Well the 2017 edition of the ROAR 1/8th Nitro Offroad National Championships are in the books. Things we knew coming in were that the track had a penchant for blowing out including the jump faces. Also we knew it was the midwest and weather would be unpredictable! Both ‘truisms’ came true, but it all ended beautifully. Joe and I would make the drive one state over from Ohio to arrive mid afternoon on Tuesday to Stateline R/C Raceway on the Indiana and Michigan boarder. The track looked fun with a couple of unique sections and one I had never seen before. It was a small crescent shaped berm in the middle of the corner followed by a diagonal mole hill running from the crescent all the way to the pipe. As the week got underway the section was easy with multiple ways through it. As the mains came around it became one of the hardest sections of all and was a true differentiator.
Wednesday was open track controlled practice which allowed us to try out some different tires and set-ups. However the track was blowing out quick and getting very dusty so they decided to water between all the runs. Thus it was pretty well known the tires we were choosing to run wouldn’t be the same as what we would run come qualifying when they could no longer water. On Thursday we had another day of ROAR controlled practice with the 2nd two rounds being seeding rounds where top 3 consecutive laps would seat you for the qualifiers. We got all the way through the first round but with about 2 heats of buggies to go in the second round the skies opened. There was a massive amount of storms to the north and south of us and we were very fortunate to actually escape what could have been much more rain. Either way it stopped our day and seeding for Q1 would be based on just the times from the first seeding practice.
Come Friday morning pictures were surfacing of lakes that had formed around the track in the pits and such from the overnight dousing of rain. But the skies cleared long enough to remove the tarp and for the track crew to get to work preparing the track and getting it ready to run. Peat moss was applied and by 2pm we were doing a quick 2 minute practice run through the heats to help break in the track and give everyone a chance to get used to this new condition. We were able to get a full qualifier in and it was ok for me. In truggy I wasn’t quite feeling comfortable yet and I took a 7th but in buggy I had a great run and got a 3rd.
The track also put on an awesome buffet dinner with desert for us on Friday which is a staple thing they do at their big events. They fed everyone with a smorgasbord and it was delicious! We then ran through Q2 of buggy that night with the races ending around 11pm. The track was extremely hard to see with the black pipes. I felt like I was driving by brail out there and the air was still so the smoke was just hovering as a haze over the track surface. We did some good changes to the buggy though and even with my aging eyes I was able to get 2nd for the round.
Saturday was next and that morning the track provided a pancake breakfast with sausage and coffee for all! We also had to get through 2.5 rounds of qualifying and lower mains, so a busy day was on tap. It started off with finishing up Q2 of truggy and I found some improvement this round with the track beginning to deteriorate in sections. I would come away with a 3rd for the round, still not feeling totally comfortable but pleased with the progress. So after two rounds I was already into the A in truggy and the top of the semi’s in buggy so now it afforded me the ability to try some more new things and see what I could figure out.
As we progressed into Q3 and 4 the track just kept getting rougher. A groove also started to develop in some sections and our tire selections went from SS grids on Friday to now AKA Soft grids. In buggy my 3rd and 4th rounds wouldn’t improve my standing as both included early crashes that I had to recover from. Buggy I got a 6th and 4th in the final two rounds which still showed I was up in the running and just needed to put it all together. In truck I was able to improve in Q3 a little more yet taking a 2nd for the round and starting to find a groove. In Q4 I tried a stiffer shock oil and while it helped in some sections it hurt in others and so for the main I decided I was going to stick with the slightly lighter set-up. Overall I would qualify 3rd in truggy and 4th in buggy which would start me 2nd in the 1/2 odd semi-final.
Truggy Final – Sunday was main day and the track conditions were getting gnarly. At noon we got a 10 minute A-main and Semi practice run to allow us to make some last minute adjustments and get ready for the the epic test this track was going to dish out on us. About an hour after the warmups was going to be the truggy A-main. Starting 3rd on the grid I was having memories of Silver State where it was the same 3 in the top 3 and I would be able to come home with the victory. At the start I still just wasn’t feeling the most comfortable with my truck. I don’t know what it was this weekend be it the track or what but I never quite got that feeling of being completely dialed in truggy. I fell back a bit and battled with Rivkin for the 3-4 positions for much of the first 10 minutes of the race. I was able to start finding a groove but was a good 10 seconds behind the leaders. This track was brutal though and anything could happen. Soon I was able to move into a lonely 3rd where I just tried to hit my marks and make some kind of progress on the leaders. It seemed suddenly with about 10 minutes to go that Maifield was just 3 second ahead of me and I was in my groove and caught him and made a pass on the front double table double section. He was doing double double single and had been the whole race. But once I passed him there he copied my line. I was out ahead of him by about 2 seconds when I got a little crossed up in the whoops and into the dust and badly missed the dragon back section. He got back by me and I just couldn’t muster another comeback. So I settle for 3rd and another podium in truggy. I think this is my 5th year in a row or so making the podium in truggy with last year being an asterisk.
