A week after AMS, I was off to Indiana for the 2017 ROAR 1/8 Fuel Nationals. Original plan was to fly, like I do to most races, but a few weeks prior, my plan changed, I was going to drive. The drive was 10 hours, and I needed to bring home a bunch of MX Racing fuel that got shipped to the track. Then last second, actually at 6PM Monday night, Megan and I decided that we would all go. Me, Megan, Rosalynn, Cole, and Nash, would squeeze into our extended cab F-150 and make the 10 hour drive. I was excited, nervous, and TERRIFIED! After AMS I decided I wouldn’t build brand new cars, I would just rebuild my cars that I raced at AMS. New Chassis, new arms, new sus mounts, new ring and pinions, new outdrives, new drive shafts, new caster blocks, new hubs, new bearings, new shock towers, new shocks on my buggy, new pistons / springs on my truggy. Late Monday night I was finally packed, and Megan had a really late night getting all her stuff and the kids stuff packed. 9:30AM Tuesday morning we were off and on the road.
Only about 2 hours in and the whole family had a complete meltdown. We were almost to Columbia, MO and that would be our first stop and lunch. All 3 kids were screaming and crying for 20 minutes straight as we were getting close to a place to stop. First place up ….. McDonald’s ….. We decided to pick our battles wisely and let this one go. I thought, “was this really a good idea, this is going to be a LONG trip.” After we all ate, went to the restrooms …. oh yeah, Cole is also going through potty training right now …. we were back on the road and seemingly happy. We would make a stop almost every 2 hours during the trip and the rest of the drive went pretty darn smooth, with us rolling up to the hotel around 9PM.
Wednesday would be the first day of practice, with 3 untimed practice sessions for each class. I finally got my first look at the Stateline RC facility and track, and I was very pleased with both. The facility was super nice, grass everywhere with big trees, travel trailers spread out all over the pitting area. And the track, it looked to be just what I was hoping for. Not a really big track, slower speed, with a lot of obstacles and jumps, looked to be really technical, which is what I love to drive on. They would kinda mix up the order and have us drive Buggy first, then Truggy last. The track was changing quite a bit all day as it was breaking in and taking form. It was pretty dusty and the traction was low, but they were also adding some water down, with some heats having tracks that were wet, and some being pretty dry. Both my Kyosho cars felt pretty good all day, I mainly just focused on driving and learning the track. Our pit setup turned out perfect for the entire family to be there and day one at the track was a complete success!
Thursday would be the official ROAR practice day with a short session first thing in the morning, followed by 2 seeding practice sessions. The sessions would be 5 minutes long, taking your best 3 consecutive laps to seed you into the qualifying heats. The first practice day the track was pretty dry most of the day, I was running Soft compound AKA tires all day, but I tried both Impacts and GridIron2 on my buggy. For seeding, the track was much more wet and I decided to go on Super Soft GridIron2 and my car felt great. I had a pretty clean run and seeded 2nd. Truggy I would run the same tire, but my heat was much tougher. Traffic was crazy and I couldn’t get clean laps consistent through all the traffic. I ended up seeding 9th, which I was very confident that I could seed better in the second session later in the day. I would get to run my next session in buggy, as I was race 2, and it would go good. I went a little faster than I did in the first session, so I was pretty happy with everything on my Kyosho MP9 TKI4. With about 5 more heats to go in buggy, the rain started to come down, and it didn’t let up. Seeding Round 2 of buggy was canceled and also for Truggy, so just Seeding Round 1 would be used.
Friday would be a rollercoaster of a day. The day would start of with some more rain and a flooded race track. During the night, I wasn’t really feeling super great and was getting up more than normal to go pee. I get Urinary Track Infections that lead to worse infections, which is strange for males, but I’m not sure what the issue is. Anyways, after we saw the flooded track, Megan forced me to go to Urgent Care to get checked and get some antibiotics.
