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.
On Monday afternoon, LiveRC reader Steven Radt sent a message to our Facebook with some thoughts after attending a club race in Western New York state, in which he asked if we could share an article detailing typical driver and turn marshal etiquette. Specifically:
- Drivers shouldn’t leave the drivers’ stand before the end of the race, even if they break or get frustrated, because it’s distracting to other competitors
- Turn marshals should not try to repair broken vehicles during a race, and no one should retrieve broken vehicles from the track in order to fix them. Doing so adds unnecessary distraction on the racetrack, and risks removing a turn marshal from his duty of helping other cars in the area
- If a vehicle crashes, the driver must not apply the throttle until the turn marshal has grabbed the car and set it back down on the racing surface. The turn marshal could be injured by spinning tires or drivetrain parts.
I agree — to a point. As with any community, big or small, the behavior of participants in the RC racing world is governed both by recorded regulations as well as certain unspoken rules that intend to create a respectful environment that encourages all to have fun.
However, RC racing is not country club golf. Just as stuffy Victorian-era social norms like removing your hat when you walk inside, or only wearing white before Labor Day, no longer apply in casual society I think there’s room to loosen up at the racetrack rather than trying to legislate — and, even worse, shame - racers into conforming to a code of character.
Here are the old standards that I think need to flame out:
Don’t leave the drivers’ stand before the end of the race
I’ve always thought this was ridiculous. I understand that some small and rickety drivers’ stands can make a quick exit difficult, but it seems rather silly to force a driver to wait on the stand, and then go retrieve his broken car from the track and make it to his own turn marshal cone without holding up the next race. Sure, someone who’s mad about breaking their car stomping off the drivers’ stand is going to distract the other drivers - but so do spectators cheering, other drivers’ body english, loud noises from particularly brutal crashes, turn marshals running across the track, cars tumbling into other lanes, and wondering why the driver next to you turned his radio off and is simply standing there because his car broke. At most club races, the biggest distraction many local racers face is from the PA announcer, either trying to alert turn marshals to a crash or calling a particular driver’s name as the leader. Besides — the ends of the drivers' stand, and the ramp or stairs leading to it, are often the best places to watch a race, and it would be crazy to ask other people not to watch and cheer. Instead of making drivers stay on the stand, encourage them to exit the stand quietly and gracefully.
Don’t fix broken cars on the racing surface
You paid your $15 entry fee, spent all day at the track, mounted up new tires for the main event — and then popped a ball cup in a big first turn pile-up. Sorry about your luck! Enjoy your view of the rest of the race while your car sits upside down at some turn marshal’s feet, because even turning off the switch would be unfair to all other racers that would otherwise be told “it’s your fault for crashing” for literally any other discussion about inadequate turn marshaling. Turn marshal aptitude and a willingness to try to get fellow racers back out on the racing surface to enjoy the rest of their allotted driving time are not mutually exclusive; someone who’s quick and attentive will be able to figure out whether or not the car can be fixed quickly, or at least delivered to a helpful spectator, without creating an issue for other racers. Similarly, someone who is perpetually unaware and fails to display reasonable effort is going to do a poor job. Perhaps tracks can designate one of the turn marshal spots as a runner, with a special portion of the outer perimeter for fixing cars. Perhaps turn marshals who feel so inclined to go the extra mile will learn how to do both more efficiently. Perhaps the RC world as a whole will realize this really, really doesn’t matter as much as we all make it out to be.
Turn marshals don’t have to retrieve a vehicle with the throttle applied
I get it: someone who jams a finger into the outdrive of a car before the driver applies the throttle can get their fingertip torn up — this happened to me when I was a kid. I’ve also burned my finger on a nitro vehicle’s exhaust pipe, and cut my hand on sharp front shock towers and worn shock hardware. More than minor wounds, though, I’ve watched more than a few turn marshals go to the hospital with lower limb injuries after they tripped, slipped or got hit. Everything about asking humans of varying levels of athletic ability to try to avoid cars capable of 30+ mph in order to help others sucks. It’s also totally possible to safely grab a car with spinning tires and set it back on the racing surface, and if the car then careens out of control again it’s the driver’s fault. However, I don’t understand the alternative being a better option. Would you rather have a turn marshal standing on the track surface with his arms outstretched waiting for the driver to let off? Or refusing to get the car out of harm’s way until the tires stop spinning? The almost-guaranteed vocal exchange between driver and turn marshal? This whole circus charade violates the basis of the first two items on this list: not distracting other drivers, and not tying up the attention of a turn marshal. Besides, these exchanges are often rife with miscommunication, and end up with two upset parties — the driver didn’t realize his idle was high or that it was still coasting after revving the motor to get the marshal’s attention, the marshal thought the driver was being especially rude — whatever. Run to the car, do your best, and get back to your cone. Done. Don’t make the driver’s crash about the turn marshal.
No talking on the drivers’ stand
This is both impossible to police and counterproductive. Whether it’s during IFMAR staggered-start qualifying, or the closing laps of a main event, a faster driver politely asking “car #6, can you please let me by?” is a much better way to alert slower traffic of the leaders approaching than expecting the PA announcer to ignore everything else and make judgement calls that could influence race results, distract drivers and are totally irrelevant to spectators. It should not be a race director’s job to scold drivers for getting frustrated, and we as a hobby should not stifle drivers expressing their excitement over a close finish. You wouldn’t expect an athlete to play a game in complete silence, or a race car driver to sit mute in his car, and I don’t think the drivers’ stand should be treated like a library.
Wait for the driver you crashed to pass you back
Raise your hand if you’ve ever totally forgiven a driver who wrecked you three weeks in a row because he at least pulled over and stopped afterward — yeah, me neither. The only outcomes of this unwritten rule of follow-the-leader encourages is block-at-all-costs defensive driving and hurt feelings. Race directors are expected to monitor all 10 (or 12, or 15+) vehicles on the track for even the slightest incidence of contact, and are blamed and yelled at when they don’t artificially alter race results based on judgement calls. Especially given the rising speeds of all forms of RC racing, passing attempts are increasingly difficult and often require the pursuant driver to be closer to the car ahead than ever before, but if that leading driver makes a mistake and leaves the driver behind with nowhere to go, he gets penalized? Rubbish. Even worse, a racer that makes an overly-aggressive pass attempt and doesn’t get reprimanded has no reason to believe he was out of line. Expecting drivers to pull over and let another car pass after even the slightest bit of contact is not fairly enforceable and it fosters toxic attitudes that aren’t conducive to close racing. This unwritten rule only punishes the polite.
More than creating a list of rules to follow, race directors, track employees and influential drivers can foster a friendly, inviting and respectful racing environment by organizing fair events, treating racers with dignity and leading by example. When you add ten bullet points of your own moral code to a sign that starts with “Please pay before practicing” and “Here’s our race schedule,” you’re not giving adults the benefit of the doubt but instead giving them boundaries to push. Identify and address problematic attendees face-to-face before issues arise, rather than saving up a list of “didn’t you see the notice on the wall?!” transgressions for a far-too-late fight in the parking lot. Invest in the community and create a sustainable culture of inclusive fun and improvement — because if you have to put up signs and stickers in the pit area that say “Keep RC Fun!” you’ve already lost.