Since 2009, Chris Marcy, Dean Berry and the folks at RC Madness in Enfield, CT have organized one of the most fun events I have ever attended. I'm of course talking about the Short Course Nationals. This year drivers from all around the northeast, and the entire USA for that matter, headed to RC Madness to compete in a number of different classes to claim the title of Short Course National Champion. Little did we know that some of the fiercest competition wouldn't be on-track, but over the track in the form of Hurricane Irene. While Irene did cut the event short, there was still plenty of fun, door prizes and great racing to go around.
The impending arrival of Hurricane Irene meant that the organizers had to think on their feet if they were going to get the race in. The original plan was to have two rounds of qualifying Saturday, and a third and final round on Sunday, followed by the mains. The week before the event, a change was announced in an attempt to make sure the race went off to its completion. Three rounds of qualifying would now be held on Saturday and the mains would be on Sunday. If the hurricane hit and washed out Sunday's racing, the third and final round of qualifying would be used as the "mains", as racers would be resorted into qualifying heats based on their best qualifying effort to that point.
All of the qualifiers and mains featured heads-up starts; no IFMAR-style qualifying here! The grid was set in qualifying at random with the first four trucks lining up side-by-side on the front row, four more trucks in row two and four more in the third row. Once the tone went off, there was a land-rush start to the first corner that could often decide your fate for the rest of the race. Get a clean start and you could buckle down and work on turning in consistent laps. Get a rough start and you now had to dig yourself out of a hole.
For the mains, the grid would be made up of the fastest ten qualifiers plus the winner and second place of the B-Main. All twelve trucks would be lined up across the front straight side-by-side. That's right, no three rows of four here! The TQ would get first pick of where he wanted to start, then the second qualifier and so-on. Once the tone went off, it was a mad dash to the first corner that could make or break you.
Leveling the Competition
In an effort to level the playing field and improve the level of competition in the 17.5T (aka Stock) Class, the organizers of the event decided to utilize a spec motor from Team Trinity. The Monster Locked 17.5T Spec Motor features a locked end bell that prevents adjusting the timing of the motor. The rotor also features an easy-to-tech design, preventing people from playing around with different rotors and changing the power band. Additionally, the use of electronic timing advance or "boost" features on the ESC was banned, again with the idea of keeping speeds down, creating more of a speed difference between "stock" and "mod" and making the cars and trucks easier to control. The ESCs used by the racers needed to feature a "blinky mode" (indicating no electronic timing or boost options are enabled) or racers could use ESCs that never featured boost or timing adjustments.
As someone who raced in both the Stock Short Course Truck and Stock Short Course Buggy classes, I have to admit I loved these rules. I have been a long time advocate and believer that the stock/17.5 classes are getting to be too fast and there needs to be a greater differentiation in speeds between stock and modified. The Trinity Monster Locked motor, which is based on their winning Duo 3 platform, provides plenty of grunt and top speed while the elimination of boost and timing kept speeds on the straights at a reasonable level. I, for one, hope other tracks across the country adopt similar rules for their 17.5 classes, especially for the new SCB class. Doing so will help keep the cars and trucks more controllable, increase side-by-side racing and reduce costs due to not having to chase the "motor of the week".
While Friday practice was bathed in the glorious sunshine of the northeast, Saturday was cloud covered all day. It was clear early on that we would not be racing Sunday and that we would have to hustle to get the entire race program in on Saturday. During a brief driver's meeting and concourse judging, the first light raindrops from the outer edge of Irene could be felt, but they left as soon as they came. With over 230-entrants and 25-heats, it was important to get the show rolling and keep it rolling.
As the first round of qualifying progressed, the event was put into a holding pattern due to rain. A few times Chris and crew kept pushing forward to try to get as much of the race in as possible, but then it happened. Just as race 25 was about to roll out, the skies opened up and Hurricane Irene arrived. Chris asked the drivers that were on the stand if they wanted to come down or stay up and drive, and they all stayed on the stand to race things out. In the end, the event had to be called after the first round of qualifying due to the weather and where you stood after one heat determined your finishing position.
While the rain was falling, practically every driver headed inside to the RC Madness carpet track to wait things out and participate in the raffle. Losi, TLR, Novak Electronics, Traxxas, Castle Creations, Team Trinity, AKA, RC Driver, RC Car Action and others all donated a cornucopia of prizes for the raffle, from bodies to tires to car kits. In the end, there were thousands of dollars in door prizes handed out. Events like this cannot continue without the support of tracks, racers and manufacturers all getting involved, and just about everyone who is anyone had a hand in making this event happen.
One of the cool things about the Short Course Nationals is the variety of classes and vehicle types that are run. One of the most unique classes is the Mini class, where owners of the 1/16-scale Slash, Mini-SCT and other similar vehicles can come and duke it out on one of the largest tracks they'll ever run their vehicles on. Jed Cone had things figured out with his truck as he was the only one to turn in an 8-lap run. To put that into perspective, the majority of the 17.5T SCT and SCB classes only turned 7-laps! Bill Maynard was the best of the rest and finished second, over two laps down. Jamie Lepley rounded out the podium and took home third.
The Big Block class combines larger 1/8-scale trucks with short course styling and performance to create a truly ground-pounding platform. These trucks move like there's no tomorrow around the track and down the straight. Since the first year, Scott Brown has dominated the Big Block class and 2011 was no different as he captured the win with the only 9-lap run turned in by anyone in the class. RC Driver's Tony Phalen has also been a contender in Big Block over the years, yet he'd have to settle for the runner's up position. Jim Hustins turned in a solid run to take third overall.
