07.11.12

The JConcepts Story with Jason Ruona

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Jason Ruona, JConcepts, Mike Garrison, Live RC

 

Mike Garrison at LiveRC has recently posted this great interview with our good friend, Jason Ruona of JConcepts. It's an amazing story of how Ruona has transformed a lifelong passion into a successful, independent business, while maintaining a reputation for quality, innovation and excellence along the way. Read the entire article below, and be sure to check out entire line of great JConcepts products and accessories at JConcepts.net
 
 
It was less than a decade ago when the “original BJ4” 4wd buggy hit the market. This unique buggy, known as the BJ4, was a project masterminded by Jason Ruona and Brad Reelfs. The race winning buggy overwhelmed the class in popularity, and what started as a simple idea exploded into full on sensation. Who was behind this and where are they now? None other than JConcepts founder Jason Ruona. 
  
Today JConcepts is known worldwide for IFMAR World Championship winning bodies, tires, wheels, and accessories. We sat down with Jason to find out just where it all began. 
  
LRC: Hi Jason, thanks so much for taking some time with us today. Let’s start at the beginning, when and why did you get into R/C? 
  
JASON: I started R/C in the 80’s as a kid. The vehicles that really got me hooked in R/C was the Tamiya Midnight Pumpkin first and then the Clod Buster. At this point I had no idea there was actually organized R/C racing but I was already making tracks in my back yard that I raced on with my friends. I built double and triples and table tops before I’d ever seen them in person. My friends and I would video tape all our 1 on 1 races and watch them later to see what we could do different. I was about 11 or 12 years old and it was an amazing hobby for me. One day I was in the local hobby shop and the owner asked why I didn’t race locally and I looked at him like he was crazy because I didn’t believe they had organized racing. I asked if I could race my Clod Buster and he kind of looked at me strange. He gave my parents directions to the GOAR track in Orlando and we went out and watched a Sunday club race program. I was completely blown away when we arrived and saw the track, pits, driver stand and competitors. We purchased a Losi JRX-T which was probably the latest release and the hottest segment at the track and I went home and built it. When it was finished I took it outside and jumped it on my driveway and couldn’t believe the performance difference between the JRX-T and the Clod Buster. I raced in novice at my very first race and I had some issues in the first qualifier because my charger didn’t fully charge my battery. A fellow racer got me sorted out and I was now flying out there and I TQ’ed and won. From that day on I don’t think I ever touched the Clod Buster again, I was hooked on the real deal. I made a lot of new friends right away and we had something in common, it was a great time.

  
LRC: At what point did you know that R/C was something you wanted to make a career out of? 
  
JASON: It’s hard to say. I guess in the back of my mind I never thought I would have to grow-up or leave R/C. I was fortunate to kind of be taken under the wing of Mike Reedy and Cliff Lett and I started to see there was a business side to R/C which gave me hope for the future. I spent some time with them in the summer of 1995 and it kind of changed my perception of the racing and industry. I guess it was during that time that I decided I was going to try and make a career out of it.  
  
LRC: What are some of your biggest racing accomplishments over the years? 
  
JASON: To be honest I’ve been really fortunate with my racing career and I’ve won a lot of races and especially in my regional area. At this point I’ve been racing for over 20 years and I won in my very first race and I can still win today so longevity has been an accomplishment. My claim to fame is making the A-main at the IFMAR Worlds on 3 different occasions and I’ve finished 2nd at the ROAR Nationals in the modified classes a couple of times.
   
  
LRC: What were you doing before JConcepts? 
  
JASON: Our family business is Construction (Ruona Construction) so I worked as a project manager on some jobs and also did architectural drafting on a lot of projects. 
  
LRC: When, why, and how did you get the idea to create a company such as JConcepts and start off with what is now known as a legendary car the BJ4? 
  
