A weekend at the Track — Big Squid RC Invades the 2010 ROAR Off-Road Fuel Nats.
My phone is ringing, the caller ID shows Brian (Big Squid). I ponder for a second why he may be calling me. Have I not done enough posts this week? Possible. Has my new site design not included enough ad blocks? Could be. Is the site down? Most probable.
Having decided what this call is about I pick up the phone and go on the defensive. Before he says a word I start apologizing for seeding all those Warez and pr0n torrents off the server and taking down the site again, but he acts surprised and asks me what I’m talking about. “Oh nothing, never mind…” I say, “what’s up Boss?” Brian starts barking out the orders in typical over-bearing boss fashion. “The ROAR Nats are this weekend, you live closest to them, get your camera and get out there. Don’t leave until you have a story to tell and a bunch of pictures to post!” He then starts chanting over and over again “WE NEED CONTENT! CONTENT IS KING!”
I “accept” the assignment and hang up the phone, not really knowing what to expect. Brian told me it was going to be a long weekend, that’s all I know. I’ve never been to a big national RC event. I’ve never even been to a real RC race, I’m a basher to the core baby. My first opportunity to do both and I’m going to be stuck behind my Canon 5D and “Holly Hobby – Little Journalist” notepad the whole time. Sounds like it’s going to be a fabulous weekend. But then I key in on one thing he said, “have a story to tell,” and think to myself “I can work with that.”
The alarm clock starts up, it’s set to the local public radio station that only plays classical music. It’s kind of nice to wake up to a selection of Vivaldi or Gernsheim. Definately better than the other option of wailing buzzes.
After completing my morning rituals I gather up all my equipment, which I pre-staged by the door last night, and head out to my truck. A few times. I’m taking a lot of equipment. Have I mentioned I don’t know what to expect?
I get in my truck and lament the fact that I’ll have to listen to normal radio because of a blown fuse that won’t let me use my Zune radio transmitter. I’ll be missing my normal drive-time playlist of excellent metal selections such as Amon Amarth, Dagon, Dimmu Borgir, Arsis, and other ugly music for ugly people. \m/
After fueling up and stopping at McDonalds to quelle a Big Mac Attack I get on the interstate and head north.
Look out ROAR. Big Squid is on the way.
It’s a long drive, though not as long as others. I snake my way through Colorado Springs, not sure if my GPS is giving me the right directions or just sitting back and silently laughing at me as I put my trust in it. Eventually I end up on Colorado State Highway 94 heading east.
Now, I knew this place was outside of town, but I figured it was the outskirts. Not six miles out of town. With growing concern I press on, not sure of where I’m going.
After five miles my GPS says “your destination is coming up on your left,” only what is on my left is a dry creek bed. So I keep going. Up ahead the windows and bumpers of broken and busted cars shimmer in the morning sun as I come upon what appears to be a small junkyard. Nope, not Colorado Fast Track. Pushing on a little further my GPS pipes up “You have arrived at your destination,” to which I reply “Yeah? WHERE?!”
Just as I’m about to pitch my GPS out the window I notice the sign. And fly past it at 65 MPH. I apologize to my GPS and find a place to make a u-turn. I pull in to the driveway and find the parking area.
Look out ROAR. Big Squid has arrived.
I’m 10 minutes later than I hoped to be, I’ve missed the start of racing for the day. I make my way up the hill past all the pit areas and as I approach ever closer to the track I am hit with the unmistakable smell of nitro exhaust. The buzzing of all those tiny engines grows louder with every step and each engine becomes more distinct.
I am up high enough on the hill now to see over the crest and into the track. I’m struck dumb at the sight of more than a dozen 1/8 scale truggies, painted in all kinds of brilliant colors, whipping around the huge track at insane speeds. Watching them fly up and over, en masse, the tabletop jump (I would later learn that it’s actually called a “step-up”) right in front of the driver’s stand is an awesome thing. The entire event is a massive assault on all the senses, something I certainly was not expecting.
