By Aaron Waldron
I can’t think of a single reason to continue enforcing the decades-old rule that stops drivers from using reverse during a race.
If you’ve made it this far without mashing on your keyboard to blast this article for being totally ridiculous and that “reverse is for bashers,” thank you. Please keep reading.
Every RC racing historian I’ve asked about the history of outlawing reverse has told me “that’s the way it’s always been” - because the prevailing wisdom was that racers would otherwise back into traffic and caused more harm than good. I don’t think that was a good reason then, and I think it’s even worse now.
Thirty years ago, outlawing reverse could very well have been a practical decision. I’m no electronics engineer, but I do remember the budget-level speed controls that had reverse 20 years ago. They were large and clunky, and had no transition from “brake” to “reverse” - trying to slow down for a hairpin at the end of a straightaway was worse than yanking your Toyota Tercel’s E-brake in the rain. Competition ESC’s didn’t have a mode that locked out reverse - they just didn’t even have the capability at all. If racers had to choose between a less-capable ESC that had reverse, or a full-competition model that didn’t, outlawing reverse at the local level as a means of preserving a level playing field was totally justified.
Nowadays, though, nearly all speedos have reverse - and it’s not just the diehard racers who buy top-shelf equipment. Go to any track on a practice day, and you’re almost guaranteed to see a rookie use reverse to get himself out of a jam. In fact, I’ve watched some of the best racers in the country use reverse on practice days rather than walk off the drivers’ stand or cry out for a friend in the pit area to help when they narrowly misjudge a corner and get stuck two inches from the end of a pipe.
If it’s not expressly about cost control or fairness, the reason for the perpetuation of the “reverse rule” is to stop drivers from using reverse to back out of a crash - and into traffic. I don’t think that argument makes any sense, for a number of reasons.
First of all, outlawing all drivers from using reverse because some of them might impede the progress of other drivers would be like not allowing people to wear shoes into a store because they might slip on the wet floor. But careless people who ignore the potential danger of the situation are going to slip and fall no matter what, and it’s not the shoes that will create the problem. There are an infinite number of scenarios in which a racer’s lack of perfect judgement and car control causes a crash - trying to pass when there’s no room, misjudging a jump, swerving across the track, tumbling into another lane, you name it. Can you honestly say you’ve never seen someone clamp their trigger wide open to try hop over the pipe they’re stuck against, only to flip backward onto the track or shoot across the next lane? Often times, when a car is stuck against a corner barrier, the helpless vehicle is blocking the racing line anyway - and if he were able to back out of the way and get moving again, traffic would be cleared up long before a turn marshal would reach the vehicle.
And while we’re on the subject of turn marshals, allowing drivers to use reverse would reduce one of the most subjective and bogus factors that impact the outcome of countless races. If a driver using reverse to free himself from being stuck against a corner barrier is a danger to other cars, what do you call a 300 lb. cigarette smoker in sandals waddling across a muddy hillside? Blaming racers for being incapable of utilizing proper judgement to use reverse safely totally ignores how often even the most athletic turn marshals step in front of moving vehicles, set cars down in the racing line without giving oncoming traffic the right-of-way, or even fall onto the track surface. Why not reduce the effect a turn marshal’s judgement could have on a race and put that responsibility back onto the driver?
Should the A-Main drivers at the IFMAR Worlds be able to use reverse? Maybe not - but for the vast majority of those who will ever turn laps on an RC track, being able to help themselves after making a small driving mistake would mean less frustration and more fun. And it would stop race directors from having to explain to incoming rookies why they have to disable reverse from their vehicles with no better excuse than “that’s just the rule - and that’s the way it has always been.”