Mark Racop: Batman
On Tuesday afternoon, May 30th 2017, I climbed into a white, 2011 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. I accompanied my friend, Mark Racop, to Richmond, Indiana to pick up a front and rear windshield for 1966 Batmobile replica. The windshield is for one Mark’s customers in Canada. You see, my friend Mark owns his own business: Fiberglass Freaks. He and his crew build 1966 Batmobile replicas. The cars are works of art. They are painstakingly hand-crafted from the ground up in exquisite detail, accuracy, and quality. You can’t help being awestruck the first time you see one of his completed cars. You can’t help smiling either.
Mark’s passion for the Batmobile began at the age of two. Even at this young age, Mark has vivid memories of falling in love with the Batman television show and the car. He and a group of friends made their first Batman fan film in 1980. Not having a Batmobile of their own at the time, this ragtag band of misfits snuck into the Chicago Antique Auto Museum to shoot scenes in a Batmobile that was on display. They were caught and ejected from the museum before they could finish. Mark remembers that it was then he realized that they needed their own Batmobile prop for any later fan films (although his desire to own his own Batmobile goes back years prior). When they shot their second Batman fan film Mark was still too young to drive and did not have a license so he ended up splicing scenes in of the Batmobile from the television show and movies. As the third installment of the fan films came, it was time to make his dream of having his own Batmobile a reality.
Mark shares his experience:
Mark Racop: I thought, well, we’d built sets and props and sewed costumes, how hard could it be to build a Batmobile? And boy…was I wrong! It took everything we had. Five of us for about three summers to build that car.
We would do shooting at college for the rest of the movie, but we were waiting on all of the Batmobile scenes until the very end.
T.W. Allen: Tell me about Bat-One (Mark’s first Batmobile)
MR: Bat-One was made from the completely wrong donor car, a 1974 Monte Carlo. We had no automotive experience, we had no automotive tools, and we didn’t even have an air compressor. We willed that car into being! We used plywood, wood paneling, Styrofoam, and steel—anything we could to get the shape right. Then we fiberglassed over it in multiple layers. We taught ourselves fiberglassing and body filler. We eventually bought some more tools along the way.
We finally had the car good enough—at least for shooting the movie. Then the Batman television series came back on the air in the Logansport area. I hadn’t seen it for about ten years. I started going through every single scene of the Batmobile, freeze framing every scene, going frame by frame—thirty frames per second—and I realized very quickly how far off we were. So, in 1998 I made a plan and cut off the back half of the car and completely redid it in Styrofoam and fiberglass. A friend of mine came on board and really helped me to try to dress up the car to make it the best we possibly could. In 2000 we repainted it.
TA: So how did you go from building a Batmobile for your fan film to wanting to build and sell Batmobiles?
MR: All along I had thought that it would be neat to make a business out of this. I wanted to cast a mold, but Bat-One wasn’t really good enough to cast a mold from. A friend and I went to an auction in Auburn, IN to see a Batmobile replica being sold. It wasn’t really well made; it wasn’t very accurate, but it raised $140,000.00. It didn’t meet the reserve which was $180,000, but we looked at each and said, “Holy cow! Absolutely yes! We can do this!”
We took a 1970’s Lincoln Town Car and started sculpting in yellow urethane foam to try to get the shape and started fiberglassing it… Do you know how they say that you can buy anything on eBay?
MR: They mean it. You really can.
The original car that became the Batmobile was a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. There was only one that was ever built and that car literally became the Batmobile. George Barris only had five weeks to find a car and turn it into the Batmobile. So he took the metal car and added wings to the tops of the doors, extended the hood scoop down the nose, and added all the Bat-gadgets.
There was a guy who was a fan of the original Futura and couldn’t stand what George Barris had done to the original car. He made a beautiful sculpt of the Futura, popped a fiberglass mold, and then let the Futura sculpt sit out in the woods for twelve years. That sculpt was put up on eBay and I bought it for $2,125.00.
I thought that it was going to be really nice. I looked and saw that it had a handful of imperfections that I didn’t feel it was going to be a big deal to fix. There looked to be about six to eight cracks in it. Then we got to see it in person. It had all kinds of problems. Every square inch of it needed work. It took three months to do the repairs and to pop a mold of it. So, that’s how Fiberglass Freaks was born.
Mark Racop is the only person in the world who is licensed to build 1966 Batmobile replicas. In fact, no other vehicle from the Batman franchise has ever been licensed except the ‘66. Let that sink in for a moment. That would make Fiberglass Freaks the only business on this planet that can legally build and sell Batmobiles.
