all to help shape the lowrider community through his influential judging skills and constant support. Always humble, Richard Ochoa is not the guy you’ll find parading around bragging or seeking any credit for his vast contributions to the lowriding culture, instead, his actions speak for him. He truly loves the culture. While others talk about it, he lives it, and lives it to the fullest. This month in our Image segment, we shine our spotlight on Richard Ochoa, the pride of Mesa, Arizona. For those who don’t know him, get ready to learn, so buckle up, and take a historical ride with one of lowriding’s true father figures.
Growing up in Superior, Arizona, Richard considers himself a second-generation lowrider, because his dad was lowriding as far back as the 1950s. As a child, he remembers flipping through the family photo albums and seeing images of his dad and his dad’s then-girlfriend posed next to vintage rides that his father owned during this time. His dad’s girlfriend soon came to be Richard’s mother. Those images of his dad became his blueprints, which also influenced his love for cars and the culture; it was simply in his blood.
When we asked Richard about his first custom car buying experience, he replied, “My first car was a 64 Impala. I bought the car for $150 and I remember buying my 5.20s and Supremes one wheel and tire at a time. Once I had the wheels the next thing to do was to add the hydraulics. I remember working as an upholsterer doing automotive, airplane, and furniture upholstery back in the early 70s. Doing car upholstery was my first full time job as a young man. The work helped me finance my earlier car building experiences and I also did trade work for work on my ’64 Impala.”
In the mid 70s, Richard started his first club “Pride CC” with his compadre John “Bully” Rios, who bought a ’65 Impala hardtop after Richard bought his. “We both lifted our cars and started cruising Main St in Mesa,” he says. “Mesa was a conservative city at the time but they still had their cruise nights, which were usually bumper to bumper with a variety of muscle cars and hot rods, including ‘57 Chevys, Camaros and Chevelles,” he recalls fondly. “When we got there we turned a lot of heads and it sparked interest, because we were some of the first to have hydraulics in Mesa. The people didn’t know what to make of it as they saw the cars go up and down. Some of our high school friends started buying cars and within a year the club expanded.”
“The Pioneer Park in Mesa is where we use to have our club meetings and it became a magnet or a hub, as the cars from neighboring cities and as far as the west side of Phoenix would come over,” Ochoa says, smiling. “This was too good to be true, as the neighborhoods or `Barrios’ started taking offense to the outsiders cruising in their neighborhoods.” Unfortunately violence and territorial misunderstandings spilled into the Mesa streets and stalled the club’s growth. “The turf wars affected a lot of people out in the “Valle” including my old club. After a particular incident, there was no way to jeopardize my family or the others in the club so I put the club on hold,” he says, shaking his head in disappointment.
“A few years later, the car clubs were finally accepted by the neighborhoods as they became stepping stones out from that lifestyle. I was still into the cars doing the lowrider thing, so with family in mind and after a few years of thinking, I thought about a club that would center around family values. With wives and kids in mind, I establish the group Society in 1980. It’s not a big club but our guys have big hearts. Some of the club members are all from different walks of life, some manage companies, and others are leaders in their communities, but more importantly we have become a family, as some of the heart and soul members of the club have over 25-plus years of active membership. These guys put on their colors 25 years ago and they have never taken them off,” Ochoa says, pride still shining in his eyes.
“The club started back in 1980, and 20 years later, at our club banquet I decided it was time for me to enjoy life with less stress. With 20 years under my belt, I felt it was better to pass the torch and keep the club going. I wanted to make sure that the energy and the desire for the club stayed fresh so I decided to pass the torch down to my brother Danny. My brother Danny has been lowriding since he was old enough to help detail my ride. He, along with my brother in-law Mickey Horton, and my brother Eddie, have helped me keep my lowrider desire alive and well. Danny ran the club for a while and since then has given the torch to Bobby Quihiz who has been doing a good job in revitalizing the car club. Today the club is still strong and I’m proud of where it stands.”
“For me, Lowriding has been a way of life, it has helped create family bonds and club brotherhoods. I have had my share of cars throughout the years and my share of good experiences as well as bad ones, like the one with my ’76 Monte Carlo. That car I think was hexed, jinxed, or cursed as it only brought drama to everybody that worked on it. The ’76 MC build was from the ground up and it went to different shops that all had negative outcomes to them. The first shop was in Phoenix and it closed for tax evasion. The second shop in Guadalupe, AZ had the car for six months, until the owner had some personal family problems and the guy just had to give me the car back. I figured the third time was the charm, so I took the car south to Tucson to a shop called Innovative Style, where the car stayed for about a year and that shop went out of business. The car went to one last shop in New Mexico owned by George Jaramillo. Once he passed away I just knew what I had to do, and that was eat the $60,000 that I spent on it, and find it a new home. When building cars you take the good with the bad, so I’m still here and I’m currently working on a ’59 Impala project.”