It is then that I look to my left and coming down from the driver’s stand area is none-other than Adam Drake! I actually find myself a bit star struck. Which is strange, I don’t follow racing, yet just because he’s been in so many magazines for winning so many races, I am intimidated by his presence.
I raise my camera to try to get a picture of him. He then stops and looks directly at me and smiles! OH BOY! The picture is snapped and I sheepishly thank him for the photo and move on, careful not to look back over my shoulder, lest he look back too and see the stupid grin on my face.
At this point I remember one of the instructions that Brian gave me. He wants a “Find The Drake” picture game. Like Where’s Waldo, only with Adam Drake. I’m not one for picture games so I decide to stick it in Brian’s eye and use the portrait that I just obtained as the game photo. One task down, too many more to go.
Losi has a huge setup on one side of the track. Associated has a huge setup on the other side of the track. You’d think they’re enemies or something and the track is the battlefield that divides them. Kyosho is here, up the hill from Associated, along with AKA Tires, nobody knows what secrets they have planned. Serpent has a small contingent, as does Tamiya TRF, Xray, Hot Bodies, and a few others.
On the edges of the pit areas, away from the big boys, is where all the locals and indies have
been segregated setup shop. I start wandering around the small pit tables and tents of the “little people.” I make my way to a motor home with tables outside and a blue tarp pulled over to provide some shade in the scorching heat.
Here is where I meet 37 year old John “JJ” Bedwell of Denver, CO. He’s here with his entire family, dogs included. I shoot the breeze with him for a bit, asking the usual questions. You know, “how long have you been in r/c? When did you get involved in racing?” And on and on. Real ground breaking reporter stuff. He asks who I write for and I tell him Big Squid RC.com. His response is a soul-crushing, ego-humbling “Who?” I give him my well-rehearsed sales pitch and also shower him with stickers. His hope is that a good showing of the ROAR Nationals will attract more, larger R/C events to Colorado.
I determine that he is a nice guy and genuine in his love for the hobby, despite the fact that he’s never heard of Big Squid. After thanking him for his time I move up the road a bit to the next set of pit tables.
I find the father and son team of David and James DeWild, or “De Wild Crew” as I would later refer to them. James is the younger DeWild, and has been into R/C for only three short years. David got his start after deciding he was getting too old for motocross. He, his family, and his doctors all agreed that he needed to find something safer. Surprisingly the DeWilds haven’t heard of Big Squid either. So again I put on my best impression of a salesman and hand over a load of stickers.
Remember those names, dear reader, as they will form the core, nay, the very HEART and SOUL of Team Big Squid.
Another task from Brian is to get the Big Squid logo seen everywhere. I’m not a vandal, so I can’t just start stickering everything in sight and call it good. It wouldn’t be right. But still, the Boss wants some promotion. How should I accomplish that?
Lightbulb! I’ll “sponsor” some of the locals that I just met! Get them to sticker their rides before their races and list us on their sponsor sheets if they make it that far! So I head back down to the pit areas and start assembling the Big Squid RC.com
bashing racing team.
David is the first official member of Team Big Squid. He jumps at the chance to be a “sponsored” racer. I watch as he applies the beautifully made Big Squid stickers (Available in the BSRC Shop! Get yours now!) to his buggy and truggy. He’s going to be in races 2 and 4 this afternoon.
James is just as eager as his father to sport some Big Squid logos during the race. In fact, he’s more eager. James wants everybody to know that he’s representing a web site that he’d only just heard about 30 minutes prior. He’ll be racing right along-side his dad in races 2 and 4 as well. I wipe a tear of pride away from my eye as the team begins to take shape.
And JJ makes three. I think that’s a big enough team. He qualified in the middle of the pack and will be taking part in race 4 with James and David I believe. Could Big Squid sweep the podium? We’ll find out.