Licensing came in a peculiar way. DC actually sent a “spy” into Mark’s shop posing as a potential customer. When he saw the quality of the cars he couldn’t help but to recommend licensing. DC contacted Mark and asked if Fiberglass Freaks would consider licensing and, of course, the answer was “yes”. (This coming sometime after they had sent him a “cease and desist” letter.) A year passed and they reached out to Mark again and his answer was still “yes”. Yet another year goes by and Mark is contacted again about licensing and, yet again, he gave a resounding “yes”! Three weeks later, on September 24th, 2010 he had a contract.
Since the licensing, business has been booming at Fiberglass Freaks. Mark and his business have been featured in numerous television programs, magazines, newspapers, and various other forms of media all over the world.
Mark says, “I pinch myself every day—that this is real. This is what I get to do for a living. It’s a huge blessing from God that I’m able to make this happen. Who would have ever thought that this crazy kid with a dream would be able to Batmobiles for a living?”
Mark Racop: Filmmaker
While the Batmobile replica business takes up the majority of Mark’s time these days, Fiberglass Freaks isn’t the only business Mark owns and operates. He also has a film production company: MagicHouse Productions. And Mark and his MagicHouse team have made full length motion pictures.
I asked Mark to tell me a bit about MagicHouse:
MR: While my dream of building Batmobiles comes from the age of two, my dream of movie making began about 1974 when I saw Star Trek for the very first time. It was the original 1966 television series. I kept asking my dad, “How did they do that?” My dad would answer, “Trick photography!” So I had to find out what this “trick photography” was all about.
My mom and dad bought me “The Making of Star Trek,” Stephen Whitfield’s book, when I was around seven or eight years old. I read that thing cover to cover—I couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of times. I learned all about optical printing; I learned about traveling mattes; I learned about all of things necessary to make a science fiction TV series. I learned about how to make the special effects work, the designing of sets, and also the history of Star Trek. It was really neat!
Then, like so many others, my world was turned upside down in 1977 when Star Wars came out. I remember thinking, “If movies can make people feel this good, I’ve got to do that too!” That’s when I decided to major in filmmaking in college. I was twelve when I made that decision.
I made the first two Batman fan films while I was in high school and the third film while I was in college. I submitted the third fan film for the David Letterman Scholarship Contest, which was in its second year at the time, and I ended up winning one of the scholarship awards. That was a really nice feather in the cap and it helped out a lot to open up some doors along the way.
I did an internship on a movie called “Terror Squad” and, while the movie itself was awful, the experience was out of this world. I really enjoyed every single moment of it. I got to work on the set in many different departments. I got to work in the production office and learned all about product placement as well as editing at the actual location. That’s very rare, but it does happen from time to time. I worked with the special effects men to score the sets so that they could blow them apart at a later time with charges. I worked with the stuntmen team on decorating the cars to make them look like police cars so they could wreck them. I really had a ball.
TA: It sounds like fun!
MR: It was a great experience and that’s what led me into making my own movies on a professional level. I made a science fiction comedy called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Starship,” also known as Starship-one. It won several awards and was shown at film festivals and conventions all across the country.
That sparked the interest to work on many more movies. We worked on a sequel to Rock and Roll Starship which is currently in post-production. We also had the opportunity to work on other people’s movies in addition to our own. We worked on a movie called, “A Time for the Heart” which is a cross between “Somewhere in Time” and an “X-Files” episode.
That film ended up winning a nomination for the San Diego Comic Con Film Festival. I got to go to San Diego Comic Con for the very first time, not just as a fan only, but also as a guest!
TA: Very nice!
MR: I’ve been a guest speaker at lots of science fiction conventions across the Midwest. I spoke in Atlanta, GA about filmmaking and the importance of preproduction. I talked about green screens and what you could do to make them work better for special effects shots and things like that. It has been a real honor to be able to help others out as I was helped out along the way.
Mark Racop: The Man
I wanted to switch gears from the business talk and ask Mark some questions about his personal life. Mark was born in Logansport, IN and grew up in Logansport and Lafayette, IN. He moved to Lafayette when he was ten years old following his parents’ divorce. He lived in Lafayette for about five years with his mother and younger brother before returning to Logansport during his freshman year of high school.
He shared with me a bit of drama that had occurred during the end of his time in Lafayette. Under the ruse of going on a two week vacation, his mother had taken Mark and his brother to Hawaii. It wasn’t until after they had arrived in Hawaii that Mark learned his mother had purchased one-way tickets and intended for them to live there. She wanted to take Mark and his brother far away from their father in spite of not having permission from the court. Mark says that his father had to make a “James Bond-esque” rescue of his sons.
You would think being kidnapped by your own mother would be quite a traumatic event, but there was no hint of any bitterness in his tone as he relayed the story and he even spoke about it with a smile on his face.
I asked him tell me about one of his fondest and earliest childhood memories:
MR: (Laughs) It actually ties in with the business. It was seeing my very first Batman episode at the age of two. I can still remember Robin, about to be stamped into a comic book by the Joker. I remember that like it was yesterday. People have said, “Oh you can’t remember anything from the age of two,” and my mom and dad said, “Yes, he can!”