“My four children learned from an early age that dad’s love for lowriding was part of growing up in the Ochoa household. With their mom working a second shift, my kids witnessed first-hand how car club meetings were organized and how to produce the annual Mesa Supershow. From 1983 through 1999, they answered exhibitor phone calls, helped in the registration booth, and parked show cars. Later, my son Richard Jr. learned his judging abilities and is now the Lowrider Magazine Bike Judge. Building a project with your kids is very special. Richard Jr. and I built a ’74 Impala and ’85 Regal which hit the pages of LRM. My son Anthony loves Cadillacs, so we built a Coupe DeVille together. My daughter Andrea and son Robert share dad’s love for the ’59 Impala presently in the Ochoa Garage. With all the blessings I have received, the one that stands above all others, is the love of my life, my wife Teresa, who has stood by me and has let me pursue my dreams and ambitions in all that I do.”
“In 1988, Al Lopez attended the Mesa Car Show. During his trip, he asked me if I was interested in judging for LRM. That was a great experience. I never thought I would have the privilege in working the L.A. Supershow, meeting people and judging cars from the pages of Lowrider Magazine. One thing on Al’s priority list was to develop an official rule book that would standardize vehicle scoring and also create consistency with a true point system. I had previously worked with the local World of Wheels Promoter Buck Dosdell, who produced Rod and Custom shows in Phoenix and the Southwest. In judging those shows, the ISCA (International Show Car Association) had a written rule book and point system which their judges utilized. I put Al in touch with Buck, and from that along with Larry Gonzalez, the 1st edition Lowrider Rule Book came to be. Annual revisions are still based on the original book printed in 1990.”
“My judging career at first took a curve due to my job obligations, but my carnale Danny, who already had five good years as head judge experience from the Mesa Show in his briefcase, was ready to help out. I asked Al if Danny could work, and other than his young appearance, Al was convinced he would do a good job due to the excellent record of his judging reputation. My good friend Buck Dosdell also agreed and started judging for LRM. Soon after, my sister’s boyfriend and now brother-in-law Mickey Horton also was one of the Mesa Show Judges was brought in to help out in the massive car shows LRM was producing.”
“All in all, Danny and Mickey made a great team and for a few years, handled the bulk of the shows. A few years later, I came back and joined my carnales in judging the prestigious LRM shows. From 1989 through 2009 working with this publication, I have seen many changes with the magazine, but I have also found some things that never change, I never get tired of looking at a work of art on wheels low to the ground, and the sound of pumps in the trunk. Being part of these special events is life altering. Though it is very hard work, once our work is done, the thrill of being part of an organization that produces a Chicano version of Disneyland for our gente is beautiful.”
“I have always tried to maintain a positive approach with what I do in life. To always handle yourself, use your head, to handle others using your heart. We should appreciate and enjoy our Lowrider brothers and sisters, but when I’m on the show floor, I judge vehicles on that day’s merits, though I have many friends and acquaintances, I judge cars on their value. Being a professional does not defer you from allowing professional courtesy. I would hope people understand that. The only thing as a car judge that holds your head high is your integrity.
“Over 7 years ago, while doing the LRM Tour show in Indy, Eddie Zammaron and I shared a story of a past Lowrider Supershow where a few Lowrider legends were checking out the newest championship caliber vehicles. What amazed me was the fact that when these icons of the industry were walking through the aisles, only a few veteranos came up and properly addressed them by shaking their hand and respectfully acknowledging them. I especially noticed one group of young individuals that were confused when one of the older gentlemen at the show got so much attention. One stated, `who is this older guy?’ The tenured car club member said, `you don’t know? That’s Jesse Valadez, owner of The Gypsy Rose and past President of the Imperials!’ The younger guy said `wow! I heard of him, but didn’t know what he looked like….He is lowrider Royalty!'”
“My initial reaction at that time was the need to educate our fellow lowrider enthusiasts in recognizing individual accomplishments for people who spent their lives dedicated to the Lowrider lifestyle and culture. Recognize these individuals on their merits, values, and accomplishments in their specialized arenas of contribution such as the car builders, craftsmen, leaders, and people who directly influenced, contributed and formed what is recognized today as the Lowrider Movement. As Eddie and I discussed further, we later decided to present our concept to LRM Publisher Rudy Rivas. This effort was extremely important to Eddie as well as myself, in not only recognizing our own existence as lowriders, but from a historical perspective to educate the lowrider community in expelling myths, non-truths, and most importantly recognizing these legends for all they did, which allows us to enjoy our very unique love of the American dream. The fact that Lowrider Magazine, for many, is the unofficial document of record for this industry, the lowrider culture though extends many years prior to 1976 when the Pachucos in the 40’s wanted to timestamp their own identity which destined us to be who we are today.”