Interview with Slanman Customs
There is no shortage of people selling 3D-printed track accessories these days. From simple track connectors to fancy curves to finish line timers...our tracks can be more ridiculous and awesome than ever before. And as the hobby has grown, so have the cottage businesses sprouting up all over.
Slanman Customs, run by Erik Slan in Kansas, is one of those businesses that has been growing over the past several years in leaps and bounds.
The growth of 3DBotMaker's channel during the pandemic, and his subsequent exit from selling track accessories, led many folks like Slan to jump into market. I reviewed some Slanman Customs track accessories a few years ago and they were good, solid products. Since then, the catalog of items has expanded greatly to include scale figures and decorations for track dioramas along with your more standard offerings of track sections and connectors.
Plus recently, Slanman Customs added a new item to their shop: the official Redline Derby Racing Axle Alignment Jig. Shameless plug, I know, but hey...
It's easy to just see an Etsy store like Slanman Customs as just another retailer and be on your way, but there are people behind those tiny shops that enjoy their craft and contribute to the hobby beyond the quick sale.
Interview with Erik Slan of Slanman Customs
Redline Derby Racing: As always, we'll start off easy. Tell us who you are, where you are, and what's your favorite breakfast cereal.
Slanman Customs: My name is Erik, better known as Slanman, and my favorite cereal is probably Reese’s Puffs.
RLD: I'm sure it's safe to say that you're a fan of Hot Wheels and all the racing since you're creating products for us, but what about your own history with Hot Wheels? Where did it start and how did you end up here in the middle of the diecast racing scene?
SC: I’ve played with Hot Wheels since I was like 3. My friend and I spent hours and hours racing all of our cars and having big tournaments. I had my first kid at the beginning of 2019, and shortly after my mom said she had found all of my childhood cars in her basement. I immediately went to get them, took them home, and proceeded to have a big tournament just like the old days!
Then I decided to check out Hot Wheels racing on YouTube to see if anyone was making videos of tournaments like I used to do, and I think Ghostjerker and Peak Time Racing were the first ones I found. So I watched all their videos, learned what Super Treasure Hunts were, and by that time I was hooked. Then a week or so later I found the 3DBotMaker channel.
By this time, I had been 3D Printing for about a year, just as a general hobby. I saw 3DBM used a lot of printed items he was making himself, so with my very limited design knowledge I printed out his Mag Track system and started trying to design my own start gate. It wasn’t great, but it worked better than what I had.
Then the Covid pandemic hit in early 2020 and shortly after things shut down in the USA. I lost my day job. It just so happened that the very same day that happened, 3DBotMmaker posted on his Facebook group that he was going to stop selling track accessories and focus on the YouTube channel. So that night I decided to start my business, Slanman Customs.
Just a few of Slanman Custom's printers working hard to make accessories. (Erik Slan)
RLD: Before you started designing and running your business, did you ever participate in any diecast racing events or tournaments? Ever customize/mod any cars for the track? Do you find time to enter any mail-in races yourself now?
SC: I did not, in fact, I didn’t even know modified Hot Wheels were a thing except for a few KOTM races I had watched. I entered the 2023 KOTM with a few cars I made and there’s a local group of guys I race with every few weekends, but I haven’t had much time to spend modifying cars and entering the mail in races.
RLD: 3D printing has come a long way in the past decade and without getting too far into the weeds, tell a bit about your workshop. Are your printers running 24/7 to fulfill orders?
SC: When I started, I had one Ender 3 in my little basement workshop that I mainly used for working on my R/C cars. After I got into business and made a couple sales, I quickly found out that one printer wasn’t going to cut it, so I got another Ender 3. Over the next year and a half I added about three more printers, and I would generally run all five of them 24/7.
If you’re familiar with printing, you know that the Ender printers are very unreliable. I was spending more time fixing printers every night than I was working on other stuff, so I finally decided to start upgrading to the Prusa MK3S+ printers at the start of 2022. I also added a few resin printers for the detailed diorama items, as well as my recent acquisition of the new Bambu Lab Carbon X1 which does multiple colors and all kinds of fancy stuff.
RLD: Tell us a bit about the process you go through to get a product from concept to shopping carts.
SC: I can’t take all the credit, as I have a couple friends I work with when designing products and I would be nowhere without them! Almost everything has come from one of us wanting something for our personal track, so I figured if we want it there has to be others out there that do as well.
The diorama items and connectors are pretty easy to come up with as it only takes a few test prints to get the right size and fit of connectors, but all of the different curves have hundreds of hours in testing in them to make sure they are the best they can be. And the manual start gate, I think we are on version 17 or something crazy. The thing about 3D printing is it is very easy to make improvements and have the item the next day.
Slanman Customs home track used for product R&D testing. (Erik Slan)
RLD: Given you're making products for our tracks, your own home track must be pretty spiffy. If nothing else, you have to have a track for testing all your products, right? Tell us a bit about your track setup at home.
SC: I actually just finished redoing my track a couple of weeks ago. I eventually plan on doing the whole diorama thing but currently I am lacking the time! I think this is the 4th version of my permanent track. I think every track piece I make has spent time on either my track or my friends track being tested before I release it to the public, so I will occasionally change my track in order to fit new products that I’m working on.
RLD: What's your best selling diecast racing product?
