WHERE'S WALDO: What's your most intense RC racing memory?
Wednesday, Feb 4, 2015 04:59pm
By Aaron Waldron
By Aaron Waldron
I’m sure I could recall hundreds of different events in my RC career, going all the way back to racing Novice when I was in grade school. My dad has kept a bunch of old trophies, some of them from 15-20 years ago, and I can probably remember a detail or something special about the race where I earned each one. I remember rental car hijinx, travel nightmares, winners of most of the notable Nationals and Worlds for the last 10-20 years, and which drivers went to the hospital after a dodgeball game in a hotel got out of hand. I know I’m not alone, either - as an avid fan of RC racing folklore, I love sharing stories and hearing pro drivers and local hobbyists alike reminisce, and have been lucky enough to chat with drivers like legends Joel Johnson and Jay Halsey, to today’s young stars such as Ty Tessman, Dakotah Phend, and Spencer Rivkin. It has always been interesting to me to listen to fellow racers talk races they remember well.
By far, the race that stands out most in my mind was the 2004 ROAR Fuel Off-Road Nationals at the Silver Bowl R/C Raceway in Las Vegas. (Sadly, this photo is not from that race - but it was the same year, and that's the same paint job I ran.)
Though I raced nothing but electric for many years, my father and I both had been bitten by the nitro bug in the early 2000s - and it didn’t hurt that many of the tracks in Southern California at the time were outdoor facilities frequented most often by nitro racers. The 1/8-scale buggy class was growing at the local level, and in many cases starting to take over for 1/10-scale nitro stadium trucks - which, at the time, were offered by Kyosho, Mugen Seiki, Team Associated, and Team Losi. After winning a couple of regional races the year before, I was offered the opportunity to sign a 50% deal with Team Losi to go along with my second year of racing for Trinity.
The Silver Bowl R/C Raceway had hosted the Silver State Nitro Challenge for a couple of years prior to being awarded the Nationals, and the race was held that year for the first week of May - about a month before I graduated high school. I think the truck ran counter-clockwise, with a back straightaway, and a tricky S-turn in the front following a short chute. I know that, in the center of the track, there was a jump onto a table-top, which had a lip going off the backside of it. Jumping onto the tabletop was the safe line, but the 1/8-scale buggies (and the brave gas truck drivers) could downside the whole thing - and make up a bunch of time. And while the track crew prepared what was actually a pretty well-groomed surface for a Vegas race, it was still tough in many sections. Lap times for the fastest drivers in the gas truck class were in the 43s, while the 1/8-scale buggies dipped into the 39s on main day.
As usual, the weather was brutal. The temperature was in the 90s and above all weekend, and the wind was horrible. Everyone was applying and re-applying sunscreen all weekend and it didn’t really help. During my second practice run, a gust of wind ripped through so violently that I actually pulled over and held onto the railing of the drivers’ stand - and looked to the left just in time to see the EZ-Ups covering the row of tables where I was pitting, along with many others, get picked up by the wind and tossed into the desert. The mini-sand storm actually took my radio bag, too! Most nitro racers knew by then to bring motocross goggles to Vegas to wear on the drivers’ stand, and we all had ridiculous tan lines by the end of the week.
It was the only the second time I had attended a ROAR National event, after bumping from the G main to the F three years prior when the race visited my closest track, the original The Dirt in Hemet (I finished 43rd overall). There were more than 90 drivers entered in the 1/10-scale gas truck class and I qualified eighth in the B Main, so I was pretty happy with that - especially considering who else was in the B. With a 20-minute race to decide the last two trucks to bump into the 13-truck main event, bumping up looked like a tall order. The B-Main had drivers representing all four class manufacturers at the time.
I got a good start and tried to move up as quickly as possible, especially as some of the drivers ahead of me on the grid had problems throughout the race. Team Associated driver Taylor James, who started second, was the first to drop out after just one lap. Atsushi Hara, who was living in the U.S. at the time and racing a Hot Bodies (now HB) buggy, was also competing with a Team Losi stadium truck, and suffered a DNF before the halfway point. Allen Horne (a top-level Team Associated driver at the time, especially in nitro), made it about two minutes longer than Hara. With little traction available on the rough surface, and only 75cc of fuel tank capacity allowed, almost everyone planned on pitting twice.
