The name "3DBotMaker" has been flying around a lot lately in the diecast racing world, thanks to a line of wonderful racing accessories that are selling like hot cakes. You might already own one of his starting gates or finish lines. We're big fans here at Redline Derby. The 3DBotMaker products make our own racing possible.
The person behind 3DBotMaker is Adriel Johnson, a family man who quit his tech job to start his own business designing, making, and selling toys. It wasn't an easy start, but he ended up making it simple for anyone building their own Hot Wheels track to do so with quality and reliability. In short, he's made a difference...and you might be surprised that his past is not filled with memories of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.
Adriel was generous enough to share some time from his busy schedule of making toys and running his YouTube channel to talk about where he started, how he makes his products, and what the future might hold.
Where you can find Adriel and 3DBotMaker products:
Redline Derby Racing: Let's start with the basics...who you are and where you call home. And what's your favorite breakfast cereal?
Adriel Johnson: My name is Adriel Johnson, I live in California and I’m a granola man.
RLD: What's your earliest memories of Hot Wheels and diecast cars?
AJ: My earliest memory of Hot Wheels was a 1980s Tricar X8 and Firebird Funny Car that I had when I was a kid. Besides those two I don’t think I really had any other cars growing up. Growing up in the 80s & 90s, my childhood was full of LEGO, GI Joe action figures, Playmobil and Nintendo. As I got older and got my dad’s old computer, I soon became fixated on the in's and out's of how it worked, gaming, and graphic design.
I didn’t grow up playing with Hot Wheels, but as I got older and had kids, Hot Wheels soon become my hobby, actual job and I guess you could say...life.
RLD: It's clear that you got into Hot Wheels and toy cars at some point...when was that, and what was the motivation that got you back into the hobby?
AJ: My oldest son has always seemed to like little cars. He would line them up around the house in rows. When he was 3, I bought him a little 4-piece track jump set, and once I set it up, I was instantly hooked. This was the first time I ever played with a Hot Wheels track. I love trying to understand physics and how things move, so this quickly became a passion for me.
RLD: You popped up on my radar when someone shared the starting gate and then finish line on the Redline Derby website, both top rate products. But how did get started down the path of making accessories for Hot Wheels? Did you just get a 3D printer one day and say, "hey, I can make stuff for Hot Wheels now"? What was involved in that journey?
AJ: I quit my secure government computer tech job 6 months after my first son was born to work from home selling toys and collectibles on eBay. After about 2 years or so, I was really struggling to keep up with expenses and the business was shut down because I was late on paying my fees. I went through about 6 months of trying to figure out what to do. My biggest struggle as a reseller was finding the product to sell. I realized if I made my own product, I would never really run out of inventory, but I honestly had no clue what to do.
It was during this time that I bought my son’s first 4 pack Hot Wheels track jump set and started playing with him. We quickly moved on to down hill racing but we couldn’t afford the big super 6-lane raceway that the guys on YouTube were using. So I got some scrap materials and a blade, and designed a 4-lane start gate. I soon realized our biggest problem was the finish. My son probably didn’t care that much, but I wanted to know exactly who won the race.
It was around this time that I first heard about 3D printing. When I saw what could be done with these machines, I thought, "hey I could make my own finish line." So I spent countless hours researching printers, design software, electronics, etc. But more importantly, I was also able to convince my wife to invest our entire tax return on a new Makerbot Replicator 2 3D Printer. A month later I was in business selling my first 4-Lane start gate.
RLD: What is your process for thinking about, designing, and creating your products? Some things seems pretty simple to model and print, while others seem to have quite a bit of investment.
AJ: I’ve gotten a lot better at designing over the years. It’s important to understand how the printer works, and design your objects with that in mind. Designing for strength and durability is another thing I’ve learned. If a customer reports that a certain part broke, I’ll go back to the design, figure out why it happened and send them a new one. I don’t blame the customer, I look at my design and say, how can I make this better. This type of refinement has brought all of my products to a level where I’m very confident in their performance and durability.
