Board Member Spotlight: Richard Varner

This Kansas native believes the Petersen Automotive Museum is poised for discussions about the future of the automobile

Since he was a child, Richard Varner has been obsessed with everything mechanical. Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Varner would watch his grandfather, a blacksmith by trade, forge metal, using tools to hammer, bend, and cut the raw materials to create more complex objects.  

This early fascination inspired Varner’s love affair with the automobile beginning in high school with the mid-‘60s and early-‘70s sports cars. Through the media, Varner saw new and prominent automotive technologies emerging on the west coast, fueling his desire to one day move toward the action. 

Varner completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship and received his MBA from the University of Kansas in 1978. By 1984, Varner had moved to Los Angeles. His early career included positions in crude oil logistics, trading, and refining in the U.S. and Europe. In 1991, he formed his own business, Newport Petroleum, building a fleet of ocean-going petroleum barges and tugs. 

In the late ‘90s, Varner visited the Petersen for the first time. He quickly became acquainted with the museum’s current Executive Director, Terry L. Karges, and founding Chairman, Bruce Meyer. The Petersen represented the common thread between them all, moving Varner to become a board member and eventually the museum’s treasurer. 

A lifelong motorcycle collector with a penchant for the late-‘60s and early-‘70s British performance bikes, Varner is the driving force behind the Petersen’s Richard Varner Family Motorcycle Gallery (currently featuring the exhibit “Custom Revolution”). He is also one of the co-founders of MotoAmerica, the top American professional motorcycle road racing series.

Varner describes his position on the Petersen Board of Directors as both a dream-come-true and eye opener, providing insight into how successful people work together to get things done. He explains, “Terry Karges and the team have worked hard for self-sufficiency, allowing not only survival for the museum but growth into other aspects of mobility.”

Varner would like the museum to continue extending itself beyond traditional displays and content. “Museums are notorious havens where history goes to die. The Petersen is poised to transcend this and become a living thing, where people can come together to not only celebrate and acknowledge the past but also discuss the future.”

Written by Heather Buchanan

Photo courtesy of Richard Varner