TALK IT UP TUESDAY: Andrew Smolnik
Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 04:37pm
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!
Hobby Pro USA and PR Racing America founder Andrew Smolnik and I started racing around the same time, and both of our fathers hauled us around to various tracks in Southern California throughout the mid- to late-90s. He progressed quickly as a racer, earning big-time sponsorships and several notable wins before diving into the business side of the RC industry and carving out a career. After working hard and saving up some cash, he launched his own business, and continues to make a living doing what he loves.
Aaron Waldron: How old are you, and where are you from?
Andrew Smolnik: I am 34 years young. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and live in Chino, California.
AW: How did you get into RC, and how long have you been racing?
AS: I first got into RC with my father and my best friend when I was 14 years old, got my first car from the Ranch Pit Stop in Pomona, California. I mowed a lot of lawns and recycled a ton of cans so I could get the XXT Truck. Of course, I painted the body banana yellow and didn’t mask the windows. Ha! I’ve been racing non-stop for 20 years since then.
AW: When did you decide to start taking racing more seriously, traveling to larger races and acquiring sponsors?
AS: As a 14 year old, I began racing at The Ranch Pit Stop. In 1997, the IFMAR 1/10-scale Off-Road World Championships were held there and, after watching that as a spectator with my father along with 6 solid months of Novice club racing, I knew I wanted to compete at the highest level one day. With a ton of practice and help from my dad, I began to earn sponsorships from Team Associated and Reedy Modifieds and was lucky enough to travel with the team to various National Championships and large events throughout the United States at a very young age.
AW: What are some of your favorite memories and biggest accomplishments from your racing career?
AS: RC has been very kind to me, and I have a ton of fond memories to reflect on. My first National Championship is likely one of my most memorable experiences. I was 18 years old and won the 1999 Nationals in Pro Stock Sedan with Team Associated TC3 in its debut race in Vegas. I’ve since been lucky enough to win 5 National titles in 3 various classes with a lot of hard work and some luck.
AW: When did you first pursue turning your hobby into a career?
AS: While I was in College for Criminal Justice I worked in Hobby Shops and interned at a few of today’s great companies, such as Pro-Line and Team Associated. The closer I got to a career in Law Enforcement the more I realized how much I preferred working with people and their hobbies instead of working with people and their problems. I wanted to work with people having fun and help them have fun, so I pursued a long-term job with Cenchain which produced OEM parts for some of todays top brands out of Taiwan and also had plans to begin their own line of vehicles under the CEN Racing brand name. I happily worked there for 10 years, learning and gathering valuable information about the industry from manufacturing to marketing.
AW: Can you describe some of the jobs you’ve had within the RC industry?
AS: My first job in RC was provided by Mike Reedy at Associated Electrics where I learned about the art of soldering brushes, installing capacitors, and winding and balancing motors. Although the technology has changed a lot, the attention to detail and core lessons are always valid within the hobby. I worked in the Customer Service department at Pro-Line Racing for a while and learned how to take care of customers properly, along with taking pride in the products that you sell. Before Thunder Tiger/ACE Hobbies purchased Team Associated, I worked at their facility where I wore a few hats in sales, customer service and technical support. After working at Thunder Tiger, I found a long term position at Cenchain in the Research and Development department and worked there for 10 years.
AW: How did you create Hobby Pro USA and PR Racing America?
AS: After CEN Racing had been sold to new owners in the United States I decided to take a step back and plan for my next chapter in life. I had saved up enough money to start a business on my own; however, it would take a couple years to learn and research what I didn’t know about starting a business. Once I had a solid long-term business plan I began to implement it with quality products such as tools and fuel bottles. It’s a tough industry to break into and you‘ve gotta start somewhere! Through my research, I found one thing that most major brands have in common and I’ve always implemented this with our products and brand. Take a handful of today’s top respected brands. such as HPI, Traxxas, AE and Losi: the one thing they all have in common is that they all started with one simple, quality race product that proved itself on the track, whether it was a wheel, motor or complete car.
AW: How much input do you have on new PR Racing vehicles?
