By Mike Garrison
As with most things in the world, as time goes on old traditions and ways often change. Sometimes these changes are due to advancements in technology or development, other times they simply change because it’s a “new era”. This year was the first year (that I am aware of) in which ROAR used a triple A-Main format with bump-ups at the 1/10-scale off-road nationals. Previously the format had always been as it is at the current IFMAR Worlds, triple A-Mains with no bump-ups. This has brought some discussion lately, and I began thinking about which format I prefer the most.
The traditional no bump-up format is what most “veteran” racers come to expect when attending a major 1/10-scale off-road event, however, it is not used near as often as it once was at national-caliber races around the world, and especially not as often on a local or regional level. With this format it is extremely awarding if you qualify well, but extremely discouraging if you don’t qualify directly into the A-Main. Without qualifying directly there is no hope to bump up into the big show, let alone win the event. I don’t care what anyone says, we all go to a race hoping to some degree of winning (no matter how realistic or unrealistic that may be). No one spends the money, travels the distance, and attends a race with zero hopes of winning. Some racers wither higher hopes but lower finishes ask themselves, “What’s the point in even coming back on main day if you can’t advance out of your main?” Some who have the talent, but are dealt a bad stack of cards in qualifying often feel ripped off as they feel they have what it takes to run at the front, but after qualifying have no chance to prove it. On the flip side, this has been the format of national and world championship caliber races for many years, and is considered the “norm” for many drivers. This format puts significantly more importance on qualifying.
The “new format” used by ROAR at the 2017 1/10-scale Nationals is what I would consider the “norm” for most larger local and regional level races. The format, from a race director stand point, can be a bit frustrating to organize, but has gotten significantly easier with the latest scoring software and programs available. As a racer it can be a bit of a mad rush to make sure you are ready for A1, A2, and A3, because with bump-ups allowed all three A-Mains for each class must be ran after all the lower mains are completed – whereas with no bump-ups the A-Mains are trickled in and spaced out considerably more with lower mains in between. On the flip side, with the amount of money, time, and travel spent by drivers, teams, and sponsors to attend an event, many people welcome the opportunity to put up a fight to bump their way through the ranks on main day for a Cinderella story finish. With this format, qualifying is still very important, but it puts equal and/or sometimes more importance on all of the mains as it does qualifying. Bumping up is not always easy, and if you do you will still start last on the grid for the next main up – making it even harder to bump up again and/or win.
I will be the first person to admit, I absolutely hate R/C car qualifying. Whether it be because you are “racing the clock” while other drivers race and bash as if you were racing heads-up, half of the people don’t even understand how it works (especially qual points), the insanely long amount of time (sometimes multiple days) spent doing it, or the fact that I just suck at it – I hate qualifying. With all that being said, if R/C racing is going to keep the format of qualifying that we use now, I stand behind the triple A-Main format with bump-ups that ROAR has put in place at the Nationals. Sure, you might get a trophy and a little recognition for being the top qualifier, but the real deal is how you finish overall in the mains. Nobody is talking about qualifying Monday morning after the race, they are talking about the mains and who finished where. The problem is, we spend 5 rounds of qualifying at 6 minutes each – a total of 30 minutes racing over the course of an entire day or sometimes multiple days, but our winner/champion is based upon two or three 6 minute races (depending on if they win A1 and A2) of racing, ran in a matter of hours on last day of an event. To the best of my knowledge the major paychecks are written for the overall finishes, not the qualifying order. The ratio of time spent on what really matters, and the time spent setting up for what really matters is entirely backwards to me. That is a totally different topic that I will rant about later.
My point is, in my opinion, if we are going to put so much importance on all of qualifying, but award racers based solely on the mains - then all of the mains deserve at least equal importance as qualifying. The ability to (in theory) start last in the lowest main, and bump up all the way to A-Main and win adds significant importance to each main. Without bumps we put so much emphasis on performing well in qualifying for all 300+ entries (or whatever the entry count is), but on main day (the day that should matter the most) it only really matters how 10 of those entries perform – the drivers who made the A-Main.
If we are going to keep the current overall format – more time spent qualifying than racing the mains, yet continue to determine a champion as well as award the top drivers based off their main event finishes, the only way to make it seem a little less backwards is to at least give racers a reason to show up on main day – instead of catching up on much needed sleep in the hotel room after hours and hours and hours of failed qualifying the day before.