By Aaron Waldron
Where’s Waldo is a weekly opinion column where LiveRC’s Aaron Waldron gives his take on hot-button issues within the RC industry. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LiveRC.
Not only has record-four-time champion Ryan Cavalieri benefitted from having the Reedy Race at his home track for the last eight years, but the format itself is practically tailored to a driver who finds fortune on the track so often that his competitors coined the term “Pudge luck” to describe how well crashes and near-misses turn out on his favor. In fact, 2016 was the only year since 2011 that he missed the podium, as he finished seventh, but then last year he finished the 2WD portion with a perfect score and all five of his scored 4WD rounds were in the top three. That kind of consistency makes him hard to beat.
The reigning 2WD and 4WD world champion is as good of a pick to win this weekend as anyone. He finished second overall in 2017 and 2016, won the title in 2015, and has been in the top five every year since 2011 including two other podium finishes. He was also the best combined 2WD and 4WD driver at the last two IFMAR World Championships. Now with a larger team behind him, including US team manager Joe Pillars in addition to Yokomo veterans Shin Adachi and Lee Martin, it would take catastrophic bad luck for Maifield to not be in contention in the late rounds on Sunday.
As a member of Team Losi Racing, Dustin Evans won the Reedy Race reboot in 2011 and came within a tiebreaker of doing it again in 2013. He also scored two top-fives since, in 2015 and in his Team Associated/Reedy debut last year with just one win but only two finishes outside the top three. He’ll need a few more round wins to challenge for the title, but I definitely think he’ll be mixing it up in the top five throughout the three days of action.
Before Spencer Rivkin earned the 2015 IFMAR World Championship in the 2WD class he was the 2014 Open 4WD winner. He finished eighth in his Invite debut in 2015, but was third in 2016 and fourth last year. His best scores in 2016 came in the 4WD portion, and last year he was better in 2WD; if he can put together a complete weekend, he’ll definitely be near the top of the charts on Sunday.
When Ryan Maifield announced his move to Team Yokomo for the 2016 season, the Team Losi Racing camp deflated - but they were doing cartwheels of joy just a few days later when Dakotah Phend hoisted his first Reedy Race trophy. The Michigander even overcame DNF’s in both the 2WD and 4WD class to do it, winning three heats in each portion to one point ahead of the recently-departed Maifield. It was his first-career podium finish, and his title defense last year — particularly in the 2WD portion — didn’t go so well, as he finished sixth overall. I think we’ll know by the end of Day One if Phend will be a contender.
Despite switching to XRAY just weeks prior, Tessmann matched his career-best third place finish at the Reedy Race last year with a total of five round wins, but scored just one second-place and one third-place each as he finished a full six points out of the lead. The Canadian won 2WD and 4WD (and Stadium Truck) on a clay track at last year’s ROAR Nationals, which should be a far better barometer of his chances this weekend than finishing 11th and 4th on the crazy, sugared outdoor track at last year’s IFMAR Worlds. In order to grab his first Reedy Race title, Tessmann will have to be a bit more ruthless than his usual demeanor, and push for every last position in the rounds he cannot win.
For someone who has won nearly every other electric off-road race on the planet, it’s a bit of a surprise that the Reedy Race remains on the list of championships Jared Tebo hasn’t captured yet. Tebo was the runner-up in 2011 and 2015, but also finished as low as tenth in 2014. He started off 2WD with a win and two second-place finishes last year, but ended the first day with his throwout score and never rebounded, eventually finishing eighth. Will this be the year he makes it happen? Like Phend, I think we’ll have our answer by the end of the first day.
This German veteran is the only non-American to win the coveted championship, back in 2012 as a member of Team Durango, and he was nearly perfect in 4WD — which he needed to hold off runner-up Ryan Cavalieri, who was two points better in 2WD. He finished third the following year, and having now joined the Schumacher squad is making his first Reedy Race appearance since 2015 - where he finished fifth. Neumann’s ability to get his Schumacher buggies tuned for the tricky clay will determine how much of a wild card he will be in the closing stages of the weekend.