After all that fun stuff …. we were back to the track and awaiting the start of qualifying. At 2pm action would start, with a quick 2 minute practice run through all the heats to break in the track. Qualifying would start at 4pm and we would run Q1 and Q2 of Buggy, and just Q1 of Truggy.
Q1 : Buggy would be up first and I seeded 2nd, so I was in the last heat with all the top seeded drivers. The Stateline RC crew did an amazing job getting the track race ready and the conditions were actually really good. I went with AKA SS GridIron2, made a small shock oil change, and wheelbase change from seeding. My car felt great and I got into a good flow and lead most of the qualifier to take the TQ by 3 seconds or so. Felt great to start out the Nationals with a TQ. Truggy I would run AKA SS GridIron2 as well, make a similar shock oil change to my buggy, go up in my rear diff oil, and make a shock location change on the rear tower. I didn’t quite get into a good flow, but my speed was OK, not as fast as the front runners though. I finished it out and got a 5th, I’ll take it.
Q2 : I would leave my buggy un touched and run SS GridIron2 again. My first lap I would come out of the whoop section and not get on the throttle good enough, I cased the dragons back really bad, and cost me a couple of seconds. I quickly got back into my flow and was going really fast, moving up in the order. Around halfway, I got loose at the end of the straight and went way to the inside off the double. I had to roll it, but at the bottom I got stuck in the pipe where they cut it to drain to the track. I was stuck for 6 seconds and that killed my run. I finished 5th and was really bummed with my two errors. This would end Friday, as Q2 for Truggy would be running on Saturday after the long rain delay this morning.
For Truggy I switched to S Impacts as the track was drying out more and the track surface was getting really hard, feeling like sandpaper. My pace seemed better than in Q1, but I was really inconsistent when I would lightly press the brakes. It felt like my rear brakes were hanging up. I ended up crashing before the front triple, spinning out once before the front triple, and then also crashing after the whoops trying to miss a crashed truck. Even with all those mistakes, I got 4th.
Q3 : With the track still changing, the surface was getting harder and the grip was really high in some sections, but then really dusty and slick in other sections. I decided to try AKA Soft long Wear Impacts on my Buggy. Myself, Rivkin, Tessman, and Maifield all battled really hard, swapping positions almost every lap. Rivkin and I started right with each other on track, which was good and bad. Rivkin was behind me, so he could just pace off me and see all my lines. He was ahead of me on the time, but just by a couple of tenths. Every time he made a small bobble, I would do the same and couldn’t get the breathing room I wanted. Right at the end, he was right behind me, and I bobbled in the whoops and had to jump on the outside of the dragons back. I could have tried to fight to stay in front, but it might have taken us both out. I wouldn’t want him to do that to me if I was behind him and I was leading the heat, so I made the hard decision to move over and let him pass. That cost me any chance at TQ and dropped me to 4th because we were all so close in time. For Truggy I would run the same AKA tire setup as in Buggy. Had a decent run, but was just fighting it the entire race. The rear end of my Kyosho STRR was all over the track and I was on the verge of spinning out in every turn. I made a lot of bobbles and finished 5th. I thought I had fixed my brake issues, but I was still having issues with them dragging and feeling really inconsistent.
Q4 : With 3 different TQ’s, myself in Q1, Rivkin in Q2, and Tessman in Q3, it all came down to the final qualifier. I was felling very confident and ready to have a clean run and get the overall TQ. The track was feeling edgy, so I went with AKA SLW Impact to try to have a smooth feeling around the crazy difficult track. I crashed on the first lap of the dragons back, so I had my work cut out for me. I knew a clean run would be almost impossible, so I got into a flow and charged the best I could. I was catching up on time and it was looking like I might be able to fight for TQ before the race ended. Disaster struck again on the dragons back and I crashed again, lost my flow and crashed 2 more times on that same lap. I finished 10th and was pretty bummed. Truggy wouldn’t go much better. I ran AKA SLW Impacts, which was the correct tire, but my truck was really hard to drive and I struggled all heat to finish 7th. Not pleased with my final round qualifying being the worst runs of my weekend so far. Thankfully my wife and kids were there to cheer me up and clear my mind from the race.
