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TALK IT UP TUESDAY: Charlie Suangka

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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 our long-time friend and R/C guru, Charlie Suangka, as he holds nothing back to let us know exactly how he feels about the R/C industry, R/C cars vs. drones, World Championships, tracks hidden in hills of California, and so much more! 

LiveRC: It has been far too long Charlie, welcome back to Talk It Up Tuesday! A lot has changed since you last joined us in 2013. Last time you joined us you were the “face at the race” for Novak. Unfortunately, they have since closed their doors, and you are now with Hobbywing North America. Talk to us about the transition from being at Novak for so long to joining a new company. How did the job at Hobbywing come about? Was it a considerable learning curve and/or change from Novak?

Charlie: Thanks for having me back kind sirs of the! Hobbywing had actually let me know more than a few times over the years they were searching for tech support type of person. So, it wasn’t but a few minutes after Novak announced officially the doors were closing that my phone rang with Hobbywing on the other end.  There was a lot to learn early on, and do feel a bit bad for some of the customers that called on me for assistance before I knew my way around the line up.  There is a drastic difference in learning a line of electronics, vs being part of the team that designs them.  Luckily it happened fairly quickly, and everyone at Hobbywing has been ultra helpful getting me up to speed. The product itself is solid, and the behind the scenes staff are on point. 

LiveRC: For Novak you played many roles, including the team manager. What is your primary role at Hobbywing?

Charlie:  Day to day, I do customer service and tech support, much like at Novak actually.  I’ve been a hub of basic product information and try to know the entire line up.  Hobbywing’s line up is considerably larger, so I’ve still got lots to learn. Boats, Heli, Drones, and vehicle stuff all comes across my desk.  While I’m not an expert at every aspect, I do know my way around trouble shooting most rc crafts these days. 

Here at Hobbywing, like at Novak, I also get to work directly with the engineers that develop products.  This is always the best part, and the worst part of my job.  I’m sure many folks that are in our wonderful hobby world, often wonder why various brands don’t just “Make it like this”, or “Just make it do this”, type of thoughts.  The balance of what is possible down the road, what we can do right now, and what the market wants, vs what it needs, while identifying common limitations of a given segment.  Ha, that sounds like I googled it, I must be getting old…..  

LiveRC: For Novak you were focused on the cars, but for Hobbywing it seems as though you are more on the drone side of things, would that be fair to say?

Charlie:  Fair enough. I fly my “Quad Copter” almost every day, where as with my RC cars and trucks, maybe 1 time a week.  Drones have really re-ignited my hobby fire.  Traveling, racing, working with the top level racers, sort changed my perspective on RC.  When drones came a long, it really got the gears turning again, and more than just building, helping folks learn the new tech started to be fun. Flying is amazing. I still get a rush battling with Buddys doing RC car stuff, but the rush from FPV is very different, and happens just doing “donuts in the sky”. 

LiveRC: How often do you travel to events, and which do you prefer – car events or drone events?

Charlie:  Not nearly as much as I used too. More along the lines of a couple events every few months.  Motorama every year with Scotty (And SKOREY!), big dual track offroad event in PA. Hobbywing is a big part of the IOCC and IIC, so I’ll be on board for that again.  The new X-Class drone racing league is semi local to me here in CA, and lets me get on the Mic for their events. X-Class events are hosted at motor sports events in front of motorsports fans during their normal event.  Part of the show! Announcing RC racing in front of Motor sports fans is amazing.  The roar of the crowd really makes the hair on your arms stand up!   Will be hitting the Multi GP International Open for their week long party with the Hobbywing drone racing team.  The Tamiya Championship Series National Finals at the Tamiya USA raceway is coming up, and I’ve been honored to be the announcer for the final race at my favorite facility.   As far as what I prefer….. I like them both for different reasons.  Car racing, I know lots of folks, tons of friends, and lots and lots of very great memories.  Drones is new, fresh, and needs lots of guidance.  It’s a different kind of party, but it’s still a really good time.  The basic “format” of the events is very different so it’s hard to compare.  One thing remains constant, competition and RC, regardless of the form, always has lots of RC nerds to hang out with! ;).

LiveRC: You are also the host of a YouTube Vlog called “The Charlie Show”. Tell us a bit about the show, and what sort of things viewers will listen to and learn when they tune in.

