By Mike Garrison
A Moment with Mike is a weekly opinion column where LiveRC’s Mike Garrison gives his take on hot-button issues, general topics, and conversations within the RC industry. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LiveRC.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to chat and interview with a lot of different people within the industry, however, it's not quite as often that I am the interviewee rather than the interviewer. Racing friend and Hobbytown Franchise Business Advisor, Tommy DeFreece, reached out to me recently for a Hobbytown interview of my own, putting me in the hot seat for change...
(Photo by Scott J Wilson)
Tommy: For those who may not know you, let’s start at the beginning. How did you first get involved in the Hobby?
Mike: I first got involved in the hobby after my dad grew up racing motocross, and started racing R/C cars around the time I was born. My mom and I would travel with my dad to Hemet, Detroit, Quincy, and around the country racing with him in the early 1990’s. I started racing when I was 4 at Santa Fe Raceway and Real R/C Raceway just outside of Kansas City, but at the age of 6, I got my first dirt bike and R/C was put on hold. I grew up with Taylor James, and in 2005 I decided to buy another R/C car and dabble with racing here and there. In 2006, I was involved in a crash racing motocross that broke my back and paralyzed me from the chest down. While that sounds tragic, it has been an amazing journey, and a large part of that has been R/C car racing. For me it is motocross racing without the broken bones [laughs]. R/C racing is hobby that ANYONE of any age, ability, gender, etc. can do – which is something most competitive sports and hobby can’t offer.
(My early days racing R/C at Santa Fe Raceway)
(Left - My Dad's game face in the early 90's. Right - My game face today.)
Tommy: I have been very vocal with our store owners and staff to give our customers and experience they could never get online. How do you think the internet is affecting the local Hobby shops?
Mike: The internet is an amazing tool for a lot of things, but it has definitely taken a toll on local hobby shops and local retail stores outside the hobby as well. We visited the mall for the first time in a year last week, and it was virtually empty. 10-15 years ago, it was fight for a parking spot, let alone finding space to squeeze in any of the stores to buy something. In my opinion, our hobby is a little bit like shopping for clothes. You can buy it all online, but there is a lot to be said for going to the store, seeing it, learning about it, holding it, trying it out, making sure it’s what you want, etc. Online sales can take a toll on local hobby shops, but I don’t believe it is the death of them, nor do I believe a brick and mortar shop can’t be successful today. The reason we all do this hobby is because it is fun. Whether we are bashing, racing, flying, boating, and/or whatever else R/C…we do it because we enjoy it. Local hobby shops that get involved in the community and provide a fun, informative, honest, friendly, and enjoyable experience for their customers can be successful.
(Fastlane Raceway participating in the local Fall Fun Fest with a Traxxas Slash Demo Track)
Tommy: I’ve traveled to many stores across the country, I have seen various styles of racing. From beginner to hard core. Blown out dirt tracks and high grip clay. Some classes with 5 and some with 70. Has the hobby gotten too technical for a beginner to get in and race?
Mike: This is a topic that I have been very concerned about over the past few years. The increase in tire options, tire prep, motors, batteries, and new kits yearly can be very overwhelming and frustrating for new racers. They often are made to feel like they MUST have the latest and greatest to be competitive and have fun – which is not always true. At a certain point when your skill level advances you will need more and more of an edge in equipment to be competitive, but the difference between many racers winning and losing is not a lack of equipment. For example, I will guarantee you that if I was handed a factory prepped modified buggy, and you handed Ryan Maifield a RTR stock buggy…he would still beat me. While equipment, preparation, and setup is very important, on an amateur level we tend to forget that high quality skill and practice is also important to win races. The hobby has gotten tremendously more technical in recent years, but I don’t believe that it HAS to be for new racers.
Our biggest boom in R/C recently was the release of the Traxxas 2wd Slash. The Stock Slash class was easy, fun, and is where many up and coming racers started. We’ve gotten away from classes such as Stock Slash, and out of the box racing, which means new racers are too often thrown in straight with the local pros in the more advanced classes. If we can’t tone down how technical it has gotten, we need to turn up a new entry level class that is fun, easy, and universal around the country.
(Even Ol' Greg enjoyed Traxxas Stock Slash racing.)
Tommy: Where should the industry focus be? Catering to the new or the experts?
