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Mark Turner: Off-Road’s 2011 Person of the Year

Posted in Features on December 1, 2011
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Photographers: Vince Estep

Here at OFF-ROAD we’re privileged to associate with a wide range of motorsports enthusiasts, including pro racers, automotive industry leaders, talented fabricators, and many, many everyday dirt nuts like ourselves.

Recently, we decided to give recognition to one person each December as OFF-ROAD Magazine’s Person of the Year. It’s an honor given to the individual who not only contributes tremendously to the industry, but also shows himself/herself to be an all-around outstanding person.

We are pleased to bestow our inaugural award to Mark Turner, who lives in the Phoenix, Arizona, area and is currently the CEO at Daystar Products International. Mark started his off-road beginnings back on the Iowa farm where he was raised as a child. As a 10-year old, he saw Ivan Stewart flying across the Mexican desert on TV, and he was soon bit by the off-road bug. Since then, he’s gone on to win races in multiple classes, help design ground-breaking truck products, and climb the corporate ladder with both vision and humility.

How did Mark become such a leader in the industry, both in the dirt and in the corner office? “There’s a saying I have lived my life by,” Mark said, “‘The only thing worse than fear is regret’.”

Farm-Raised Racer

Like many farm boys, Mark was adept at handling tools and a welder at a young age. He found a way to cannibalize an engine off a roto-tiller, some hinges off the barn, and some other odds and ends to build his first motorized creation. He was soon rumbling up and down some gravel and dirt byways and the seed was forever planted.

Mark has always owned trucks and started doing some racing in the mid ’90s when his wife, Sue, bought him a Mazda minitruck. But when he ran the first time, he made it about 3 miles before forward progress ceased. Mark decided he simply had to learn more and work harder. Within a year, he was starting to win a few races, including the SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge in the stock mini class. Mazda took notice and hired Mark to race for them in about 1999.

From there, Mark opened an off-road shop in Colorado for a couple of years until moving to Tennessee to work in product development for Rough Country Suspension, where he helped revive its product lines and grow the company substantially. Next, he was enticed to work for Daystar as vice president of product development. Now, he’s CEO for the supplier, which produces polyurethane suspension components and precision injection-molded plastic parts for many OE and aftermarket applications.

Despite the title, Mark doesn’t stray far from innovating new products. Finding ways to bring them to market remains a steadfast passion of his. He believes in working hard and improving products, to the betterment of our off-road sport.

Wherever we asked in the off-road community, people spoke only highly of Mark’s character. The comments were usually indicative of his positive traits, such as over-achiever, integrity, and always enthusiastic.

Likewise, he’s definitely made an impression on his peers. Coworkers valued him as a mentor, teaching them the ways of the off-road industry while explaining both the hows and whys of doing things.

PhotosView Slideshow

Behind the Wheel

In the summer of 2010, Mark returned to off-road racing after nearly a decade absence. This time he chose to race in the UTV classes and competed several times in 2010. He participated in the Soboba GP running an SR-1 powered Rhino. The night before the race was a long-jump competition and Mark was determined to fly the Turner Racing car the farthest. He did, leaving a 91-foot patch of dirt untouched. However, the car landed nose down and flipped seven times before coming to a stop. Fortunately, Mark popped out of the UTV uninjured, save for a few bumps and bruises.

Mid-race at the Soboba GP.

The Rhino was not so lucky, and suffered damage that could not be repaired in time for the race the next day. Fortunately, the team had another UTV available, but it was not fully tested and race prepped. They did the best they could, with Mark getting a start towards the back of the pack of 41 cars. He fought his way forward to 14th place at one point, but engine problems would vex him, and he limped across the finish in 17th place.

After a quick bout at the grueling King of the Hammers race in California, Mark was back in Phoenix in February to try racing in the Lucas Oil ASCC regional short-course race. During a practice run, Mark’s car slid on the muddy track, caught a rut, and tumbled. Due to some rollcage and window-net failure, Mark’s left arm was flung outside the car and was badly crushed. Both forearm bones were shattered, along with his scapula. He was life-flighted from the track to a hospital with a concussion and underwent 12 surgeries on his arm in about three weeks’ time.

Friends and family have watched with amazement at how hard he’s worked to overcome his injuries and how he’s maintained his positive attitude. Mark was determined not to let the accident define him.

We asked Mark what he could share with our readers who may aspire to reach great heights—be it in racing, in personal life, or in business. He stressed the need for self-improvement. Find ways to tie your passions to your work, he said, so you love what you do. Don’t limit your aspirations by thinking that a lack of money can stop you. Focus on safety, and learn from your past mistakes.

Sage advice from a fearless man who continues to succeed, without regret.

At the finish line of the Soboba GP race with the Turner Racing Unlimited Rhino.
PhotosView Slideshow

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