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After a last minute entry at the Dirt Nitro Challenge last week running Mugen’s buggy & truck, what seemed inevitable is now official: Adam Drake joins Mugen Seiki Racing!

Mugen Seiki Racing is excited to announce that the RC legend Adam Drake will be joining the team. Adam brings 20 plus years of racing experience to Mugen and will put it to work as a full time employee. Racing will be top priority but also Adam will work in race promotion/team management, research and new product development. Adam will race all Mugens off road vehicles and will compete in club, regional, national and world championship events around the globe.

I am very excited to be given the opportunity to be part of Mugen Seiki Racing as an employee and team driver. I am really looking forward to putting my knowledge and experience to good use with such an amazing company. I would like to especially thank Kris Moore and Tim Long for the support and for believing in me” – Adam Drake

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We must confess that we were tipped off about the Drake’s move just in time and sent ‘our man in Havana‘ (Stephen Bess in SoCal) for an Exclusive interview!

All this because someone owed The Drake lunch…

by Stephen Bess

We haven’t witnessed the type of internet buzz created by Adam Drake’s departure from TLR in…well, have we ever witnessed so many people talking about a driver switching teams? Upon Adam’s departure from Horizon/Team Losi, the forums and Facebook were ablaze with rumors, speculation and assumptions round the clock. After showing up at the Dirt Nitro Challenge with Drakeified versions of every 1:8-scale vehicle Mugen offers, the assumptions became even more grand. 

In this exclusive interview, we catch up with Adam Drake between practice sessions at Revelation Raceway in Southern California to discuss his decision to commit full time to Mugen Seiki Racing, his employment there, and the reasons why he feels Mugen is the right fit.

Read the interview here…

 

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NeoBuggy: So the question everyone is asking – what is your involvement with Mugen Seiki, and where did this partnership come from?

Adam Drake: I am now employed by Mugen Seiki, and will be working for them and racing for them. Where it came from; it’s kinda funny. I got a message out of the blue from (Mugen Racing USA president) Kris Moore basically saying that he owed me lunch or I owed him lunch. I went and met with Kris and Tim (Long), and discussed some possibilities regarding what I was looking for, what they were looking for, and I told them first and foremost that I wanted to test the product and make sure I’m happy and comfortable with it before I made any decisions.

I built a buggy and a truggy, went racing at Revelation and then Heritage in Chula Vista, and at that point the Nitro Challenge was still up in the air. I was trying other cars at that time too, to see what opportunities were out there. The Mugen cars felt great at both tracks, and Kris asked me if I would race their car at the DNC.

I was a little leery at first because I’m huge on preparation, just because I didn’t want to go to the biggest race of the year with only 2-days of track time, but they were super cool about it. They said just go for it and see how you mesh with the team, no strings attached. So that’s how it all came together.

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NB: So the other burning question people are asking—what happened at TLR?

AD: This is probably a question that’s best suited for both myself and TLR; there are always two sides to every story. My take on the situation was that Horizon decided to restructure the department I worked in, and along with that, my position was eliminated. In other words, I was let go. It was a surprise to me.

At the end of the day, I’m super thankful for all the years I had at TLR, but at the same time I’m super excited and grateful for the future. My new situation is refreshing and exciting. It’s nice to work for such a close-knit company. I feel like I should just leave it at that.

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NB: Fair enough. What will your relationship be like with Mugen Japan, considering you’re an American driver and Japanese-based companies of all kinds (R/C or otherwise) are known for doing what they want without a lot of input from the USA? Do you have a relationship with (Mugen designer) Koji Sanada or is that something you plan to build?

AD: It’s a relationship that needs to be built, and Japan always has the final say on product design, but they’re also willing to see what I can bring to the table…how I can mesh with them, and hopefully make the product better. There’s so much for me to get used to at first, I think I will be able to learn a lot about setting up and tuning the cars first.

I’m not looking at it as though, “I’m going to Mugen, so I’m gonna see if they can switch it from pillow ball suspension to C-hub (laughs). They obviously have a very solid foundation and have won multiple IFMAR World Championships, but I think in the US, it has been a long time since they’ve had a top level lead driver who can help with set-ups and tuning, so I think there’s a huge opportunity there. It will take time for us to build a relationship and that trust in one another.

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NB: So what IS your role at Mugen Racing, and do you have a title? Will you be in the office?

AD: It’s full time employment for me at Mugen Seiki Racing, and I will be in the office, but I will also spend a lot of days at the track testing, developing, helping out at the races…helping on the marketing side, social media, tech tips…you know, all of the things I’m kinda known for that I’ve done in the past. My main role will be to help Tim support the team, and helping the team get up to speed from a testing and development standpoint for anything that’s new. A big portion of that will be focusing on racing as well.

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NB: Were there any “late players” in the game, when it came time for you to make your decision? We had heard rumors about SOAR, SWORKz and several other brands; was Mugen the company all along, or were there others that you were seriously considering?

AD: Absolutely, I talked with a lot of different companies.  There were a lot of very unique and exciting opportunities, but along with that, there were also a lot of unknowns with those opportunities.  For me, I love driving the Mugen cars, and I have a long relationship with Kris Moore, Robbie Collins and Tim Long.

