Racer Profile: TLR’s Frank Root
Sponsors: TLR, Horizon Hobby, JConcepts, Team Orion, Spektrum, Bradley Fine Line Designs, StickIt1 Graphics, LiveRC.com, Pacific Coast Hobbies
A lot of us love the speed, exhilaration, and technical side of RC, but we don’t realize what it takes to bring a vehicle like the TLR 22 buggy platform to market. For most of us, RC is a mere hobby we get to play with when our nine-to-five day ends. However, there are some that have taken their love for RC and have actually turned their passion into a career. I’m not talking about the professional drivers, but the employees at the companies who get to see the process of turning ideas into reality. One of those people is TLR’s Frank Root. Working in-house as one of TLR’s senior product developers, he gets to see some of the most successful racing vehicles make the journey from napkin sketches to production vehicles. We got a chance to sit down with Frank to get the inside scoop and see what a dream job like this entails. Check it out.
RC Car Action: Let’s start with the basics; what’s your title and your official position on projects?
Frank Root: I’m a Senior Product Developer for TLR. I pretty much do all of the 22 line of vehicle projects now. I did the 22 2.0, 22T 2.0, short-course 22 2.0, 22 3.0 and now the 22 4.0 buggy and pretty much everything going forward. There’s an engineer that works with the car, myself, and the race team to define and test the prototype geometry. Todd Hodge is the Category Manager that oversees everything TLR, and he is involved with the decisions and thought processes. It’s really a team effort. A big, big part of it, I’d say, is the race team itself. We really rely on Dakotah Phend, and now JR Mitch, Tanner Denney, Kevin Motter, Jake Thayer, Ryan Dunford—a lot of guys who test parts, test geometry. The more voices you have, the better. If that many guys say something is good, it’s way better than having one guy saying there’s something good.
When did you first get involved with RC?
My dad actually did a bit of racing when I was really young, and I remember going to the track and scraping mud off his tires and stuff. For Christmas when I was 10, I got my first car: the RC10 World’s kit. I started driving in my backyard on a handmade track, and the rest is history.
How did you get your position at TLR?
I joined the Team Losi race team as a racer at the start of 2010. We were meeting up at the office to drive out to the Nitro Challenge, and I grabbed a quick chat with Bill Jeric, who was with Horizon Hobby at the time, and mentioned I was looking for a career opportunity. Next thing I know, a quick interview with him and another with Horizon’s surface-category director, and I was working there a month later.
Have your position and responsibilities changed over time?
Quite a bit actually. I started as a Product Developer (PD) working on electronics for Losi and the Xcelorin brand. We did some cool stuff, including the idea and release of the first “shorty” LiPo battery pack. With Horizon Hobbies pairing up with Orion and the Xcelorin brand phasing out, I moved over to being a PD for Losi RTR vehicles. About a year later, I was lucky to move over to the TLR brand. In this role, I get to focus my efforts on our racing vehicles—the projects I am the most passionate about. I am now a Senior Product Developer, and I develop all of the 1/10-scale electric vehicles, including the 22 lineup and the SCTE platform and all of their respective option parts, working on up to eight to ten projects at any given time.
Is being a racer important to your position?
I think it is. The development of the geometry doesn’t always originate from my position nor does it need to. But I have to be able to understand the chassis and be able to communicate with the team drivers and consumers as someone who understands RC racing culture, geometry, and what is takes to win.
What’s your favorite class to race?
I know the popular answer is 2WD mod buggy. But whenever I’ve had a really competitive 4WD, then 4WD mod buggy is my favorite. I love being able to just push right to the limit, and I always feel like the limit is even higher with a 4WD mod buggy.
What’s a typical day at TLR look like for you?
Being a product developer, every day is different [laughs]. Some days I wrench on prototype stuff, some days I get to test or attend a race event, and some days are full of meetings. But most days I spend closely attached to my computer, working on emails, spreadsheets, and communication with vendors, dealers, team drivers, and our internal team at Horizon Hobby to keep the projects moving forward.
What you actually do is probably a lot different than what people think. What is the most common misconception people have of your job?
That one is easy! Everyone thinks I play with RC cars all the time [laughs]. Actually, I might spend 10 percent of all my days either wrenching or at the track. The other 90 percent of my days are spent performing the responsibilities of a product developer, which aren’t much different from a PD in any other industry: meetings, e-mails, spreadsheets, marketing materials, POs, etc. Don’t get me wrong, though—I love it! I feel like being a PD is just the right position for me, and being able to work on products that I am passionate about has me excited for work each day.
What’s your favorite part of your job? Worst part?
Best: attending race events as part of work and seeing/hearing about consumers who enjoy the products.
Worst: test days when you feel like you don’t move forward or results are unclear, and anytime we have a product part issue.
You’ve been involved with exciting racing vehicles, including the new 22 versions. It seems as if a buggy like that had a good amount of time in development. When you started the project, what was the main goal?
Pretty much every project we have, we start off with two goals: make it faster and make it easier to drive. Every vehicle and every new version, those are the two goals. With this new 22 4.0, we took a look at the market and the way racing is for the class and decided we didn’t need to worry about rear motor anymore, and that unlocked a lot of things in our car because our 1.0 and 2.0 versions were heavily designed as a rear-motor priority. Mid-motor was an option, and in Europe where they race a lot of carpet, you see a lot of laydown transmissions that have the motor further forward, and that’s where our motor was. So when we decided we didn’t need to design around a rear-motor configuration, we could concentrate on mid-motor and that’s why our placement is now much further back in the car.
There’s a lot that goes into developing a race vehicle like the TLR 22 platform. Trends come and go, and modern racing is evolving faster than the time it takes for most products to be brought to market. Frank Root is one of those guys who helps brings dreams to market. It’s a lot of work, passion, and applied skill, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
Pro Tip #1
Always wash and sauce your tires the same
Pro Tip #2
Always check your ride height and slipper at lest every other run to make sure its consistent.
Pro Tip #3
Make sure your springs and oil doesn’t get too exaggerated. Don’t go too thick with oil or too heavily sprung.
Pro Tip #4
Always check with the fast guys at a track to make sure you are running the best tires.
Pro Tip #5
Always perform quality practice.