By Aaron Waldron
Three years ago, I had the chance to attend the International Indoor Championships to celebrate its tenth anniversary - and enjoyed talking to event organizer Scotty Ernst to hear about why he believes the event has sustained such a level of success.
With the start of the International Indoor Championships at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino less than a week away — and the first International Off-Road Carpet Championships to be held immediately afterward — I reached out to Ernst for more information about the race, its history, and his experience putting together such memorable programs.
Aaron Waldron: Can you explain your background in promoting RC events? When did you start organizing some of the world’s biggest and most exciting races?
Scotty Ernst: I guess it first started when I owned Trackside Hobbies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I opened in 1993 and organized our big events there. Then, when I was invited by Mike Reedy to emcee the 2002 Reedy Race, it got my mind going about doing big events. Then in 2003 at the 1/8-Scale World Championships in Ohio I was at Outback Steakhouse with Josh Cyrul and Ralph Burch and I pitched them the idea of a big on-road race in a casino in Vegas. They thought the idea was great, and I guess the rest is history.
AW: Why did you feel like Las Vegas was such an ideal place to hold a major RC race?
SE: I wanted to find a place that people from around the world would be interested in traveling to. Mike Boylan already had a great event called Snowbirds going in Orlando each year, so I knew Orlando was out. Vegas, to me, is the most exciting city in the US so it was the best place I felt to hold an event.
AW: The idea of building a temporary track in a hotel ballroom has been around for decades. What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of this setup?
SE: That is an interesting question. As for benefits, I guess just being able to build a track in a unique location is it. The drawbacks are far greater than the benefits. First is the sheer cost of doing it right: you have to make sure it is perfect, and as smooth as can be. That is a huge challenge.
Thankfully, I have had the help of my good friend Jamie Tennies; he has been a carpenter most of his life and has been my ace in the hole making sure each year we have had a perfect subfloor. The next obstacle is storage; not being from Vegas, it makes it difficult to find a place to store it, so we have had to purchase new subfloor each year. These are the key challenges to doing it right.
AW: You really focused on developing the off-track experience of the International Indoor Championships to treat racers to something special when they’re not competing. How important do you think that has been in terms of building such enthusiastic racer support over the last decade?
SE: I must say, we have been blessed for sure. Racers who have raced in any of our productions over the past years know that it is something totally different than other big events. We really try to focus on the racers’ experience, not only the race. The racers who come back each and every year really says it all. If it was not a great experience and worth the expense, they would not return.
AW: What led you to explore the idea of adding an off-road portion this year, to create the International Off-Road Carpet Championships?
SE: Around the world I have watched the popularity of indoor carpet/turf off-road tracks pop up and we have had great success with our EOS series in Europe so I felt it was time to bring a Worlds-caliber event to Las Vegas.
AW: How have you noticed the off-road scene change and develop during the boom in popularity of artificial surfaces?
SE: Just look at the amount of tracks that have changed from indoor dirt to carpet or turf and has helped their business and keep the doors open. A great example is Beachline Raceway in Florida; Robbie Michaels and his crew changed it over from clay and he has been doing fantastic with it. They had a great place before, but since his change over, everyone I talk to about it says it is far better.
AW: What kind of course can the racers expect for the IOCC? Will the layout be the same as the IIC, but with jumps?
SE: I am again thankful to have a great team that helps me. Walt Henderson is my ace track man. He has come up with our layouts and he always makes them fun. For this year, we needed to make a design that would work for both the IIC and IOCC events. I did not want our IOCC to differ much from what we used for the IIC for a few reasons: first, of course, is time. We have a limited amount of time to rent the space from the hotel, so we need to make a quick change over from on-road to off-road. Secondly, with on-road we will be using additive on the tires, for off-road we will NOT be using additive, so I did not want to have a totally different layout that would take the off-road layout on and off the previous layout. Then the cars would be on a section of the track that had lots of additive on it, then on to a section of the track with no additive. We want to have the most consistent conditions as possible. So we will be racing on the IIC layout just with jumps on it.
AW: Do you have any experience building artificial jumps, or are you enlisting the help of others?
SE: We have done a lot of research leading up to the event on many tracks around the world to see what works and what does not and we think we have some great ideas. I have brought in some experienced guys to help, so we will do our best to give racers a fun and challenging layout.
AW: Do you think that having a spec tire is more or less important for a carpet off-road race than it is for dirt?
SE: There is no argument that having spec tires for a major event works best especially for the privateer racer. Factory teams of course have a budget to spend on racing, but a regular Joe who wants to go to a big race has a huge expense already. If the tire was left open, he would need to have every tire out there to try and be competitive. With a spec tire it is easy: show up to the race and you have the same tires as the world champion. Now it is on you to driver better than the world champion and beat him.
AW: What are your expectations and goals for the inaugural IOCC?
SE: Our goal is to show the off-road world what the on-road world has know since 2005 when we started the IIC and keeps bringing hundreds of racers back to Vegas each year. Our events in Las Vegas are at another level in racer experience. You get so much for your entry fee. I understand the entry fee is expensive, but when you consider all you get for your entry fee you will see it is a great deal. Your entry includes a drivers meeting dinner buffet, sponsor night with all-you-can-eat-and-drink beer and tacos, racer goodie bag with close to $100 worth of products from our sponsors, event t-shirt, a set of JConcepts tires, and a handout Hobbywing motor for our amateur racers. MX Trophies prepared some amazing awards — we are not just talking plaques on the wall, but awesome awards anyone would be proud to put on the mantel. Each racer will get a detailed timetable that shows exactly what time your heat will be up: if you’re in race 12, it is up at 10:08 so be ready.
We do this so they can plan their day and enjoy the hotel, pool and casino. Finally, what we hope is the best-run race program in the world, with exciting and informative announcing and an atmosphere that makes you want to watch and cheer on your friends. This event will grow to be the world championships of carpet off-road racing and racers who join us this first year will be charter members of the event and get nice discounts on future IOCC events. We hope racers can join us for our inaugural IOCC event.