Make no bones about it, the Slash is the truck that started the whole short course craze. The Slash is still wildly popular and, as such, the Spec Slash class has become a staple of this event. To keep costs down and the fun high, the Spec Slash class is closely regulated with limited option parts allowed. Racers can use any tire that is included with a Slash RTR platform, any transmitter and receiver, but the stock ESC and motor but be maintained. Racers can make other minor hop-ups and changes, but overall the trucks are raced as they come out of the box.
With such a tightly regulated set of rules, you'd expect the results to be amazingly close, and they were. How close you might be wondering? How's less than .066 seconds between the top two sound? That was the margin of victory between Brett Mccafferty and Paul Medina with Mccafferty taking the top spot by that miniscule margin. Jim Hustins, Chris Champagne and Jamie Lepley rounded out the rest of the top five.
Short Course Buggy
This was the first time the Short Course Buggy class was offered at the Nationals and there was a solid turnout in the class. Losi's Keith Whisler made the trek out to the east coast to participate, while RC Driver's Greg Vogel and Tony Phalen also prepared buggies to do battle. Tony managed to get a terrific start in his race and quickly gapped the field. His car seemed to be effortless to drive as he made his way through traffic. I had a bit of a rough start myself, but quickly took command of the second spot. That is how Tony and I would finish, but with Vogel and Whisler in the second race we both looked on with a lot of interest.
From the start of their race, it was clear that it would be a tale of two races. Vogel managed to get a strong start early, just as Phalen had, and began to pull away from the rest of the field. Whisler, however, was caught up in a number of opening lap incidents, dropping him deep into the field. Whisler had to use both patience and skill to work his way through the field carefully, although he would be caught up in a few minor scrapes as he tried to work his way forward. All this action happened well behind Vogel, who cruised on to take the win in his race. When the times were compared between both races, Tony Phalen wound up on top of the pack by a significant 10-second margin over Greg Vogel. I managed to take home third overall, followed by John D'olandro and Keith Whisler.
17.5 Short Course Truck
With nearly 50-entrants, the 17.5 Short Course Truck class was remarkably competitive. One mistake could easily drop you outside of the top-10. The top twenty were essentially all on the same lap; however, Kevin McDaniel managed to have the only 8-lap run of the class to become the 2011 Short Course Nationals 17.5 SCT Champion. Not too far behind him was Greg Vogel, who just barely missed an 8-lap run by just under .9-second. Mike Long, Patric Worehead and Mike Valentine were less than 3-seconds apart for third through fifth.
2WD Open Short Course Truck
With over 70-entrants, the entry list for the 2WD Open Class featured some of the best Short Course drivers and racing you'll find anywhere. There were great battles in each and every race between Mark Smyka, Scott Brown, Ryan Dunford, Billy Fischer, Tony Phalen and many more. To be considered for the top-9 meant you needed to have a solid 8-lap run. Scott Brown has always done well at this event in the Open class, and 2011 was no different as he took the win yet again. Losi's Ryan Dunford battled through traffic in his race to take second overall with Billy Fischer, Matt C and Jacob Pratt rounding out the top of the order.
The biggest class of the weekend was the 4WD Short Course Truck Class. These guys and gals were absolutely ballistic around the track thanks to their exceptional handling and low-turn motors. Positions 3-35 all had 8-lap runs, however, the top two raised the bar and both turned in 9-lap runs! Those two drivers were Scott Brown and Billy Fischer who, coincidently, were in the same race with each other. For much of the race it was Fischer chasing Brown, looking for a place to pass. It appeared that Brown had made a costly error with less than 2-minutes left as he bobbled and wound up on his side, allowing Fischer to take the lead. Just a few corners later, however, and Fischer made a mistake and Brown got back by. This nose-to-tail action would continue for the entirety of the race until Fischer was able to make the final pass and make it stick to capture the title. Brown would have to settle for second followed by Losi's Ryan Dunford, RC Driver's Greg Vogel and RC Car Action's Stephen Bess.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first Short Course Nationals in 2009 and had an absolute blast. I thought it would be impossible to surpass my experience I had in '09, but the 2011 edition of the Short Course Nationals actually did. The RC Madness crew did a great job tweaking various rules and classes to keep the competition close, the fun level high and costs down. I, for one, thought the addition of the Short Course Buggy Class was terrific, especially with the Trinity spec motor and no timing/no boost ESC rules. I truly hope that this format takes off at other tracks as it really works quite well.
Like others, I was disappointed that the event was shortened by, not just ordinary rain, but a hurricane. The track layout was super fun to race on, the lines were exceptional and the rhythm and flow was tremendous. Since we didn't get to run the actual mains on this track, I begged the organizers to use this as the layout for next year, it was that good. The sponsors of the event donated a plethora of prizes for the raffle drawing including multiple 2WD and 4WD Short Course Trucks, batteries, motors and more. One lucky entrant, Alex Perry, even won a Losi XXX-SCB decked out with a Castle Creations Mamba Max Pro, Trinity 17.5 Monster Locked Motor and ReVtech battery pack and a free entry for the race. Talk about hitting the lottery!
On behalf of all the drivers, I'd like to thank Chris Marcy, Dean Berry, Ernie Provetti, Bill Jeric, Dolan Klein and others for helping to put on and support such a great race. I was very disappointed to miss this race last year, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the 2011 edition. Chris pours his heart and soul into this event and calling it due to rain was one of the hardest decisions he had to make. For the safety of everyone involved, it was the best move possible and, as hindsight proves, the right call to make. I won't let a little rain dampen my attitude towards this event and I for one can't wait to go back in 2012.