By this point I have been watching almost three hours of non-stop racing. One group of truggies or buggies would hit the track for 15 minutes, then after a quick break to water the track another set would be let loose to do their thing. It doesn’t ever let up, just a constant go-go-go. Yet I still have no idea just what the heck is going on. All I am seeing is a bunch of cars and trucks speeding around a track. They are spread out so much that it really makes it impossible to know who is winning and by how much. Just as the last place guy would finish a lap, the first place guy would be right behind him completing the next lap. It’s all terribly confusing. And the only way to know who’s where is to listen to the race announcer over the garbled PA system.
Frustrated, I throw my hands in the air and shout “I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON HERE!” I sit down on one of the bails of hay that line the track and begin to gently sob into my hands. It is then a kindly old man, with a resplendent goatee, comes up to me and puts a hand on my head. He says in an understanding, father-like manner “everything will be OK son, let me explain this to you.” He goes on to tell me that what I’m seeing now isn’t actually the races. It’s still qualifying. It’s going to be a little while before the the “mains” start. His explanations continue into how the actual races will be run and that the really exciting action has yet to come.
I notice his camera gear and t-shirt outing him as a writer for RC Driver magazine. I ask him who he is and he introduces himself as lead contributor Chris K. We chit-chat for a bit about how both of us got into the hobby and we also discuss photography and other interests. He is somewhat surprised that a Big Squid representative is here in Colorado to cover the ROAR Nats, seeing as how we’re based out of Chicago and racing isn’t our usual beat. I tell him I’m a outside contributor and I live only an hour south of here. Chris is kind enough to share some tips with this young up-and-comer and then we head our separate ways to continue scouting the track for ideal photo opportunities.
After the last round of qualifying the race director calls an hour lunch. I didn’t bring any cash and I don’t think the gut truck takes debit. I consider heading back to town to get something, but then I recall the morning drive and don’t want to get lost. Besides I’m still full from my McDonalds breakfast this morning. I think I’ll just go back to my truck, put on some tunes, and rest my aching back for a spell.
I lock my keys in my truck during lunch. Big Squid team member JJ happens to have a wire hanger that I use to gain entry into it. However, years of Mexican food and McDonalds have left me in less than ideal shape to squeeze through the small opening of my rear sliding window. Due to a great amount of luck though, a member of Team Xray happens to be walking by as I try to squeeze my ample frame through the tiny window. He offers up the use of his four year old child to climb through the window and open my door. Success! Now I have a borderline neurotic sense of awareness when it comes to my truck keys. I’m already an idiot for locking myself out once, I really don’t want to be the idiot that locks himself out of his own truck twice in the same weekend.
Now is Team Big Squid’s time to shine. The buggies are up first so James and David head for the driver’s stand. They both take their positions and get ready for the warmup.
David’s having troubles though. His engine isn’t holding an idle it seems. I see the pit crew is working to get it fired and on the track before the cutoff time. Everybody is frantic!
Time’s up, David’s out of the race. Well, that happens in racing. Fortunately James made it out and is making his way to the starting grid. David takes over a spot on James’ pit crew and is at the starting grid to drop the car. Everybody is lined up and the race announcer tells the pit crews to top off the fuel tanks. He then calls for “down and quiet.” The race is about to begin. The horn sounds and everybody is off!
Except James! NO! His engine has died on the starting line! David is trying to get it started, but he’s not having much luck. He can’t get it, it’s just not firing up. He’s got a limited amount of time to get the car going or else he has to walk it all the way back to the pit lane and start from there. As the seconds tick down he tries everything he can think of to get the car running. But it’s no good. Time is up. He has to walk the car around the track, back to the pits and the team will have to start the race from there, losing a couple laps in the process.
But what’s this?! David is saying $&*# THE RULES! He’s running across the track! Now that’s the Big Squid Spirit man! Run David, RUN! The ROAR officials are freaking out! The announcer is screaming over the PA “What are you doing?! I can’t believe this! Are you kidding me?!” It’s chaos! And I’m standing here, watching all of this go on WITHOUT my camera pressed to my face. I’m an idiot!