JASON: It’s kind of a long story but the 2003 IFMAR Worlds were in Clearwater, FL and I wanted to have some trick items for the event and made a custom B4 body for myself for the event. Brad Reelfs, who loves the 4wd class wanted to build his own car for the event and we got together and designed the BJ4 before the event. We didn’t attend opening ceremonies in Clearwater because we were still building the car and mounting bodies. I finished my 4wd and drove it up and down the street and bench tuned it and put it down for the first controlled practice run. I remember the track was kind of wet and loamy on that first run and the buggy was dialed. I didn’t really think much of it but everyone else made a big deal out of the performance for the first run. After that event we started receiving a lot of feedback with drivers who wanted those products.
   
(Left - The original BJ4 kit which would later be converted to saddle packs, Right - Ryan Maifield and Ryan Cavalieri getting set for the IFMAR Worlds with their World's Edition BJ4 buggies) 

LRC: Did you have any idea or plans that JConcepts would explode into one of the industry’s leading tire and accessory companies? 
  
JASON: I really had no idea where it would take us. I guess I felt if I put everything into I would have no regrets and I would live with that either way. It’s a lot more work than I ever envisioned and truly we still have a ways to go to get to where I want to be. I guess I feel we can always improve or get better and that is my mind set. 

JASON: I really had no idea where it would take us. I guess I felt if I put everything into I would have no regrets and I would live with that either way. It’s a lot more work than I ever envisioned and truly we still have a ways to go to get to where I want to be. I guess I feel we can always improve or get better and that is my mind set. 

(The first of the Illuzion series bodies released from JConcepts)
 

LRC: Have you ever considered possibly another conversion kit or complete car kit for JConcepts? 
  
JASON: Yes, we have some plans for more accessory based conversion kits or hop-up type items. Some will be race oriented and some will be geared toward the basher. At this point I don’t see any complete kits or vehicles in the future for us. 
  
LRC: Since the BJ4, JConcepts has had some very “revolutionary” new products to hit the market. One of our personal favorites is the Hi-Flow SCT bodies, which in our opinion was one of the first to really offer a race feel to short course by eliminating the parachute effect and sailboat handling. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing a race performance SCT body? 

JASON: We have tried to be on top of the SCT body development and really our first Hi-Performance body was the Ford Raptor which was extremely unique at the time. We had cut-out options for air flow and the style, look and the body was incredible and remains one or our more popular bodies today. We kind of had a love affair with the Raptor truck and we were the first to incorporate that truck into an SCT race body. We are very proud of that style and body design. We moved on in 2011 to the Hi-Flow body which allows the customer to choose from a multitude of ways in terms of air escape and release. Ryan Maifield won the ROAR nationals with the Raptor in 2010 and Hi-Flow in 2011 so we are very proud of those accomplishments. As far as the process of designing the body for racing in SCT, we rely on a lot of track testing, driving and driver input. Our feeling is how it feels and looks on the track are the most important things and you can’t reproduce that without actually driving it and getting a feel for the size, weight and tuning options. The body makes a huge difference and it’s nice for the look to remain somewhat consistent with their 1:1 counterparts so we try to work around those limitations as best as possible. All the cut-out options on the Hi-Flow have been tested and evaluated along with the size, height and overall weight so they are pretty fine tuned before they are turned into production. The number plates, name plates and decals are other items that are extremely important too and we take that into consideration. Start to finish on an SCT body including possible licensing is a pretty lengthy process.
 
(Ryan Maifield took JConcepts to victory with their new SC body at the 2011 ROAR Offroad Nats)

LRC: While we are talking about bodies, tell us a little about the Finnisher lineup. They have a very unique appearance and styling compared to other cab forward bodies on the market. 
  
JASON: The Finnisher has been successful and starting with our debut of the body line at the 2011 Worlds in Finland. We had some elements to contend with during that event with the wind and large jumps and the body was created for that type of condition. Several features and the way it looks were catered to that event and it’s carried over into the rest of the events and track conditions very nicely. I can’t really imagine looking at my B4.1 a 1/8th buggy or Durango 2wd now without a Finnisher body. It just appears normal to me now and performs well and looks mean on the track.
 