Charlie:  I dislike “Vlog”, but apparently that’s what it is. The show has been a part of my job here at Hobbywing, and has really been an enjoyable experience.  I’m a pretty negative Nancy, and overly critical of most “Youtube” reviews and hobby style videos. To sorta put myself out there, with a “Do what you want” script, sort of put the pressure on.   The show is mainly about tech support topics, but that’s so boring I break it up with what I call “Nerdventures”.  Taking my RC stuff out to do what we do with it, and make videos of us having fun.  I’ve got an over abundance of RC Nerd Friends, and the stuff we get into is tons of fun with RC.  The tech topics sprinkle in, but the main drive to the show is having fun with RC.  Sort of “Raw” style footage of how it all happens.  I’m no editing master, and do all this with a simple camera, but it’s been super fun for me, and has been going on for a year now!  I try to make the tech topics easy to understand, and break down how you would use the information in various applications or scenarios. 

LiveRC: If anyone follows you on social media, they will see some amazing “backyard tracks” (for both cars and drones) that you and your friends have created. What is your favorite place of them all to have some fun friends after work?

Charlie:  Peacock Pit.  By far, best track ever of all time anyplace on the planet is the Peacock Pit.  The only reason the Peacock Pit wins, is because it’s been there the longest, and the most RC nerds know how to get around the track.  Dirty Dega comes in a very close second place.  Our own Back yard track, that I now call the “Sparrow Pit”, has recently gotten some updates, and now is worthy of buddy battles and open beer bash nights. ;)  This article is a day late because I got distracted working on the Sparrow pit yesterday! ;)  

LiveRC: A lot has been changing in the industry lately, some good and some bad. We are seeing a decline for a lot of tracks in local club racing. Why do you think this is, and what can we do to bring back the club racing scene?

Charlie:  I’m glad you asked!  I’ve been employed by the RC industry since high school, with a short window of a “Real Job” outside the RC world. The ups and down of the racing world are one of the few things that has remained consistent.  Times they are a changing as they say, and the RC industry doesn’t seem to change with the times.  The expectations of consumers has transformed from what we all grew up on, into something very different.  Dictated by squeaky wheels and whiny baby mentality.  Not saying it’s bad, just what it is.  Business owners, and more so, business owners that operate in what some would call a “Low Margin” market, are interesting folks. They take on something that has been proven to make no money, and do it anyway, for the love of this hobby.  I think that industry is growing, but racing is not.  The idea of how much time and energy it takes to go racing is a bit of a hard sell.  With video games and self media becoming more and more main stream, nerdy things like building an RC car, or spending 3 days at the track, are going to be an even harder sell.  I heard that a high school someplace has “Video Game” as a sport, just like Basketball or Baseball. Varsity Video Game?  RC, because of it’s intricacies and level of tinker, at best, gets to be the faculty/student funded after hours “Science Club”.  Why?  Sports make big bucks, so do video games.  While building robots and being an engineer, make big bucks too, there’s no media pumping up the all star engineering finals…..  So, what fixes RC? I think many folks get hooked on RC driving, but they not like working on the RC cars.  Sure many of us have said over the years, I love building, I love tinkering and fixing them, but to me, that addiction is only fed by driving the cars.  I went through major RC Burn out a few years ago. The idea of “So much work” to go drive my RC car became toxic to me and made my skin crawl.  I just wanna drive.  I see this same thing happening at the race tracks.  The frustration of racers preparing vehicles and what ever other support gear to drive their car a “few minutes” in comparison.  Never mind paying money for this experience.  While there aren’t easy fixes, there are easy bandaids to get folks back on the driver stand. More drive time seems to be a big thing.  Tracks that don’t break the cars. Fun layouts that invite new drivers, but, still have tricky technical sections for the long time racers.  Simplified spec classes for newbies and kids.  The level of complexity for any new class should be something you can talk about in a few sentences.  Spec racing is a big part of this racing problem, but that’s an article all of it’s own.  

LiveRC: If you could pick one thing to change about R/C car racing, what would it be? How would you change it?

Charlie: Qualifiers.  Oh My, don’t get me started on talking about practice and how many qualifiers a racer has. Real motorsports is a fine example, you don’t get more practice and qualifying than Racing.  It doesn’t make sense.  In the world of RC, we often get more practice time than race time.  That makes a world of Racers that can “qualify” okay, but can’t race side by side.  Never mind how boring it is to watch.  RC is not spectator friendly mainly due to how we qualify.  I would love to see Moto-cross style racing come to the world of RC.  I’ve talked about it a few times with organizers over the years, but they same thing comes up every time.  Organizers are worried racers will hate it.  They might, but we’ll never know…… LOL. 

LiveRC: There has been a lot of talk lately about sanctioning bodies/organizations, series events, and changing the way we do things – such as crowning a World Champion after a series of races rather than a single race. What are your thoughts as a manufacturer/brand in the industry?  

