TALK IT UP TUESDAY: TLR's Todd Hodge on the disappointing offseason, exciting 2017 plans and more
Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017 11:49pm
By Aaron Waldron
Welcome to LiveRC's weekly column, "Talk-It-Up Tuesday!" Here we spend a little time talking with industry icons including racers, manufacturers, team managers, developers, promoters, and everyone in between! Sit back, relax, and go behind the scenes as we interview them all!
The 2016 season was a big one for Team Losi Racing both on and off the track. Dakotah Phend started off the year with his first Reedy Race win, and added the 2WD buggy and Stadium Truck national championships later in the year while teammate Ryan Maifield won 4WD buggy. Maifield also won the 4x4 Short Course and both 1/8-Scale Electric and Nitro Truck national championships, giving the duo a remarkable total of six of nine possible premier-class titles. The TLR brand released updated versions of its national championship-winning 22-4, TEN-SCTE, 8IGHT-T and 8IGHT-E platforms, the stock-class-ready 22 3.0 Spec Racer, a fresh 22SCT 3.0, two different lay down transmission kits to fit the 22-series 2WD vehicles, and even a race-ready 1/8-scale buggy kit called the 5IVE-B.
Unfortunately, after such a strong nitro off-road campaign and lots of development work on what’s now the fourth generation of the venerable 8IGHT platform, the TLR squad came up short in their quest for the 2016 IFMAR World Championship in Vegas - putting three cars in the final but finishing 7th, 8th and 11th to finish the season on a low note. The disappointment continued in the offseason, as 2011 2WD national champion and Reedy Race Invitational winner Dustin Evans left for Team Associated after a decade with TLR and Ryan Maifield is expected not to return to extend his two-and-a-half-year stint, either (we anticipate the news of him signing with Mugen Seiki and Yokomo to come as early as this week). I reached out to Team Losi Racing category manager Todd Hodge for some insight into how the TLR camp is feeling about 2017.
Hodge watching the on-track action at the 2016 IFMAR Worlds in Las Vegas -
and no doubt following LiveRC's scoring feed on his smartphone.
Aaron Waldron: Team Losi Racing has been competing at the highest levels of RC motor sports for nearly 30 years. As the industry has changed and evolved over the last three decades, what role does managing a race team play in the brand’s goals in today’s business climate?
Todd Hodge: Our goal for our race team has many facets. First, we want to sponsor racers that can impact our business in positive way. We want ambassadors to the hobby that inspire and help others to have fun while we help the drivers reach the next level of competition. Being sponsored is not about getting the product for free or at a discount. We also want to win on all levels but while doing so we want to support consumers as best as possible.
AW: How is the process of developing race-specific vehicles and products different from cars and trucks intended for backyard jumps and park sidewalks?
TH: Developing racing-specific vehicles is massively different than developing bashers. With race vehicles you are always searching for ways to make the car faster, yet easier to drive for the masses while still making it competitive for the top drivers. A basher vehicle is all about speed, aesthetics, and durability.
Last year, Losi released the TEN-SCBE - a 4WD short course buggy for which there is no
particular racing class, yet built upon a national championship-winning platform.
AW: In what ways do Team Losi Racing-sponsored drivers assist with research and development of new kits and option parts?
TH: Generally, we will use our top-tier drivers to test different theories to see what we may want to include in a future vehicle. We will also use our race team to confirm final design specifications before we start design. On occasion, team drivers will reach out to us and provide ideas and direction. At this point, we will discuss in the office and then, if agreed upon by everyone, we will start design and then prototyping the parts for testing. The parts are then sent to the drivers to test privately. If the parts work out well, we may race the parts publicly to see how they perform.
Multi-time European Champion Renaud Savoya joined Team Losi Racing at the beginning
of 2016, giving the company a much-needed presence across the pond.
AW: The 2016 season ended with some of the most high-profile driver lineup changes we’ve seen in years. How did you react after learning that Ryan Maifield and Dustin Evans had chosen to sign elsewhere late?
TH: We were a bit shocked as we thought everything was fine with both drivers. We wish them nothing but the best and look forward to seeing them at the races. They are both assets wherever they end up.
After such a strong two and a half years with Team Losi Racing, Hodge said everyone at TLR was surprised to hear Ryan Maifield chose to leave - and they didn't have much of an opportunity to go after a replacement.
AW: Obviously, long-time TLR driver Dakotah Phend - who won two ROAR national championships and the Reedy Race last year - is still a part of the lineup, but could 2017 be an opportunity for some of of the team’s other drivers to step up, receive more support and perhaps attend more events?
TH: We had the best racing team over the past few years with Phend, Evans and Maifield. Although Evans and Maifield are moving on, I still believe we have the ability to win every race with “the Phenom.” We are also stepping up our support with a few other drivers to help them obtain the next level - this includes helping JR Mitch, Max Flurer, JP Richards and Tanner Denney to more races allowing them to compete at more events that will give them the experience to reach the next level. These four drivers are located in key strategic locations around the country and we will have them attending both regional and national level races.
Team Losi Racing will be looking at drivers like Arizona native Tanner Denney
to help fill the role vacated by Maifield and Evans.
AW: The Internet hype machine seemed to assume the worst when rumors of Maifield and Evans leaving surfaced, assuming that it was a result of TLR backing away from fielding a high-level race team rather than those drivers simply choosing to leave - and the company perhaps not having time to react by going after other top names. Would you say Team Losi Racing is still as committed to on-track success as they have been over the last few years when the company earned several major titles?
