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.
The hallmark of the Reedy Race of Champions is, no count, the thrill of watching heads-up competition. With 36 exciting Invitational heats and 28 action-packed Open finals taking place in just three days, there’s more on-track racing at the Reedy Race than at events with more than twice the entry count. The Invitational racers know that the overall points battle emphasizes the importance of collecting every last possible point all the way until the final round, while the addition of bump-ups to the Open class lower finals gives those who qualified poorly reason to push hard than just pride. The result is that half of the three-days-plus-practice schedule is dedicated to cars the oft-lost art of competing for position; you know, actual racing.
As I evaluated my pre-race predictions from last week’s column against what went down over the weekend (which, aside from failing to predict the utter collapse of some of those I thought were favorites and underestimating the incapability of those at the bottom of the field, was pretty darn close), I noticed patterns among drivers that spanned across both the Invitational and Open classes that explained not only their racing strategy but also their likelihood of finishing near the top of the field. I lumped the tendencies I observed into three categories — read on to see if you agree with me.
Some drivers are ruthless in pursuit; they seem to instinctively match the pace of the car they’re following, and immediately begin exploiting passing opportunities as though being chased by a pack of wild dogs. Those in this group attack with a sense of urgency, often taking risks that sometimes end in overtaking but occasionally result in contact. Driving in such a hurry makes it possible to advance through the field when starting toward the back of the grid, but can also involve these drivers in crashes and their car in the hands of turn marshals.
Examples this past weekend: Dustin Evans, Ryan Cavalieri, CJ Jelin
Unlike the voracious, the opportunists let the race unfold in their favor. When following a driver, the opportunist may find it difficult to find an opening in which to pass, but stays within the distance one might lose when committing a mistake. Opportunists might find it a struggle to race through more than one lower main event when bumping up, or compete over twelve rounds at the Reedy Race when starting in many different spots of the grid. Instead, opportunists are much more comfortable at a traditional race when able to qualify on their own with IFMAR staggered starts, then take advantage of starting the final up front to drive defensively or pull away. Those who overwhelmingly favor, or perform better, in longer nitro main events often fall into this group.
Examples this past weekend: Joe Bornhorst, Cole Tollard, Mason Eppley, Brad Shearer
The punching bag
Like a wet paper towel or structure built of playing cards, the third group of drivers is incapable of withstanding any sort of pressure. Even though punching bags may pick up a position when another driver makes a mistake, they struggle to hold onto it once the other driver closes the gap. Whether it’s due to unfamiliarity with the surface or layout, a mechanical issue, or simply being outmatched by the other drivers on the track, punchings bag provide very little resistance when being pursued by another driver; in fact, they often overdrive themselves right into a mistake. Drivers in this group may qualify well, but tend to finish worse than where they started.
Examples this past weekend: Josh Pain, Kazuki Sasatsu, Alex Vanderbeek
Of course, one event isn’t necessarily indicative of how a driver might perform for his whole racing career; in fact, I can recall events where most of the examples I made above belonged in either of the other groups. Local racers, though, tend to stay in one of these groups without some sort of significant change — like committing themselves to practicing more often (or the total opposite), moving to a different racing class, or experiencing a complete change of mindset.
Which group do you belong in?