Truggy : Q1 5th : Q2 4th : Q3 5th : Q4 7th : Overall 8th
Sunday … Sunday … Sunday, and it was race time. Around lunch I would have Truggy A-Main practice and Semi Buggy practice. At the ROAR nationals, the Truggy class follows the normal US race format, A, B, C … ect for the mains, with 12 direct and 2 bump ups. Buggy however follows the IFMAR style with even and odd latter system, But they add a twist. TQ goes direct to the final, that is not how IFMAR does it, then the rest go into 1/2 final, 1/4 final, 1/8 final …ect. In the semi, the top 5 from each race go direct to the final, then the next fastest 3 drivers based on their overall race time get the final spots. The starting order is based on the drivers overall semi time, fastest to slowest.
Practice : Truggy I made quite a few changes … Clutch setup, rear camber link, front sway bar, rear diff oil, and wheelbase adjustment. I practiced with AKA SLW Impacts and they felt really good. I was pretty fast, but Maifield and Tessman seemed quite a bit faster than me. Buggy I only made one change, and that was a rear shock location and spring change. I ran AKA SLW Impact and my car felt ok, but the rear end setup wasn’t great, it was driving too much on the rear end and didn’t feel supported enough.
45 Minute Truggy A-Main : I made no changes from the practice and was thinking if I drove really good, I could fight for a podium finish. I started 8th and had a decent start, making a couple moves and staying out of trouble. The track was really challenging and mistakes were easy to make. Tessman, Maifield, and Lutz seemed to be the fastest and pulled away from the rest of the pack. I fought around 4th-8th for a long time, but made some mistakes and lost touch with the battle between 4th, 5th, and 6th around the halfway mark. Joe Bornhorst and I ended up linking together to battle for 7th and we raced hard for a while. He seemed to have more pace than I did, but I re grouped mentally and put my head back down. The track was tough in Truggy, you had to push hard and drive aggressive where you could, but also try to drive safe in the really difficult sections. Around the 2/3 mark of the race, Both Cavalieri and Phend would have issues and our battle for 7th became a battle for 5th. Joe was ahead of me in the front jump section, he went double, double, single and I went double, single, double. Joe jumped wide on the single and I jumped to the inside to make the pass, we hit as Joe was trying to get into the correct line and Joe went flipping. The pass was good in my eyes, but ROAR gave me an “official” warning for rough driving. That made me pretty mad and must have lit a fire because I drove much better after that and pulled away to finish off strong and get 5th. My Kyosho STRR was really hard to drive in the final and I think my shock oil was too soft and my shocks over heated. I was happy with a 5th and was ready to move on to Buggy.
30 minute Semi : I would start 1st in the even semi, as TQ, Ty Tessman would go direct to the Final. I changed my rear shock back to normal and my car felt great in my warm up. The start was super smooth and I quickly started to pull a gap on the field. After 5 minutes, I had built a 5 or more second lead and was feeling untouchable, but that feeling didn’t last much longer. About 10 minutes in, my car got much softer feeling and was really struggling in some of the bumpy sections. I had a good lead over Cavalieri and I had thrown it all away, Cavalieri passed me. Then I just kept crashing and dropping back more. 3rd place driver, Alex K caught me and passed me as well. The final 5 minutes was pure survival, I was super mad that I kept crashing and lost almost a full lap to Cavalieri, and then to add, my engine started sounding really bad. A bearing seemed to be going out, all I wanted to do was finish. Thankfully I kept it together and got to the finish in 3rd. After the race I was furious with myself and just the whole situation. I was worried my time would be so slow that my starting position would be pretty bad.
