By Mike Garrison
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!
For this week's Talk It Up Tuesday we sit down with industry icon, World Championship winning racer, co-founder of Team Losi, and co-owner of AKA Products - Gil Losi Jr.!
LiveRC: Welcome Gil to this week’s edition of Talk It Up Tuesday! You have a long history in R/C racing but let’s start with your career as a racer. You won the 1985 IFMAR 4wd Buggy World Championship. What other accomplishments as a racer are you most proud of?
Gil: Much of my driving career is hard to remember. The last race I worked hard as a driver was the 1987 IFMAR 1/8 On-Road Worlds. I was TQ and lead until my two-speed locked up. I started racing full time in 1980, so in that period there was so much going on it’s hard to remember. 1981 Mod Score 1/10 Off-Road World Champ (with an RCH Tamiya buggy), 1982 Stock and Mod Score World Champ (with a Kyosho Scorpion), 1984-85 ORRCA SoCal Series Modified Champ with a perfect score, 4th at the 1985 IFMAR 1/8 IC Worlds in Japan, and many I can’t think of right now. I was developing so many products in this period including; the Yokomo Dog Fighter, what became the YZ10, the rear t-bar system for the 12L (L stood for Losi), and load of parts for the Serpent Quattro. I then got the opportunity to be the first development driver for the RC10 project. You can see why it’s blurry in my head!
(Photo courtesy of www.Vintage.Dirt-Burners.com)
LiveRC: When, where, how, and why did you and your family start Team Losi (now known as TLR)?
Gil: My father and I started at Mini Baja (Skater Cross in Reseda California) in 1980. This was a skate board park near Veriflex (the skateboard company my father and uncle founded). My father raced full sized buggies so when we saw the Tamiya Rough Rider, we had to have them! When the skate part added an R/C race track we were hooked!
LiveRC: What were some of your primary roles within the family business over the years?
Gil: At the start I built the tracks, worked in the store, and developed the aftermarket parts we needed for the Japanese cars we imported. That role developed over the years into being the product architect and managed the entire development process from testing to engineering and supply chain development.
LiveRC: Is there a particular product or achievement for Team Losi that you are most proud of, and why?
Gil: I am proud of all of them! Every car project always has its own life. The 8IGHT 1.0 was the last race car I worked on before leaving. I’m really proud that we were able to enter a category that was a very mature class and make such a big impact on the industry. We even changed the way kits are packed and manuals are organized.
LiveRC: Is it true that Team Losi also produced a yo-yo at one time?
Gil: Yes, the car industry was in a slump and a friend of my father’s told him about these really cool bearing yo-yos’. We got a few samples and had a blast figuring out how to improve them. They were very successful at competitions for years, even after we stopped producing them.
LiveRC: When and why was the decision made to sell the Team Losi brand to Horizon Hobby?
Gil: We sold to Horizon in 2000. The cost of producing in the US was becoming uncompetitive and my father and I did not want to spend the kind of time in Taiwan and China it would take to build a good supply chain. We had a few inquiries but decided to sell to Horizon. We had a strong relationship with Horizon and they were our biggest customer. They needed to grow their California operation at that time, so they were able to keep all the Team Losi employees (many were there when we packed the JRX2’s). I decided to leave in 2005. A new president came into Team Losi and reorganized the engineering department in a way I did not like. I found myself very unhappy with the changes and needed a change.
LiveRC: Do you have any involvement with the TLR or Losi brands anymore?
Gil: I do some consulting work for TLR from time to time when they need my knowledge.
LiveRC: Following Team Losi, your next adventure in the R/C industry became AKA Products. Tell us a bit about the early days of AKA, how it all got started, and your involvement in the brand.
Gil: AKA started as a brand for Kyosho America. During the bank crisis Joel Johnson, my father, and I purchased the project from Kyosho.
LiveRC: What are your roles currently at AKA?
Gil: I am in charge of the supply chain and product development.
LiveRC: AKA has been immensely successful over the years with multiple National and World Championship victories. What AKA product has brought the most success on the racetrack over the years?
Gil: AKA specializes in racing products only currently. The company started with a focus on 1/8 off-road, and that is where are real strength is.
LiveRC: Things have been pretty quiet lately from AKA, can you tell us a little bit about what is going on behind the scenes?
Gil: AKA had some real supply chain problems over the last few years. I came back into the company as an employee at the start of 2018 after spending some years working for Firelands developing surface products. Since then we have been improving our supply chain, compounds and fill rates. You can see from our team’s successes all over the world the tires are working really well. We have finally released our first new tire (the P1) with great results on club tracks.
LiveRC: What are some immediate and long-term goals for the brand with all the changes taking place?
Gil: We have many projects in the works! We want to re-establish ourselves in 1/10-scale over the next year. We are really excited for the opportunities that are out there. We have learned to move in a more controlled way so we do not have fill rate problems again.
LiveRC: Who is the current tire designer at AKA, and are there any new tires in the works currently?
Gil: That would be me for now! And we have designs finished and will release them as our supply chain develops.
LiveRC: Is there plans to continue with the 2.4” 1/10-scale wheels/tires, or does AKA plan to revert back to the more traditional 2.2” wheels/tires in the future?
Gil: In my opinion 1/10-scale needs a single wheel specification that fits all cars. IFMAR is working towards this now. I would support moving everything back to 2.2” to simplify things for our customers.
LiveRC: Has there been consideration to expanding the AKA product line to include accessories such bodies, wings, etc.?
Gil: We discuss these ideas all the time. We will see!
LiveRC: Being an old-school racer, what are your thoughts and opinions on the modern day ultra high-bite, hard packed, and/or carpet/turf tracks in off-road racing?
Gil: Wow, I love driving on these new style tracks myself! That being said I am concerned that there are no classes that have a short enough learning curve for new racers to be successful. I believe there is too much focus on what sponsored drivers want, and not enough time spent developing fun experiences for beginners.
LiveRC: What is your opinion of sponsorships in today’s time?
Gil: This is the hot topic of our time. I wish it could be like the old days, but it cannot. We need to look forward for new ways for tracks to be successful, and the customers will support the business models they want.
LiveRC: You’ve been travelling more and more to events over the past few years to support the AKA team. Does being at the races give you the itch to pick up a radio again?
Gil: I have been trying to learn modern driving techniques so I can compete again. It is really hard to re-learn how to drive after all these years. I had forgot how much I enjoy driving!
LiveRC: What are a few of the highs and lows of working in the R/C industry?
Gil: Anyone who has ever worked in any racing business knows the time it takes! You miss a lot of time with your family, friends, and you’re always behind on all your responsibilities. That being said, the normal world feels really boring in comparison. I think we all are adrenaline junkies.
LiveRC: What is one thing most people don’t know about Gil Losi Jr.?
Gil: I have always been a really shy person that really enjoys any sort of learning opportunities, and I roast coffee as a hobby.
LiveRC: Gil, we have thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you today, and sincerely appreciate you taking time to do so! Is there anything you would like to add before we let you get back to work?
Gil: Just that I am so grateful for all the wonderful people this hobby has brought into my life. I didn’t always appreciate this like I do now. Everyone should stop and really reflect on what is truly important and take that attitude to the track!