TALK IT UP TUESDAY: Taylor Petersen
Tuesday, Dec 9, 2014 01:51pm
By Aaron Waldron
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!
For the vast majority of LiveRC’s audience, RC racing is nothing more than a hobby - an escape from the stresses of the real world. For the world’s top pros, however, RC racing IS the real world. Attending a big event is like going on a business trip, and the activity that once started out as purely fun can become very serious.
I don’t remember exactly how long ago I met Taylor Petersen, the 25-year-old Dallas transplant originally from Spokane, WA, but I’ve always admired his candor and ability to maintain a sense of humor at the racetrack, even when things aren’t going his way. He’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t drive well if he’s not having fun, so you can only imagine the smile on his face when he swept the Pro classes at last weekend’s Lone Star Classic. I shot him a congratulatory message on Facebook, and ended up with this awesome Talk It Up Tuesday interview - and when I went digging through LiveRC albums and Taylor’s Facebook photos, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Aaron Waldron: How did you get started in radio control, and how long have you been racing?
Taylor Petersen: I played soccer for most of my childhood, and my pops and I were headed to the fields for another weekend game. We drove by the local outdoor track, and pulled in to check it out. After that I rode my bike to the local hobby shop and did a ton of research on what car I wanted to get, then I saved up as much money as I could working for the neighbors and such as I was only 12 years old. I gave what I had to my parents and they covered the rest, and for Christmas my Dad surprised me with the blue chassis RC10GT gas truck. The next couple of years I just drove it around the neighborhood as I was still playing soccer a lot. Then I decided to hit up Marcus Neuspeed's indoor track, entered a club race, and I have been hooked ever since!
AW: When did you decide to take racing more seriously?
TP: After the first club race we did, I continued to race the series in the gas truck class and halfway through they kicked me out of Sportsman because I was doing so well. Back then I had no clue how big racing was and that people traveled the world doing this for a living; I was just racing because I am very competitive and it was something my Dad and I did together to get out of the house. After a few years of racing some local hobby shops started to sponsor me and that’s when I found out how big the sport really was! We then started to travel around the Pacific Northwest to big races and started to get my name out there.
AW: How long did it take for you to start attracting sponsors? Who are some of the companies that you’ve raced for?
TP: Obviously my main sponsor was my Dad - we were on a budget, but he would do whatever it took to keep me on the track. He even made custom made aluminum parts for my cars that we couldn't buy at the time. I wouldn't be where I am today without his help. Local hobby shops were my first sponsors, a ton of local people helped me so much...I can't thank them all enough. But my dream at the time was to be sponsored by Team Associated, I loved racing gas truck and won with my RC10GT all the time. I made a resume and sent it to them, but never heard back from them. I was pretty disappointed at the time. I started racing a Kyosho 1/8-scale buggy and did really well with it. Kyosho eventually picked me up as a 50% driver when I was 16. I went to the Dirt Nitro Challenge with my good friend Randy Nolen, where I made the C main in Pro Buggy and the B main with a borrowed truggy. After that we went to the Indoor Gas Champs in Utah and I ended up winning both buggy and truggy, again racing with a borrowed truck against pro drivers like Gary Guest. The win impressed Kyosho so much that they sent me a truggy kit the next day. From there it pretty much took off - I eventually got on the travel team with Kyosho and put up A main results at almost every national race I attended. I graduated high school and Steve O’Donnell offered me a job to race for him full time and move to California. It was a new program and we struggled for the year but it was a great experience. I went to Mugen Seiki after that for the next four years and had a great time! Now I am with Team Losi Racing and couldn't be happier. (Editor note: Taylor also ran for XRAY in 2013.)
AW: Why have you chosen to race nitro off-road exclusively?
TP: I love motocross and supercross, and love the sound of the nitro engines! To me electric racing is boring - don't get me wrong those guys are obviously very talented! It is just something that doesn't excite me. I have a brand new B5 if anyone wants to buy it, LOL.
TP often chooses not to wear a t-shirt at the racetrack.
AW: You lived in the Pacific Northwest before moving down to Texas - and while both regions are stacked full of fast racers, neither are as well-known for producing champions as Southern California. Do you think living outside of RC’s “hot bed” is a benefit or a drawback?
TP: It's 100% a drawback. We only had an outdoor track that was open six months out of the year, so I literally didn't pick up a radio during the winter months and just showed up the the Nitro Challenge cold turkey, I believe that’s why I was never really known as a good qualifier or or had a chance to TQ big races, because it would take me until the end of the weekend to get to the race pace and then I would be on it - if my cars would stay together that is. That was always another problem: when you don't drive every weekend, its tough to keep the mechanical issues to a minimum. Now that I live in Dallas we have and indoor nitro track here, so I can drive year round. That’s what helped me do better last weekend, as I was able to practice a couple times a week.
AW: Because RC isn’t your full-time gig, do you think you’re at a disadvantage when racing at national-level events against those who race for a living?
TP: When those guys do this for a living, they basically live at the track - so yeah, I go to every race as the underdog. The biggest thing for me is to be mentally tough, because i know I have the talent to compete against those guys, but always showed up to the race chasing my tail end so I had to over come that every weekend. After the failed relationship working with O’Donnell I learned really fast that the only way to make RC racing a career was to get a job with a manufacturer that will allow you to race as well, which is very difficult to do if you want to make a decent living. I started working construction with Randy Nolen, and he took me under his wing and taught me everything he knows. I was able to make a good living and race as much as possible. Now I am in Dallas with a wonderful sales job that James Green was kind enough to offer me and am still able to race, so things are going well and I’m happy with the decisions I have made in the past.