The pit crew gets the car going and James is in the race, only slightly behind thanks to his dad’s heroics. James settles in for what’s going to be a long race. He’s concentrating but the bad start has obviously rattled him a little bit. He’ll have to shake that if he wants to make this a come-from-behind victory.
James gets in the zone and starts running a tight line. He’s battling for position, but it’s tough out there. Everybody is giving it their all. He runs a fairly clean race, only making a few slight errors. Unfortunately it’s not enough at this level of racing. He finishes the race towards the back of the pack. But his day isn’t over yet.
Race 3 goes down, but I am uninterested. Race 4 is up next, this is the truggy race. All three members of Team Big Squid will be in it. That’s what I really care about.
Everybody’s lined up in the pits. Engines are fired and running strong. It looks like we’ll be fielding the entire team this go around. Warmups go well, nobody flames out or breaks down, and they start to line up on the grid. JJ is starting out of the 5th spot, James the 9th, and David right behind him in the 10th position.
Fuel tanks are topped off, truggies are down and quiet. Horn sounds! Clean start! All of them. Yes! Nobody needs to take their truggies back to the pits to start.
Interesting story about this marshal. He was found in a ditch, beaten and bloody, not far from the track. There was also a note pinned to him. It says “Don’t #*%& with my drivers.” Police have no leads at this time.
The pack slowly starts to break up as the leaders peel away from the rest. The racing is fairly clean. That is until James is minding his own business through the whoops section but is then interfered with by a turn marshal. “BOOOOooo!” But James is unphased. He gets back on his line and in the groove.
JJ has made up a couple places and is riding comfortably in the middle of the pack. He’s just waiting for the right time to make his move. He’s got plenty of time left on the clock.
David has been beset by mechanical and engine troubles the whole time. And this big race is no different. He’s out before the race reaches the half-way mark. He says it’s because I’ve been cracking the whip too hard. I’ve made it hard for him to concentrate on his engine tuning. I say it’s because I haven’t been cracking the whip hard enough! So much for the podium sweep. No big deal though, it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort on his part.
The last half of the race is fairly uneventful. Passes are made, positions are swapped. And by the time it’s all over James walks away with the 1st place plaque! And as a great follow up to that JJ is going home with the 3rd place plaque!
Team Big Squid takes 1st and 3rd. How about that? As far as I’m concerned the weekend is over. Shutoff the lights, lock the gate, it’s done.
So I get the pictures of my team with their plaques. And thus ends the story of Team Big Squid. I have decided to stick around and watch the rest of the racing for the night as purely a spectator. The camera and notepad are getting put away and I’m finding a spot on the bleachers.
I’ve watched a full day of racing now and I still don’t get it. There’s just too many cars on too small a track to make heads or tails of what’s going on. But I’m not going to dwell on that and instead just sit back and enjoy the show. It’s neat watching all these big r/c cars and trucks blast around the track, through the corners, and over the huge jumps.
Tired, sweaty, and wreaking of nitro exhaust and dirt, I shamble over to my truck and start heading home. I don’t think I need my GPS, I have a fairly good memory, I know where I need to go.
I take a wrong turn, I was supposed to go to the next stop light. No biggie, just make sure I keep heading west and I’ll find I-25 eventually. Which way am I heading now? Southeast. Hmm… Oh well, when you’re in a hole, you just gotta dig yourself out, I’ll keep going.
I find what looks to be a major road heading west. I turn down it, checking all the cross-street signs as I search for something that looks familiar. “Foriegn Exchange Zone Road. That’s an odd name for a street.” I press on for another four miles. Then I start to see familiar things. I know exactly where I am. Widefield, heading down Fontaine Blvd. I consider stopping by my friend’s house, but my phone battery is dead and I hate just dropping in unannounced. So I shoot for 85/87 and finally make my way to the interstate. I’m heading home to Pueblo. One long day down, one more to go.
