TALK IT UP TUESDAY: Charles Hicks
Tuesday, Apr 4, 2017 07:53pm
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!
Charles Hicks was among an incredible number of drivers who made major changes over the offseason, switching to Team Associated after a decade with Horizon Hobby and Team Losi Racing. The move paid off immediately, with the Expert Nitro Buggy win at the Dirt Nitro Challenge - in his home state of Arizona. Though I had known “Chuck” for many years of seeing him at racetracks across the southwestern U.S., I was excited to learn more about him as a racer and person - and then share that insight with LiveRC’s audience for this week’s Talk It Up Tuesday.
Aaron Waldron: How old are you, and where are you from?
Charles Hicks: I just recently turned 32 and I am from Tucson, Arizona
AW: How did you get into RC, and how long have you been racing?
CH: I started racing back in 1995, when I was 10 years old. My uncle had moved back to Tucson and he got a job at the local hobby shop. One day, he asked if I wanted to watch some of the racing that they did at his job. My parents took me down to the Hobbytown USA where he worked and watched some of the local fast guys racing it up. He let me drive his new RC10 that he just put together around the oval during intermission that night and I was hooked from there! I went down there as much as I could after that. After about a month I did my first club race.
AW: When did you decide to start taking racing more seriously, traveling to larger races and acquiring sponsors?
CH: I started to take racing more seriously a year or so after I got back into the hobby after taking a break for school - so it was probably around 2005-06 when I really wanted to get faster and go to as many races as I could. I was fortunate to be a little over an hour away from the outdoor SRS so that was my first "out of town" trip. When I was there, some of the local fast guys that I remembered from before I took my break were now sponsored - like Richard Lake, Billy Caley, Brent Thielke and Ryan Maifield. And since I was going as fast as they where, I thought to myself, "I can do that, too.”
AW: What do you do for work? Is it difficult finding time to commit to practicing and racing?
CH: I am a site manager for a medical supply company called Eye Care and Cure. We specialize in products for eye doctors. I'm in charge of our shipping warehouse in Tucson, and we also have a second location in West Chicago - so sometimes I need to visit that facility as well. It can be difficult at times to get to the track to practice, but I usually never miss a club race so that's when I try to make the most of my time to practice and try new things. It’s not the ideal situation for testing and such, but I've been able to make it work. It also helps that the local track is only about 5 minutes from my house, so I have that going for me. I am also very lucky to have a wife that supports me and my racing. She is amazing and understands the racer mindset/lifestyle - if you can call it that. Sometimes, she even has to kick me out of the house to get me to go to the track because she understands the time and effort it takes to be at a certain level. I do make sure to make time for her also, so it’s definitely a balancing act.
AW: What’s your favorite track? Favorite big event? Favorite racing class?
CH: My favorite track? That's a hard one. There are so many great ones around me it’s hard to choose. RC Tracks of Las Vegas is such an amazing facility and I love the character the track builds over an event - it always keeps you on your toes. Fear Farm in Phoenix is always a good time. Those are probably my favorite two 1/8-scale tracks, for sure, but Thunder Alley and the Pro-Line Racing test track are a bunch of fun as well. I always have a good time when I get the chance to head out to ARCOR in Albuquerque to run some 1/10-scale. I really miss the old outdoor SRS, though. I have so many memories from there, and that's probably my favorite 1/10-scale track. Hopefully, the newly opened Hobby Action will have the same sort of memories made there.
My favorite big event hands down would be the Dirt Nitro Challenge. It’s such a grueling week and the competition is always so high, but at the same time, after racing, it’s super chill. People have fires going, food grilling and just a great time hanging out with friends and playing with toy cars. It’s the best of both worlds in my opinion. Great competition and great atmosphere.
Favorite racing class is without a doubt 1/8-scale nitro buggy. It requires all aspects of your program to be on point to be fast. You have to be able to wrench, tune the engine/clutch, and be on your tire game, on top of driving well to be up towards that top. That’s not that electric racing doesn't emphasize all of those things as well, but nitro just takes it to another level and that's what I love about it.
AW: Can you explain the decision to switch from TLR to Team Associated over the offseason? How much of a change was it after so long with the same team?
CH: First off, I would like to thank Todd Hodge, Kevin Gahan, and everyone at TLR for all of their help and support over the years. Without all of them I would not be where I am today. The decision to switch to Team Associated from TLR was that I simply felt like it was time for a change. I just felt like I was stagnant in my racing career and in my progress as a racer. I was slowly losing interest in racing all together. I figured a new challenge would help rekindle my fire for racing, and it has. I wish TLR nothing but success in the future and will continue to root for them and my friends at the races. It was a big change in some aspects and not so much in others. Being with the same team for so long, you get used to how things operate and then, when the new team does the same thing in a different way, it takes a little getting used to. But as the saying goes, “change is good.” The change in the cars I would have to say is the biggest thing, learning how to work on them and finding out what works and what doesn't. But its been great working with Brent, Richard and Dyno helping me get up to speed with the new cars. I can't thank them enough.