I say “almost everyone,” because then-Team Associated driver (and current AMain.com team manager) Marty Korn, who started eleventh, knew that his best chance to make it through the field was to make the whole way on one stop. No one hates this story more than Marty, but after hearing how he almost got away with it I don’t feel bad for telling it. Sorry, Marty!
Jason Ashton, who was one of Mugen Seiki’s top drivers in the U.S. at the time, got the early lead by taking advantage of James’ mishap and getting around Team Losi engineer Jukka Steenari (who started first). Driving the MST-1, Ashton drove away from everyone else and had a pretty easy time securing Mugen’s only spot in the 45-minute A-Main. Behind Ashton, though, was a mess. Jukka had fallen back and been surrounded by Korn, Ashton’s Mugen teammate Chad Bradley, Greg Degani (who held Kyosho’s highest hopes since Jeremy Kortz had retired from the race before the nine-minute mark), and me. Korn’s pit strategy paid off, and after Bradley and I stopped for fuel a second time the battle for the last spot in the main came down to the three of us.
I was in second place when our pit men started yelling up to the drivers’ stand that only Ashton was going to make it by for the extra lap, and over 19 minutes of racing came completely unraveled with less than a half of a lap to go, when we approached the center step-on-double-thing in the center of the course. While the XXX-NT I was driving excelled in the smoother sections of the track, the truck was notorious for lacking the rear grip of the mighty RC10GT - especially when trying to accelerate straight out of rutted turns. I tried to jump onto the tabletop and spun out, leaving the door open for Korn - who was already committed to jumping over the whole gap. As his truck went sailing over head I turned my truck around and got going as quickly as possible, but I felt absolutely deflated as Korn’s pit man (his brother) and his teammates cheered from pit lane. We had only the back straightaway and a few corners left before the finish line.
Though I tried as hard as I could, I wasn’t nearly close enough to try to pass Korn going into the sweeping corners on the left side of the track. I had already accepted defeat when yelling erupted from the drivers’ stand, pit lane, spectators surrounding the track, and even the announcer - Korn’s truck had rolled to a stop with a dry fuel tank less than thirty feet from the finish line.
Caught totally off-guard by all of the commotion and rather unaware of the situation until I drove around the stalled vehicle, it was more shocked numbness than nerves of steel that calmly led my truck across the finish line. I dropped to my knees on the stand and screamed as other racers came over to congratulate me, then walked excitedly down to the ramp and jumped so hard into my dad’s outstretched arms that it nearly knocked both of us to the ground.
The race was particularly special to me because my mother and younger siblings had made the trip that weekend as well, having driven up after school that Friday and staying with family. It was one of the few times that they traveled to an out-of-town race to watch.
Having exceeded by wildest dreams for the event, the 45-minute main was just icing on the cake. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as my name and sponsors were read aloud over the PA system during driver introductions before the start, and I did my best to focus on my only goal for the long race - just to finish. Ryan Cavalieri and Richard Saxton both dropped out of the race just after the halfway point. Because the spots on the drivers’ stand were determined by qualifying order, Ashton and I were both standing way off to the side - and I remember him telling me he wanted a single digit finish, but I wasn’t about to let him go by! I finished about a lap and a half behind the next driver ahead of me, Mark Pavidis, and ended up ninth. Ahead of me, Top Qualifier Jared Tebo won the first of five straight National Championships - the last five in the history of the class before it was eliminated in 2009. Tebo’s Team Associated teammate Kyle Skidmore earned one of the best national finishes of his career as the Oklahoman finished second, followed by Adam Drake.
Staying for the trophy presentation after all of the racing was over meant that we didn’t return home until late Sunday night, but I didn’t care. I slept most of the drive home - with a smile on my face. Don't feel bad for Korn - the following year at Gears R/C in Harlingen, TX, we both made the A-Main out of qualifying and Korn finished third - two spots ahead of me. Oh, and he's also the one who painted my race bodies for those years as well.
What’s your most intense RC memory?