Seeing Star Wars, as I had said earlier, had a huge impact on my life.
From a fun perspective and a personal perspective beyond those experiences was meeting my wife, Jill, for the very first time. I saw this beautiful blonde from across the room—I only had about eight minutes with her the first time we met—and there was a voice in the back of my head that said, “There’s the woman you’re going to marry.” It was so clear. I remember that also to this very day. I can tell you exactly where I was standing in the doorway of the room when I saw her across the table; I can tell you where she was sitting at the table—everything about it.
I didn’t see her again for an entire school year. She was attending David Lipscomb University at the time. Then a mutual friend brought her by to check out what his crazy buddy was doing, building his very first Batmobile. My pick-up line was, “Hey, I could use some help working on the car.” She said, “Yes.” She was over five or six days a week, every week, throughout that summer helping to build the Batmobile.
Things were going agonizingly slow. We were “just friends.” It was painful…very painful. I tried to kiss her once and she leaned her head down and I ended up kissing her on the forehead. So, a while later, we are sitting in Bat-One at the root beer stand and I decided to go for it. I said, “Jill, I think I’m falling in like with you.” She was so shy that I felt using the word “love” would have been way too strong and might have pushed her away. “Like” was just the right word.
We became boyfriend and girlfriend, she headed off to college, and we survived that long distance relationship. We married about two and half years after we first met. Thirty years later, we’re still going strong!
MR: I wanted to go into our marriage the right way. My mother-in-law said something very interesting. I wasn’t a Christian yet. I said, “Yeah, we’ll give it a shot.” And my mother-in-law said, “No! You will not give it shot!” I said, “Excuse me?” She said, “You’re either going to get married or you’re not going to get married. You’re not going to try.” That really stuck with me.
I had been going to church with Jill and her mother. To be sure, initially it was because of Jill and not my own desire to be in church. I was trying to impress the hot blonde! Initially, I went begrudgingly. The preacher would say something and I would say, “That can’t be in the Bible.” So, I’d look it up. Sure enough, there it was. Then I’d hear something else controversial and think, that couldn’t be in the Bible, so I’d look it up. And once again, there it was! Eventually, through the words of the Bible and through listening to the preachers, and through asking lots and lots of questions, I became convinced that I really needed to be baptized.
I had been partaking of the Lord’s Supper and was told that I really shouldn’t be taking the Lord’s Supper if I wasn’t a Christian. That really had an impact on me. I decided that I had better get right with God because I surely wanted to participate in remembering His death, burial, and resurrection in a correct way.
Three weeks before we were married I got baptized. I wanted to go into our relationship with God at the center of our relationship. I made a commitment to God, as well as to myself, and with Jill to make sure that happened. So, I’ve been a Christian for thirty years as well.
TA: So…we’ve talked about some of your fondest memories. Do you have any fears?
MR: I do. As a small business owner there’s always the question of cash-flow. It never gets any easier. No matter how busy or how slow you are, there’s always cash-flow issues. You need enough inventory so nobody is just sitting there twiddling their thumbs, but unfortunately sometimes you have to buy inventory in such quantities that you have a life-time supply of something. So now you have a lot of money sitting on a shelf that’s worthless to anybody outside of the Batmobile business. So, cash-flow is always on the forefront of the mind as a business owner.
Another thing is age. I’m fifty-two years old now. When I started this business I was young, strong, and invincible. I’ve had some injuries along the way—my left knee and my right arm—that have really slowed me down physically to the point where I’ve had to rely on others to do a lot of my physical work that I used to do. And those that I’m relying on aren’t young men either. And, there aren’t any young body-men. What they’re calling a body-man today is somebody that will take a panel off a car, replace it with a new panel, and prime it—and they call that body work. Not the panel beaters of yesteryear that would straighten panels, and refit them, and make them functional again. That skill level is hard to find nowadays.
And over all, there’s the fear for the country and the direction it’s going. This is probably the greatest fear of all that I’ve mentioned. The deterioration of humanity—seeing more and more people become more and more depraved—especially here in the U.S. It’s not like it used to be. Gone are the days of being able to leave your doors unlocked. When I was kid we never worried about going outside. Our parents never worried about us going outside. Today you have to worry about kids being kidnapped, or raped, or killed, or whatever. It’s not the innocent country that I grew up in. I miss the simpler days. I miss the innocence; I miss the honesty of those days. It’s so sad.
TA: Okay…enough about fears. What brings you joy in life?
