Busted Knuckle Off Road rakes in an estimated $6 million a year
Off Road – Tech alumnus Jake Burkey is pictured with one of the “rock bouncer” off road vehicles manufactured at Busted Knuckle Off Road.
Cookeville – Sometimes finding the right career path means going off the beaten path – literally. That’s the lesson Tennessee Tech University students can take from the success of Tech alumnus Jake Burkey.
The Columbia, Tennessee native and 2009 graduate of Tech’s College of Engineering is now the CEO of Busted Knuckle Off Road, an Alabama-based company that rakes in an estimated $6 million a year manufacturing 850-horsepower off road vehicles known as “rock bouncers” as well as off road vehicle parts ranging from brake lines to chassis and axles.
While Burkey and his team of 23 employees now focus on manufacturing and selling the vehicles, he also spent many years racing them. His early success behind the wheel helped him amass nearly 900,000 Facebook “likes” and 42,000 Instagram followers – an audience Burkey has effectively leveraged to grow his client base and land lucrative sponsorship deals.
It’s a story that all started with a hunting trip gone awry thanks to getting stuck in the mud.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to take us out four-wheeling and hunting,” recalled Burkey. “We got stuck in the mud one time and I couldn’t stand it. I was probably 13 or 14 at the time so I saved up all my money and, when I turned 16, I bought a Jeep.”
Burkey immediately started tinkering with his vehicle, outfitting it with a bigger engine, axles and tires. When it came time to consider his post-high school plans, Burkey’s Jeep played an outsized role in the decision.
“I thought if I could create an engineering mindset more than I currently have and go to a good school, I could make my Jeep even cooler,” he said with a laugh.
Drawn to Tech by its strong engineering reputation, Burkey started off as a mechanical engineering major before switching to industrial technology – now known as engineering technology.
Burkey recalls finding community as a Kappa Sigma and getting hands-on learning opportunities from Tech faculty like Fred Vondra, now the chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Engineering Technology and the late Delbert Stone, who Burkey says taught him the ins and outs of welding.
“I could not have chosen a better path forward for my education,” added Burkey. “I use it every single day with what I do now … It was the perfect degree to get me where I am today.”
Upon his graduation from Tech, Burkey landed a role as an engineer with Plant Vogtle, a four-unit nuclear power plant in southeast Georgia. Burkey dedicated 10 years to the company, working his way up to a project management role before resigning his position to start his off-road business.
Today, Busted Knuckle Off Road is an international success, selling to customers in countries as far ranging as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Canada – but it didn’t happen overnight. Burkey recalls several years of high turnover and sagging morale as the company found its footing.
“Getting people to believe in me and what we were doing here was probably the hardest part,” he said. “People want to skip to the successful part without enduring the hardships of growth.”
These days, Burkey faces no such challenge. The company is on pace to soon outgrow its 27,000-square-foot facility and has plans to design and release new models of its popular rock bouncers over the coming year. Burkey has parlayed his business success into television appearances, magazine spreads and has even been the inspiration for multiple children’s books. He says he is grateful that his accomplishments enable him to provide meaningful careers to his team of employees and an expanding suite of products for his satisfied customers.
“To be able to create an industry that’s never been created before and then see people following me towards those goals and being able to see families flourish off the dream that I created – that’s probably the most rewarding part,” said Burkey.
Now, he wants to help other aspiring entrepreneurs learn from his journey.
“I would say for people to follow their heart and get a degree that aligns with their passion,” said Burkey. “And I don’t know that there’s a better place that you could go to school than Tennessee Tech. You’ll never get a better environment for knowledge, so soak it up as much as possible. You’re going to use it down the road.”
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.
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