SC: My most popular item has been the Super 6 Extender and connector, by far! That is the attachments that go on the Hot Wheels Super 6 finish line so you can move it and extend the track. But for the more traditional item, it is probably the 2 Lane Start Gate.
RLD: There's no shortage of diecast racing on YouTube and a lot of the channels we watch make use of your track accessories. What's your reaction to seeing your items being used to make racing a fun hobby for so many?
SC: I try to watch as many different channels as I can, and I love seeing the Slanman items put to use! My son just turned 4 so he doesn’t really understand yet, but I always say “look they are using your stuff!”
RLD: As great as it is seeing your products being used for the joy of racing, what do you feel is the biggest challenge for your business?
SC: In the past I would have said my equipment was the biggest challenge. I was spending so much time troubleshooting printers that would constantly break, which would cause me to get behind on orders coming in. But last year I decided to heavily invest in upgrading everything I had which has resulted in much fewer issues and higher quality products.
Just a few of the figures you can order from Slanman Customs (Erik Slan)
RLD: How does Slanman Customs fit into your daily life? Do you have a day job and Slanman is a big side hustle, or is it your primary job? How much of your day goes towards working on the Slanman Customs business?
SC: This kind of ties in with the last question and challenges of running the business. I have a full time job, family, dog, etc. Luckily my job is fairly laid back, so that is when I actually spend a majority of my time working on the business side of things, such as answering messages, working on new product ideas or revisions, that kind of stuff.
I start the printers before I go to work, go home at lunch to take the finished prints off and start new ones, and so on. I do family stuff in the evenings after work, and then on the nights I don’t pass out when putting my kid to bed, I spend probably 4-6 more hours working on stuff. As many small business owners may come to realize, it can really take over!
RLD: My wife thinks all this Hot Wheels racing is pretty silly but she is always amazed at how much dedication (and money) people put into the hobby. I know you're a family man too...what do they think of all this?
SC: My wife still can’t believe how things have taken off since I first started. She thought it was a waste of time at first, but I think it’s slowly growing on her. I’m sure her opinion may be a little different if I was on the “doing it for fun” side of things and not the business side.
RLD: Best I can tell, the Redline Derby Axle Jig is the first partnership you've done where you're the primary manufacturer & distributor of a product that isn't your design. Is this something you'd think about doing again? If someone has an idea for a product but doesn't have the means to get it made, are you open to those opportunities?
SC: I think it is a great opportunity to be able to produce the official RLD Axle Jig. I have been working on trying to make all of my products and business as a whole seem more “professional,” because let’s face it, I am just a guy printing stuff in my basement. But being able to offer a product that looks like it could be found on the shelves of a hobby shop is a great step.
I’ve had many people come to me with ideas for different track pieces they want. A lot of the time my team and I are able to make it happen. Many of the products currently in my shop have come from community suggestions. The very first crash racer connector on the market came from a friend wanting a better way to hold the side walls together because it was hard to do with popsicle sticks like most people were using.
The RLD Axle Alignment Jig has never looked better. (Erik Slan)
RLD: There's more than 50 products in your store right now. What does the future hold for Slanman Customs? Are there any new accessories on the horizon that racers can look forward to?
SC: I’ve got hundreds of different designs that have been done over the years that no one has ever seen! Some things didn’t come out the way I wanted, some things I just didn’t want to make, and some of them I even forget to post for people to see. For example, the arrow style finish line that I released and the end of 2022 was actually a design that had been sitting for over a year. Then there are other things like the electronic start gate and finish line that I had for a while but never wanted to release because they take an incredible amount of time to develop and assemble. And since its just me that does all of that, I just didn’t want to take it on.
But yes, one of the bigger releases to date will be coming soon! You may have seen it on my track or on the 3DBotMaker KOTM track, but I have a modular “fat track” curve system I’ve been testing and putting the finishing touches on and plan to release in the next couple of weeks. While it is not as cheap as the Crash Racers track most people use, it is a great improvement for the serious diecast racers who want to have the best possible track.
RLD: As for the diecast racing hobby itself, where do you think it will be in the next few years? Is there anything in particular you're hoping to see or that you can be a part of as the hobby continues to grow?
SC: I’m hoping the racing scene continues to grow, and not just on YouTube but in person. Having experienced both, there’s nothing quite like getting together with a group and racing your modified cars. There are many Hot Wheels collector conventions but I would love to see the addition of racing. I recently found a local group of collectors that are trying to set up a Midwest convention and I will be setting up a track there, so I’m hoping to convince at least a few others to release their cars from the plastic!
But I think it’s something we can all do. Talk to your local hobby shops, or even just a public place and see about setting up a small track. If you have a few people racing, there’s a 100% chance people will stop and watch. I think having people experience racing in person themselves will do a lot more to grow our “adult diecast racing” variant more than telling someone to watch a YouTube video.
Big thanks to Erik for taking the time to share a bit of his journey. It's great that our little hobby has grown enough to foster small businesses like his and so many others.
Please stop by the Slanman Customs store and check out the many accessories you could add to your track.
Like interviews? Check out the archive of interviews with other people making diecast racing fun and entertaining.
Great interview RLD and Erik! Your experience with 3D printers is quite valuable. Erik, as you know, I'm only 75 minutes away from you. I'm going to visit this year and I have several questions. Cheers, Mark H.