LRM Judging Team – Inside The Judges’ Room

With Lowrider Magazine (LRM) now entering its 37th year of publishing reflections of culture, cars, brotherhood, and producing Lowrider Magazine Car Shows, our journey has introduced us to many lowrider legends, contributors, and faithful followers of this unique motorsport. Original publisher, Sonny Madrid, followed his dream of capturing the life and times of lowriders throughout the land. The publication did very well throughout the Southwest, but business obligations forced the doors to shut nine years later.

When new owner and publisher Alberto Lopez revitalized the publication in the mid to late ’80s, they put together a team that would once again capture the heart of the lowrider movement. With Larry in Northern California, Al in Southern California, Johnny Lozoya in Arizona, and traveling to Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, the band was back together making lowrider music. With Alberto and LRM co-founder El Larry Gonzalez leading the way, working night and day, they nationalized what the neighborhoods already knew — lowriding was an American culture engrained throughout society.

Alberto and Larry’s efforts expanded our extended family throughout the U.S. and abroad. Lowriders around the world globalized the magazine in Europe, Asia, South America, and beyond, further building the fan base of lowrider enthusiasts. Though the sport has evolved, one thing stands out: The concept of the magazine complementing the car shows and the car shows’ contribution to the magazine’s success is a proven formula. These informal lowrider conventions have appeared on all four corners of this continent, including Hawaii and also across the Pacific in Japan with LRM leading the way.

The Lowrider Magazine tour shows took years to build up with their signature brand, Go-Lo Entertainment. The hard work of many led to creating a standard that is respected, primarily due to organizational rules and guidelines that separate chaos and inconsistency with an organized event that is backed in writing with a rule book first published in 1990. Now in its 23rd edition, the Lowrider rulebook benefits us in many ways. The point system has helped in giving credit where credit is due on the most critical or important components for each entry. Total points for each entry tell the story and create consistency with good, better, and the best.

Another form of consistency since 1989 are the senior judges Lowrider Magazine has kept on staff. This began with then publisher Alberto Lopez visiting the Mesa Super Show in Arizona in 1988. Al saw firsthand the existing judging staff the Mesa Show had built from the ground up. The show had already been in existence for five years and Alberto noted the professional judging with minimal complaints. Meanwhile, while The LRM L.A. Supershow was “The Show of Shows,” he called me to thank us in hosting Lowrider Magazine in Mesa and asked if I could help the existing judging team for LRM at the L.A. Sports Arena and Coliseum Supershow. I helped with judging that year and received a call later from Al asking if I could come back. I could not make the trip due to my job schedule, but asked my brother Danny Ochoa, who was the head judge for the Mesa Show and active member of Society CC.

Being a lowrider and classic car builder himself, Danny was happy to go to L.A. and judge. He started working for LRM and that was the start of a judging career that has not only lasted the test of time, but changed Danny’s role in motorsports forever. Danny was a very young man at the time, but had a great start in Mesa. Another improvement that needed to be addressed was the informal judging techniques and scoring LRM judges were faced with. Al needed to even the playing field and create consistency. Since I was already on staff working and judging at the Arizona World of Wheels produced by Buck Dosdell, I mailed Al the International Show Car Association (ISCA) rulebook. After seeing the book, Al said we need a Lowrider Magazine rulebook which we can follow that can help the lowrider car show industry overall.

So after months of meeting, planning, and writing, the first Official LRM rulebook was established in 1990 headed by Al Lopez, Larry Gonzalez, Buck Dosdell, and a few others. Starting with the ISCA template was a good foundation, but the LRM rulebook from the ground up centered around traditional lowrider vehicles at the time. The rulebook later also addressed the bike and trike classes and eventually the car-hop rules that for years before were based on whatever neighborhood you were hopping at. Every year since 1990, the rulebook is evaluated and I will be the first to say, we have learned so much by subject matter experts and veteran people in the industry who steered the rules to what they are today.

Soon after Danny was hired as a judge, Al made some staff changes and additional judges were needed to fill the growing LRM shows. Buck Dosdell and a few other hot rod judges were brought in to fill the gap. These judges were a good bridge, but it was also time to hire a full team of lowrider building judges who were part of what the motorsport was all about. Eventually Mickey Horton joined Danny and I. Mickey’s credentials included building his ’54 bomb, and as an active member of Society Car Club, he helped build some of the members’ rides as well. He was also beginning his long prominent career as a pinstriper and graphic artist. Mickey was a judge for the annual Mesa Super Show as well.