Mike: This is a really difficult question to answer, as it is one big cycle. The industry must focus on the experts because that is the existing core group of racers and sales at this time, BUT those racers won’t last forever. At some point new racers will have to step in and take their place, meaning the industry must also focus on bringing in and KEEPING beginners and newcomers as well. In motocross racing there is a ladder to climb starting in the Beginner class, moving up to Novice, moving up to Intermediate, moving up to Expert, and eventually earning a Pro license. As you move up the ranks the level of commitment, equipment, and seriousness increases as well. In R/C racing the possibility of a first time racer and a multi-time World Champion racing one another on the track at the same time is very real – and is usually frustrating for both. In my opinion we need a system of some sort that allows both beginner and expert racers to feel welcome, competitive with their class, and keep them having fun at whatever level they find themselves at.
(Who do we cater to - Pro's or Average Joe's? A topic that my wife and ROAR Region 8 Director, Britani Garrison, have debated many times.)
Tommy: How would you get new young adults into the hobby?
Mike: I can answer this question from experience. I told my friends about R/C racing, show them videos, show them photos, or even show them my cars, and they weren’t impressed enough to go buy one. Then one day I let my friends drive one for themselves, and before I knew it we had a truck full of us going racing together week after week. Whether your racing or bashing, R/C is hands-on. Watching and seeing it is like throwing chum in the water as it gathers people, but when you let them actually try it for themselves – that’s what hooks the fish.
(My dad's office window after letting my good friend Joe Garton attempt to jump my Traxxas Slash onto the roof of the building...he missed, but was hooked on R/C.)
Tommy: In 2020, Where do you see our hobby going?
Mike: Honestly, I see good things for R/C in the future! As we talked about, the racing side has become more technical, but on that same note so has a lot of things in life, and it goes in waves in terms of popularity and participation. There are also a lot of “new” genres in R/C that are really taking off such as dirt oval racing, scale crawlers, and monster trucks. Not to mention, more and more parents are tired of seeing their kids (of all ages) sitting in the corner buried in a cell phone or tablet watching YouTube videos, which I think will translate into them looking for ways they can spend the same amount of money and watch their kid get out and do something fun, be social, and be active – such as R/C.
(There is nothing that I love more than seeing this hobby grow with the help of tracks and promoters such as the RC Pro Series who offers the "Future Champions" class at all of their events.)
Tommy: The rock crawling and scale builder class is still trending up with more and more vendors getting into the game. In my opinion, the scale genre has taken cues from the old school train guys and the plastic models from when I was much younger. What is your experience with this genre and do you think it has made itself a class that will be around for a very long time to come?
Mike: I personally have not yet owned my own rock crawler, but I have broken a few of my friend's - sorry Jared. [laughs]. I think it is great to see this genre building, and you’re right it is similar to that of the old train days. I am blown away at the builds that I see from people, and the amount of detail, realism, and precision they put into them. I don’t have the patience or skill to create that type of build, so I truly admire them all. I definitely think this will be a class that is here to stay. It’s great for those who want to be competitive and compete in the various events and competitions around the country, it’s great for those who simply enjoy scale modeling, it’s great for people who just want to have an outdoor hobby, and it’s great for kids and adults, and it’s great for people to get involved in R/C with big or small budgets – it’s a win/win class all the way around.
(There are a lot of amazing scale builds out there, but some of my favorites come from Tekin's Ty Campbell. Check them out on Instagram HERE.)
Tommy: If you had to host, organize and run your own event… What would the format be and what classes?
Mike: It’s ironic that you would ask that, as my wife and I are getting geared up to host our 8th Annual Off-Road JAM event at Fastlane Raceway in Blue Springs, Missouri on January 25-26, 2020. I have tried to venture from the standard IFMAR qualifying and mains format that has been used since the beginning of time, but haven’t had much luck yet finding a new format that everyone can agree upon. In Mike’s perfect world we would eliminate timed qualifying all together, divide the classes based more on skill rather than equipment, and provide more heads up racing – more like motocross which somehow can have larger turnouts, more classes, more racing, and can all be done in half the time it takes for two rounds of qualifying at an R/C race [laughs].
Tommy: What advice do you have to give to local hobby shops?
Mike: My biggest piece of advice for local hobby shops is to focus on customer service. A hobby shop that is clean, looks inviting, has knowledgeable staff, and offers friendly service (no matter how dumb my question may be) is a hobby shop that I am going to WANT to spend money at. Let me rephrase that, multiple hobby shops that offer that I HAVE spent money at…probably too much money [laughs]!
Tommy: Thanks for taking the time to talk, is there anything you would like to add?
Mike: I really appreciate the opportunity to do this! It’s always fun to sit down and talk about R/C. We have an amazing hobby with an amazing community of individuals and companies involved in it. I ask that anyone reading this to remember that we all started in this hobby for fun, so if you aren’t having fun, it’s time to build a new car, change classes, go bash at a skatepark, and get back to doing what R/C is all about – HAVING FUN! In the words of Hobbytown, “Keep Calm, and Hobby On!”