AS: I am very lucky to have a manufacturer like PR Racing to work with. They are extremely absorbent with our requests in design. It has been great working closely with them and their engineer to create a top-of-the-line product for consumers to enjoy worldwide. Much of our research and info comes directly from our racers and our experiences each and every week at the track. We truly have been producing a product by listening to what consumers want and in some cases what they don’t want.
AW: What has it been like to work with an overseas brand as their primary US presence?
AS: It has been great working with PR Racing as they are very receptive to our United States consumer needs and demands when it comes to quality products. There is only one chance at a first impression and we’ve been introducing the PR Racing brand to tracks, shops and consumers on a very positive level as of late.
AW: What off-track accomplishments are you most proud of?
AS: I’ve been very proud of a few projects that I’ve worked on in the past. One that comes to mind is the Genesis Monster Truck which is still being sold through HRP Distribution as the Colossus. It is likely the largest, most ridiculously overpowered Monster Truck on the planet. It automatically would shift into 3 various speeds and could shift into reverse. That transmission is impressive, complicated and engineered to the max. I learned a lot from that project. We also worked on an RTR Sedan that went over 95mph out of the box which was fun.
AW: What’s your favorite track?
AS: I’ve raced on a lot of tracks and they’re all special in their own way. Currently, OCRC Raceway in Southern California has the most challenging surface and overall competition which puts it towards the top of my list. I recently traveled to the Yatabe Arena in Japan and I must say, that facility is a great example of a track and hobby shop. I also will never forget racing on a track in Brazil called Asa Branca, which was an all-grass off-road track with jumps!
AW: Favorite big event?
AS: By far, the Reedy Race of Champions is my favorite big race. This is truly a tribute race for me as I learned a lot from Mike Reedy and would love to win it one day in honor of my late father and Mr. Reedy.
AW: Favorite racing class?
AS: 2WD Modified Buggy is the most challenging class in RC. If you can compete at a high level in 2WD Modified, all other classes will come easier.
AW: Do you have any particular goals for your RC career?
AS: I’ve been checking off my RC Bucket list for many years now and there are a few more races and accomplishments I’d like to achieve. Although, I’ve raced consistently at a high level for the past 20 years, I still believe and feel that I have what it takes to compete at the highest level possible and the new PR Racing vehicles give me more confidence than ever. My goals are to continue racing 1/10-scale electric off-road at a high level. Although I will dearly miss it, I have decided to retire from all 1/8-scale nitro racing and race 1/10-scale electric full time for years to come.
AW: When you’re not at the racetrack or the office, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
AS: My hobbies outside of R/C are playing baseball and softball at a high level, along with shooting pool at a semi-pro level.
AW: What’s the best part of the RC racing industry?
AS: The reason why I chose to work in this industry is because it brings so many smiles to people and I enjoy helping people have fun. It’s much better than chasing bad guys.
AW: What about RC racing annoys or bothers you?
AS: The RC industry can get clique-y at times which reminds me of my high school days. This comes from a driver that has primarily driven for brands that are not mainstream, so it could be my perspective.
AW: Who are some of the people that have helped you the most?
AS: Early on, it was Gene Hustings, Curtis Hustings, Mike Reedy and my Dad that supported me and saw that I had something extra to offer. Since then, I’ve essentially grown up within the RC Industry and have everyone involved to thank.
AW: Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AS: Thanks very much for the opportunity to share a bit about myself and our growing brand PR Racing America! I am an only child and I have no family left except my mom so its been tough to get where I am today. I moved out when I was 18 years old and have been on my own ever since so its been a journey nonetheless. Losing my father 9 years ago was tough and still is difficult for me to handle sometimes so thanks for helping me get the word out there regarding our products and brand as the RC industry is a type of family to me.
I'd also like to thank my current sponsors for their excellent support over the years, they have shown a true belief in my abilities and Im grateful to use and promote their excellent products on and off the track: PR Racing, Hobbywing, Fantom Racing, Airtronics, DE Racing, Siklidz Custom Painting and LiveRC.