In the shadow of the Canadian Rockies sits the city of Calgary. And while it's home to the Calgary Flames and Bret "The Hitman" Hart, it's also where you'll find Aaron Bird and the Hot Wheels Calgary race club.
Hot Wheels Calgary is a small race club with a growing following on YouTube, thanks to daily videos highlighting racing, collecting, and the diecast life in general. I asked Aaron a few questions about the club and what follows is a great, in-depth story about one man's passion for Hot Wheels and family.
Interview with Aaron Bird of Hot Wheels Calgary
Redline Derby Racing: Let's start with the basics...who you are and where you call home. And what's your favorite breakfast cereal?
Hot Wheels Calgary: My name is Aaron. I live in the great city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I’ve lived here since 2001. Calgary is most famous for The Calgary Stampede and Exhibition. It’s a rodeo that happens every summer and draws people from around the world.
My favorite breakfast cereal is Corn Flakes. I’m a simple kind of person.
RLD: What's your earliest memories of Hot Wheels and diecast cars? When did it all start?
HWC: My earliest memories for 1:64 diecast cars goes back to being a little kid...5 or so…and playing with my Dukes of Hazzard cars. My biggest memory is one Christmas I got what must have been hundreds of 1:64 cars from my parents, and I also got the Hot Wheels Service center. It was awesome! Then another gift was another service center! My grandparents had shipped one from the US and not talked it over with my parents. I still laugh when I think about it.
RLD: You fly under the banner of Hot Wheels Calgary. How many members are currently active in your group, or is just a one-man band at this point?
HWC: My group...hmmmm…That’s a hard one to answer. As far as filming, it’s mainly just myself. At the start of the new year, my wife and daughter were helping me, but after a while I think they lost interest and I have been doing most of the filming alone. I still consider them part of “the crew” as they have been involved in many aspects of the whole Hot Wheels Calgary YouTube channel.
There is also the Hot Wheels Calgary Facebook group which currently has 151 members around the world and it is growing almost daily. It’s on the verge of becoming an organization or club, something that I have been considering for some time now, but have not put into place due to time and financial restrictions.
I also recently took over another group and renamed it Hot Wheels Earth. The motto I’ve been using for this group is “A friendly place where the Hot Wheels world to meet”. In the first 72 hours, the group went from its original 6 members to 44 and counting. I’m excited to see where this new venture goes. There won’t be any “Hot Wheels Earth” YouTube channel for the time being, but you never know what the future holds.
RLD: How is your family involved, what are their thoughts on this whole thing?
HWC: It’s funny actually. The Hot Wheels Calgary YouTube channel….well, the racing portion anyway...would have probably never happened without my wife and daughter. The base of the track was hand built by the two of them for Fathers Day 2016. The idea was to make the track portable, but none of the joints would line up properly so we laid down orange track in the lanes and it became a “semi-permanent” unit and went on from there.
I think sometimes my family and friends get tired of me talking about Hot Wheels and the HWC YouTube channel, but God bless each of them, they never say anything negative about it and offer nothing but support and ideas to help the channel grow...my wife in particular. The lady is a genius! She is constantly throwing ideas at me and is probably my biggest cheerleader. Without her backing and picking me up when I am down, I think I would have given up on the whole thing a long time ago.
RLD: How long as HWC been around? When was it born and how has the whole thing evolved over time?
HWC: The term “Hot Wheels Calgary” was first used on Feb. 17, 2017. There were videos I did and posted previous to this, but I consider this to be the official birthday of Hot Wheels Calgary YouTube Channel. It started with setting my phone up at the end of the track and filming the cars coming down the track and that was it. Eventually I started talking on the videos and doing intros and so forth, and then I started following the cars down the track. From Feb to Dec 2017, I developed a subscriber base of 45. Considering the quality of the videos and the fact that I was only doing one video per week, I think that was an okay number. A little tidbit…we moved in late July of 2017, so all the videos from then until January 2018 were all prerecorded.
Then as January 2018 approached, I realized the channel was on the verge of being able to be monetized. At the time, if you had 10,000 views, you could start getting advertising on the videos and thus start getting paid. At this point, the channel was just touching around 9,000 views. So Linda, my wife, came up with the genius idea to post a race per day and do a hunt for the fastest car of all the loose ones. So started the “video per day” journey. Unbeknownst to any of us, YouTube had changed their monetization policies to kick in on Jan.16. But here we were, already into the race per day series… can’t stop now… and here we are today with a channel that has gone from 45 subscribers to touching on 200...up from 10 to 20 views per week to 20 to 50+ views per day! It’s kind of overwhelming!
