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By DONALD FARR

In 1976, Larry Dobbs was in the right place at the right time—and driving the right car—when he and wife Judy drove their recently-acquired and self-refurbished 1965 Mustang convertible from Lakeland to Stone Mountain, Georgia. By coincidence, and perhaps fate, their vacation trip delivered the couple smack in the middle of the newly-formed Mustang Club of America’s first car-show. The pony-car encounter sparked an idea in Dobbs’ entrepreneurial mind, one that would launch a successful business and put Lakeland on the map as the home for one of America’s top automotive publishing companies. 

The son of a Georgia sharecropper, Dobbs was employed at a Sears store in Albany, Georgia in 1970 when he requested a transfer to Florida and landed at Lakeland’s Searstown, where he met Judy. By 1974, Dobbs was selling display advertising at The Ledger, an experience that would loom large in future endeavors. Another piece of the puzzle slipped into place when he purchased a co-worker’s well-used 1965 Mustang for $225. To make needed repairs, Larry scoured local junkyards for parts and, by the time he and Judy departed for their Stone Mountain trip, the convertible was reliable and attractive.

Although surrounded by Mustangs and like-minded owners at Stone Mountain, Dobbs was more intrigued by the vendors selling used Mustang parts.

“I had run across thousands of old Mustangs in Florida junkyards,” Larry says. “You could buy parts for a song, yet these guys were selling stuff for five or ten times that amount!”

Dobbs returned to Lakeland and started picking up Mustang parts at local salvage yards, then cleaning and refurbishing for resale and extra cash. Judy complained when she found old wheel-covers in her dishwasher. Within months, Dobbs’ home-based sideline business, named Mustang Supply Company, gained momentum as classic Mustangs grew in popularity. Through a client of The Ledger, Douglas Screen Printing, Dobbs began offering reproduction stripe kits and other decals for restorers.

Of the hundreds of people employed by DPG over the years, the majority rate the experience as the best of their careers. A devout Christian, Dobbs guided his company with kindness, compassion, generosity and humor. 

“To be successful, I needed to surround myself with people smarter than me,” he explained recently from his home in the Grasslands neighborhood in South Lakeland. “I also tried to create a place where people enjoyed working and being rewarded.”

Most DPG employees came from outside the publishing field — feed store clerk, Pepsi truck driver, TV repairman, and car-wash manager, for example. For editorial in particular, Dobbs hired car enthusiasts, then provided training to teach them how to write and edit.

“I tried to hire employees with three traits: passion, integrity, and savvy,” Dobbs says. 

A strong believer in delegation, his philosophy was, “Give them the training and resources to succeed, then get out of their way.” It worked, with many promoted to manager positions.

After 20 years of building and overseeing his successful company, Dobbs sold DPG for a sizable sum to Petersen in 1998. Always supportive of his staff, it’s no surprise that he shared a percentage of the proceeds with employees. Also part of the deal was a clause stating that Petersen would maintain the Lakeland offices for five years. Although Petersen did not retain all DPG employees, they brought in others when they shifted several of their Los Angeles titles to Lakeland.

A new owner, Primedia, eventually closed the Lakeland office and moved operations to Tampa in 2006. However, the Dobbs automotive publishing legacy continued. Inspired by Larry, former employees would launch their own publishing ventures, including several Mustang titles. In fact, the last remaining Mustang print magazine, Mustang Times from the Mustang Club of America, is based in Lakeland, coincidentally adjacent to the building that Dobbs built. 

Over the nearly 25 years since selling DPG, Dobbs has settled into retirement. His wife Judy passed away from cancer in 2006, and he is now happily remarried. Both sons are nearby, Jason in Lakeland and Josh in St. Pete. For several years, Dobbs continued teaching Life Skills and Leadership Skills classes at Victory Church, seminars that drew up to 300 attendees and expanded Larry’s life-changing influence throughout the community. 

Legacy is a difficult word to live up to. Larry Dobbs’ legacy is still recognized, not only by the people who worked for him or attended his church classes, but also by automotive enthusiasts around the world who remember reading the car magazines produced by Dobbs’ publishing company in Lakeland, Florida.

After 20 years of building and overseeing his successful company, Dobbs sold DPG for a sizable sum to Petersen in 1998. Always supportive of his staff, it’s no surprise that he shared a percentage of the proceeds with employees. Also part of the deal was a clause stating that Petersen would maintain the Lakeland offices for five years. Although Petersen did not retain all DPG employees, they brought in others when they shifted several of their Los Angeles titles to Lakeland.

A new owner, Primedia, eventually closed the Lakeland office and moved operations to Tampa in 2006. However, the Dobbs automotive publishing legacy continued. Inspired by Larry, former employees would launch their own publishing ventures, including several Mustang titles. In fact, the last remaining Mustang print magazine, Mustang Times from the Mustang Club of America, is based in Lakeland, coincidentally adjacent to the building that Dobbs built. 

Over the nearly 25 years since selling DPG, Dobbs has settled into retirement. His wife Judy passed away from cancer in 2006, and he is now happily remarried. Both sons are nearby, Jason in Lakeland and Josh in St. Pete. For several years, Dobbs continued teaching Life Skills and Leadership Skills classes at Victory Church, seminars that drew up to 300 attendees and expanded Larry’s life-changing influence throughout the community. 

Legacy is a difficult word to live up to. Larry Dobbs’ legacy is still recognized, not only by the people who worked for him or attended his church classes, but also by automotive enthusiasts around the world who remember reading the car magazines produced by Dobbs’ publishing company in Lakeland, Florida.

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