Charlie: Yes Please.  The manufactures are the loudest complainers about how things are done in the racing world. Pony Up Boys!  Bring your check books and lets grow this industry into something we can show the world and get everyone paid.    The RC world of racing, would benefit from taking some cues from the larger racing world for sure.  With all that goes on at a race, deciding our champ at 1 event can be a bit tricky.  However, to continue to try to take queue’s from the real world of motorsports, almost all use a series to determine their champion, not a single race. 

LiveRC: People often ask, “Look at how popular drone racing has become, it’s on ESPN! Why isn’t R/C car racing?” What is your opinion as to why drone racing (which has been around FAR less time than R/C car racing) became so popular to the “outside world” – but R/C car racing has not?

Charlie:  Drones are cool, and RC cars are not.  That’s what the feeling is based on my conversations with folks over the last few years.  Now of course, Money is big factor too. Prize money and well produced events.  Though, the simple fact that if you go talk to a person on the street, and say “Drones” to them, or you say “RC Car” to them, you get 2 very different reactions.  I’ve traveled and had lots of conversations with folks in the airport about what I’m doing.  Say “RC Car Racing”, they are surprised folks do that, surprised it’s a thing, and show light general interest. The one that I dislike the most is “I used to have one of those when I was a kid”. “Do they get paid for winning”.  “Is there prize Money”.  

Say “Drones”, and they won’t leave you alone with the questioning.  From how it works, to what it looks like, to how much they get paid.   Also, the DRL has done a job to produce something that the general population can watch and understand.   The idea that flying things can’t just “Take him out” with a bump or a fender rub helps keep the interest too. DRL pilots get “paid” to be pilots.  I’ve met these guys, the are literally living the dream that all us RC car racers have been having since we learned about “Pro RC Drivers”.   Watch RC cars with folks that don’t know you’re into it, and listen to how they talk about it.  Has to be folks that don’t RC, you know “Civilians”.  I do this anytime I get around folks that don’t RC because it’s wonderful perspective.  They all think it’s toy car racing. “Why don’t they just crash into the leader and take him out”.   

LiveRC: You recently joined Scotty Ernst to announce the Reedy International On-Road Race of Champions, but you raced in the event as well. How did it all go?

Charlie:  Hahaha, You can edit the Q if you like, but there’s no “Co Announcing” a major event with Scotty.  Once the PA system is on, that’s his mic all day. ;)   I went to final Reedy race as a vacation actually.  I raced. Scotty tried to get me to “work” for him at the event, but I politely passed as I needed to focus on Not getting last.  HAHA.  The event was amazing though.  Sad to see Tamiya USA’s track go. I’ve got so many laps at that place over the years.   2004, I won the 19 turn spec class at the Reedy Race. 2014, came back to race after many years away, 13.5 class, made the main, finished 9th. 2018, final year, so had to give it a go. This time “Mod” Touring with the goal of not getting last, and going faster than the spec class…….  I didn’t get last, and in fact won the D main, but, super failure on being faster than spec guys.  So to all the folks I talked about while watching you flounder around the track in Mod Class going slower than spec……. I owe you all a beer…….  

LiveRC: Is there anything new from Hobbywing hiding over there on your desk?

Charlie:  YES, but I can’t tell you…….   HA, New Crawling System, the “AXE” is due out anytime now, and is freaking amazing.  I don’t get excited about going slow, but this thing goes slower then anything I’ve driven, and has amazing feel down hills. Something brushless has always lacked.  This new system is an “FOC” system so a completely new style of rotor position sensing.  New sensor tech that is super awesome. ESC has reverse voltage protection, Built in Bluetooth Connectivity, and it’s completely waterproof. 

LiveRC: Thank you so much for joining us today Charlie, it’s always great to chat with you. Is there anything you would like to add before we go?

Charlie: I miss you guys!  I owe LiveRC a huge debt of gratitude for having me not only here on Talk It Out Tuesday, but all the times in the LiveRC booth over the years.  More fun “working” than should be allowed.  HAHAHA.    Remember folks, when you ask a question, it is common courtesy to listen to the entire answer you’ve asked for. Conversations work by listening, and talking, listening, and talking.  Sometimes you have to listen more than you talk.  Not always, but sometimes. Asking the same Question, but using slightly different words, won’t usually change the facts.  Read your instruction manual. Interrupting someone while they are talking is rude. Emails are far superior to phone calls. Use punctuation. Hug your kids. Talk to your loved ones. Take time to smell the roses. Volunteer turn marshal. Don’t Litter. Don’t forget to check out “The Charlie Show” on the Hobbywing Official Youtube Page! 

Thanks a bunch Folks! 


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