RC’S most prolific track builder talks about a life in The Dirt
If you’ve been following pro RC racing
anytime in the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard of Joey Wolters Christensen, aka “Joe Dirt,” a genuine artist with a Bobcat and a shovel (not to mention normal art supplies—more on that later) who has shaped some of RC racing’s most famous (and infamous) tracks. Joey is the go-to guy when promoters and sanctioning bodies need a professional track that can challenge drivers and ensure actionpacked racing, and he has been delivering since 1999. We caught up with Joey between shovel sessions to talk about his life in RC.
RC Car Action:
How did you discover RC cars? What was your first hobby-quality car?
My earliest memory of RC cars was somehow getting a Tamiya Grasshopper. It did not have a radio or any extra parts—it was just the car. I was amazed at how realistic and cool the shocks were. I would roll that car around and make my own car noises and pretend it was a real car! [laughs] Being that there was no radio or any other parts to it, I moved on fairly quickly, as bikes and skateboarding were calling my name! I was an only child. My stepdad, Bear, was my dad since the age of seven. He had no other kids and was one of the nicest and most loving people I had ever met. He owned his own automotive/radiator business and was a hardworking man who never missed a day of work. He bought used motorcycles and BMX bikes and repaired them so that we could all race together. He bought an old motor home so that we could travel to races. He bought a trailer at Lake Havasu and an old boat so that we could enjoy the weekends fishing, skiing, camping, and riding motorcycles in the desert. He bought us an old dune buggy, and I learned how to drive stick at 12 years old, with wooden blocks on the pedals so that I could reach. But after marrying my high-school sweetheart and having two kids by the time I was 19, I moved quickly into family and fatherhood.
Skip forward to 1999. I had been involved in opening surf-, skate-, and snowboard shops in outlet malls up and down the California coast. I set up the stores, hired all of the employees, designed the look, and oversaw the daily operations. After a successful few years, we sold the stores, and I found myself off from work for a while, looking for something fun to do. My dad had a guy that worked for him who was into racing RC cars at the local track in Hemet, California, where I lived. My dad and I went to watch one night, and I was so excited and couldn’t believe how cool the cars were. I wanted one! He said, “Well, the problem is you buy all of the stuff and, a week later, you decide to get out of it and you are stuck with all this stuff!” I was bummed because he had got me all excited and then pulled the plug. [laughs] To my surprise, the very next day he came home from work and had bought all the stuff—a new Losi Double-x NT gas truck and everything that goes with it! He said, “I’ll buy all of the stuff and you drive it!” That sounded like a great deal to me and off we went. It was a great time to be back doing fun guy stuff with my dad.
I eventually took over the Hemet track in 1999, and we hosted the first-ever Dirt Nitro Challenge in 2000. There were 111 entries, and all of the top pros were in attendance. I think Jared Tebo was 12, and Richard Saxton was the top legend in the sport, with his pit man Regan Leblanc. I had built this over-the-top track, and I felt it was going to really highlight what these cars could do. To my surprise and a bit of embarrassment, Richard Saxton felt the jumps were too big and cut them all down! [laughs] Looking back, I was really pushing the envelope and they were just not used to my style yet. I was a great learning experience, and the race has grown into the largest outdoor off-road gas race in the world, with entries reaching more than 1,000. This year will mark the 20th annual Dirt Nitro Challenge, and I am so excited.
Where did the name “The Dirt” come from?
All of my friends from my hometown of Hemet had moved away to the beach cities, and every time they would come visit me, they would refer to Hemet as “The Dirt.” There was nothing but dirt roads and places to race off-road. The road leading into Hemet was called “The Dirt Highway.” So when it came time to design a new logo for the track, I named it “The Dirt” and drew all of my own logos. The Dirt represents my hometown and a lifetime of racing in the dirt. To me, it is the main ingredient in off-road racing, and I put that on my first business cards. [laughs] I still have them!
You’re also an artist. Tell us about that.
I have been an artist since I was a small child. My grandmother had a “how to draw” book, and I drew every picture in that book religiously. I was probably six years old at the time. I would go on to draw and paint my way through school, entering into every art show and art contest, eventually winning an art scholarship. In high school, I painted my junior-year wall and my senior-year wall, and designed our yearbook. I started a window-painting business at 17 and painted signs for the local businesses in town. I was also an avid ceramic enthusiast and was president of the art guild in high school. I would sell my pottery to the other teachers at the school. I ended up buying a ceramic studio from a former teacher right out of high school and set it all up in my garage. In my early 20s, I worked as a set painter/designer at Knott’s Berry Farm as well as set painting at Disney. So when I first had my own track in Hemet, I immediately