Joel Johnson Retires from R/C Racing

Perhaps the most prolific RC car racer of all time has decided to call it quits from racing in the "Big Leagues". For almost 3 decades, he was the man to beat in the ultra-competitive world of RC car racing. His accomplishments cover continents as well as victories over the best drivers in the world. Since the announcement of his retirement, Joel Johnson has graciously granted an interview so his fans can read why he has decided to retire from active competition and what the future holds for this RC car "Racer of the Century".
Masters of RC from 1992

Ok, so everyone wants to know, why is the RC Driver of the Century calling it quits?
Dennis I'm only calling it quits on a National level but the main reason I'm retiring is due to a lack of time to devote to R/C. I'm basically holding down two jobs between my weekly job and racing and both were starting to suffer. I'm used to being on top of my game and the hasn't been the case in the past year or more.

Are you going to continue racing at some of the local club events?
I will still attend local events and keep this as my hobby. I've been racing R/C cars for over 2/3rd's of my life so it is not likely that I'll just give it up all together... it's in my blood. I plan on racing in local events as well as helping organize the events as I do now. Will I ever race in another "national" event? Hard to say.

What's in the future for Joel?
I plan on getting a house this summer which is quite a challenge here in silicon valley and doing my part in getting the start up company that I now work for to go public. A long vacation is in order as well.
Joel "Magic" Johnson
Born: 12/5/67
Residence: Campbell, Calif.

Since 1981 Joel Has won over 37 Titles. Joel's first title was in 1981, 1/12th ROAR 6 Cell & 4 Cell Stock National Championship.
In 1987, Joel won the IFMAR Off Road 2WD World Championship followed by the ROAR Dirt and Paved Oval Nationals in 1990.
All in all, Joel has won 33 ROAR National Championships, 1/10th, 1/12th on road, 1/12th oval and Sedan, 2 IFMAR World Championships, both off road and on road as well as the Oval Masters Championship at Lake Whippoorwill Speedway and the PROCAR World Champion 1/10 Paved Oval.

What kind of work are you doing now?
Right now I'm a sales engineer for a software startup called Boldfish Inc. We have a product which enables high volume outbound emailings for customers with opt-in mailing lists. We serve the fortune 500 community. Check out for more info.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be in a management position here in the silicon valley watching my vested stock options grow and playing with my R/C cars.

Looking Back at your 24 years of RC experience, what are some of your most memorable experiences?
Most people have heard all the stories but my first trip to Japan with Trinity and winning the '87 Off Road Worlds are two that stand out.

Is there any one line or piece of advice that has had a lot of effect on you?
If you don't think you can win... you will never win.

Will you continue to run Losi/Trinty or will you be free to run what ever you want?
I will continue to represent all the companies that I currently race for. I have a great relationship with all of them and they are the tops in the industry so why would I want to run anything else?

What do you think about using a spec tire at big races? in your mind, what would be a good spec tire for everyone?
Spec tires at big races are the way to go for sedan and off road racing. This will bring the cost down to the racer and really leave it up to car set up and driving. No idea on what a good spec tire should be but it should be specific to each track to ensure a consistent feel over many runs and good wear.

So the question that millions have been wondering.. what's going through a driver's head like yours on the drivers stand when your leading the worlds? And don't say one of those "pure concentration answers" are you going over anything, key points, trying to stay relaxed?
Don't make a mistake which translates into what I preach to anyone asking. "Only drive as fast as you need to win!" Mistakes come from driving over your head.

Since you have been racing, how do you think the RC industry and sponsorships have changed over the years?
The big change in sponsorship in the past few years is the introduction of salaries for the top drivers. This is a natural step in the progression of any sport. The industry, in reality, really hasn't changed. Unfortunately it is still a very much and "us" vs. "them" attitude which really hurts when it comes to making our sport grow. In order to get to the next step the top tear companies need to get together and get a promotional strategy going. They need to concentrate on making the pie bigger, not getting more of the existing pie.

Pepsi or Coke?

Favorite race of all time?
Very hard choice but Cleveland '97 - swept both classes

Favorite car of all time?
Prototype 1/12 "L" car built by Gil Losi.