AW: What was it like transitioning from the C-hub 8IGHT platform to the pillow-ball RC8B3? Also, have you had a chance to race many of the other Team Associated vehicles?
CH: It’s been a little bit of a learning curve transitioning from the C-hub 8IGHT to the pillow-ball RC8B3, but that's what I was looking for in the off-season - something different. I think the pillow-ball fits my driving style better. I really like how it reacts to steering input and it never seems to overreact. Everything feels like it’s one fluid motion. It also handles the rough sections of the track better then the C-hub, in my opinion. I always felt like I had to be up on the wheel with the C-hub as compared to the pillow-ball, where everything reacts more fluidly. It has really allowed me to focus on my lines more and just driving without having to worry if I'm over- or under-driving the car, giving too much steering input ornot enough input, applying too much throttle or not enough throttle. I felt like I was always waiting to catch the c-hub car, versus just driving the track with the pillow-ball car.
The only other Team Associated vehicle that I have had time to race is my B6. There aren’t a whole lot of other classes to race on a regular basis here locally - it’s pretty much 1/8-scale buggy or modified 2WD buggy. The B6 is an amazing car. The thought and purpose that have gone into it really amazes me. It’s also been great to have such a great regional team here in Arizona to bounce ideas off of and help to make everyone faster with their B6's. I am looking forward to getting a B64 here soon and race it up in 4WD modified buggy.
AW: What are your most proud racing moments? How does winning the Dirt Nitro Challenge stack up against your other favorite career highlights?
CH: My proudest racing moment was winning the Dirt Nitro Challenge. I have put so much time and effort into that race over the years and to see it finally pay off was just indescribable. It was great having my good friend, Casey Peck, next to me helping me keep calm during the main. I have never been so relaxed while leading a main event. And as silly as it may seem, finishing in the top 100 at the Worlds in Vegas was another big accomplishment. I told myself that I could finish inside the top 100 and that was my goal going into that race. Some people thought I had a good shot at finishing higher, but I would have been just happy with that. I struggled in qualifying all week but was able to pull out a 96th-place finish by the time the dust settled, after bumping a couple times. I was really proud of myself on how I was able to grind out my goal. My other two most proud racing moments would be winning 2WD Modified Buggy at the Tumbleweed Classic one year and the ROAR regionals another - both coincidentally in Albuquerque. Chris Wheeler and I had a great battle and it went down to the final minute in the final main at Tumbleweed. It was so epic I didn't care who won. Winning the ROAR regionals was a proud moment for me because that was the first race where I TQ'd and won the race. I was also the only TLR car in the main, if I remember correctly, so it felt pretty good to be the lone wolf so to speak and come out on top.
AW: Do you have any goals for your RC career?
CH: I've always had the goal since I was a little boy - to be a national or world champion, but that time has passed. My goals now are to continue to grow as a racer to be the best that I can be, and help the new up-and-coming racers achieve their goals. I want to help the average racer improve their lap times. There really isn't anything that matches the feeling you get when a novice or sportsman driver comes up to you after you have helped them and they tell you they just set their personal best lap or run. I still think making an A-main at a Nationals is a manageable goal, and hopefully one day I can turn this hobby that I love so much into a career - although I know it’s not going to be as a driver!
AW: When you’re not at the racetrack, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
CH: When I'm not at the racetrack I bowl in a league with my dad and my sister. My mom helps run part of the league, and my father-in-law actually bowls in that same league as well. Other than that, I just spend time with my wife, Rachael.
AW: What’s the best part of RC racing? What is the worst part?
CH: There are so many good parts of RC racing: racing wheel to wheel with your buddies, traveling to new places, seeing new tracks and meeting new people, I think all of those are great. The worst part, for me, is the packing and making sure you have everything for a big race. Usually, the week up to the race is very hectic making sure I have everything packed, making sure everything is good at work before I leave, and then leaving everyone for a long weekend or week. That's the most stressful part, but you got to take the good with the bad.
AW: Who are some of the people that have helped you the most?
CH: Some of the people who have helped me the most would have to be Casey Peck, Billy Fischer, Todd Hodge, Daniel Adams, and Dan Hissam. If I forgot anyone else - and I’m sure that I have - I'm sorry. Thank you to everyone that has helped me get to this point in my RC career and everyone that continues to help.
AW: Thank you for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CH: Thank you Aaron for interviewing me. I would like to thank my sponsors: Team Associated, Reedy, Pro-Line Racing, and Maxline R/C Accessories for their support because without them I wouldn't be able to be at the level of racing that I am at today. Thank you to my wife, Rachael, for always supporting me. Let's keep this hobby of RC racing fun!