By Mike Garrison
A Moment with Mike is a weekly opinion column where LiveRC’s Mike Garrison gives his take on hot-button issues, general topics, and conversations within the RC industry. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LiveRC.
It has been a very long time since I have raced in an event with a Reedy Race or heads up racing format, but it just so happens this past weekend I had the opportunity to do so at the 2019 Midwest Speedfest hosted by Jake’s RC Pro Am in Topeka, Kansas. First and foremost, I LOVE racing this format as it is constant heads up racing, it skips a full day (or DAYS) of mundane qualifying, and it requires consistency, tenacity, patience, and strategy to be thrown at random in your starting positions and still emerge victorious.
When you sit back and look at the IFMAR qualifying format that we have used since the stone ages, it’s quite backwards, boring, and a waste of time in my opinion. This format focuses entire days’ worth of qualifying (sometimes including pre-qualifying to the actual qualifying) to decide who lines up first for one single heads-up main event that takes place days later. Note that all of this qualifying is NOT to decide a winner, but simply to decide who starts three feet in front or behind one another in the one heads up race that does determine the actual event winner (which MANY times is NOT the person who starts first).
Using a typical weekend-long 1/10-scale off-road trophy race for example, we spend all day Friday practicing with a 2-3 hour seeding practice session to qualify for the qualifiers. The next day we 12-14 hours at the track to complete four rounds of qualifying at 5-minutes each. That is 20-minutes plus worth of qualifying and pre-qualifying “on your own clock”. Finally on Sunday it is main day in which we race for all the marbles by competing in one 6-minute A-Main to determine a winner. If you're lucky there might be triple A-Mains, which results in 18 minutes worth of actual racing – which is still less than the time spent trying to decide who starts where for that race. For those attending larger events such as the IFMAR Worlds, you might find yourself practicing, pre-qualifying, and qualifying for more days than most people spend on vacation in 10 years’ time – let alone actually racing heads up for a World Championship title.
Davide Ongaro, his team, and his family spent four full days (nearly 40 hours) at the track and spent over 120 minutes "racing the clock" for seeding practice and qualifying alone, JUST to determine that he qualified 3rd at the 2018 IFMAR Worlds. On day six, after pre-qualifying for qualifying and finishing 3rd, he still had to qualify again to secure a spot in the final by racing another 30 minute semi-final. After the semi-final his 3rd place earned in qualifying was thrown out the window, and based off of his one single semi-final race finish and time, he started 4th in final. Despite all that time spent during pre-qualifying, qualifying, and semi-finals determing he would start 9-feet behind the leader, he would still win the World Championship solely based on the 1-hour worth of heads up racing in the final.
If that isn’t backwards and confusing enough, let’s throw more confusion in the mix by offering up all the different ways our existing qualifying and mains can be scored and formatted depending on which track and/or race you attend which includes; Rocket Round, Qual Points, Letter Mains, Ladder Mains, Single Mains, Double Mains, Triple Mains, Bumps, No Bumps, etc.
(Confused yet? I am...)
The Reedy Race format eliminates all the B.S., and cuts straight to the chase by throwing you at random into continuous rounds of head up racing with random starting order. Your finishes are combined, and the driver with the lowest score wins. Simple, fun, and challenging.
During the race this past weekend it was mentioned multiple times in the pits by new and experienced racers how much fun the format was, how easy it was to understand compared to IFMAR qualifying and qual points, and how they felt like they had a full weekend’s worth of racing done all in one day.
Reedy Race format is pretty cut and dry, which is especially appealing to new racers who don’t understand timed qualifying, qual points, or the classic phrases “Don’t race the other cars, you’re on your own clock,” or “If a faster car comes up on you, let them pass.” With Reedy format, if you are on the track with someone, chances are you are racing them. The scoring is simple; a win is 1 point, a second is 2 points, and so on. Just like golf, the lowest combined score from every hole/race finish wins at the end – so you fight to win every race you’re in, just as you would try to hit a hole in one every chance you get.
If half of the existing racers don’t understand and/or enjoy the traditional format of racing we use, how or why should we expect a newcomer to be any different? We won't even begin to bring the confusion or frustration with the existing format for potential spectators into this conversation.
With all that being said, do I feel that the Reedy Race format is perfect? No, it has its flaws as well. I am not saying that qualifying should be completely eliminated, but I am saying that qualifying needs to be significantly reduced in the amount of focus and time spent on it. I am not opposed to some sort of seeding round or single qualifying qualifying round based on time as they do in supercross, dirt track racing, etc. – but NOT entire days’ worth of it leading up to a very short amount of heads up racing in the mains - which are all that truly count.
Typically for me the most fun part of a race day is the main, as that is the only race that actually counts for the win, and the only race you are going heads up and wheel-to-wheel with your competition. This past weekend my favorite race of the day was all 10 that I competed in (five for my13.5 2wd buggy and five for my 13.5 4wd buggy classes).
Years ago, I travelled all over the country from Boston, to Milwaukee, to Dallas, and everywhere in between to race Scotty Ernst’s Short Course Showdown Tour. I consider Scotty a close friend and I enjoyed racing short course trucks, but that wasn’t solely my reason for attending so many of them. It was the atmosphere of the events, and the constant heads up racing action that made it FUN to go racing. I’ve legitimately never had so much adrenaline pumping, nerve shaking fun as I did slamming doors with Brian Kinwald, Greg Hodapp, Billy Fischer, Pres Ilog, and many others.
(Even my old man, Grumpy Greg, who refuses to race anything but buggies enjoyed the heads up racing action at Shortcourse Showdown. So much that he actually went and bought a Stock Slash at the track just have a truck to participate with for these race weekends.)
Maybe its my motocross mentality that likes a Reedy-style heads up racing format, which is simple and similar to racing multiple motos and combining your moto finishes for the overall? Maybe it’s the fact it was the first time in a long time that 10 out of 10 races I came off the drivers stand shaking hands with my competitors for such close racing and fun? Maybe it’s the fact my adrenaline is pumping just talking about it right now?
How we have put up with the existing format of racing for so long with no changes or enhancements to make it any more enjoyable, time managed, or less confusing to the common man is beyond me. How any pro driver who earns a paycheck based off their finishes in the main events (NOT their qualifying position) could possibly enjoy or agree with the insane amount of attention, focus, and time we currently spend on just qualifying (and qualifying for the qualifying) is also beyond me.
No format will ever be perfect, someone will always disagree or be unhappy, but nearly every form of motorsports has evolved, changed, and enhanced the format of racing in some way over the years (Supercross/Motocross, NASCAR, Formula 1, Indy Car, Monster Truck Racing, etc.), but NOT R/C. It's time to change that.
As a race director / announcer I am tired of wasting my voice calling 14 hours worth of lap times and driver paces for qualifying. As a race promoter I am bored and want something new and fun for racers to enjoy and look forward to. As a racer I'm tired of signing up to race the clock all day long, and after getting a reminder of what its like to go non-stop heads up, I want MORE!
It's time to smash the clock and go heads up...bring on the Reedy Race!