RLD: You've mentioned you have children in your home. They are probably your biggest fans and initial play testers. Where does your family fit into the process and how do they help?
AJ: Yes, I have 2 little boys, ages 3 and 7. It’s kind of funny that right after I started 3DBotMaker and making track accessories, my oldest boy who was 3-4 at the time, seemed to lose interest and moved on to other toys. This was partially due to the fact that I was spending more time designing and understanding 3D Printers than I was racing with him. But he’s always excited to help test.
After my youngest son grew to an age where he could walk talk and play, he got bit by the Hot Wheels bug and it’s really drawn both me and my oldest boy back into playing again. We have Sunday race day and we’re constantly making trips to Walmart for car hauls. They also help me produce videos for my newly revived YouTube channel.
Getting back into playing has also sparked new product ideas because I’m making parts that I need for my own tracks.
RLD: I've seen several comments praising you for making the diecast racing products that Mattel and others don't seem to want to make. While it's a small niche, you're nonetheless serving that audience...was that your plan from the start? How has your strategy changed since you started making and selling stuff?
AJ: I didn’t start with much of a strategy. My original plan was to make a 4-Lane electronic finish line because I figured other people could use one too. Then I realized I need a starter to go with it. Then I thought, hmmm...it would be nice if there was a connector that could keep the lanes together. Then people requested 2-lane versions, and that’s kind of how it went.
I do have more of a strategy now. I’ve started branding my products and I’m working to get people to associate the product with 3DBotMaker and not, "I got it off eBay."
RLD: And outside of making some money, what do you enjoy most about making all these things?
AJ: The most rewarding part of what I do is the feedback from people who are enjoying my products. When I see other dads and kids having fun together with something I created. When racing enthusiasts appreciate the design and thought behind the work I do. That’s the most rewarding part.
RLD: What product is your top seller? And which product are you most happy with and proud of?
AJ: My top selling products are the start gates. I’m most proud of the electronic finish lines. It was the most challenging to design, and it took a lot of trial, error, experimentation and research to understand the electronics involved.
RLD: Given you make racing accessories, what type of diecast racing you do enjoy most? Straight up derby style...road courses, Sizzler track, loops & jumps…?
AJ: Recently I’ve fallen in love with Sizzler fat track road courses. I love how unpredictable the races can be, and how at times the cars seem to move as if they had real drivers. This has become my new permanent track for my youtube channel.
RLD: I assume you collect cars here and there like the rest of us. What cars of late do you enjoy finding and collecting?
AJ: I don’t really consider myself a collector. I buy lots of cars to race and then pass them to my kids. They’re the real collectors in my house. I do enjoy hunting for new cars to put in my races. My favorites right now are realistic sports cars with lots of racing tampos, and anything VW.
RLD: Right now in the 3DBotMaker Etsy store, you have starting gates, finish lines, funnels, extenders and packs of connectors. What are some products on the drawing board that we can look forward to seeing in the near-ish future?
AJ: The 2-Lane 180 curve is pretty much done, I just need to tweak a few print settings to get the type of finish that I want. Fat track connectors will be coming out soon. I’m also planning on making BluTrack accessories. My kids love BluTrack but there’s currently no way to do any serious racing.
I also get a lot of requests for a 6-lane finish line. At the moment a piece like that is too large for my current printers. I do have plans for a bigger printer, but it won’t be in the near future.
RLD: Any other stories or things you care to share or promote?
AJ: Check out my YouTube channel. I’ve been having a lot of fun making these videos and sharing my passion for racing. My goal is to make diecast racing look and feel like an actual motorsports event.
I'd like to thank Adriel for taking the time to chat. I know he's busy fulfilling orders of all the stuff we're buying.
I can't recommend his products enough, and I don't think I'm alone in saying that the 3DBotMaker products have made our race tracks feel a lot more professional and make for better racing all around.
Check out our own 3DBotMaker products reviews and articles and then stop by his store and get yourself something nice.
This interview was from 2018. Read the interview we did with Adriel in late 2020 about the growing popularity of the 3DBotMaker YouTube channel.