The race director wants to start racing one hour earlier today. A big storm is going to move in later this afternoon and he wants to get as much racing done before that as possible. Which means I set my alarm clock for one hour earlier. My alarm goes off at 6:10. I say to myself “yeah, I think I’ll be a little late.” I hit the snooze. The alarm goes off at 6:19. I turn it off completely and roll over. I snap awake at 6:45, aware that I’m supposed to be going somewhere, just not exactly sure where. Then I remember, “oh yeah, the race. I should get up there or I might lose my job.” Losing my job doesn’t seem so bad right now, it’s Sunday and I’m waking up before 10:00, that just isn’t right.
I scramble to get my stuff out the door, skipping breakfast today. And I start driving. No need for the GPS this time.
I wuss out and turn to my GPS for guidance as I start making my way through Colorado Springs. I could have sworn I knew where I was going, but my better judgment says I should rather be safe than sorry.
Only 15 minutes late today. I made up some time on the interstate. Don’t tell the State Patrol though. I start making my rounds and saying my goodmornings. Then I head up to the track. Chris K. beat me here and he’s in the spot I wanted to start out in. Oh well.
Today is going to be the important one. All the big players will be out on the track and I have to make sure I get some pictures of them, or else Brian will tan my hide. I don’t know where his sudden interest in racing coverage came from.
One thing I’m noticing is that there isn’t much in the way of outside spectators. After a rough count I find there’s about 110 people around the track watching the proceedings. Most of them are racers from yesterday or friends/family of those racing today. I’m wondering how this event was promoted locally. I don’t recall seeing anything about it down in Pueblo.
I decide that the lack of spectatorship is due to the fact that there’s, not one, but two full-scale automotive events this weekend that are normally HUGE draws each on their own. The first is up here in Colorado Springs. It’s the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. Hard to compete with that. The other is down in Pueblo, the Rocky Mountain Street Rod Nationals. It’s a massive car show with 2000+ hot rods, street rods, customs, and (new this year) muscle cars. Typically they’re separated by a week or two, this time they’re sharing the weekend. I don’t envy the event promotors that try to go up against both of them.
The race director calls a one hour break before the finals start but his one hour is certainly going to be stretched. Rain, lightning, and thunder is moving in faster and harder than anticipated. I’m heading to my truck for shelter.
The rain is slowing down. I’m going to grab my rain jacket that I keep under the back seat of my truck and go survey the damage. The race announcer just made a call for the track crew to get out there, so I think we may be getting this ball rolling again soon.
The track is a muddy mess. Huge puddles between all the jumps. The straight in front of the driver’s stand has been washed out. The blue groove is completely gone. The track crew is doing it’s best to channel the water off the track but they’re having a hard time just walking out there. This is going to make for some great finals.
Most of the racers are out here now, checking on the conditions. Some don’t seem very happy, others are saying it’s not bad and they’ve seen plenty worse. The temperature has dropped considerably and those not used to Colorado weather are suffering. I ditched my rain coat and now I’m enjoying the clean, brisk air in my t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. I love it when it rains.
Finally, the racing is about to get back underway. The drivers are in the stand, their pit crews are firing up the trucks. Everybody is reluctant to leave the pits for the warmup. I think it’s because they don’t want their trucks loaded up and weighed down with mud before the actual race starts. One guy is out there all alone. The race announcer is getting on everybody else’s case and nagging them to get on the track. They aren’t biting though. They’re pushing it to the last absolute second before the cutoff.
I’ve been watching this stuff for two days now, and I still can’t keep track of what’s going on. I think they need longer tracks so there’s a bigger gap between first and last place. There is some exciting action as some truggies line up and go into corners and over jumps three wide at times.
