TALK IT UP TUESDAY: Tyler Keel
Tuesday, May 31, 2016 04:01pm
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!
Tyler Keel may not be a championship-winning pro, the owner of an RC manufacturer or designer of some ground-breaking product - instead, this week’s Talk It Up Tuesday interview is an example of what truly makes this hobby so great. Though Tyler and I have never actually met in person, we’ve talked regularly for well over a decade; millennial generation pen pals introduced to one another via an Internet forum and a mutual love for racing RC cars, and still connected via social media, rib-jabbing sarcasm and shared jadedness. Known just as much for his red hair as his on-track success, Tyler’s a hobbyist-level RC racer in the best ways possible, giving this week’s interview column a decidedly “everyman” vibe.
Aaron Waldron: How old are you, and where are you from?
Tyler Keel: I am 29, and I am from Moore, Oklahoma - the tornado capital of the world.
He’s not kidding.
AW: How did you get into RC, and how long have you been racing?
TK: I got into RC at a young age. My dad would always get me RC cars from Radio Shack for birthdays and I drove the wheels off of them. I got into “serious” RC cars after a buddy I went to school with brought a RC Car Action magazine to school and told me he just got a Duratrax something-or-other. I took the magazine home, and picked out the one I had to have. Soon after my parents got me a Traxxas Rustler stadium truck for Christmas and I started racing at the local track in OKC. After I raced it a few weekends, a guy at another hobby shop that I frequented offered to let me race his XXXT Matt Francis Edition Stadium Truck. I took third at that weekend’s club race, got my picture put on the results page on the track website and it has spiraled out of control ever since.
AW: When did you decide to start taking racing more seriously, traveling to larger races and acquiring sponsors?
TK: I would say that I started to take racing more seriously after I won Sportsman Stock Truck at the 2003 NORRCA Nationals. After that I began to follow the “Colorado Crew” of Matt Chambers, Lars Johnson, and Chris Marsh around to all the bigger races that I could without cutting too much into my school and baseball schedule. I did well at these races and the sponsors came after that.
(Editor’s note: This isn’t the photo from that particular race. Also, Tyler ran the XXX-T setup I used at Cactus that year to score his big win. #humblebrag)
AW: What do you do for work? Is it difficult finding time to commit to practicing and racing?
TK: I currently work in the oilfield here in Oklahoma, which at the moment is quite rough. I try and race every weekend and make it to all the big events that I can, but, inevitably there are weekends where I get called out so I do the best I can. I’m very grateful to be employed so I don’t complain - much.
AW: What’s your favorite track? Favorite big event? Favorite racing class?
TK: My favorite track would have to be the Hobbyplex in Omaha, Nebraska. Favorite big event was the Cactus Classic at the old, outdoors SRS. My favorite racing class is Modified 2WD Buggy.
AW: How does the racing scene in Oklahoma differ from other places you’ve visited?
TK: I would say that the racing scene here is about the same as anywhere that our group travels; competitively speaking, our group can travel just about anywhere and compete. On the other hand, people down here in Oklahoma do take their oval racing VERY SERIOUSLY. Some of these guys put more money into an electric sprint car than I put into my nitro buggy. It’s insane, but they do look pretty sweet.
That’s Tyler in the white and orange - giving someone the wheel.
AW: What are your most proud racing moments?
TK: I think it would have to be winning Sportsman Stock Truck at the 2003 NORRCA Nationals. The race was a month or so after my grandfather had passed away and he always loved hearing about how well I was doing racing RC cars. He would make it up to the track when he could to watch and got the biggest kick out of watching me race, much like he did watching me play baseball. I still, to this day, think that I had a little extra help from him during that event. My mom was there to video, and watching the video and hearing the excitement in her voice as I won is something I’ll never forget.
This is the photo Tyler sent along with his racing resume to perspective sponsors -
back in the days before email and social media.
AW: Do you have any goals for your RC career?
TK: I would say that I’m in a pretty good place after about 15 years of racing. I am currently the Region 9 Administrator for Team Associated, which was a goal of being involved with a team in one way or another other than being a sponsored driver. It is nice being able to go to races and help out my team in any way I can and seeing them become faster and succeed. Personally, I would say I still have a goal to make a Modified A-Main at a ROAR National before I hang up the transmitter. Maybe this year in Omaha?
AW: When you’re not at the racetrack, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
TK: I still play baseball in the MSBL in OKC, even though my collegiate days are long behind me, and I enjoy it. I also spend time with my wife and my family as much as possible since I’m gone for work quite a bit. Other than that, you don’t want to see me on the sticks in Call of Duty. Haha!
Gluing tires and binge-watching Mad Men - you know, "quality time."
AW: What’s the best part of RC racing? What about RC racing annoys or bothers you?
TK: The absolute best part of RC racing is getting to sit in the pits with all your buddies that you have made over the years and talk smack. Even if you have a bad day at the track, the time in the pits with your friends usually more than makes up for it. The thing that bothers me the most about RC racing is the diluting of classes. When I started racing there was stock or mod, sportsman or expert. Now at some races there can be 3-4 different classes for 1 discipline of racing and some people stay in a class they don’t belong in way too long. I think that track owners need to have criteria in place that move people up based on a number of wins or high finishing positions over a certain amount of time. But that’s just my opinion.
AW: Who are some of the people that have helped you the most?
TK: Two of the people that have helped me the most in this hobby are David Alford and Billy Caldwell. They saw some redheaded kid down on his luck after breaking in a stock sedan B-Main on a Tuesday night and took him under their wing and showed him the ropes. I can’t thank those two enough for everything they did for me at a young age, it got me to where I am today in this hobby. Also, Aaron Waldron used to give me the insider information on tuning stock motors for off-road back in the day. (red+/green- springs, 4499 brushes) Thanks dude!
AW: Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
TK: I would like to thank anyone and everyone that has helped me out over my 15 years of racing. Especially my wife, who supports anything and everything I set my mind to. I would also like to thank all my sponsors that continually help me with the best products and support on the market today: Team Associated, Reedy, JConcepts, Sanwa, 92zero Designs, and FactoryOne RC.
Tyler’s wife got him this sweet birthday cake a few years ago. (Pun definitely intended.)