It was pretty hectic after I finished because I needed to pull my engine from my Truggy and get it ready for my buggy. I also wanted to change some shock setup things, but my car was still in tech. Tech keeps the cars until after all the cars are cleared from both Semi Finals, then after being released, we have 1 hour before driver presentations. After the second Semi finished, I realized that the track was treacherous and most drivers were struggling really bad. My race time was 5th fastest, so I would start 6th as Tessman got the TQ starting position from qualifying. I had my Truggy engine all ready for my Buggy before my car was out of tech, so once I got my buggy, I pulled the shocks off, cleaned it off some, and put the battery on charge. I wasn’t sure what to do to my shocks …. add a bladder back to the shock caps, change pistons, just go thicker shock oil? Was it a shock location issue? I was majorly stressing out! I finally decided I would leave the pistons, continue running without the bladder, and just go 50 CST heavier front and rear. I also decided to go to a thicker rear sway bar and switch to AKA SLW Impacts as I ran SLW DoubleDowns in the Semi. With 4 minutes to go before my car needed to be at the track, we got it all ready and fired up the engine. The tune sounded great, just a little rich on bottom, gave it one hour lean and she was ready to rip!
1 hour Buggy Final : My warm up was pretty bad, my car seemed to be struggling in the tough sections, and I crashed a ton of times. I also came into the pit 3 separate times for small ride height adjustments trying to get my balance better. Warm up was over, we were lined up on the back straight, and I wasn’t sure how I was feeling about my car. Starting 6th, my main focus was to stay clean, and try to miss any pile ups that happened in front. The tone sounded and we were off, I made it through the front jump section and then there was contact already in front of me. I made one pass, maybe two. A few laps in Cole Ogden made his way towards the front, we were 2nd and 3rd with Tessman leading. Tessman crashed off the dragons back I think, Ogden took over the lead and started to check out. This was around 5 minutes in or so, and I wasn’t really feeling it yet, still making some mistakes and the lead group of cars were getting away from me. Maifield, who had a bad start, caught me and got around me, which put me around 5th, behind Ogden, Tessman, Cavalieri, and Maifield. After the first pit stop, I started feeling much better and stopped crashing, getting into a good flow around the track. Maifield had a crash, and then the marshal fell down trying to get his car, and then he had a bigger issue that dropped him out of the race. Short after that, Tessman had radio issues with him losing his signal and having to go into the pits. I had also passed Cavalieri on track and worked on catching Odgen in the lead around the 15 minute mark of the 60 minute Final. Ogden crashed off the dragons back and I took over the lead! In my head I couldn’t believe it, after the first 5 minutes, I thought I was out of it and had no chance, now I’m leading. Cavalieri was now in 2nd and we had a great battle for quite a while, swapping the lead multiple times with small little mistakes here and there. The whoop section, dragons back, and berm roller sections were the critical sections of the track where time was really lost or gained. Behind Cavalieri and I, Rivkin and Lutz were finding their pace also and worked past Ogden to run 3rd and 4th. I had started the race wearing my motocross goggles to protect my eyes from the dust, but about 25 minutes into the Final, my face started to sweat pretty bad, especially my eye brows. I wasn’t really sure how to fix the issue, but I was worried if I took my goggles off, it would be very difficult for my eyes to adjust while still driving. During my next pit stop, I grabbed my goggles and pulled them into my face and used the foam to wipe my eye brows. It seemed to work pretty good and I didn’t have sweat running into my eyes. On track, I had a 10 or so second lead on Cavalieri and Rivkin in 2nd and 3rd. Just a few minutes later, right around the halfway point, my face was sweating again, and now I had a sweat drop right in the middle of my lens. The lens were also starting to fog, it was just a total mess. I yelled down to joe Pillars to come up onto the driver’s stand. He came up, “I need you to take my goggles off, wait for the straight” I told him. Going down the back straight, he pulled them off and it was a pretty big shock on my vision, but I was really happy to just have them off and have better vision after my