Six years ago, Ryan Lutz was working at AMF Medina Lanes and wondering what he wanted to do with his life after graduating from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.
Little did the Medina native know he would turn a hobby into a career.
Lutz is one of just a handful of full-time remote control car racers on the professional circuit and will be at Reagan Park this weekend for the third event on the Ohio State Pro Series.
“I never thought it was possible,” Lutz said of becoming pro in a hobby he started when he was 7.
When he was 19, Lutz started doing events on the Remote Car Pro Series in the Midwest Division while working at Medina Lanes.
He won two out of the three events in the division and earned enough points to take the Midwest crown and earn a spot in the finals in California.
That’s when Lutz got his break.
“I was doing food and beverage at Medina Lanes when Kyosho America called and asked me to come out to an event,” he said. “I told them I couldn’t because I had to work. He then said, ‘Why don’t you come out here and work for us?’ That’s how it started.”
Lutz packed his bags and made the cross-country trip to California to realize his dream and race nitrogen-powered cars for a living.
The 26-year-old has worked for three different racing companies, currently controlling cars for Team Durango.
“I went to (Kyosho) and started off working as their team manager and testing products,” Lutz said. “Slowly it built into just racing.”
That’s a long way from watching his father Larry race cars at Reagan Park as a kid. Lutz, who made his first trip to an out-of-state tournament at age 10, is becoming one of the biggest names in the sport.
Nicknamed “Lutzinator,” he is endorsing products and winning events on a weekly basis. Not only that, he’s doing something he picked up as a kid while hanging out at his family’s RC Hobby shop in Medina.
But he’s not racing the typical remote-controlled car kids find underneath the Christmas tree.
“You can’t go find any of these cars at Wal-Mart or Radio Shack, that’s for sure,” said Lutz, who races both trucks and buggies. “It’s a lot of hard work.
“As an outsider looking in, I always thought the better drivers were doing well because they had the most money. You’re testing products all the time and sometimes that can hinder you. It’s almost like being a small celebrity, being asked questions all the time.”
You have to be cautious when you’re racing three-horsepower cars that go up to 40 mph with nitrogen methane fuel in them.
The sport has allowed Lutz to see the world, as the 2003 Medina graduate has raced in international tournaments in England, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong and everywhere around the United States. He’s even raced in front of a grandstand filled with more than 4,000 people in an event in Idaho, which included an autograph session.
“It’s definitely taken me places I never thought I would be able to go,” he said. “The level of competition is big in the U.S. and tracks here have more jumps, while the ones in Europe are flat.”
Lutz said just five to 10 people in the United States race on a full-time basis, but make anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000 a year depending on finishes, endorsements and sponsorships.
Now a resident of El Dorado Hills, Calif., Lutz and wife Christine have a 14-month-old daughter, Kayley, and another on the way.
While not many people race remote control cars into their 30s, Lutz recently signed a 10-year contract with Team Durango. It was one of the biggest contracts ever in the sport.
“It’s a rare thing (to race for a long time), because kids today grew up as video game addicts, which makes them fast and hard to beat,” he said. “You have to stay ahead of the kids, but it’s still a lot of fun.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.