One thing Brian mentioned is that I should watch the turn marshals. He said that as the races move on and the field is wittled down to the top drivers I’ll see fewer and fewer wrecks. He was right. The marshals during the early races barely got a chance to breathe. Now they’re just standing around looking bored.
The race is continuing on, it’s pass the half-way mark and the race announcer helpfully reminds the crowd that it’s now “official,” if the rains come back and they have to stop, it’s over and whoever is in first is the winner.
I still don’t know what’s going on or who’s in first.
I’m guessing, from what the announcer is saying, that Jared Tebo is completely dominating the race. He also mentions some other names that I’m familiar with, but I don’t know what trucks they’re driving. I do know that Tebo’s is the red, white, and blue Kyosho. And one of the Ryans (Lutz, I think?) has the pink and blue one, it’s awesome looking actually. And that’s about all I know. I stopped caring about the racing long ago, I’m just here to watch the trucks go around.
So, Jared Tebo won. Cool.
15 minute break. A lot of the top guys in that were in the truggy final are also in the buggy final, and the ROAR officials want to let them rest for a few, because racing toy cars is serious business and very hard work. The race announcer keeps calling this biggy racing the “premier class” of rc racing. Carpet racers might disagree. Personally, I prefer drag racing my Highroller against my brother’s Stampede. That’s where it’s at.
This racing is going to be talking place under the lights. I checked out the lighting setup earlier. I’m very familiar with lightplants. I honestly didn’t think they had enough to light the track up as well as it is. It’s not bright enough to get sharp photos though. So I’m going to have to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
Slow shutter speed flash photography is fun to play with, tough to master. Especially in high action situations. But the results can be worth it. My results on the other hand. Usually they suck.
Oh, the race has started.
It’s actually pretty cool watching the racing under lights. The cars are catching light and casting shadows in a strange, surreal way. They actually seem faster.
So Jared Tebo appears to be dominating this race as well. I can’t say for sure though. But considering his performance in the truggy final, it shouldn’t be surprising.
One of the dudes from LiveRC.com is asking me to move because I’m blocking his camera’s view of one of the corners. I’m kind of kicking myself for not having a Big Squid RC.com shirt on right now (hint, hint Brian). The announcer says there’s 1000 people watching the final. Imagine the promotion opportunity I’d have if I were wearing a Big Squid RC.com shirt right now… Brian… just imagine.
Well… Tebo won… again. He pulled out his broom and swept up the place.
Since the storm chased off pretty much all the spectators, the only people left for the trophy presentation are the media and those involved with the event. Kind of sad I suppose, but the trophy girls are hot, so I’ll stay. One thing I never liked about photographing people, especially when there’s other cameras around, is that it’s like herding cats when you want everyone to look at your camera. I hate photos where there’s a lot of people and they’re all looking a different direction. Thankfully I learned some tricks as a wedding photog.
This event has turned into, what I like to call, full contact photography. If another photog gets in your spot, throw an elbow or two to get back where you belong. If you have to hip check a guy into the fence to keep him from beating you to the best position, then you do it. Thankfully I was blessed with an ugly and intimidating face, so the other photogs are staying out of my way.
I get my trophy presentation photos then beat feet to get on the road. I’m not the only one, everybody that doesn’t have a reason to stay is making a mad dash to the parking area to get the heck out of Dodge. It’s going to be a long, tired drive home, but I won’t make a wrong turn this time. I’ve learned.
Dangit… I missed my turn onto Powers Blvd. GPS “rerouting…”
So, 29 hours at the track, 1,619 photographs (equaling 19,589,900,000 pixels of resolution), a sore back from having nearly 20 pounds of photo gear hanging around my neck the whole time, three wrong or missed turns, and one severe sunburn later, what do I have to say about the 2010 ROAR Fuel Nationals? It was pretty #*$&ing cool. If you ever have the chance to check one out, do it. But just be prepared to be confused. Unless you follow this stuff religiously, or create your own racing team on the spot, you’re not going to know who’s who or what the heck’s going on.