eyes adjusted. I didn’t crash at all through that big mess, and I went back to focusing on the job. Cavalieri had dropped back quite a bit after many mistakes, and with 20 minutes or so remaining, I caught him to put him a lap down. I wanted to stay behind him and just follow behind as he had great pace and it took my mind off the cars that were in 2nd and 3rd, Lutz and Rivkin. unfortunately Cavalieri bobbled on the dragons back and I ran right into him and I crashed. With 15 minutes remaining, I had a decent lead on Lutz in 2nd, around 10-15 seconds as it could fluctuate a few seconds each way after every lap. Get a good line through the whoops, land clean on the dragons back … gain 2 seconds. Go an inch wide into the berm, hit 3 MONSTER holes … lose 2 seconds, the front jump section and roller after it was also similar, do it good, gain a couple seconds, not do it super clean, lose a couple seconds. You could easily have a 4 second gain or loss and nobody even crash. My Kyosho MP9 TKI4 was still feeling really good, shocks were still performing how they should, they weren’t overheating like they did in the Semi. Also my MX engine from my Truggy was still running perfect, and my choice of AKA SLW Impacts seemed to be the perfect tire for the Final. The final 10 minutes I would again catch Cavalieri, but this time he was battling with Rivkin for 3rd. I also caught Ogden who was running 5th a couple of laps down to me, but all these drivers had really good pace still. That makes it hard when your trying to drive your own race, your own lines, as we were all similar in lap times. They were all really respectful of me, trying to give me as much room as possible, but it was still challenging and not a position I wanted to be in. Lutz started to catch me and then my mind starting to wonder … ” I’ve had a good race, I’d be happy with 2nd ” I thought to myself. WHAT!!!! I snapped out of that mindset, ” No, winning is the only thing that I will accept, I CAN WIN” I yelled at myself in my head. With 5 minutes to go, traffic had slowed me down, getting some bad lines here and there had slowed me down, and Lutz was only 2 or 3 seconds behind me. The next lap after he got pretty close, Lutz crashed off the dragons back and was into the hay bale. I focused on myself and tried my hardest to pretend that I was out at Fastlane Raceway burning laps all by myself and loving every minute of it. The track was super challenging, but also very fun to drive when you could hit all the sections clean. I wanted to enjoy every lap of the track and every minute of the race. My final 5 minutes were driven good, I stretched out my lead back to 10 seconds and crossed the finish to win my 17th ROAR National Championship, and my 2nd 1/8 Fuel Buggy National Championship! A big weight was lifted off my shoulders and I had all sorts of emotions running through me. All the hard work, all the races where I drove bad and didn’t make good racing decisions, all the struggles mentally, I still have it, I CAN STILL WIN!
I had thought all the drama was done, but after getting off the drivers stand and meeting up with Megan and the kids, she told me that my transponder had issues the last 30 minutes of the race. I had no idea about any of this, so I went to Joe Pillars to see what was going on. My car was in tech, Joe said that ROAR was checking the rule book and working on a decision. I tried not to get involved at all, or really even think about it. I would be heart-broken to lose because my transponder stopped working. Everything was silent for about an hour after the finish, and then I finally got my car released from tech, and the ROAR official congratulated me!
Thanks so much to Ofir and Joe for the great pit stops and help all week, my family for the never-ending support and love, all my amazing fans, my sponsors : Kyosho, MX, AKA, Team Orion, Ko Propo, GS Hobby, JTP, Upgrade-RC, TD Paint, Lunsford, MIP, and the Good Lord Jesus Christ!
This win was especially special for me. I’ve been working really hard the past few years and just not quite getting the results I want and feel I should be capable of getting. Also all the travel and all the races have worn me down. I miss my family so much when I’m gone, and I kinda isolate myself when they are with me. I feel alone at most races I attend, and I think I make myself feel that way, but regardless, that’s the way I feel. To have so many people happy for me, so many congratulations, so many text messages, so many comments on my social media, I’m not alone! Thank you to EVERYONE!
So on our drive home, we made a stop in Indianapolis to check out the Speedway and the Hall of Fame Museum.