Semi-Final – Next was the buggy semi-final. I chose to go out on AKA soft long wear enduro’s based on my semi-warmup findings. I was starting 2nd on the grid and just looking to get a top 5 to make the show straight away. Well this was a race to forget overall. I was struggling mainly with my brakes being a bit to aggressive and just messing with my throttle curve and trim on the fly to get the right feel I was looking for. This track required putting your car in the exact position you wanted it and I just wasn’t able to do it very well. The rear was also a bit dumpy around the corners and I was just hanging on for dear life in the last 5 minutes or so. But the car held up to the abuse of the 30 minute semi and while it wasn’t pretty it did the job and I seeded 9th into the A-final.
I made a couple changes for the main including going from 9K to 12K in the front diff to try to mellow out the steering a bit as it was pretty grabby on this track. We also went another 25 cst higher on our PTRC Racing shock oils. And finally going to 0.1 heavier sway bars to keep the car from rolling quite as much in the corners. I knew at this point that even know the track was really rough it was more critical for me to place the car where I wanted it than necessarily worrying about bump handling.
Nitro Buggy A-main – Well the main started out great as I moved up quickly to the top 5 or 6 where I just hung out finding my groove and waiting for my Medium long wear Enduro’s to come in and oils to warm up a bit. I set my car up for the long hour race so it was easy does it for the first 5 minutes or so. I completely was driving my own race as drivers who were pushing harder were catching me and I would just let them go and soon find myself ahead of them again as they were making mistakes. Soon one of the contenders was flamed out and got mad and spiked his radio on the drivers stand which I was able to witness with my peripherals. Unfortunately not being the first time he’s done such, I just wonder when sponsors or race organizers will make bigger repercussions for such childish actions. Anyways it moved me up another spot as I just kept chugging along. My biggest struggle point still being the half moon into mole mound where I just wasn’t being patient enough to get inside that initial hole.
Coming into the first pit stop I was one of the last 3 to pit doing around a 9 minute strategy. My pit guys Billy and Danny being super fast I think we won most of the pit stops and it was up to me to lay it all out their on the track. Midway through the race with more leaders experiencing issues or blown brains (it was a mental exercise out their for sure) I suddenly found myself in a battle for 2-4th with Cav and Rivkin. I had a few struggle laps as my goggles started to fog and I had to drive for 5 minutes with my head tilted up so I could see through the bottom of them. I was driving by brail again especially in the front section and just couldn’t wait for my next pit stop. I finally got called in and threw off the goggles as my eyes adjusted to the fresh air. Cav and Rivkin were pushing harder than I, and when they would catch me I would just let them do their thing. But soon I found myself in sole position of 2nd and about 10 seconds out of the lead behind Tebo. I was in a great groove. and catching up. We were coming up on the final pit stop and I was closing in. Tebo came in one lap before me and I was able to pass him for the lead at that point for a lap. I came in a got out of the pits and was only about 4 seconds back. I really felt I had it and was going to be able to make a race of it. But a lap or two into that final segment I messed up of the dragons back and blew out the whole next lap or two. I didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong but was just suddenly hitting every bit of dust and blowing out corners terribly. I was soon 15 second back and just had about 6 minutes to go.
It was time to try to push just that little bit harder even though I knew the track was going to bite me back. I was able to start reeling him in and I got back to within 6 seconds with 3 minutes to go and still felt if I could just keep it clean I could put the pressure on. But I blew it stuffing the pipe in my worst corner of the track the top left and that was it. Back to 10 seconds and another bridesmaid performance. Still a great result on a demanding track with all the talent that was present. I think I have something like 8 second place finishes at ROAR Nationals now! A huge thank you to Danny for all the help this weekend. Also to Joe and Billy for also helping me rebuild for the A-main race. I was the only driver to podium in both classes this weekend and i’m just continuing on my consistent 2017 campaign. I seem to be improving a little every race and I am just looking forward to the next one! 😀