RLD: Of course, the first thing anyone will notice when they watch one of your videos is the big track you've built. Give us some specs on that thing...what's the total length, height, lanes, accessories, etc.?
HWC: The track...everyone wants to know about the track. Let me start with this, the main wood portion of it was built by my wife and daughter in 2016 for Father's Day. I take no credit for the main structure of the track itself.
The track as it is seen in the most current state is 20 feet ?” from start gate to finish line which is a 1:64 scale quarter mile. I am a HUGE drag racing fan and wanted to make this it as accurate as I could in length. Using the wood portions that my family built, it’s possible to go up to 24 feet in total length, but I am more than happy with the quarter mile. The main body will handle 5-lanes of track. Sadly, nobody makes a 5-lane finish line, so as long as I have had a 4-lane finish gate, I have run it in 4 lane formation.
In March of 2018, I ran into issues with the 4-lane gate and had to switch to a 2-lane electronic gate, which in turn became a mess. It seemed like the gate had a glitch that would only show up from time to time showing the wrong winner. This issue caused me great stress in having to constantly rewatching races before proceeding with filming, extra editing, people commenting on mistakes I missed...ugh. It didn’t take long for me to go back to the 4-lane gate, but only using the 2 middle flags. Still not 100% accurate, but far more than the 2-lane electronic unit.
Then came a major turning point. In April 2018, I received a package from HotWheelRacerMike and 3DBotMaker. Inside was a 3DBotMaker 4-lane finish line. I was blown away! I’m very impressed with it. It will be good to go back to the 4 lane wide racing. It has simplified the filming and saved me a lot of time of walking back and forth setting up the cars. I have some ideas to make use of the 4 lane setup that could potentially take me back to walking back and forth...but time will tell on that.A huge thank you to HotWheelRacerMike and 3DBotMaker again for such a generous gift.
RLD: How long was the build process, and what were some challenges you hit along the way.
HWC: Was? The building process seems to be never ending! There always seems to be something to adjust or straighten or replace or upgrade.
I’d have to say the biggest challenge has been the whole finish line debacle, but hopefully that has been put to rest for a while.
RLD: Your videos show some extra pieces and parts in your track...loops and such. The setup looks pretty flexible in terms of accommodating additional pieces and even configuring lanes. How often do you change things up on your track for different styles of racing?
HWC: As of right now, the loop has been removed for now for a few reasons, namely that I needed the track leading into it to make up the 4th lane.
I don’t normally change things too much unless it’s needed (like going from 4 lane to 2 lane). This is mostly due to time restrictions. Time seems to be my biggest enemy. Since I'm doing the “Hunt for the Ultimate Track Master,” I have been trying to keep the track as consistent as possible so there’s limited chance for one car to have an advantage over another because something track related had changed. Maybe once the Track Master series is done, I’ll look at doing variations in the track lay out. I think that could be fun and, of course, it would offer more variety to the viewers.
RLD: What's the future hold for your track? What's on your wishlist? What are some things you tried but just didn't turn out?
HWC: The future is “up in the air”, if you will. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do besides, after, and in conjunction with the Track Master series. I have a few ideas, but I’ll have to see where life, time, and money are at closer to the end of the series. At present though, I do believe firmly that it’s time to expand the offering on the YouTube channel. It’s just a question of what will my time allow me to do, but I can see some changes coming very soon to Hot Wheels Calgary.
I’d like to be able to host a mail-in race or two. In the past I have hosted race events where my friends have come and we race cars in an elimination bracket. I’m wanting to do more of those, but live stream them.
My wishlist for the track includes a better start gate and possibly some corners. Road course tracks seem to be the big thing lately and I’ve considered the idea for sometime, so that is a possibility.
RLD: In one of your videos I saw some of your car collection...one very full table that you're racing to find the fastest. What have you learned or found interesting about the cars themselves as you've been racing them?
HWC: I have learned to “not judge a book by it’s cover”. So many cars have gone down the track where I thought they would be stupid fast, only to find the car in the next lane, that I thought there was no hope for, is one of the fastest cars in my collection.
A prime example, the Matchbox city bus. My brother-in-law got messing around one day, sent the bus down the track and we just stood there with our jaws open. Out of curiosity, we ran it against the “known” track masters and it not only kept up, but even nosed ahead and won a few races. The thing is a brick...a rectangle...possibly the most unlikely candidate for being a track master.