Meeting with them and seeing how things work is what sold me; it’s not only the product I believe in, but it’s the people I trust and believe in. There were more unknowns with the other opportunities I had. With Mugen, it felt more like home.

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NB: Was there a specific moment when you knew, this is a done deal—I’m going with Mugen?

AD: It would probably be when I was on my drive home from Nitro Challenge, I had 5-hours to sit there and reflect on everything. It has been a total whirlwind, but driving home from Nitro Challenge allowed me to debrief and unwind, and reflect on everything that went on there.

I had a lot of fun at that race, and pitting with Barry and Bobby Pettit was great. Not that there weren’t other companies that were great, but there were lots of questions and unknowns with each of them. Tim, Robbie and Kris welcomed me with open arms, and it was just easy. I have a relationship with them. I asked direct questions and got direct answers.

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NB: How does it feel to go from an enormous team at TLR that barely fits under two gigantic canopies at the races to essentially a handful of guys at Mugen?

AD: Well first off I think that the size of the team is going to change. It’s definitely different going from TLR/Horizon with a huge team at the races, but with Mugen we will see the team grow and I think there will be plenty of people who want to migrate over to Mugen based upon what we have planned for the team.  People want to feel like they’re a part of something, and now having a top driver that is also willing to help everyone, I think the Mugen team will grow because of that.

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NB: That brings up an interesting point; how much can Mugen grow, when they essentially only make 4 off-road cars, total?  Hasn’t Mugen remained a small team because they are a solid but relatively small company?

AD: That’s tough for me to say because the company is so new to me, but I do think that Mugen Seiki is a much larger company than some people realize. They are very efficient. Their focus is on racing. They don’t have RTR’s, so they don’t have a huge staff, but for them it’s about their race cars—nitro buggy, nitro truggy, E-Buggy, E-truggy, all of their on-road cars…they don’t have as big of a lineup as some other companies, but they are able to put a lot of time and focus into the products they do have. Mugen makes vehicles for all of the classes that matter at a race like the Nitro Challenge, it’s not like they’re missing a relevant platform in 1/8-scale.

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NB:  So what is the growth potential for Mugen?

AD: With the quality of the product and the people they have in America and globally, I believe there’s potential for a lot of growth. Again, being able to provide customers and the team with more information that can help them learn the product, I think more people will gravitate towards that. Customers want to be proud of what they’ve got, and in order to do that, they need information to make it work properly.

For me to be able to provide more information to the customers and team, and that info will go to the shops and dealers, I think people will be even more proud to be a part of Mugen Seiki and they will want to support it.

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NB: So is the growth purely tied to race results, or the overall branding?

AD: Big race results are important, but when I go to these huge regional races like the AMS, Psycho Nitro Blast, etc where there may be 500-600 entries, and they’re almost all regional-level racers, Mugen has always had such a strong following even without having a “top guy” who just won the ROAR Nats or some other huge race.

I think that shows that people love the quality of Mugen products and they love the way the cars drive. Now with the additional resources and additional support for those customers, I think there’s a tremendous amount of growth potential.

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NB: Do you have a 5-year plan with Mugen, and with racing in general? You travel across the country a huge amount; will that continue?

AD: I’d say at least for the next 3-4 years I plan to keep the same pace and travel just as much. I’m fortunate with (my wife) Ronda, she’s into RC just as much as I am. She knows how much I enjoy racing and how I have a passion for it, and for now we don’t have kids, so my plan is to continue to be very focused on racing. I think I have a lot of years left, especially with my new resources at Mugen.

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Adam’s wife Ronda & their dog, Harry!

All along my primary focus has never been solely on my personal race results; to me the value in racing is tremendous. By attending the races, we learn so, so much from our customers, from our competitors, and even from ourselves about our own product. So by going to a large amount of races, I get to see what other companies are doing good and bad, what our company is doing well and poorly, and then you’re able to take that feedback and channel it into making the best products possible.

So I think even if my own personal racing focus slows down, I will still want to attend races, whether my results are what I want them to be or not—there’s still a huge value in attending those races and relaying that information throughout the company.

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NB: You spent a long time at Horizon, so now that you have a new perspective with a different company, how do you think R/C has changed over the last 5-10 years?

AD: The industry has changed a lot. There’s just so much competition now; in electric it used to be Associated vs Losi, and in 1/8-scale it was Kyosho vs Mugen. Now there is so much competition, whether it’s race cars or RTRs. Mugen has always been steady, and their focus has always been on racing, whether it’s 1/8-scale on-road or offroad.

The industry has changed a lot; it’s more difficult now due to the competition, but that’s where it’s so valuable to understand who your customers are, and what their wants and needs are. Supporting races and regional events—that’s where your customers are. It’s awesome going to the Nitro Challenge or the Nats, but the majority of those guys are pros. Pros say everything is great. We get real feedback from the grassroots races; guys will flat out tell us, “this is good, this is bad.” That’s invaluable.

NB: We are looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings for you and Mugen; thank you for this interview and for being so open about your new situation.

AD: No problem, thank you!

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Interview & text: Stephen Bess | Photos: Mugen Seiki Racing & NeoBuggy.net 

Special thanks to Adam Drake for the interview