TALK IT UP TUESDAY: Chris Wheeler
Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015 06:25pm
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!
I met Arizona native Chris Wheeler not long after he started racing RC cars - he, along with other fast drivers who hail in the desert, often made the trek to Southern California in search of bigger races and more competition. Wheeler’s life is in radio control - it’s his favorite hobby, his job, and he even met his girlfriend at the racetrack. Doing what he loves has led Chris to become one of the fastest racers in his home state, and you can learn more about his life in this week’s Talk It Up Tuesday. (Cover photo: Sarah Dean, via Facebook)
Aaron Waldron: How old are you, and where are you from?
Chris Wheeler: I am 30 years old and am from Phoenix, AZ.
Photo: Charlie Suangka, via Facebook
AW: How did you get into RC, and how long have you been racing?
CW: My father gave me his Tamiya Frog when I was about 12 or 13. It was already outdated at the time but it sparked the habit. I have been racing for about 16 years now as I got into the racing a couple of years later.
Photo: Sarah Dean, via Facebook
AW: When did you decide to start taking racing more seriously, traveling to larger races and acquiring sponsors?
CW: My goal was never really to acquire sponsors, I just loved the competition and camaraderie of racing and the challenges of facing a new layout at an event. I started traveling heavily to larger events with Billy Fischer when I was about 17 or so. I specifically remember traveling to the NORRCA Gas Off-Road Nationals in I believe 2002 at The Dirt in Hemet. Billy's dad let two 17-year-old kids take his truck to California on their own!
Photo: Short Course Showdown, via Facebook
AW: What do you currently do for work? Is it difficult finding time to commit to practicing and racing?
CW: Currently I work full time as the Receiving Clerk/Quality Control Specialist at an RC company called Redcat Racing. Contrary to their name, they only produce entry-level, ready-to-run vehicles from 1/24 to 1/5 scale. I also currently work part time at Hobbytown Phoenix/SRS raceway as one of the race directors. It can be hard to find the time for practice and racing for sure, especially balancing having a girlfriend as well, but I am very lucky on that end - she shares the interest in racing with me and that is how we actually met. We have a house together currently with “his” and “hers” pit tables in a dedicated RC room. She is also usually part of my pit crew for nitro racing and is easily one of the best in pit lane when it comes to pit stops. Because SRS is inside of an indoor go-kart facility, they share common hours - which means it’s open 7 days a week and doesn’t close until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. I end up doing a lot of my practicing on those nights.
AW: How long have you worked in the RC industry? Do you like it?
CW: All but one of my jobs have been RC-related, so about 15 years in the industry now. I started off as the race director at a local track that had a dirt oval and off-road track. I was the oval race director and would race off-road on the off-road nights.
AW: What’s your favorite track? Favorite big event? Favorite racing class?
CW: My favorite track was the outdoor SRS facility. Club racing there on wet track was the best! As for my favorite big event, I would have to say The Dirt Nitro Challenge. Even though I have not participated the last 2 years, I have gone to it when it was in Hemet at The Dirt, The Nitro Pit in Whitman, and now Fear Farm in Glendale and Joey always puts on a great event with a fun layout. That being said, though, 2WD Modified Buggy is probably my favorite class to run on a normal basis.
Photo: Warehouse 3, via Facebook
AW: What are your most proud racing moments?
CW: I would have to say for sure making the Pro Truggy main at the 2013 Dirt Nitro Challenge. I struggled in qualifying and was in the D main and bumped to the A to take 10th. Also I would have to include finishing third on the podium in Short Course Modified at the Cactus Classic.
AW: Do you have any goals for your RC career?
CW: My goals include making sure it stays fun, but I would like to remain competitive and maybe even take that leap to the next level.
AW: When you’re not at the racetrack, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
CW: There are hobbies outside of RC? Honestly, I spend the majority of my time prepping my cars if I am not at the track, but I do enjoy time with my girlfriend and our two dogs. As far as hobbies outside RC, I really tend to focus on RC racing but do enjoy playing poker, fishing, and watching baseball.
AW: What’s the best part of RC racing? What about RC racing annoys or bothers you?
CW: The best part about RC racing is the camaraderie. I've seen, and been part of, many situations over the years where competitors from different teams jump in and help someone or are cheering on someone from another team. At the end of the day, we are all out there to have fun even though we obviously want to win. Honestly, my biggest annoyance with the current state of the hobby would be "everybody wants a trophy syndrome" - people dropping down a skill level or class simply because they want a chance at a win. Some may call me out for that statement since they have been seeing me running 17.5 buggy a lot but I like to be challenged and try to run the most competitive classes available. 17.5 buggy racing in Arizona is no joke with guys like Humpty Helms, Kyle Davis, Kyle Defatte, Kyle Witherspoon, Kamryn Ayers - the list goes on, and any given night the B-main is stacked. I always run 2wd Modified as well as that class is just as competitive with Tommy Hinz, Spencer Rivkin, Brian Kinwald, and Ashe Deering. Too many times now at big races I see someone who has been running Pro-level classes drop down simply to gain a better chance at winning.
AW: Who are some of the people that have helped you the most?
CW: Billy Fischer has probably been the biggest help to my racing over the years, Early on he would help me by sharing his setups with me. Then, as he started to run different brand vehicles, he would still assist me in setting up my cars and eventually I have gathered enough information from him and tried enough of my own stuff that I have come to be able to manage setup on my own. Also, Casey Peck was a huge help on the nitro side of things.
Casey, Billy and Chris
AW: Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CW: Thank you for the opportunity! I just like to thank all my sponsors for their help and support as I wouldn't be able to race at the level I do without their amazing products and help. They are TLR, Pro-Line, Tekin, Stick-it1 Racing, Avid RC, Leadfinger RC, Sik Lidz Custom Painting, Lunsford, Horizon Hobby, Spektrum RC, GearOne, Maxline R/C, Big D's RC, AZ-RC.com, and WWHD and of course I have to thank my amazing girlfriend Alex Rosen for everything she does that allows me to pursue my racing the way I am able to.
Photo: Sarah Dean, via Facebook