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!
I started racing RC cars just a couple of years after PROTOform began producing Lexan Bodies for RC cars, and by that time they were already a household name among hobbyists. Oval racing was huge in that era, and then Touring Car racing exploded – at that time, scale appearance was still just as important as performance. PROTOform became an overwhelming force almost overnight, a pattern of domination that continues to this day. With few exceptions, it’s not uncommon to see the entire A-Main at even the largest international races topped exclusively by PROTOform.
Even though PROTOform’s founder, Dale Epp, lived in Canada, I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times over the years – but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned Dale had a son, Eric, that was my age. That’s because last year, Eric and his family moved to California to work for his father’s business, which had long since become a subsidiary of one of the largest aftermarket accessory brands in the industry, and now I had a new buddy at the track with whom to discuss two of our favorite non-RC hobbies – baseball and beer. This week’s Talk It Up Tuesday is an opportunity for Eric to tell his story:
Aaron Waldron: How were you and your father introduced to RC racing? How long after discovering hobby-grade RC cars did your father decide to start PROTOform?
Eric Epp: My dad was getting burnt out working at General Motors and decided it was time for a career change. The first time he picked up an RC Car Action magazine, he saw pictures of a huge RC Oval race down in Florida. A combination of being a lifelong car guy and motorsports fan, along with being very skilled with his hands and having an eye for style, led him to start PROTOform in 1992.
AW: Did he see immediately RC as a potential career move, or was it a dream born of a new hobby?
EE: He started out very humbly, learning as he went and facing a ton of opposition from the established RC brands. Being a 1-man show for a few years definitely was tough, but after winning some big races and opening eyes around the industry, he knew he could stick it out. The big decision to sell PROTOform to Pro-Line in 1995 opened up a lot more time to focus on just pumping out great new body designs. I don’t think he ever could have foreseen PROTOform becoming as successful as it has, but God has really blessed him and our family.
Twenty three years later, he still gets just as pumped when our drivers win an ETS or IIC main event as he did in when Mike Boylan was winning Oval races in the early 90s.
AW: How old were you when you got your first RC car?
EE: I think I was about 6 years old. It was an F1 car with foam tires, made by Yokomo I think, that I used to chase around my kitchen on the linoleum tile! Funny that it’s come full circle and F1 is a class I love to race now.
AW: How much did your father help inspire your own creativity for graphic design?
EE: My dad has definitely passed down a ton of knowledge about both automotive style and aerodynamics. I have a ton more to learn, though!
AW: Was RC ever part of your own career goals when growing up? Did you know that it was in your future, or was it more of a back-up plan?
EE: I’d be lying if I said that was the plan growing up. I always figured I’d end up a graphic designer in Toronto, where I attended college and lived for four years. In 2012, my dad and Todd (Mattson) at Pro-Line rocked my world and offered me a job with PROTOform.
AW: What are your responsibilities at PROTOform?
EE: Depends which day you ask! (laughs) Besides designing decals, merchandise and website/social stuff for PF, I also manage our team of drivers around the world. This allows me to travel to a bunch of races each year to support them and represent our brand, as well as racing myself to help develop and test new products. Along the way, I’ve also picked up some 3D CAD skills which have allowed us to expand the PROTOform product line past just bodies, creating more tools and accessories. Lastly, I help make the logistics of having my dad design the bodies in Canada, then getting them launched and into production down here in California, go as smoothly as possible.
AW: What do you like most about living in California? What about Canada do you miss most?
EE: Where do I start? The weather, the beaches, In-N-Out burger, the weather, the 3 baseball stadiums close by, the multitude of RC tracks, and did I mention the weather? Seriously though – working in-house at Pro-Line/PROTOform has been so awesome, I can’t imagine ever wanting to move back to Canada. I truly enjoy going to work every day and my family loves it here. We definitely miss our close family and friends back home, though. That’s the hardest part, by far.
AW: How does the RC racing scene in Canada compare and contrast to that of Southern California? What are the biggest differences?
EE: The R/C racing scene in Canada is certainly different, mostly due to the weather. In the snowy winter (which can last 5-6 months) it’s indoor carpet on-road, which is very strong in certain regions like Western Canada (BC/Alberta), Southern Ontario, and Quebec. The Canadian On-Road Nationals are held each year inside a shopping mall in Welland, ON and attract 300+ entries.
AW: Do you get to race more or less often now?
EE: A ton more! Back home there is a strong carpet on-road club, but it’s a temporary track that is only available to run on Sundays. Here, I have 5 permanent on-road tracks within a two-hour drive (not to mention about a dozen offroad tracks).
AW: What’s your favorite racing class?
EE: Lately I’ve really been digging USGT, which uses 17.5T touring cars (or 21.5T in some parts of the country) decked out with scale GT-style bodies – and spoked wheels are mandatory. The class has got the speed of touring car, but with the badass looks of Camaros, Cadillacs, McLarens, Audis and BMWs.
AW: What’s the best part of working in the RC industry? What’s the worst?
EE: Without question, the best part is getting to travel and meet so many cool people from around the globe who all share the same passion for racing toy cars. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives, but a couple things that grind my gears are the bureaucracy of sanctioning bodies and licensing agencies, and companies that blatantly copy our designs.
AW: Can you pick out a project that PROTOform has completed in your tenure that you’re most proud of?
EE: The F1 body projects that we released last year were a ton of fun and ones we’re very proud of. It’s another class where looks are king, but speed is also important and I feel our two bodies really nailed it. Having Dave Ehrlich win IIC last year in our body’s first big race was really special, and then our first ETS win last week with Olivier Bultnyck I think really cemented our place in that class.
AW: When you’re not at the office or racetrack, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
EE: I love spending time with the two beautiful girls in my life, my wife Danie and daughter Summer (soon to be joined by a little dude in October, the 3rd generation of the PROTOform dynasty!). I’m also a diehard Toronto Blue Jays fan (thank goodness for MLB.tv) and a connoisseur of craft beer.
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?
EE: Working at Pro-Line’s headquarters gives me a unique opportunity to see every sector of the RC industry: on-road racing, off-road racing, bashing, rock crawling, etc. I think every sector has their ups and downs, but as long as everyone in the industry focuses on the one main thing that hooks people into RC, no matter if you’re at the track or in your backyard — having fun with your buddies — we’ll keep heading in the right direction.
AW: Thank you so much for the interview!
EE: Thanks for the opportunity, Aaron!