Short-Course R/C Nationals

Traxxas, Team Unlimited, and newcomer Blitz Trucks battle at the R/C Nationals

Jul. 31, 2009 By Daniel Spalinger

4WD Nitro truck spraying up some dirt ...

Slightly more than one year ago, Traxxas introduced the Slash 1/10-scale 2WD short-course electric race truck. Released at what was the peak the CORR series’ hype and popularity, it was an instant hit amongst both R/C hobbyists and short-course off-road racing fans alike. 

Soon everyone’s local R/C track was setting up “Slash only” divisions for owners to race their vehicles head to head. Inevitably came the “modified” classes for those who had performed extensive engine or suspension modifications to their mini racers. Then there were releases by competing companies (Team Associated, Losi, HPI) of their 1/10-scale racers. Throw in the recent release of similarly styled 1/8- and 1/16-scale vehicles and what you have is an all-out battle for short-course R/C supremacy.

With these vehicles in the hands of so many, it was only a matter of time before an event was set up to up to determine who was best driver and what might be the best race platform. That event was the inaugural Short Course R/C Nationals, held July 24-26th in Enfield, CT at R/C Madness.

R/C Madness in Enfield, CT, was the location for the Short Course R/C Nationals from July 24-26th.

Run on what is essentially a brand-new off-road track located in the back of a landscaping nursery, I was shocked to see actual dirt instead of a small pond or mud bog when I arrived, as the area had seen in excess of four inches of rain over the prior few days. R/C Madness owner Chris Marcy had the Bobcat out early and often this weekend and his attention to detail showed. Get off the track by just a few feet and it was a virtual swamp, but the track it self, while damp, was in perfect condition. Competitor Jonathon Sohl stated noted this fact, “This track feels awesome.”

With well over 100 attendees (racers, friends, family) on Sunday (representing IL, NH, CT, OH, KS, CA, MA, WA and NY at a minimum), at least that many were present during the prior practice and qualifying days, numerous EZ-Up tents with maintenance tables set underneath, miles of snaking extension cords and even a big RV sitting in the parking lot for the weekend, the event took on an real racing atmosphere. Complete with their own lingo (“brushless,” “glow plug,” “ready to run,” etc.) and style (lots of bad tattoos, fewer women, more questionable piercings) the R/C Nationals appeared to be a less formal, slightly geekier version of your typical desert race or short-course event.

With practice sessions on Friday and qualification on Saturday, Sunday was left almost strictly for the championship rounds in each class except the “Stock Slash” category. As the most popular R/C racing class in the country right now, the Stock Slash division finished its qualification rounds on Sunday, whittling things down to the best 10 driver/truck combos. Tim Mohr would walk away with the National Championship in the Stock Slash class with his blue-and-yellow Castle Creations truck. Caught in a turn one pileup, Mohr clawed his way back to win the event with tightly hit apexes and a comfortable lead going into the final lap.

The parking lot looked like a mini version of race pits for the R/C racers.



Stock Traxxas Slash racing action up close and personal.

Not just an R/C racer, Tim Mohr is a true race fan—especially in the case of full-sized short-course off-road racing. Talking knowledgeably about both TORC and LOORRS, Mohr is a fan of both series and their crossover motocross drivers (Ricky Johnson, Brian Deegan, Jeremy McGrath, etc.), and he especially enjoyed his day at the Short Course R/C Nationals, saying, “It rained so much the track feels close to what a real short-course is like.”

It's like Christmas in July!

Perhaps the most immediately comparable R/C truck to the Slash at this point is the SC10 from Team Associated which, though it did not see the high number of entries that the Slash did, was given its own distinct “stock” class.  Possessing a number of big-time sponsors (Tekin, ProLine, etc.), eventual SC10 Stock winner Tony Phalen is well known within the competitive R/C world with over 12 years racing experience and five separate national titles.
With Tim Mohr coming in from Kansas and Tony Phalen making the trip from California, it was obvious that some of the best drivers in the country were here to try and take home Short Course R/C’s first true national title. It thus becomes natural to compare the final results of the “Stock Slash” and “SC10 Stock” classes to get an insight into which may be the better race platform straight out of the box. With the Slash priced in a ready-to-run form significantly lower than what you would pay for the SC10 with all the necessary electronics, you would anticipate a big difference in speed between the two. Not the case. The fastest lap speed for the National Championship Stock Slash driven by Tim Mohr was 11.37 mph while the SC10 Stock truck driven by Tony Phalen had a fastest lap speed of 11.65 mph. Though I believe this does bear out the claims of SC10 fans that the Team Associated product is a superior racer in its stock form, it is left to you, the consumer, to determine whether the additional costs and work of getting the vehicle up and running are offset by the speed gained.

