By Mike Garrison
Welcome to LiveRC's weekly column, "Talk-It-Up Tuesday!" Here we spend a little time talking with industry icons including racers, manufacturers, team managers, developers, promoters, and everyone in between! Sit back, relax, and go behind the scenes as we interview them all!
For this week's Talk It Up Tuesday we check in with ROAR President, Chuck Kleinhagen, to discuss the latest happenings in ROAR, the 1/10 Off-Road Nationals, the future, and more.
LiveRC: Welcome back Chuck for another edition of “Talk It Up Tuesday”. We are only a few days away from the ROAR 1/10 Off-Road Nationals, and just past the mid-way point of the 2019 race season. Let’s start off by talking about your first 8 months as ROAR President. It’s been good to see you at multiple events this year, overall how are things going?
Chuck: Hello Mike. I guess I’d have to say things are moving slower than I’d like but I feel like we’re making some progress on what I feel are some of the key issues. In these first months we’ve managed to sort out a couple of issues with spec motor compliance as well as recently issue new National Event Guidelines and a new guide or bid template for tracks wanting to host National events. Those documents were very out of date and often created confusion. With those completed, we’ve just opened up bids for the 2020 National events. We’re now beginning a serious effort to complete a long overdue rewrite of the entire rule book.
LiveRC: The ROAR Executive Committee is always working behind the scenes on improving things one step at a time. What are some of the things that you and the committee have been working to improve so far this year?
Chuck: As I noted when I was running for President, ROAR’s administrative systems are very out of date. There is a lot of manual processing for event entries and memberships which is time consuming and error prone. And the whole structure of the organization isn’t very well aligned with our current activities which involve more direct involvement in running the National events and much more product approval activity than when the organization was founded. A lot of people assume there is an office staff working to run ROAR but it’s really never been more than one person working more or less part time from a home office. Our Administrators have done a fantastic job but I can tell you from the email I receive members today expect a level of responsiveness that just isn’t possible with the systems we have.
So we’re working on more automated systems. When completed (by year end) we expect to have much improved membership processing and event registration. This will enable us to better implement some ideas we have to improve the National event experience in areas like registration / check in, open practice, and tech inspection. Also, the less time Executive Committee members spend helping with these basic administrative tasks, the more time available for other improvements.
This stuff isn’t very sexy and these aren’t the areas that get the most discussion among racers. But if we can’t do the basics well there really isn’t much point in talking about the right battery temperature rules or tire sauce rules.
LiveRC: What are some of the behind the scenes roles as President that most people don’t realize you are tasked with doing?
Chuck: Well I didn’t expect to be representing ROAR in audits for our insurance company or re-certifying our tax exempt status with the state of California. I also didn’t expect the sheer volume of e-mail I receive; although some of that is due to the administrative situation.
LiveRC: How would you compare ROAR event participation this year as opposed to years past? Has there been any noticeable increases or decreases in one area or another?
Chuck: Overall attendance has been up at our National events so far with 1040 entries this year compared to 930 last year. Some comparisons (2019 in bold): Carpet Nationals (135 vs 201); Fuel Offroad (338 vs 285); Electric 8th Scale (118 vs 72), Electric Paved Nationals (151 vs 61) and 10th Scale Electric Offroad (298 vs 311). I think attendance at Carpet Nationals was probably adversely affected by the situation with 2 motors being found to not comply with the rules and being removed from the approved list shortly before the event.
LiveRC: In July, ROAR announced that the R1 Wurks V21 motors would remain on the ROAR Approval list, despite being removed from various other sanctioning body approval lists around the world. What led to this decision?
Chuck: Well the principle reason the R1 motor was removed from BRCA and EFRA approval lists was because those organizations found motors where the stator length didn’t meet their rules. Our inspection of R1 motors didn’t reveal this problem. The R1 motors sold in the US and Europe are sold under different part numbers and have differences such as the US motors using an epoxy fill that isn’t used in Europe. So there are some reasons we might see something different in inspections in one market versus another. Since we didn’t find this discrepancy in our inspections, the motors remain on our approval list. Each of the organizations are making the best decision possible based on their rules and their own inspection results. When ROAR removed motors earlier this year for oversize wire, BRCA and EFRA maintained those motors on their approval lists because they hadn’t found oversize wire on those motors in their markets. So there is certainly precedent for reaching different decisions by the respective organizations.
LiveRC: Following the decision, ROAR released a clarification of rules for stator laminate shape in brushless motors. How often do you feel that when a product does not meet ROAR approval it is based upon the manufacturers don’t know the rules vs. are trying to sneak by and cheat?
