By Aaron Waldron
During the ROAR Fuel Off-Road Nationals main events on Sunday, two high-profile drivers were disqualified after their respective Truck class races with some pretty serious consequences: Cole Ogden was denied a bump-up to the A-Main, and Ryan Lutz’s runner-up finish in the final was nullified.
Naturally, both social media as well as the LiveRC chat room blew up with discussion upon hearing the news. Many level-headed racing fans expressed sympathy for the drivers while acknowledging the rule’s existence, and others constructively suggested alternatives ranging from updating the weight limit to more closely reflect modern kits, to pre-race inspection and/or removing tire wear from the equation.
The more vocal minority, though, was much less helpful. Keyboard cowboys accused ROAR officials of staging a witch hunt and ripping off racers, using a wide variety of colorful descriptions to express their opinions. You know, typical YouTube comment-type stuff.
Criticism of the ROAR rulebook is nothing new, and the minimum weight rule for the 1/8-scale truck class has come under particular scrutiny over the last couple of years, with current generation kits falling far under the regulation originally set back in the category’s infancy a decade ago. In order to meet the mark, many trucks require the fitment of chassis weights made of brass or other metals - which, of course, can also be used as a tuning option. It’s not uncommon for race cars of any scale to be prepared under the minimum weight limit so that ballast can be placed where it could provide the most benefit. That’s just part of racing.
Whether or not the minimum weight limit could be adjusted doesn’t negate the concept. Without the rule, costs could potentially skyrocket - both with designs that focus on weight reduction over durability, as well as manufacturers outfitting their sponsored racers with exotic one-off parts that would be impossible to regulate and outlaw. Magnesium hubs anyone?
That’s also exactly the reason why tires and wheels must be fitted to the vehicle when it is checked for weight. Racers already battle with tire wear being their number one consumable expense. Do we really want to open Pandora’s box of lightweight tires, inserts and wheels? There’s no easier way to improve a vehicle’s speed and handling than by removing rotating, unsprung weight. There may not be much room to reduce the weight of 2WD buggy tires and wheels, but the last thing that the dwindling 1/8-scale truck category needs is an increase in tire prices.
Running an illegal vehicle and getting away with it is not a valid defense. The ROAR officials at the Nationals last weekend were very transparent about the fact that not all cars were going to be inspected every run. It simply wasn’t feasible. It stands to reason, though, that those finishing in bump-up positions and especially the podium of a national championship final would be subject to more intense scrutiny.
Checking vehicle weight before the race sounds great, but it’s not practical. It’s easier for any number of fifteen racers to temporarily fasten some pre-mounted weights onto a chassis that can be popped off in pit lane (or a warm-up crash) than it is for the mechanics of three select cars to sneak a legitimate piece of ballast onto a car on the heavily-watched walk from pit lane to the tech table. Compensating for tire wear and other factors when it comes to meeting a minimum weight requirement is something that drivers of all disciplines (RC and full-size) have understood is a prerequisite part of competition. Carpet racers weigh their cars with worn-out tires that are too small. Nitro on-road racers sometimes pit for fresh tires at the end of the race so that they’re legal for post-race tech. Of course, such extreme tire wear is relatively new to the nitro off-road racing scene, but again - that’s not a legitimate excuse.
You can argue that 15 grams is inconsequential on a 4000 gram 1/8-scale truck, but do you think a TORC racer could get away with his 4000-pound truck being 15 pounds underweight? Also, Lutz himself admitted it was his fault. Anyone trying to point fingers in other directions after that are just looking for attention. If you truly believe that a rule change would benefit our industry, rather than just trying to clear the name of a favorite racer, then be proactive and get involved: submit rule changes to a current ROAR volunteer, or volunteer yourself. Talking about it after the fact is just that - talk.
Seriously, what is ROAR supposed to do in these kinds of situation? Say “close enough” and all credibility boards a one-way flight to Siberia. The rule is absolutely clear: 4000 grams is the minimum weight. There is no "and."
What bothered me most about the attempts to shred ROAR’s volunteer officials through a cheese grater was the hypocrisy. The RC world desperately craves stories of privateers getting busted for using “stock” 17.5-motors that can be purchased out-of-spec right from the shelves and the community nails them to the wall - but a couple of well-liked pros make a small error in judgement and the pitchforks come out? Get real. For a community that holds the spirit of competition in such high regard, suggesting mulligans on a case-by-case basis is cheesier than a participation trophy topped with melted mozzarella.
Perhaps the bigger problem that these DQ’s confirmed is the scope of the ROAR Nationals within the realm of RC racing, especially for nitro off-road. I heard several people at the event comment how the environment seemed to be missing “something” - and if compared to the Dirt Nitro Challenge or Silver State, the easy answer is international talent and sheer number of entries. In fact, the same is often said about the ROAR Electric Nationals when viewed in the context of the Cactus Classic, Reedy Race and other events. As it stands, the most radical factor about the ROAR Nationals that sets the event apart from any of the prestigious independent races in our industry is stricter enforcement of the same ROAR rules that almost every promoter uses anyway.
If ROAR is empowered to do anything, it's running the most fairly judged event humanly possible. Now racers want to destroy that, too?
This is everyone’s fault. ROAR is expected to move its races around the U.S. every year, but also bring its own crew and equipment for the sake of consistency. They are supposed to reward tracks for “paying their dues” to the industry, even if it means choosing locations that don’t provide the best exposure, but then the organization is blamed for not doing more to help the races grow. Only a few dozen of the thousands of members elect a revolving door of volunteers, but widespread panic prevents any radical changes to the status quo. Manufacturers spend more time and money on their own events, where they have greater control and can reap more exposure, than they do helping to protect the sanctity of what’s supposed to be our hobby’s biggest accomplishments. Rather than working together, everyone is spinning their tires in different directions.
The fact that a couple of disqualifications for blatant rule violations made such a big scene at the event wasn’t just unfortunate, but it’s indicative of much larger issues.