This Wisconsin native TQ’d the Open 4WD class in 2016 but struggled in the finals, finishing seventh overall, though he did rebound in 2WD to finish second and match his qualifying position. Last year, Tollard finished the 2WD portion with a third-place finish and carried that momentum into four top-five finishes in 4WD, which buoyed his overall position to a tiebreaker for eleventh, which he lost. I think battling for a top-ten finish would be a great goal for this weekend.
Like his fellow drivers from across the Atlantic, Polish racer and former 4WD European Champion Michal Orlowski suffers from a dearth of experience on US-style indoor tracks; in fact, his first Reedy Race appearance, in 2015, was his first time ever racing on clay. He’ll have former Reedy Race champ Jörn Neumann in the Schumacher camp this weekend, which should certainly help, but I don’t know that he’ll improve from 19th-, 17th- and 23rd-place finishes the last three years up to the top ten.
Having made his Open-class debut over 20 years ago, Thielke finally gets a shot to race in the Invitational class this weekend after winning last year’s Open 2WD title. His experience and patience could pay off over the tough twelve rounds of competition, as I expect the Team Associated team manager (and Reedy Race organizer) to play the long game of collecting points a bit better than some of his younger, more enthusiastic competitors. I don’t think finishing in the top half of the field would be a shock.
For as competitive as British racer Lee Martin has been in a variety of off-road disciplines throughout his career, the Reedy Race has always caused him trouble; chalk that up just as much to the unfamiliarity of racing on clay as anything else. His career-best to this point has been sixth, in both 2011 and 2014, and last year he won just one 2WD and 4WD heat each. As motivated has he may be after coming up short to his Yokomo teammate at the Worlds, I worry Martin will struggle to beat his personal best this weekend.
The Wisconsin native and 2012 Open 2WD winner is making his major race debut since switching to Team Losi Racing and Team Orion over the offseason after spending his pro career with Team Associated and Reedy. He didn’t compete in 2014, but steadily improved from a 23rd-place finish in his first year of Invitational to his first top-ten last year. How well he is able to adapt to his new cars, and the different team dynamic, will play a vital role in whether or not he’s able to improve his career-best finish.
This East Coast youngster splashed into the national spotlight in 2016 when he won the Open 4WD class from fifth on the grid, and won three 4WD heats on his way to a seventh-place finish last year. Can the Connecticut native bring even more magic with him this year and challenge for a top five?
At just eleven years old, Finnish star Joona Haatanen competed in the Invitational class for the first time in 2015 after making the top ten in both classes at the Euros the previous year. He finished 20th, and returned to the Open class for 2016 - when he won the Open 2WD class. Last year, back in the Invitational class, he finished ninth. That’s right about where I expect he’ll end up this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a few positions off either direction.
This Arizona driver was the first Open 4WD winner after the Reedy Race reboot in 2011, but he hasn’t had the best of luck in Invitational - finishing 22nd, 19th, 15th, 27th, 19th, and finally 17th last year. He did have a round win to start 4WD last year, and there’s always a chance he could have a breakout performance this year, but I’m not sure he’ll be battling for the top ten.
Long-team Team Associated driver Rob Gillespie Jr. won the Open 4WD class in 2013, and finished 20th in his first shot at the Invitational class. He dropped back to the Open category in 2015 and finished second in Open 4WD, then finished 18th in Invitational in 2016. Last year, he finished a career-best 14th; in both of his Invitational appearances, he was far better in 2WD than 4WD. If he wants a shot at the top ten, the best chance he has is to rekindle some of that Open 4WD magic.
This Team Associated driver from Santa Clarita, CA, was the most successful racer in the two-year history of the Reedy Outdoor Off-Road Race at Hot Rod Hobbies, winning both years of the 2WD and Stadium Truck classes as well as a 4WD victory in 2016. His local indoor track recently converted to an artificial surface, meaning he has to drive further than across town in order to find a clay track, but he’s not far from OCRC. He finished 18th last year, with just four finishes inside the top five — but one of those was a win in the second round of 2WD. I think Mayo will show a wheel here and there in order to mix it up for position, but like in 2017 I imagine he’ll finish somewhere between 15-20th.
Mighty Malin made history last year as the first female to race in the Invitational class, racing against a field of older and more experienced racers in a foreign country on an unfamiliar surface. She scored a top five in each portion of the race, including a second-place finish in the fourth round of 4WD, on the way to finishing 25th. I’m sure she’ll be more comfortable competing this year and her finishes will improve, giving her a chance to capitalize on other drivers suffering from bad luck.