Chuck: I want to point out that BRCA, EFRA and ROAR all agreed on the rule clarification and the issue of stator shape isn’t why different decisions were made on approval. In going back through past approval inspection results we found that a few manufacturers interpreted the rule in one way (as allowing some degree of chamfer to break the sharp edge) while a majority interpreted the rule as not allowing this chamfer. Since motors with the chamfer had been knowingly approved; it seemed like the best solution was to clarify the rule in a way that allowed chamfers so that everyone had the same understanding going forward.
I can’t say why some products fail initial approval inspections. I think in most of the cases we see where motors (for instance) fail the initial approval inspection, it is not the result of intentionally trying to sneak something past the inspector. It is more likely the result of production / quality issues in the factories in China. Whether those issues are from not completely understanding the rules or just the state of production in China is difficult to say.
LiveRC: We’ve seen you at multiple National events this year. What is your role when you attend these events?
Chuck: I’ve been to 3 of the Nationals so far this year. I’m there primarily to observe and look for ways to improve future events and as a representative of the Executive Committee and the overall organization. It also gives folks an opportunity to express some opinions directly to me. I know some folks think I should be more involved in actually running the event and making decisions regarding the event. Even to the point of changing rules and rulings on the spot. But I learned (often the hard way) in business that when the top guy tries to substitute his knowledge in place of the folks who normally do the work, it often has disastrous results. So I’m available if the RMT wants to discuss a situation and I may bring things I see or hear to their attention, but our RMT are the guys with the experience and they’re the ones who should be running the event. I’m there to support them.
LiveRC: The ROAR 1/10 Off-Road Nationals are in the books, overall how do you feel the event went, and what were some of the highs and lows for ROAR?
Chuck: It isn’t really a case of highs and lows. I think the level of competition at this event was outstanding. There are always areas where things can be improved but overall things seemed to go fairly smoothly. But as I drove back home I found myself reflecting on the “tension” at these events which results from the Pros and Joe’s competing at the same time. It’s a National championship and the “Pro’s” are basically paid to push every limit to bring home a National title for marketing purposes. They don’t mind if getting the last tenth involves things like grinding off all the tire tread on brand new tires or using tire warmers. At the same time you have your hobbyist or “semi-pro” racers who pays for most of this out of his or her own pocket who is put off by that “excess”. Both are reacting entirely appropriately based on their “place” in the sport. For the “pros” it is work and so all that work and expense is just part of the job. For most others, they don’t want their hobby to basically become a second full time job where they even have to pay for the privilege of doing that work. With sponsored racers being an extremely important part of the promotional plans for many manufacturers; I’m not sure it’s possible to expect a National event to be low key and just fun. Unfortunately, I think this gap between the “pro’s” and the “hobbyist” is growing and it’s part of other issues we’ll discuss.
LiveRC: Originally there was a designated tire sauce, as there has been in years past, but that rule was changed last minute this year. Why?
Chuck: Well there was certainly robust debate immediately ahead of the event as to whether a spec sauce had been enforced in the past or not. And some claimed that the flyer for this event was not clear as to whether spec sauce applied only in the handout tire classes or to everyone. ROAR felt we had been clear in indicating a spec sauce was to be required. The RMT went to the event expecting to enforce a spec sauce. However, once on site they concluded that they would not be able to effectively enforce the use of a single, designated sauce. Rather than do a poor job of enforcement, they decided to allow any sauce.
LiveRC: In years past in seems as though the electric nationals (both 1/10 and 1/8) sometimes offer bump ups, and sometimes they do not. Why the change back and forth, and why no bumps this year for either?
Chuck: First, I think ROAR needs to look at the entire format for our National events. Speaking only for myself, I’m among those who think we spend too much time racing the clock at these events and not enough time is spent with the racers actually racing each other. I think the emphasis on time for most of the event is partly responsible for everyone pushing the limits to the extreme on equipment. Some of the more “exotic” things being done only seem to show up when you’re looking for those last tenths in qualifying. And our traditional format is clearly not spectator or broadcast friendly. I think the National events also last for more days than many people would like. I’ve also seen discussions on heat length now that we aren’t dumping batteries in 5 or 6 minutes. So I think we need to do some serious thinking on the overall format of our Nationals and that should include the issue of bumps.
Currently our rules say bumps are not required at electric National events and I think maybe ROAR isn’t as inconsistent on this as people think. I took a quick look back at our results on LiveRC and over the last five 10th scale Nationals the only time we did bumps was in 2017. As I recall the discussion within the EXCOM ahead of that event; it was decided to try bumps for that event as an experiment. So we’ve only used bumps once in 5 years in 10th scale. Other than that one occasion we’ve been consistent in not using bumps. In 8th scale electric it’s a bit more varied with bumps on 2 occasions and 3 occasions without. But the default for ROAR electric Nationals has been no bumps and if you look at onroad and offroad together the occasions where bumps were tried were clearly limited exceptions.
