By Jacquelin Keidel
It’s not often anyone at Local Motors gets to spend a full day with Jay Rogers. Between constant travel and endless meetings, our co-founder and CEO is a tough guy to pin down. In my role at Local Motors as public relations manager, my bi-weekly discussions with Jay are normally squeezed into his busy schedule, with little time to talk about much of anything except speaking engagements, media interviews and other Local Motors business of the day. That’s why I was thrilled with the opportunity to spend the day with him recently on a photo shoot I won’t soon forget. It came about because of work we’ve been doing with Vox Media and a new project of theirs sponsored by Chase Sapphire. As part two in a three-part series on the future of travel, Local Motors was chosen by Chase Sapphire and Vox to represent the future of transportation in a short video hosted by actor and comedian James Corden. The video takes place at the Local Motors microfactory in Knoxville, Tennessee, where James custom-builds his very own Strati. You’ll also see a cameo by a famous little self-driving shuttle, who goes toe-to-toe with James in the comedy department. But as a supplement to the video, Vox Media hired a freelance photographer and journalist to craft extra content for the website. The goal was to showcase Local Motors’ dedication to sustainability, and the Knoxville area provided a breathtaking backdrop to do so. The evening before the shoot, some of the Local Motors team loaded a large trailer with the world’s first 3D-printed car, the Strati, and the Racer, a highly customized Harley Sportster 1200. Early the next morning, I hit the road with Jay, the freelancers and Local Motors vehicle engineer Billy Hughes, who offered us his intimate knowledge of Tennessee roads and an extra set of hands. We caravanned 45 minutes north to Tennessee’s 80-year-old Norris Dam on the Clinch River, the site of the first shoot. We unloaded the Strati and watched Jay cruise the autumn-kissed paths of the dam. The neighborhood electric vehicle looked right at home in the dam’s landscape. Its 3D-printed plastic and carbon fiber layers, emission-free driving and quiet ride could easily be the solution for allowing greater access to the world’s wonders without the destruction that comes with large, gas-powered vehicles. After some shots among the changing foliage along the river and in front of the dam’s cascading waters, the photographer decided she wanted a few photos of Jay driving Strati atop Norris Dam’s two-lane bridge. The writer and I climbed to an overlook to watch Strati cruise along the bridge. The car’s quiet whir of clean power left no footprint on this beautiful place.
After two hours at Norris Dam, our caravan headed south and took on the two-hour drive to the renowned Tail of the Dragon. Dubbed America’s No. 1 motorcycle and sports car road, the Tail’s 11 miles and 318 curves were the perfect host for the Local Motors Racer. We parked the trailer at the bottom of the Tail, and Billy rode the Racer to the top, with Jay following in Billy’s sports car and me in the back seat of the freelancers’ rental car (what I would have given to have been on the bike or in the sports car!). Though Local Motors no longer manufactures the Racer, Billy was kind enough to let Jay borrow his for the shoot. The Racer’s Tennessee orange, number 16 (a nod to Tennessee's golden child Peyton Manning) and custom 3D-printed intake turned heads all afternoon. We parked the bike at the top of the Tail to grab a quick bite to eat before taking on the twisting, turning beast. When we exited the restaurant, we spotted a crowd of people gathered around the Racer, taking photos and pointing to their favorite features. In that moment I could feel how proud Jay was of his company. This moment wasn’t like being at a trade show with an expensive booth and 100,000 paying show attendees. This was a purely organic moment, a Local Motors product making its mark on the world. Jay hopped on the Racer, and the photographer couldn’t help but smile. She was about to shoot a Marine in a bowtie and biker boots on a motorcycle tearing down one of the most stunning roads in America.
Before we began our descent down the Tail, Jay mentioned that he hadn’t ridden a bike in several years. The PR pro in me panicked for just a second as we drove a half-mile down the road to wait for Jay to pass us by for photos. But sure enough, as Jay approached our stopping point, he looked like he had ridden every day of his life. I guess when your grandpa spent part of his career as the owner of Indian Motorcycles, riding is in your blood. We spent the next hour and a half leap-frogging the Tail: We’d park and grab action shots of Jay as he passed, and then we would pass him and wait again for more photos. Along the way, we stopped for pictures of some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. The Tail of the Dragon is bordered by Smoky Mountains on one side and the Cherokee National Forest on the other, making for one-of-a-kind views. Between the thrill of the turns, the camaraderie of the Tail’s riders and the sight of the changing leaves and towering mountains, this was special experience for me. It was afforded to me only because of the amazing place I work and the incredible people I work with. I can only hope our community enjoys this content half as much as I enjoyed my day helping to bring it together.