With Danny and Mickey now heading the LRM judging team, LRM decided it was time to expand the tour to meet demand of the movement racing across the U.S. These became the best of days for LRM. In the mid to late ’90s, there were up to 20 LRM in-house or sanctioned shows produced annually. This kept staff working throughout the year. From Portland to San Diego on the West Coast to New Jersey to Tampa on the East Coast, LRM was shaping the world of lowriding, and lowriding was shaping the world of car building across the country!

Danny and Mickey have since fine-tuned their team to include some of the most prominent and respected builders and influential people in the industry. Like Jose Martinez, founder of Low Conspiracy CC of San Jose, California. A painter by trade, Jose has had a hand in building a plethora of Northern California customs, including his very popular Pontiac Bonneville in the late ’70s. Mike Lopez, master builder of most anything with a Bow Tie, and a lowrider legend, has had his hands in building hundreds of Bel Airs and Impalas over his over 35 years of doing what he loves. His credentials include being a lifetime member of Lifestyle CC, owner and builder of the world-famous Twilight Zone ’62 Impala, and his personal favorite, ’67 Impalas. Frank Silva, four-time LRM world champion Truck of the Year. Frank continues to this day building projects that grace the streets of Southern California with his own coming out soon. Alex Ochoa, one of the original members of Brown Persuasions CC from Stockton, California. Alex continues to be an influence and mentor to many in Northern California. George Torrez, one of the most prominent three-time world champion titleholders of Car of the Year in LRM history. Owner and builder of the iconic Loco ’64, George hasn’t stopped building and still has Loco in his possession tucked away at home. It may come back out in the future, but for now, George is living the dream with his wife and kids.

The rest of our handpicked group has also included up-and-coming true riders that have shown their love for lowriding is genuine. The judging team also has a few that were born right into it. Like my oldest son bike judge Richard Ochoa Jr. Richard’s experience with the sport started at home where he and his siblings would sneak into the living room to listen in on dad’s Society Car Club meetings, and then while just a kid, started helping out at the Ochoa family car shows. Richard Jr. got his start with Go-Lo Entertainment working for longtime move-in coordinator Eddie Zamarron (Texas Ed) who taught Richard move-in. Texas Ed has played a significant role in mapping out floorplans and ensuring exhibitors get their registered spots since 1993. Richard soon opted to be trained as a bike judge and has taken on that responsibility for the past 15 years and judges vehicles as well. Even my son Anthony has gotten into the family business and now helps Richard judge the bikes, trikes, and peddle cars. In fact, if you attend a LRM event, you will see quite a few staff members with the Ochoa last name including move-in staff member Eddie who has staged move-in for LRM for over a dozen years.

The artistic characteristics of lowriding are based on color, form, and self expression in personalizing metal, chrome, and paint. Whether you have in your possession the Mona Lisa, or your grandkids’ picture hung on your refrigerator in your kitchen, art is appreciated and valued by the eyes of the beholder. When you immerse yourself in the abstract science of judging or scoring our works of art on wheels, it becomes more complex and is no easy task because what’s seen by the eyes of its beholder are based on what is perceived by the entire lowrider community. Lowrider art is also regionalized. From the unique style of paint schemes in Northern California to Espanola, New Mexico’s very traditional rides sporting bellflowers and 14×7 Cragar wheels, the art is appreciated in either case. It’s like mom’s cooking is the best, but once in a while you like to try a new restaurant.

When the first formalized lowrider car shows were produced in the ’60s and ’70s, these happenings were mostly show and shine with no competition or classes. They would get together to celebrate our culture. When our past lowrider legends entered the world of the hot rod and custom car shows, they got a glimpse of competition, but unfortunately did not receive their fair share of the spoils. Hot rod shows only rewarded what they knew. Fifty years later, the game has changed. LRM and its partners began producing lowrider shows that rivaled any national auto show and did it with the Lowrider branding that at one time was so hot; Lowrider Magazine outsold every other custom car magazine on the planet. Though the culture is deeper, it has downsized due to simple economics and our current environment. It is not a poor man’s sport any longer and this is mostly due to the cost of restoration and customization. The once throwaway Impalas have become family jewels, not only from our perspective, but from across the world.

Congratulations to Danny Ochoa and Mickey Horton who celebrate 25 years of working for the guy with the shades, brim, and mustache. As head and senior judge, Danny and Mickey’s attitude and professionalism is a reflection of what they feel is important and necessary for fairness and consistency throughout the industry. We are dedicated in seeing the overall big picture of what the majority wants and perceives as the lowrider of yesterday, today, and the future. Some have told us that they think judging is one of the most unappreciated jobs one could have … but this adventure has been a true blessing we are so thankful and appreciative for being allowed to experience it. As for us, we don’t know what the future will bring, but up to this point, it has been the cruise of a lifetime. It makes the ride so much sweeter and fulfilling to make it with your brothers and family by your side.