X Factory | News

Goodbye, Brian

You may wonder why it has taken so long for us to get this story up. It’s because this has been among the most difficult things I've ever had to write. Brian Kinwald, a truly good man, has passed way too early. Paul and I began seeing Brian at major races when Paul was entering the stock class and we traveled to the Nats, Shoot-Out, Cactus, etc. This began in 2001, when Brian was at his peak. He had won everything for about six years then, and was the man to beat. For Paul, who was 16, he was the idol. For me, Brian was The Champ. So we both were afraid to actually talk to him, but we certainly admired his driving skill and especially his preparation. Although he didn't realize it Brian was the inspiration for X Factory.
One of Brian's last major race trophies - 3rd Place SC ROAR Nats 2010     You see, Paul was driving Losi cars. We didn't realize that the car Paul drove had very little in common with the one Brian used, but the thought occurred: How can we possibly beat Brian Kinwald using the same equipment he has? To beat Brian, we need something different, something better. We can practice like crazy and develop the same driving skill as Brian, but if we have the same car beating him is a matter of luck. But if our car is better, we may actually be able to win with skill a tiny notch below his. So we started wondering how to develop a car better than what Brian had. Soon the opportunity presented itself, as Losi released the XXX4. Paul had been successfully driving the XX4, placing 6th at the Hot Rod Hobby Shoot-Out. He loved driving the XX4; it was his favorite car. The XXX4, on the other hand, was a handful. It would out-accelerate the XX4 and was faster on the straight. However, the XX4 cornered and jumped much better, and was easier to drive fast. If we could combine the XXX4 driveline with the XX4 suspension, the car should be faster than either one, and now we would have a chance to beat Brian Kinwald. X Factory, and the X – 5 was born. Greg Hodapp drove for us and won the ROAR National Championship in 2005. Greg's great friend Brian Kinwald was our inspiration, even though Brian didn't know it.

    We began work on the X – 6 in January, 2006. Brian had been too sick to attend the 2005 Nationals in August, and by early 2006 he couldn't race at all. He suffered from Crohn’s disease, which had constantly kept him in and out of the hospital since he was 12. Crohn's is why Brian stopped BMX and switched to R/C. By the end of 2005 he was pretty much home-bound and sleeping much of the time. Greg Hodapp had left our Team, going out on top, so we needed a driver, but we couldn’t afford one of the up-coming stars. By August, I heard that Kinwald's contract with Losi would not be renewed, and with great trepidation I called The Champ. Would he even answer my call?!!!! Brian did, and we set an appointment to talk the following week. I flew to California.

I remember this moment like it was yesterday. Brian lived with his wife Heidi in the Huntington Beach condo where he had grown up. Heidi let me in the front door, and went to get Brian from upstairs. He was asleep, and I waited in a semi-dark living room for him to come down. I immediately recognized he was not well, but Brian smiled and wanted to talk. He said he was impressed with our X – 5, that we were doing what he had always wanted to do, and wanted to know if we were working on anything new. When I began talking about the X – 6, he became visibly animated. Although we could offer him far less than his previous income, he agreed to sign immediately, saying something like, "I have always dreamed about developing radical new cars."
Then Brian said something like this: "I won't be able to race much at first, but I want to be part of this. I will work for you every day as hard as I can." And he did. He showed me an amazing place, his garage, the most incredible place I’ve ever seen to work on R/C cars. It took about 10 days to work out the Agreement and arrange the flights. I made a second trip for him to sign. By that visit we had shipped him an X – 5 and an early X – 6, and Brian told me something very special. He said the cars were incredible, that he believed he needed to change his doctors and medications so he could get better, and that he couldn’t wait to get to the track with these new cars. He said he already had a couple ideas for improvements. The sick man who struggled to descend the stairs 10 days earlier was all fired up. Brian did change his doctors and meds. Weaning him off the old meds and starting the new régime took almost 6 months. It was difficult, but he wanted to race, he wanted to be back at the track, most of all he wanted to help with these new cars, and he did it.

In the meantime, Kinwald began schooling Paul and me. He demanded we bring X Factory up to Kinwald Standards. We had to invest money in new molds with a new company, one which made world-class R/C cars. The difference between the original X – 5, or the X – 6, and the X – 60/X – 6 Squared is night and day, and that's just a part of what we learned from Brian.

Everybody knows Brian was an innovator. He would try almost anything to go faster. What many don't know is that most of them failed; Brian would try a hundred things to come up with one that was killer. Sometimes that one thing was only good at one track, but Brian knew which track, and when he got there he had the advantage.

  I think it was at The Clash, but am not sure which year or track. What I remember is that Brian knew a particular brand of brake cleaner was the tire dope to use, and nobody else knew about it. We went to two different auto stores to find just the right stuff. We kept the spray can in the rented van and took our tires out there to spray them when nobody was around. Oh, did that van stink after two cans of brake cleaner were sprayed in it – we almost got high, or sick, on the way to the hotel – but the stuff worked and we had better tires than anybody. I'm glad I couldn't see the face on the guy who had to clean the van at the rental company!

When Brian drove the original X – 6, he came off the track after his first battery pack and said, “This is like cheating.” A minute later, he said, "We've got to have a truck. I'll design one." Paul was part of that design – he was getting a master's degree in mechanical engineering – and Paul says, "I learned more from Brian Kinwald during those couple of months than from two years in grad school." The X – 60 was released in December 2007 and the X – 6 Squared in February 2008. The X – 6 Squared, on which Brian Kinwald did the basic design, won the National Championship in nine different countries. Later, in 2008, Brian had moved to Tucson because that's where Competition Hobbies was, and Brian said that was the best track in the U.S. so that’s where he had to be. His health was almost normal, and he was at the track 8 hours a day six days a week. Paul spent a week there with him, learning to drive. At the end of the week, Paul was about a second/lap faster on every track he saw.
By the end of 2008 Brian's health was pretty good and he was attending most of the major races as before, always in the A, and sitting at the center of our Team, helping everybody. Suddenly, in the middle of 2010, it was my turn to be sick, and the future was not so bright. Meanwhile, Brian was getting offers from other teams for double and triple what we could pay him. In early 2011, although his Agreement lasted until the end of the year, we went to Brian, told him we knew of the other offers, and released him with gratitude for all he had helped. Brian said, "I don't want to leave X Factory but I must look out for my family. I will always love you guys, and want to stay in touch. Maybe some day we can get together again." He did stay in touch. Paul and Brian talked on the phone several times a year, and there were always long conversations when we'd meet at the track and sometimes in his hotel room. He remained totally loyal to his current employer, and we didn't talk to him about X Factory development. We were friends, and talked about the "normal" stuff that friends do.

Paul and I are very sad.

We have lost an inspiration and friend.

It's not often you meet someone who is both.