LiveRC: Not far off is the IFMAR 1/8 On-Road World Championships at Steel City in Fontana, California. Will you be in attendance for this event, and if so, will you have any specific duties during the event as President of the ROAR bloc?
Chuck: I will be attending the annual meeting of IFMAR which will be held during the event to represent ROAR and our members in any issues up for discussion.
LiveRC: ROAR is now accepting requests for filling alternate spots at this event. Some racers have questioned why the entry fee is $400. Can you explain?
Chuck: Over half that amount is more or less immediately remitted to IFMAR. The portion remaining after paying IFMAR is used to pay for expenses ROAR incurs at each World event including personnel we are expected to provide for the event.
LiveRC: One area of R/C that seems to be on the rise (particularly in the mid-west) is dirt oval racing. Is there any consideration of ROAR bringing back a sanctioned dirt oval event or national?
Chuck: There are a number of areas in the RC sport where ROAR isn’t active. These include dirt and carpet oval (both areas where we once were active) as well as newer areas like drifting, drag racing, crawlers, large scale offroad, etc. We often hear from folks in those areas asking if ROAR is planning anything. I think there is a case for ROAR to expand into one or more areas of the sport where we aren’t currently active. But I don’t think it makes sense to do so until we get our administrative issues resolved.
LiveRC: As we have seen from multiple tracks expressing concern on social media around the country, the biggest area of R/C racing that has declined is local club racing. What do you think has caused this decline, and is there a way to turn it around?
Chuck: First off, I don’t think money is a huge part of the problem We see new folks who are more than willing to spend the money to get started with a decent setup. Lower startup costs are always welcome, but we see folks spending well over $1000 on their X-Maxx’s to just bash.
I think a part of this is related to the tension or split I mentioned earlier between the “pro’s” and the hobbyists. In many ways I think the gap between these 2 groups keeps growing. So it becomes harder for someone new to become competitive. And our society seems to be increasingly inclined to look for quick results. So newcomers don’t want to accept not being competitive. They spend the money initially and have the “right stuff” but they can’t buy the setup knowledge and skill of the experienced racers. The cars now have a bewildering number of possible adjustments making that knowledge even more important. Add in things like the crazy lengths we go to in tire treatments and battery “conditioning” and the new guy is quickly overwhelmed. Then they are frustrated when they aren’t more or less immediately competitive. Some might say that the “pro’s” and the manufacturers make all the information you need on setups available online. But that can actually be part of the problem as well. There are so many confusing sources of information. The new guy doesn’t know how to filter all that advice and decide what is applicable to their situation. We see racers jumping from online setup to setup searching for the magic. Most could spend much less on trick equipment and more on practice time and be much better off. But for many hobbyists that time isn’t available, or it seems too much like work to have to put in that track time rather than buy a magic bullet.
I guess I’m saying that it’s become more complicated and time consuming to become competitive and it seems fewer folks are willing to work through that and stay with the hobby / sport.
LiveRC: In addition to ROAR President, you are also a hobby shop and track owner. Where are you seeing increases and decreases in racer participation among your tracks?
Chuck: This summer has been a strange one for us. We’ve seen offroad racing decrease (usually our mainstay) and dirt oval increase. I don’t have any answers for why. Our onroad racing has held up better through this summer than most. We have had success with low cost, low complexity classes based on vehicles like the Traxxas Bandit (oval and offroad) and Traxxas 4-tec (onroad). But a curious thing happens. As soon as they become “hooked” on the competition, we have guys buying $125 lipo batteries to put in their $140 Bandit. Again, I don’t know that cost alone is the main issue facing the hobby/sport. I think it’s probably a cost / benefit type of thing. It’s spending the money and not getting the desired result in terms of being competitive.
LiveRC: Is there anything that you can share with us regarding anything new thing that ROAR will be working on, changing, implementing, and/or all of the above in the future?
Chuck: As I mentioned earlier, there will be a long overdue update of the Rulebook coming before year end. We will also be investigating our status as a 501(c)7 non-profit social club. There are a number of different categories for non-profits. Our current status places some limits on our revenue sources and activities. We have the election for Vice President and odd numbered Regional Directors coming up this fall (nominations to open soon). And we’re soliciting bids for 2020 Nationals and hope to be announcing the host tracks no later than mid-October.
LiveRC: Chuck, thank you as always for joining us! You have your work cut out for you, and we’ll let you get back to it. Is there anything you would like to add before we go?
Chuck: Thank you Mike and LiveRC for the opportunity to share a little about ROAR’s recent activities. Most of our current work isn’t very flashy but it is necessary to build a strong foundation for ROAR going forward.