(Maifield's RC8.2 equipped with the Finnisher body)

  
LRC: Another hot product that we see more and more of is the Punisher 1/8 wing with interchangeable side dams. It used to be racers would have to carry multiple wings for different situations and tuning, but with the release of the Punisher wing, a simple switch of the side dam’s makes tuning, travelling, and setup easy. What gave you the idea for the Punisher wing, and which set of side dams do you prefer majority of the time? 
  
JASON: We started thinking about this as the different stock wings that came with the vehicles were changing in shape and size. The longer side-dams were popular on the Kyosho vehicles while the shorter side-dams were popular on the Associated, Losi and Mugen vehicles. We decided it would be great to have a side-dam that would be interchangeable to give each type of vehicle the performance it needed or more importantly an option that didn’t exist before. It was tough to get the look, feel and weight and interchangeable parts into a slim package. Some of the first questions we got; does that hold up in 1/8th scale? It’s kind of ironic; we have found the wing is almost one of the strongest parts on the vehicle at some of more brutal tracks. You might get a little dirt wedged inside from a huge crash but the side-dams don’t budge. These vehicles can really take a beating and the Punisher has held up to the Punishment……
 
(The new Punisher wing is a versatile wing that provides option of tuning to almost any condition)

  
LRC: One market that is extremely heated with competition that JConcepts is yet another industry leader in is tires. What was the first tire the JConcepts developed? 
  
JASON: The Double Dees were one of our first tires and they remain popular today. We entered the 2007 Dirt Nitro Challenge with Double Dees for 1/10th nitro truck and also 1/8th buggy. At that time it was popular in 1/8th buggy to have a large pin and we actually debuted a super small pin tire at this event before anyone else or along side of our competitors. I think we surprised some of the drivers or critics with our early performance. Ryan Maifield won the 1/10th nitro truck class and TQ’ed a round of 1/8th buggy at that event with those tires and as they say, the rest is history.
(The 2007 Dirt Nitro Challenge winning tire)

  
LRC: What is the “hottest” tire right now? 
  
JASON: What day is it? It seems it changes daily…ha. The hottest tires in my opinion are the ones that ride a careful balance between performance and durability. In the earlier days of 1/10th and 1/8th buggy the drivers were pretty obsessed with tire wear. Now, I believe guys want the fastest tire they can run and they worry about longevity in the mains or when they have to. We are fortunate to have a pretty unique selection. I’d say our hottest tires are Bar Codes and 3Ds in 1/10th scale and the Hybrids and Subcultures in 1/8th scale. We might have a better tire in a certain condition or more suited to that style track but if you have those tread patterns you are pretty much covered in a lot of different conditions. 
  
LRC: Tire development over the years is possibly one of biggest advancements in R/C. It started out everybody had spike tires in who knows what compound. Now days there is 100’s of combinations to choose from. What is your opinion on tire technology and development? 
  
JASON: I guess this is difficult to say but I think the tire combination game is simpler than it seems. There are a lot of options and it seems there are more everyday but if you really do some research and some of your own testing than you can choose what is best for you pretty easily. One thing I tell everyone is just because it is new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for that condition. Drivers get obsessed with the new tire of the month and forget their old favorite or something that has worked for them in the past. You have to pay attention to what the tire and compounds is catered to and reach for it when it applies and not just any condition. Tire technology and development is sometimes more than just releasing a new tread design. Its understanding what you actually have and working on knowing when to use the different options and compounds. The tire, wheel and insert package is probably the biggest thing that affects the vehicles performance but if one piece to that puzzle is not right than it might make the entire package suffer. I have found that not many people understand tires and how the design and compound relate to each other and when to choose what. The brain behind the combination is where the technology is and the rest of it is an ongoing or work in progress. I’d say when it comes to R/C car performance in today’s market it’s more development than technology.
(New tires are constantly in development and testing, as shown here a fresh new JC tread at the 2012 ROAR Nats)

  
LRC: JConcepts offers a long list of accessories including pit mats, spur gears, tire bands, glue, and the list goes on and on. The new Silent Speed spur gears our very impressive, as they ACTUALLY do quiet down and provide a smoother gear mesh. We assumed a spur gear is a spur gear, what makes the Silent Spur gears so good? 
  