MR: I’m joyous, pretty much, every day. I wake up and I’m excited to see my lovely wife, I’m excited to go to work, I’m excited to see my five cats and care for them…life in general is always exciting and joyous. Are there bad times? Absolutely. Are there fears? Absolutely. But, I face each day with a positive attitude. I don’t let anything get me down too much. Does it happen from time to time? Yes, but overall not so much. I have to count Jesus working within me and the Holy Spirit working within me as the reason. This isn’t just me, but somebody else working within me; and me trusting in that. I trust in the Holy Spirit and I trust God that everything will work out for the best.
TA: What would you consider to be your biggest weakness or fault?
MR: In business, my biggest fault is being too nice and too forgiving. (Laughs) It has cost me thousands of dollars. I’ve let people take advantage of me. I knew it, but I allowed it to happen anyway.
As far as on a personal level outside of business, I don’t use my time as wisely as I should. I do give my businesses too much of my time and I don’t give enough of my free time to my family or friends. Of course my lovely wife, Jill, so richly deserves more.
TA: What do you consider some of your biggest strengths?
MR: My biggest strength is being the glue that holds the business, projects, or whatever, together. Whatever the task is—whether business related or church related—it’s to hold those people together. For whatever the reason, I’ve been blessed with the ability to make things happen. Whether I have the particular talent or not, I’m able to get the people that do have the talent together and get them networking and pull them all together to accomplish some fantastic things. That’s probably the greatest gift I’ve been given.
Outside of that I’m an artist. I’m a bit OCD much to the chagrin of my crew working on the Batmobiles. I can spot when something is a sixteenth of an inch off and needs to be re-centered, or opened up, or whatever the problem is that needs to be addressed. I work very hard to make everything the best it can possibly be.
And finally…following through. I might not be at the speed I’d like to be on the projects, but I always follow through; no matter what it is. I’m tenacious…sometimes to a fault.
TA: Are there any people you admire?
MR: I do admire quite a few people. Several of my friends; I also have role models in the movie business that I still appreciate, but really, it all comes back to God and what God has done for me. What He has done is more than what anybody else has done. I can’t take credit and give it to anybody else.
Early role models would have been George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and other filmmakers like them. That admiration comes from a technical standpoint. From a personality stand point I would have to look at how they lived their lives and, sadly, things are not always how I would like them to be.
TA: What are your goals for the future—for business and for your life and for the church?
MR: My goals in life, in general, all kind of dovetail together. One is to build the museum with a showroom for the business. That would hopefully help me to do more financially to assist the church. I would also like to be able to do more promotional work for the church. I’m hoping that when we build our shop car for the business, that we will be able to use that more to help the church.
For MagicHouse we have a sequel to Rock ‘n’ Roll Starship called Starship 2 that’s in post-production. We have a lot of special effects—way too many. We bit off way more than we could chew. But once the special effects are completed, I’m really hoping that this movie will launch MagicHouse into the stratosphere—into the next level. It has a lot of potential. That will hopefully help me out financially as well.
As for the church one of the main goals is to try to attract young people. We’d like more young families; more parents with young children. I’d also like to continue with the teenage class and to continue to grow it.
On a personal level, I’d like to help out my dad as much as I possibly can, as he is going to be eighty-one this year. He’s still in really good shape physically. I’d like to help to guide him in his business as a landlord.
TA: Do you have any interests or hobbies outside of work?
MR: Hobbies? I used to build models, but that was long, long time ago. I’m trying to catch up on some television series and some movies. I watched Firefly again. That was nice. I, unfortunately, don’t always look for new TV shows and movies; I seem to have this tendency to want to go back and revisit older shows and movies that I already know I enjoy, rather than giving a chance to a new one. I do go to the movies and catch the latest Marvel and DC movies, but I still go back to my favorites. I go back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Ghostbusters, or Johnny Dangerously, or the Star Wars movies.
We spent the last bit of our trip speaking about Mark’s personal philosophies. We spoke about things like purpose, identity, origins, meaning, morality, faith, and free-will. Because of his strong, Christian worldview, it should come as no surprise that his answers led back to God and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Mark believes we find our purpose in serving God and our fellow human beings; we find our identity in God, in whose image and likeness we are created; we find meaning in our Creator and His Son through whom we find our origins. Mark believes in objective morality, free-will in conjunction with God’s foreknowledge, and the power of a strong biblical faith.
I’ve had the privilege of being Mark’s friend since I first took over the pulpit position in the local church he attends. He’s one of those people that you can’t help but to like and admire. Even when he’s exhausted from the chaos his work sometimes brings, he always carries an aura of joy and peace with him wherever he goes.
I asked Mark if he could make one change, whether in the world, the church, or even in an individual life, what would it be? He said he wished he could gift everyone with wisdom and the ability to make better choices with their lives, their relationship with God and the relationships with one another. I followed up asking him a final question: “Do you have any advice or wisdom of your own you’d like to share?” His answer was simple, yet still profound: “Give God a chance.”