AW: At the ROAR Nationals this year, you told me after a particularly solid qualifying run that you had your best luck on the track after going out and partying for the night. While you certainly focus while you’re on the track, you’re well known for at least looking like you’re having more fun at the track than many other “pro” level drivers. How are you able to maintain that mindset? Do you think it helps you drive your best?
TP: You can think Dylan Julian (my long-time mechanic) for that. Every time we would go to a race and would take things too seriously I wouldn't do as well, so he taught me not to take it so seriously and have a good time. Every time we did that I would put down some good runs! I’ve made some money racing, but I don't rely on that to pay my bills like the other guys, so obviously I will be a little more upbeat and stress free. I guess you could say I have the best of both worlds: a good day job, and then when I go to a race it’s more like a vacation versus a full-time job. Don't get me wrong - racing full-time would be a blast if you made enough money and didn't have to worry what you will do in the real world after you’re done racing. I also snagged a few trophy girls in my day, so even when I didn't win I still won, LOL.
Sorry, trophy girls - this playboy is happily taken.
AW: In your opinion, how healthy is the industry right now? Do you think that RC racing is heading in the right or wrong direction? Why?
TP: It looks like electric racing is really taking off, while nitro racing seems to be steady but not growing. Besides LiveRC coming along and broadcasting the races, which was huge, racing has been pretty much the same since I have started so I don't think it has gone in any direction. The only race I can think of that truly went outside the box was the Manufacturers Cup in Couer d’Alene, ID that was put on by the Matty Matt show (Matt Afana), Rick McCrery and Gary Guest. They held the race in an outdoor stadium on the fairgrounds, advertised on the radio for months prior, put up a brand new dirt bike for the pro class winner and a one-year factory deal to the sportsman winner for whatever chassis they were using. They had exact times when the mains would be run so they could put on a show for the crowd, which happen to be upwards of 5,000 people in the stands (completely sold out). They threw out product into the crowd, we did parade laps and had 30 sec girls on the start stretch. The other cool thing they had was spectator pamphlets with driver info on them, and an autograph signing for the local racers to get to meet the pros! This race cost them money to put on and I believe they broke even each year, but the exposure they got from the race was huge! Sales in the hobby shop went through the roof the next few weeks and a ton of people found out about our sport. If more people were willing to put on events like this, or at least try new things, instead of getting as many entries as possible to make a profit… If the races keep getting held in locations in the middle of nowhere with no exposure than I don't really see nitro off-road growing in the future.
AW: How do you feel about the way that many sponsored drivers have begun flooding social media with posts related to racing and their sponsors?
TP: I think it is almost a requirement by their sponsors now. That aspect of racing has changed a lot since I have started. Like I stated above, I was winning around the PNW and was quite a well behaved teenager - believe it or not - and AE would not sponsor me. Now if you race one club race and send a resume in you will get a 50% deal just like that. To see all these posts about sponsorships all the time is kind of funny, but it is what it is.
Yup, that's Taylor turn-marshaling with no shirt on.
AW: What are some of the races in your career are you most proud of? Where does last weekend’s double win at the Lone Star Classic rank?
TP: The Indoor Gas championships in Utah was my first out-of-state win with other factory drivers in attendance, and that’s what kind of got my name out there. After that would have to be 1/8-Scale World Championships in Argentina; I hadn't raced a big race for five months prior to the race and received my prototype buggy two weeks before the race with no track to test it on. I showed up as the underdog and qualified directly into the semi, and bumped into the final where I ran in top five for 55 minutes until my electronics went out. Making the truggy podium at Silver State was a good one, and winning Motorama a couple times ranks up there as well. This last weekend is also high up on the list, mainly because I had only made one main event this year, at the Dirt Nitro Challenge. I had switched cars and didn't make either main at the ROAR Nationals, and I was unable to attend IFMAR Worlds in Italy due to them extending the race an extra 5 days. I think most people thought that I was done and wouldn't really make any noise again, but after finally getting settled in here at my new home and not working all the time (the new guy always works a lot the first year). I am able to put the effort towards racing and am more motivated to do well than ever.
AW: When you’re not at the racetrack, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
TP: I have always loved motocross. I have a bike sitting in the garage collecting dust because I have no one to ride with here in Dallas. I also just started playing golf last June, and I am hooked! Any chance I get I am at the range or playing 18 holes - it’s just another game where you have to be mentally tough and have no one to blame but yourself if you don't do well.
Taylor and Rick McCrery share a special relationship.
AW: What’s your favorite part of RC racing?
TP: The feeling you get after you do well, and traveling to different places with great friends and family.
AW: What about RC racing annoys or bothers you?
TP: I would have to say the biggest thing for me is when you finally reach the elite level of racing, and companies that you race for string you along and promise things that they never really plan on doing. They just need to be more straight forward and tell it how it is so you don't get your hopes up and feel let down.
Yup...that's topless Taylor again.
AW: Do you have any big RC career goals?
TP: I want to be in the final come 2016 worlds fighting for that podium!