By Aaron Waldron
Race preview from Matt Gosch:
The 2017 running of the JConcepts Indoor National Series is set to kick-off next Friday; with its first round, the Winter Indoor Nationals, being hosted yet again by the always improving SMAC Trac R/C Raceway in St. Charles, Missouri. SMAC Trac has hosted the first round of this successful series since its inception back in 2011. Each subsequent year has been bigger and better. Word travels fast, and everyone tries to get their buddies to show up for the following year's event. This track has been under constant improvement. New owners, Chris Baumgartner and Rod Rippee, put in a ton of work, and former owner Scott “SMAC” McDonald still helps along the way. Word has now spread to the masses, and this race has officially filled up! That’s right, this race is FULL, and is looking to be the most competitive round of the Winter Indoor Nationals at SMAC Trac to date.
CHECK BACK ALL WEEKEND LONG FOR RACE RESULTS:
In an industry where the standard for a race track culminates in big, open track layouts; big jumps built out of hard-packed, precisely manicured clay; and let’s not forget, a TON of traction for our delicate machines - SMAC stands out. This track does not fit this “standard” race track logic; which in my opinion, is a refreshing change of pace and an accepted challenge by the many drivers that will be attending next weekend’s event. Often described as a “bull ring” with dimensions spanning 90’x45’ (which is probably being generous); SMAC is the smallest track on the INS schedule. For those of you reading that have not had the opportunity to race on a small track; this results in some of the closest racing we get to see all year. Literal hundredths of a second will separate drivers qualifying times, and could be the difference in making the big show - or watching the triple A-mains from the bleachers.
Tire compound is yet another challenge that these drivers will have to deal with, as the industry normal clay compounds just do NOT work with the Midwest dirt. Super soft compounds have ruled here for years, with drivers experimenting with all compounds several times a year, and always returning to the super soft. JConcepts Dirt Webs in Green compound have been the preferred tire at SMAC Trac since their release, and I don’t expect this year to be any different.
I want to reiterate to all of you that this will, hands down, be THE most competitive round the Winter Indoor Nationals has ever seen. Looking through the entry list, I’ve counted nearly 40 drivers that I think have a chance at making the triple A-Mains in 2wd Modified Buggy. Don’t be surprised if some of the drivers traveling long distances to attend this year’s event don’t make the main and end up going home disappointed in their performance. Truth be told, SMAC is a tough beast to tame, and some people struggle to adapt to the conditions; but when you only have 3 rounds of qualifying - and 2 of those 3 rounds count towards your main event ranking - you'd better saddle the beast quickly.
To put things into perspective, let’s take a look at some of the drivers attending the race this year:
Ryan Maifield – Yokomo/JConcepts – A driver that needs no introduction, only a few weeks ago narrowly missing out on the Reedy Invitational win, Ryan will be returning to SMAC for the second time. It will be interesting to see how the new Yokomo rides work on the tight layout. But, don’t be surprised to see Ryan make it look easy. One thing is certain, expect to see the bleachers full when the blue Yokomo’s hit the track.
Alex Kosciuszek – Team Associated/JConcepts – “The Wizard” returns as the reigning champion in the 2wd Modified Buggy class after throwing down some ballistic runs in his SMAC Trac debut. In a post earlier this week on Instagram, Alex claimed SMAC as one of his favorite tracks. It’s safe to say he is ready to defend his title against some fast competition.
JP Richards – TLR/JConcepts – JP nearly won this event last year with a Durango 2wd. In fact, he did win the 4wd portion with a Durango; so he is clearly one heck of a driver. Jumping ship mid-way through the year, JP is now back with TLR, the company with which he claimed a Reedy Open class win in 2wd. SMAC has always been nice to JP... could he challenge RM for the win?
Daimon Borkowicz – Team Associated/JConcepts – The youngster from Florida has been finding some serious speed in the last two years with last year being his best Winter Indoor Nationals round to date; finding the last step of the podium in 2wd. Daimon has been putting in the work, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the mix all weekend.
Max Flurer – TLR/JConcepts – A man of many talents, as he took several wins at this year’s RC Chili Bowl in Tulsa. Max was in the mix the entire time at last year’s running of the event, even taking a TQ and win in Mod Truck. Expect much of the same from Max this year, as he knows how to turn up the heat when it’s needed.