This youngster came out of nowhere (well, technically St. George, Utah and the 702 RC Raceway carpet track in Las Vegas) to win the Open 4WD class and finish second in Open 2WD last year. Only three former Open-class winners have made the top ten in their Invitational debut (including Alex Kosciuszek last year), so he’s got quite the uphill battle ahead of him, but he may be one of the strongest freshmen entrants ever.
I don’t know much about Japanese Team Associated driver Kazuki Sasatsu, other than he was in the D-Main in both classes at the IFMAR Worlds in China last year and made the top ten in both at the JMRCA Nationals as well, including a fourth-place finish in 2WD. He posted this picture to Facebook in March 2015, from OCRC Raceway, but as far as I’ve been able to find this will be his first time at the Reedy Race.
Best known for being a multi-time European Champion in nitro off-road, French TLR driver Reno Savoya finished third in 2WD at the Euros last year and 20th in both 2WD and 4WD at the Worlds in China. I think his first shot at the Reedy Race Invitational, on a clay surface he doesn’t see very often, is going to be rather difficult.
Ohio’s JP Richards won Open 2WD in 2014 as a member of Team Losi Racing, then switched to Team Durango and back to TLR before joining Yokomo this season. His three prior appearances in Invitational ended in 17th, 14th and 16th place, and his individual round results over those attempts show a slight favor for the 2WD portion. I’m not sure how much track time he’s had with his new buggies, or if he’ll have the aggression needed to hold off some of the newer talent to match or even beat his previous best.
Japanese Kyosho driver Kohta Akimoto was on the podium in both 2WD and 4WD at last year’s Japanese Nationals and will make his third appearance in the Invitational class. He finished 15th last year and 17th back in 2013, and performed fairly consistently across both portions in each attempt. It’s interesting to note that the only Japanese driver to win the famed title was Masami Hirosaka, all the way back in 1991 and 1993. I think it will be tough for Kohta to make the top half of the field again.
[EDIT - 1/17, 12:31 PM CT: This article previously said that Masami had never won. Oops.]
Like Sasatsu, I don’t know much about Kouki Kato; I couldn’t even find a photo that I could confirm was him. He was in the E-Main in 4WD and D-Main in 2WD at the IFMAR Worlds this year, but made the top ten in both classes at the Japanese nationals last year to qualify for the event. This year’s Reedy Race will be a learning experience for the young racer, but I don’t expect much from his finishing position.
JQ Products founder Joseph Quagraine spends the occasional winter in Southern California and frequents OCRC when he’s stateside. In three of the last four years, he’s played JAM CAR in the Reedy Race Invitational. In 2017, 2016 and 2014, he finished 22nd, 21st and 26th, with only one top-three finish in any heat (a 2 in the second heat of 2WD last year) in 36 chances. I’m sure he’ll have fun, and drive some of his fellow racers crazy, but I think there’s a better chance that he finishes worse than 21st rather than improves upon it.
Not only has Shin Adachi spent the last two Reedy Races helping his growing squad of Team Yokomo off-road racers, but he has also competed alongside them in the Invitational class - but not with much success; he had a couple of fourth-place finishes in 4WD on his way to 22nd overall in 2016, but finished no higher than seventh last year and ended the weekend 28th out of 30. While there’s no doubt that Adachi is an accomplished designer and off-road racer in his home country of Japan, I think the experience of competing at the Reedy Race is all about just being there (and watching his drivers have a shot at another title).
Tekno RC’s Joe Bornhorst is one of the latest to get bumped into the Invitational class, where he’ll compete with the new EB410 as well as a Team Associated B6 for the 2WD portion. Bornhorst is competing in his first-ever Reedy Race, and is the wildest card in the deck. He did finish third at the CRCRC race in the 4WD class, and last in the A-Main in 2WD, but aside from a few block passes I have no idea how he’ll finish this weekend.
Australian all-star Josh Pain has one mark on his resume that no one else competing in this year’s Invitational does: he was DFL in 2014, his only other trip stateside for the famed event. He was slightly better in the 2WD class, but far outshone his driving performance with his photo poses - where he definitely bested the field.