TH: Team Losi Racing is absolutely committed more than ever to the on-track success to our consumers and to our racing team. With our recent releases of a stock-specific 22 3.0 Spec Racer and the 22SCT 3.0 proves that we are committed to racing on all levels. We have even more releases planned for 2017 that will fully complement our racing portfolio. What racing brand in R/C has a complete line of 1/10-, 1/8- and 1/5-scale off-road vehicles? We have no plans of backing off and we will travel to more events in 2017 to promote our products and race with consumers. Additionally, we are working on our racing series. This race series will be a departure from the normal “big race” scene that everyone is used to; instead, we will go to these events and while we will still race, we will have a substantial focus on the consumers at the events. Lastly, if another top level driver comes available in 2017 we will definitely be interested with talking to them, although this driver needs to be the right fit for our team.
The race announcement for the second TLR Cup in France, which happened last May.
AW: How much has the racing scene - and the role of the team and driver - changed since you joined Team Losi Racing as a sponsored racer over 20 years ago?
TH: One part of racing that has changed is the average racers desire to get sponsored. It seems like everyone want sponsored regardless of their talent or personality. Some racers don’t care what car they run, they just want a discount. Loyalty is important but seems to be a minimal concern of most these days. Just this year we received hundreds of resumes from drivers wanting to be sponsored. At best these were club racers. When I first became sponsored by Team Losi in 1995 I received a 50% sponsorship and this was after a few years of traveling across the country attending a multitude of a national level events before I was noticed. Today it seems that if you have a pulse, you have the right to be sponsored. This is not how it should be and all the manufacturers, both big and small, need to recognize what being sponsored is all about. It’s not about your direct to consumer sale, it’s about sponsoring key people that are good in their area that promote your product, that travel to different races, and probably the most important asset is that they have a good personality and are willing to help others. Our industry is small. We need racers to influence others by helping them be more successful on the track. Without the paying customers that do this as a hobby, this hobby will eventually dissolve.
Todd racing at the 2002 Novak U.S. Touring Car Championship (Photo via RCTech)
Another aspect that has changed is Social Media. Drivers can retain a lot of value for themselves by being social media influencers. One example of this is JR Mitch. While JR is a great racer, he brings tremendous value on the Social Media aspect by providing race updates and information to everyone. He is the creator of the 22 Empire and 8 Realm, both are key Facebook pages that give consumers a place to discuss setup information about their TLR vehicles.
Mitch joined TLR in 2012 and has become one of the brand's most well-known social media ambassadors.
This season he will also be in charge of posting regular updates to the TLR blog at http://losiracing.blogspot.com/
AW: We saw several new Team Losi Racing 1/10-scale, 1/8-scale and even a 1/5-scale kits released in 2016. How exciting was it for you to see championship-winning platforms receive updates and watch the industry react as the brand’s portfolio expand in new directions? Can you recall any highlights over the last year that you’re most proud of?
TH: I really can’t pinpoint anything that we are particularly proud of - we are proud of it all. We had a great 2016 with all of our releases, regardless of the scale, and won a lot of races. Probably the coolest vehicle that I personally appreciate is the Team Losi Racing 5IVE-B. The team did a great job bringing this product to market. The sheer size of the vehicle is impressive and makes me want to go race 1/5-scale. Outside of the vehicles we came out with, I am proud of our racing team and our development staff here in Southern California. We have the right people working on the right projects. What I mean by this is that we have people that are focused and specialized in their segments. We have Chris Higa, who was the driving force behind the 5IVE-B. Both him and Brent Redlin, our Engineer, did a fabulous job with the 5IVE-B and we can’t wait to see how it performs in 2017. On the 1/10-scale side of the house, we have Frank Root who has a done a tremendous job keeping us relevant in the ever-changing 1/10-scale racing market. With Mike Mellin and Brian Kinney as our in-house engineers, they have done a great job designing our products to be best in class. On the 1/8-scale side I will give a lot of credit to the race team, specifically Ryan Maifield and our engineer Brian Kinney. We developed a lot of parts during the 2016 racing season in preparation for the IFMAR World Championships that will be coming out shortly. Over the years we have created some interesting bodies that have set trends, most noticeably the cab-forward design that was originally debuted on the 8T 2.0. To keep this momentum we have a young designer, Brian Nunez, that is passionate about raising the bar in body design and keeping our racing and even RTR bodies with a cutting edge look that is distinctly different than the rest.
Grabbing some grub after setting up at a trade show. Clockwise from bottom left: Richard Trujillo,
Brian Nunez, Scott Hughes, Hodge and Mike Mellin. Photo: Richard Trujillo, via Facebook
AW: Obviously, TLR is focused on providing premium racing vehicles for existing RC drivers - in what ways does the company focus on introducing new hobbyists to RC racing and providing the opportunity to grow their own racing careers?
TH: In 2017 we will introduce our new racing series around the country. Our goal for these events is to attract racers regardless of skill level and help them at these events. The goal of the event is to help them have fun with their hobby by teaching them things that we take for granted, while at the same time racing the event and putting on a show for the regional attendees. Hopefully, the events will grow in size in the years to come and we can start hosting the events in areas that are not track specific. How cool would it be to have a TLR race at the first race of the Supercross season in Anaheim? A few events like this could definitely grow our exposure to new hobbyists. Somehow, we and others need to figure out ways to bring the masses into our hobby. Let’s face it, our racing organizations are not doing their part to promote R/C racing to the masses.
A group shot from the second-annual TLR Cup in France -
that's the kind of turnout TLR is hoping for!
AW: Now’s your chance to spill some insider info - what can we expect to see from Team Losi Racing in 2017? Is there anything new coming down the pipeline?
TH: There’s not much I can say but I will say this, we have an exciting product assortment that will serve everyone’s racing needs regardless of where or what surface you race on.
Let's hope that TLR's 2017 plans include Todd racing - and qualifying first in the B-Main somewhere!