Brent Thielke – Team Associated – “If I can beat ‘em, I don’t need ‘em”...a joke that has been used by BT recently as the AE team manager has found his speed, claiming the 2wd Open class win at this year’s Reedy Race of Champions. Confidence is flowing for BT, and we all know what confidence can do for someone in this industry. Watch for BT to make a podium run this year.
SMAC Trac Locals – It's hard not to group these guys together, considering that you can go to SMAC on any given club race, and have around ten guys who can win the main. A group of talented racers who know the track and conditions well, will look to spoil the out-of-towners' party and make a name for themselves as the fastest local. Brad Dean carried that flag last year, as the sole local in the 2wd main. Fresh off a win at last weekend’s Castle Creations Jam, Brad will attempt to continue his success with his Team Associated rides here. Dillon Caldwell, your 2016 ROAR Junior 1/8 National Champion, has practically been living at the track as of late; tuning in his XRay vehicles and breaking track records along the way. Nate Jaskot, another local claiming wins recently with his Team Associated vehicles, has A-main speed; but needs to be consistent to do so. Chris Baumgartner, the lone TLR driver in a sea of AE cars, has been defying the odds with his 22 3.0. Watch for him to try to shut down the haters this weekend. While no longer technically considered a "local", Matt Gosch has a lot of time at this track. After all, he does still have his chair there! Matt switched back to his old paint scheme, so expect that to relight the fire. Honorable mention nods go to former National Champion Rod Rippee, as well as Scott “SMAC” McDonald, who can put some runs together as well.
Factory Tracks Racing – Al Horne’s group of guys can fill up mains in a hurry, with raw speed and talent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one in the A. Aydin Horne finished just outside of the top five last year while his brother, Austin, finished mid-pack of the B. I’ve witnessed both of these drivers turn it up, so don’t count them out. Al is no slouch either! Taking the win in the 40+ class last year, he can put some runs together and challenge for an A-Main starting position as well. This young group of racers that Al has been grooming for years all have a shot at surprising some people this weekend.
Young Guns – The new generation of RC drivers seem to be able to drive a 2wd buggy harder than anyone I have ever seen; but when they crash, they crash hard. A long list of young guns that all have a shot at making the main this year include: Mason Fuller, Alex Vanderbeek, Zac Edenburn, Colton Kruse, Brad Shearer (should be able to share some info with him), Cody Schroeder, Will “Cush” Cushing, Collin Weatherholt, Taylor Timmerman, Jacob Montgomery, Enrique Oros, Tommy Hinz (coming all the way from the West Coast), and leading the charge, Tyler Jones. After a brief stint with AE, Tyler hopped back to his TLR rides after a rough summer, and has been oozing with confidence ever since. Your Open class 2wd overall TQ at the Reedy Race last month, struggled at this race last year with new equipment. Can he redeem himself with more familiar vehicles this year?
Frank Root – TLR/JConcepts – Frank will be making his second trip to SMAC this year, with his debut being pretty successful, if memory serves me right. Frank has been in long talks with local TLR driver Chris Baumgartner, so I don’t expect Frank to struggle with adapting as much as some of the other long-haulers.
Jason Ruona – Team Associated/JConcepts – J-Ro has been known to throw down some runs at this event in the past. The face of JConcepts, Jason has been to SMAC every year, and should he choose to race this year, you definitely cannot count him out. Also, be sure to head over and check out his buggy, as it’s usually one of the trickest cars in the pits with some one-off parts.
Dark Horses – The one group of guys you can’t bet against, as they always find a way to show up and bring some speed with them. Matt Cline will be quick. Last I heard, he was experimenting with a 4-gear laydown transmission. Will that work with super softs? Adam Rayls seems to always be in the mix, as he continues to prove to the youngsters he still has it. Michael Paige was strong last year, and I don’t mean just because he hits the gym every day. Mike finished fifth in an extremely competitive 2wd class, and I’ve heard he has been putting in some serious time at his home track. Hunter and Kyle Holmberg both struggled at the beginning last year, but found their speed as the event went on. A year under the belt should help them have a more consistent event. Michael Twilling - always a quick racer no matter what part of the country he races in - has had success at this event in the past.
As you can see, this field is DEEP as we are pretty much into the D-main here. Only 11 spots in the A, which is going to result in some hurt feelings; but someone has to miss out on it. With just over a week until the event starts, I can barely contain my excitement! Can anyone beat RM? Will people run laydown or stand up? What new releases will we see? All questions I want answered. See you all at the track!