The drivers/pilots are all lined up on "on the box" during racing action.

An area where Team Associated did have a clear advantage was in the “open” classes with their factory driver Scott Brown. As the owner of Tacoma R/C raceway near Seattle, WA, Brown put his vast amount of practice time to good use bringing home wins in three separate classes using a SC10 to take the Short Course Open title (1/10 scale 2WD, open modifications), an SC8 to claim the 4WD Nitro Open championship (1/8 scale, 4WD Nitro powered, open modifications) and lastly a SC8E (electric motor swapped SC8) to grab the new 4WD Electric Open plaque.

One of the new HPI Blitz trucks grabs some air over a jump.

By far the most exciting class on this day was the aforementioned 4WD Nitro class. As the only non-electric class to run in these championships, the 4WD Nitro trucks did not, surprisingly, run the fastest lap of the day (which was actually turned in by the 4WD electric SC8e of Scott Brown), but the screaming engines, grey smoke and intoxicating smell sure made them seem the fastest to those in attendance.



Much like in real racing, the chase is still a huge part of R/C racing.

This was in direct contrast to the only class of R/C trucks to run this day that I have yet to mention, the “Mini Slash VXL” class. As the smallest class (in terms of the physical size of racing vehicles and number of entries at four), on the day the Mini Slash VXLs were nearly silent in their runs around the track and were unsuited to the larger jumps and whoops present at this track, with all vehicles seemingly unable to absorb the larger impacts and going head over teakettle time and time again. The thought of most in attendance was that these smaller vehicles would be far more suited to an indoor, perhaps carpeted track. My thought was that they would make a great toy for my four year old … but it's a little steep at their $300 price tag.

Tyler Hayward manged to win this SC10 during the giveaways at the end of the weekend.

A final note of importance from these first Short Course R/C Nationals was the introduction of HPI’s “Blitz” short-course truck. Making an impressive racing debut, three new Blitz trucks, piloted by HPI drivers Jesse Robbers, Tony Phalen (the aforementioned SC10 Stock winner) and John Cravotta finished second, fourth and sixth in the Short Course Open class, running very competitively against Scott Brown and his winning SC10 and Tim Mohr’s well prepped Slash.

The most telling aspect of how far short-course R/C has come in only a year’s time is displayed prominently on the side of the new Blitz’s lexan body.  One year ago, when the Slash was introduced, Traxxas poured money into a large (and successful) marketing campaign while Associated went out and sponsored full-sized short-course racers (Carl Renezeder, Casey Currie, etc.) and both companies made significant investments in both the TORC series and LOORRS. This time around, with the introduction of the Blitz, it is an outside company entering into an arrangement with HPI to put their name on the side of an R/C truck.

A newcomer to the scene, here was an HPI Blitz truck lined up and ready for action before the race.

Speaking with Rodney Wills (marketing manager for HPI), it was clear that the relationship between Maxxis Tires and HPI is a mutually beneficial one that gets the name and products of each company into the minds (and more importantly, the hands) of its target audience. As the R/C market has made a sharp turn toward scale-realism, the ability to put a miniature version of a real world tire and that tire’s associated corporate logo on the side of the vehicle just adds to the Blitz’s visual impact.

Though the agreement is non-exclusive, Rodney states that they are not actively exploring opportunities with other tire companies, as the HPI/Maxxis relationship seems to be between two companies who are on equal footing with neither trying to dominate the other. He said his dealings with Maxxis have been extremely positive, calling the Maxxis representative that he deals with “a cool guy who really gets it.”
While HPI would likely love to move the number of short-course R/C units that Traxxas and Team Associated have over the past year, don’t expect to see any HPI-sponsored drivers hawking the Blitz at your local full-sized short-course event.

Stock Traxxas Slash podium (left to right): Wayne Gerber, Tim Mohr and Dillion Spinelli.

“It’s all about a return on my investment. Why would I want to sponsor a truck just to have it show up at a track and have our logos covered?” Rodney says referring to an incident earlier in ’09 when Associated sponsored driver Travis Coyne entered a TORC event and was made to cover up his sponsor’s logos.

Attending the Short Course R/C Nationals and as a Slash owner myself, I couldn’t help but having championship daydreams similar to those I have when attending a big desert or rally race. Only the beauty of R/C vehicles is that darn near anyone of any age or economic status can buy a Slash or RC10 or (soon) Blitz, take it down to their local off-road track, find out if they have the “right stuff” and still make it home in time for dinner or to put the kids to bed. Newsletter
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