JASON: We have a pretty heavy assortment of accessories which are things I guess I have a passion for or we as a group at JC have a passion for. I guess I could say it’s an extension of the things that interest us the most. The Silent Speed Spur gears have been a welcomed addition for us. It’s a more detailed look into what is otherwise just a gear sitting in the drive train. The gears that come with most of the vehicles are very good but where the Silent Speed is different is they are actually machined into shape / form as opposed to molded. When the gear is machined there is quite a bit of consistency with the concentricity of the gear which leads to a better gear mesh and as the drive train rolls over that improves some rolling performance and depending how fresh the rest of your transmission is and pinion gear can lead to a quiet vehicle. We have marked the gears so while vehicles / slipper assemblies are assembled you can determine the tooth count without taking it apart. The slipper pads tend to lock in pretty nicely which helps slipper consistency as well. A lot of these types of accessories are for the detailed oriented racer who appreciates the small things.
(Left - Silent Spur gears, Right - Striker Pit Board)
 
LRC: What are some things you would recommend to younger racers and R/C enthusiasts that have goals of working for or building a company like JConcepts? 
  
JASON: I guess you have to remember that working in R/C doesn’t mean you drive, test or race every day. You don’t get into this because you want personal track time or chasing your own personal racing dreams. Usually it means you are working and doing everything besides driving or working on your own vehicles. What is enjoyable about being in R/C is you get to be involved with something you love and a part of a bigger picture. You can live through company racing goals and be involved developing or making the product you support better. If you get to race too it’s a big bonus. If you want to start your own company you have to be willing to put everything on the line and work your ass off. 
  
LRC: If your company could manufacture anything in the R/C industry besides what you already do, what would it be? What about if you could manufacture anything in the world? 
  
JASON: I guess that is hard to say without giving away any details. I’d say to look for more fun and exciting accessories while we continue to push our racing tires and bodies to the next level. I’d like to be the guy that invents and manufactures that product that nobody can live without but is so simple everyone kicks themselves for not thinking of it first. 
  
LRC: What are your future plans and goals for the company and yourself as a racer? 
  
JASON: We are going to continue to push and develop our 3 main products which are tires, wheels and bodies so we can continue to be on the cutting edge in that market. Winning races and promoting events is something that is important to us so you will see us out promoting and supporting the racers and events. Our JConcepts Events have been extremely popular and it’s something we take a lot of pride in so look for more exposure during these events in the future. Myself as a racer, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Some days I feel I need to retire and some days I feel I should concentrate more on it. Truthfully, I’m already retired on a national and world level but I race locally and at our JConcepts Events because I still like it and I always learn new things about the product. I will continue to race as long as I can meet my own expectations which are to look smooth, quick, eliminate mistakes and not embarrass the product. Oh, and winning from time to time never hurts either. 
  
LRC: Last, but not least, on the JConcepts Facebook the company model “Betty JConcepts” keeps Facebook fans up to date on the latest product info and JC news. The question we all want to know…is she single, and in need of a midpack C-Main driver to keep her company? 
  
JASON: Betty is always accepting resumes. She has high standards so get those resumes updated.
(The one and only "Betty" JConcepts)

  
LRC: Thank you again Jason for taking time today, is there anything else you would like to add? 
  
JASON: I’d like to thank everyone involved with JConcepts, especially my parents and family, my wife Allison and all our employees, team drivers and loyal customers. Thanks to LiveRC and all our media related partners for their contributions.
 
Source: LiveRC.com
 

 

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