By Aaron Waldron
Open class practice for the 22nd running of the Reedy International Off-Road Race of Champions starts at 3 PM Pacific Time today, thus kicking off what just might be the RC industry’s most important race.
Even when compared to the IFMAR Worlds, ROAR Nationals, or any number of events around the world, the Reedy Race is regarded as the most difficult race to win. And it’s the only major RC race created specifically to be fun for spectators to watch.
In fact, every aspect of the Reedy Race of Champions proves just how special the Reedy Race is to the RC community.
Rather than move thousands of miles from year to year, like the National or World Championships, the Reedy Race is held in Southern California - the original hotbed of RC racing and still most densely populated region of major manufacturers. Anchoring itself to one particular part of the U.S. hasn’t discouraged a healthy turnout from racers all over the country, with a lottery system needed to determine who of the overwhelming flood of entrants gets to compete. In fact, it might have helped - the last couple of days have been flooded with Facebook posts from racers happy to be leaving cold weather for the sunshine of the Golden State. Rather than stay at the same track for decades, though, the race has been held in 11 different venues - each of them heralded as must-visit, “RC Mecca” destinations of their era. The one time the Reedy Race left SoCal, it was held at the Yatabe Arena in Japan - only the most famous RC facility in the world.
The Reedy Race is the only major event that deviates from the standard monotony of the typical 5+-day race. Rather than multiple days of practice, Reedy Race entrants get three official warm-up runs before the clock starts - period. Invitational drivers run 12 grueling rounds of heads-up, double-file grid starts, and five of six heats with each 2WD and 4WD buggy are used to determine a winner. It’s the closest thing RC racing has to an actual points championship among the world’s best - and in no other race do more of each driver’s races actually count. It takes more than a couple of clean, top-five qualifying runs and a turn-marshal assisted pile-up to have a shot at the title. There’s no surprise, fluke-from-deep-in-the-grid winner of the Reedy Race. The fastest drivers in the world are tested repeatedly, consistently, over three days to find who was truly the best that weekend - not necessarily the luckiest.
Rather than hoping for a surprise winner, or even just an unexpected finalist, the Open Class guarantees that a regional driver on the cusp of a breakout race will burst into the international spotlight. Since the Reedy Race rebooted in 2011, drivers from six different U.S. states and both hemispheres have topped the Open 2WD and 4WD divisions. Rather than a typical “Sportsman” class, there’s a hard cutoff - the Invitational class takes the best 30 racers off the top, and then throws everyone else together. There’s no drama about whether or not a racer is “too sponsored” to enter a division left totally open to his discretion. And because the format for the Invitational class is different, there’s no constant comparison of racers’ qualifying times across levels. Bump-ups from ten-minute lower main events give a last chance to those who struggle in qualifying, and at the end of the weekend, ten of the next-big-things in electric off-road racing have two 10-minute sprints to see who’s best when the lap times and throw outs don’t matter - but position does. It’s a built-in Cinderella story.
Rather than a blemish on its page within RC racing lore, the decade-long break in the Reedy Race’s near 30-year history is perhaps the finest example of what makes its history so great. Specifically, the Reedy Race name wasn’t pushed through the lowest drought of electric off-road racing. Thought it was held every year through the heyday of 1987-2000, the Reedy Race took a nap after being moving outdoors to Hot Rod Hobbies in 2001 - with exclusively American racers driving stadium trucks instead of 4WD buggies. When brushless motors and LiPo batteries wooed back those who had turned to nitro, and a new generation of kits and tires enticed touring car converts to return to the dirt, the Reedy Race came roaring back with a renewed international draw and a healthier balance between 2WD and 4WD. The hibernation also preserved its impeccably perfect list of former winners. Just 15 names are engraved into the 21 plaques on the Invitational trophy, of which eleven have won U.S. national championships, one is a European Champion, and one is a Japanese national champion. Of the remaining two, one is a former 2WD Worlds runner-up, and the other is the brother of a two-time world champion. Six of those 15 winners have combined for 15 IFMAR Electric Off-Road World Championships.
Perhaps most notably of all, the Reedy Race honors an RC pioneer who made more of an impact, directly and indirectly, on the RC racing industry than any other single person ever. By the time Mike Reedy first organized his own birthday party as a gift to the hobby he loved so much, his electric motors had already claimed three of the brand’s 30 IFMAR World Championships. The Reedy International Off-Road Race of Champions sparked official and unofficial spin-offs in many countries, for a variety of different racing disciplines. Like the products which also continue to bear his last name, the Reedy Race continues to impact the lives of countless RC racers all around the world.
What makes the Reedy Race so special? Everything.
Follow along with our coverage all weekend long from the Reedy Race of Champions at OCRC Raceway.