I think it will be very very interesting to watch as the hunt for the ultimate Track Master winds down to the finals. We are going to see some amazing races...a lot of very close finishes and some crazy fast racing! I can’t wait!
RLD: It looks like HWC focuses on stock racing, that is, racing cars as they are found and come out of the package. Have you ever played around with modifying or customizing cars?
HWC: Although I have a respect for the people that can and do mod cars, it’s not my cup of tea. I enjoy looking at the results of people's work and all, but I don’t think it would be something I would ever get into. I would consider hosting a modified class race, but right now that’s about as far it would go.
RLD: Childhood is hard on our Hot Wheels and thus I only have a handful of cars that managed to survive my youth. What happened to your childhood collection? Do you still have any of them? Which one(s) brings back the fondest memories?
HWC: I have no idea what happened to my childhood collection, it's long gone. Not one saved, which is a shame. I had hundreds and hundreds of cars as kid. Oh well...that’s life.
RLD: What are your regular stops when looking for cars? Just the regular big name retailers and online, or do you have some favorite local shops and markets you check out?
HWC: My regular stops are the usual...Walmart, grocery stores (which in Canada are stupid expensive), the dollar stores, etc.
When time and money allow, there are a couple places around Calgary I go to. Inside Ave. Antiques has a great consignment Hot Wheels section if a bit pricey, but some real good selections. Chinook Hobby Craft has a huge selection of Hot Wheels, in particular from the 90’s and early 2000’s.
Also we have a thrift store chain here call Value Village (not sure if they are in any other country). They sell used cars in bags of about 6-10 cars for about $5 which is a good deal for people like me on a budget and looking for new stuff to race.
RLD: Which cars of late do you enjoy looking for and collecting?
HWC: I don’t collect any one type in particular. When I first got going, I was trying to get all the different groups (HW Flames, HW trucks, etc), but it just got too expensive and too time consuming. At this point, I mostly look for cars that I can race or something I think will be collectible in the future. I’m mostly into the “real cars” rather than the “imagination” cars. I’m a huge muscle car and drag racing fan, so when I see those, in particular in a color that catches my eye, I like to grab them.
RLD: What does the future hold for Hot Wheels Calgary? What can fans look forward to in the near future? And what are some things on the distant horizon?
HWC: I have a few ideas…but I’d rather not say. Why spoil the surprise?
But I will say this…I believe that Hot Wheels Calgary has the potential of becoming a “force to be reckoned with” in the Hot Wheels world, but it’s going to take a lot of work and time to get there.
RLD: Where can people go to learn more about HWC and all that you do?
People can find Hot Wheels Calgary on Facebook, of course, as well as Instagram and Twitter.
HWC also has a forum. It currently doesn’t have much activity, but that might pickup in the future.
RLD: Any other stories or shoutouts you care to share?
HWC: I’d like to thank every person who has ever watched a Hot Wheels Calgary video and/or visited the social media sites. Without you, Hot Wheels Calgary wouldn’t be what it is so far today!
I’d like to send a shout out to the following(where do I start):In no particular order..just as they come to mind.If I missed someone, please forgive me, there’s too many of you!
- League of Speed
- Races and Fun
- Mr.Moms Racing
- Little Bug Racing
- T’s Diecast
- Diecast Nation
- RayRay TV
- Vaibhav Chawala
- Ken Wood
Firstly, and more than anyone, I give glory to God and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, without whom, none of the great things in my life, including my family, Hot Wheels Calgary, all the supportive viewers, would have never happened.
A HUGE thanks to Redline Derby Racing for this amazing opportunity and for supporting HWC by allowing me to post the videos on the site.
A big thank you to all my friends and church family for your support, your patience with me, and for always being there! I love you all!
And then, to my biggest (and best looking) ”cheerleaders”, my wife, Linda, and my daughter Taylor. None of this would have ever happened without you...at least not such a grand scale. I love you both so very much! Thank you for loving me, the big kid that I am.
You can also check out the HWC Birdco Raceway track profile in the Race Track Directory, it has all the specs and some photos.
I'd like to Aaron for taking the time to share the story of Hot Wheels Calgary, it's always great to get a behind-the-scenes look at clubs. The HWC YouTube channel is growing daily and puts out an astonishing amount of content so check it out and get involved.