Favorite track of all time?
Easy... the old Ranch Pit Shop

Favorite team manager of all time minus Richard Trujilio!
Ernie Provetti. No one gets in people's heads like he does... it's funny to watch! He is a great motivator as well.

What is your favorite to drive? electric or gas? on road or off road?
Gas on road is really my favorite to drive. I'm allowed to say that now that Trinity is in gas. Buy that Picco stuff guys!

Now that you are retiring from "serious" racing, what is in store for your club RCCAR?
I'm taking a few months off from RCCAR to recharge my batteries and figure out how to get the club to the next level in organization and growth.

Are you planning to bring more attention to it by hosting national type venues?
I would love to do this and the Bay Area is a great place to visit. The only limiting factor is the expense of the valley when looking at lodging.

What do you think of the current crop of factory drivers?
Snot nosed punks? Just kidding! This crop is definitely the most dedicated to the sport I've seen. The race schedules they keep is unbelievable. Of course pay checks help keep them dedicated, but overall they are a good group of guys and great drivers.

What is the difference between a factory driver and a sponsored driver?
A paycheck. :)

Sponsorship has always been a goal for many new drivers. Many view a sponsorship as a reward for being fast. Is there more to it than just being fast?
There is much more than being fast if you want to be sponsored. When you're representing a company it is on and off the track. Any actions a driver takes at a race can directly affect someone's view of the company they are representing. There is a lot more responsibility in being sponsored than just going fast, you are a spokesman as well. This is something that the new drivers are starting to learn and that the companies are demanding.

We have seen many top drivers of yesteryear "retire" to become car designers or marketing directors for different manufacturers. At some point, do you see yourself working in that capacity?
This is always a possibility, especially since I've worked with companies like Trinity for 19 years. When... I don't know but it is always a possibility.

You were instrumental in making the Losi Street Weapon one of the truly great touring cars available today. In fact, the legacy of that car continues with Josh Cyrul's win at the Carpet Nationals in Florida this year. Why has that car continued to be so successful?
When you have a designer like Gil Losi and a team of drivers like Losi and Trinity have, success is almost a given. It's all about the people and the dedication.

Now that we are in a new millennium, what do manufacturers need to do to ensure that this sport grows?
Manufacturers need to develop racing on a national level. The Trinty Street Spec, Kyosho Cup, HPI Cup, Reedy Race of Champions, Yokomo Cup, SpeedWorld Cup, etc, are great events for tracks to host. They need to provide not just the fiscal support, but some warm bodies as well to ensure that these events are both well run from a racers perspective as well as profitable from a track owners perspective.
The governing bodies, such as ROAR, IFMAR and NORCCA, need to step in and show local tracks how to develop a grass-roots type program to get their racing venues up and running. They need to provide some definitive answers and perhaps help with the leg-worked involved to ensure that these programs are properly communicated and run. A poorly run program or worse yet, a program that starts and then fails, only hurts this industry.
Currently, the manufacturers have basically run the governing bodies. This is wrong and there needs to be a change if we want racing to grow. There needs to be clearer lines of support and clearer lines of directions for tracks to follow to ensure that their racing programs grow. There is no reason why a track should have to call another track to find out how to host an event and/or get a racing program started. All that information should be provided by the governing bodies.

Do you think sponsorships have helped or hindered the growth of the sport?
That's hard to say. I think in some regional parts of this country it has hurt the sales and maybe even how the hobby is viewed but for the most part I think sponsorship is necessary and beneficial to the sport when done properly and not done by acquiring the most drivers one can afford.

Any final thoughts Joel?
I would like to say thanks to all people that have helped me through out my career especially people like Ernie Provetti, Tony P, Jim Dieter, Gary Kyes, Gil Losi Jr., Tyree Phillips and the list goes on. Without support from great companies like Trinity, Novak, Kyosho, Losi and Airtronics it would have been a much different story.

Joel, thank you for spending some time with us. Although we will miss seeing the name "Magic" in the winner's circle, we are certainly grateful for what you have given us over your career. We are glad how ever that we'll still get a chance top see your talent at some of the local races. On behalf of the staff here at and all your fans across the world, thank you and good luck in the future.

By: Dennis Racine
Date: 04/18/2000
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