By Aaron Waldron
While looking at the results of our poll question from September 11, which asked “How long ago was your last win?” to LiveRC’s audience (click here to check it out), I thought about some of the times I was the first to cross the finish line. Despite racing in the incredibly competitive Southern California scene for much of my RC career, I managed to score a handful of race wins at events larger than the club race, though nothing major. More than that, though, it made me look back at a few select times I nearly won. Some of those stories stick out in my mind much more than any victory - especially since three of those soul-dampening disappointments came within the same year. (Cover photo original: greenbookblog.org)
2003 Cactus Classic - Stock Truck
I had been primarily focused on nitro racing for a few years by the time the 2003 season started, but my dad and I decided to spend that year’s spring break in Scottsdale for our first Cactus Classic. It turned out to be the public debut for the original Team Associated RC10B4, and the buzz set the pits ablaze — especially when fellow then-16-year-old Ryan Maifield used his new kit to win the Modified 2WD and Expert Stock 2WD classes.
That year, the qualifying process included adding your two best times together. I didn’t sleep very well Saturday night, having missed the Expert Stock Buggy main event by .14 seconds, but I had high hopes that I could improve on my sixth qualifying position in Expert Stock Truck. My dad and Matt Francis had gone through my motors after qualifying, and I was convinced I’d have the fastest truck on the track.
When we took to the drivers’ stand for driver introductions for the single A-Main sprint, I asked the guy next to me if he wouldn’t mind budging over a bit so I could move closer to where I was accustomed to standing — and his response was “sorry, you should’ve qualified better.” That lit a fire under my feet. I nailed the start, avoided a couple of crashes in the opening laps, and got into second. A few laps later, I caught up to the leader who had started from the front of the grid. The following lap, I got a run on him down the back straightaway and passed him on the outside — only for him to stuff me into the pipe at the end of the double-apex left at the end. The tangle knocked us both way down the order. I drove out of my mind after that, trying to make up as many spots I could before the end. I made a pass on the final lap to finish third, not far behind the driver who wouldn't give me any elbow room on the stand.
2003 Hot Rod Hobbies Shootout - Stock Truck
One month after the Cactus Classic, we drove up to Showtime R/C Speedway in Bakersfield for the annual Race Against Cancer, where I TQ’d and won the Stock Truck class comfortably — so I was super motivated for the rest of the year. In July, we headed to Hot Rod Hobbies for the Off-Road Shootout. I had no such qualifying troubles at that race, making both Stock main events, but couldn’t put it together in the Buggy main events so I finished sixth.
I TQ’d the Stock Truck class and won the A1 without much trouble. In A2, I got caught up with lap traffic and checked up just enough to let second qualifier slip by for a narrow victory. The third A-Main was much later in the day, following the 45-minute Expert and 30-minute Sportsman Gas Truck finals, and the track was significantly different by the time we hit the track again. On the opening lap, I hit a pothole that had developed on the blind backside of a double jump and spun out, and that’s all it took to give up the overall victory.
2003 Reedy Truck Race - Stock Truck
Three months later, we were back at Hot Rod Hobbies for the Reedy Truck Race of Champions. To this day, it remains the only time that I ran any sort of “sportsman” class, with the field divided into “Factory” and “Everyone Else” and I didn’t yet have a chassis sponsor. I made all three A-Mains, with TQ honors in Stock Truck again as well as all four rounds of the Gas Truck class, and qualified somewhere in the back half of the Modified Truck field (I ended up finishing seventh).
Unfortunately, the three A-Mains for Stock Truck were a virtual replay of the Shootout. I won the first final, and left the door open for a semi-aggressive pass in A2. The last race before A3 was our 30-minute Gas Truck main event, which I won by more than a lap, but I came up short on a tricky triple jump on the first lap and gave away the victory in Stock Truck.
This is the only one of the podium photos of these races I could find — nice early 2000's spiky hair, bro.
The winner? 2011 Reedy Race Open 2WD champion Shaun Dunlap.
2009 Dirt Nitro Challenge - Slash Spec
By 2009, the racing scene — and my career — had changed drastically. I had quit racing seriously, and took my first semi-adult job at Hi-Torque’s R/C Car Magazine. The Traxxas Slash debuted in late 2008, and radically revived racing in many areas of the country especially in box-stock form. The Dirt Nitro Challenge, held that year at the old Nitro Pit in Surprise, AZ, added a Slash Spec class to its program for the first time, and since I was already scheduled to attend the race to cover it for the magazine, so I brought my truck along. Rather than a separate 1/10-scale course like what’s used at the Fear Farm, we ran on the left side of the 1/8-scale track! After crossing the finish line, we’d roll the take-off jump of the first front stretch double, take a hard left, and cut over to the middle of the infield before re-joining the rest of the course. The track was scary, especially using the stock tires.
Once again, I was Top Qualifier going into the main events — but as we lined up for the final, the announcer made the surprise announcement that the grid would be scrapped in favor of a “land-rush” start in which all of the trucks were lined up across a lane. So much for the TQ advantage! To make matters worse, they lined us up by qualifying order, which meant that I was sandwiched between the pipe and second qualifier, right in all of the dust that lined the lane. Great.
I took it easy off the starting line, confident that I could get through the pack — especially since there was a big double jump that I was able to clear that no one else could do reliably. However, I got collected in a couple of crashes and even got booted by a turn marshal into an opposing lane. By the time I finally caught the leader there were just a couple of laps left. I passed him over the big gap jump, and then two turns later he blasted me off the track! I tried as hard as I could to catch him on the final lap, but didn’t get close enough to get past — or at least return the favor.
2010 Alabama Manufacturer Shootout - Short Course
This is definitely my favorite of the races on this list, and the one that makes me shake my head and smile just thinking about it. I traveled to Cullman, Alabama for the inaugural Alabama Manufacturer Shootout over the weekend of my 24th birthday, and brought my favorite short course truck to do a little bit of racing while shooting photos for the magazine article. I spent the first couple of rounds in qualifying trying to figure out what tires would work best before setting what was by far the fastest run of the weekend in the final round, but started second on the grid. There was quite a gap in speed between the TQ and I, and the rest of the field. We ran the full 1/8-scale course and, like at the Dirt Nitro Challenge the year before, there was a tricky step-on-step-off double-double that I felt comfortable jumping that no one else was really trying. I wasn’t worried about the main event.
I got the lead in the opening laps and went into “cruise control” mode, with my gap over the rest of the field growing in chunks every time I nailed the rhythm section. With about 90 seconds to go, my truck rolled to a stop on the back straightaway; it had overheated for the first time ever. I stayed on the drivers’ stand, waited until the rest of the field was starting to catch up, and then tried resuming but the truck only went another two turns before it shut off again. The TQ took over the lead after that, but his motor went up in smoke on the following lap. We laughed about it together after we were done turn marshaling, and I’ll never forget the big smile on the eventual winner’s face when I shot the podium photos later that evening.
What about you? Do you have a memorably disappointing race where you were agonizingly close to winning, but couldn’t close the deal? Tell us in the comments below, or in the discussion on Facebook! Click here: www.facebook.com/LiveRC/posts/1500425693348429