Not Your Typical Results Story
A Behind the Scenes Perspective
The Traxxas TORC Series Debuts in Ft. Worth, Texas
[singlepic id=1068 w=320 h=240 float=left]Experiencing nearly back-to-back weekends of short course race action, it was easy for me to determine that off-road race fans have been starving for the action-packed, crash riddled mayhem notorious to this style of off-road racing. On the flight home to Phoenix I finally had time to reflect upon all the events that led up to the creation of two separate short course series and the potential success or failure of each of them.
After CORR’s rather public undoing just prior to the last two races of the 2008 season, the sudden disappearance of short course created an enormous void in the hearts of the fans and left race teams and sponsors holding the bag. Well-intentioned sponsors and racers scrambled to fill the vacancy created by the sudden fall of the CORR Series. Rumors run rampant through the on-line forums and cloak and dagger meetings ensued amongst racers and sponsors who had an obvious financial interest in the future and success of short course racing.
While the exact details of the closed-door conferences have never been disclosed to me, the organization of two separate short course series speaks volumes of the outcome of said meetings. One known fact did surface. The racers banded together and formed the “Professional Drivers Group,” (PDG) an association of desert and short course racers looking to provide “a unified voice in the decision making process of off-road racing series.”
The formation of the PDG association was an understandable response to the equipment investment and unfulfilled sponsor contracts the various teams were on the hook for. While pledging a unified voice, the group worked feverishly to direct and assist with the creation of a short course series that would offer sponsors the most comprehensive and wide-reaching marketing program while providing race fans with the ultimate nation-wide off-road race experience.
Initial meetings detailed an allied series promoting expansive venues such as Wisconsin’s historic Crandon Raceway and West coast venues such as Perris Auto Speedway in California. Somewhere along the course, discussions deteriorated amongst the participants and the two rivaling series emerged.
The Off Road Championship and the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series began to take shape and racers and sponsors alike were forced to choose. Lines were drawn in the sand and as Marty Fiolka pointed out in his editorial in the March/April issue of DirtSports, the creation of two short course series is reminiscent of the “split” between CART and IRL.
Wow, so much history to reflect upon during my oversold, cramped flight home. And to think, all this happened in just less than a year. What would the potential sponsors surmise about the soap opera playing out before the public eye? Would any marketing manager in their right mind step up to the plate and endorse a short course series – let alone two divergent ones in this volatile economic climate? Is there even enough sponsor money to go around?
After attending the first two rounds of the Lucas Oil Off Road Race Series, I boarded my flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth for the Traxxas TORC Series with an open mind. I figured at very minimum it would be interesting to compare the two. I had already gone a few rounds with the TORC and USAC media directors regarding credentials but I vowed to not let it leave a biased taste in my mouth. It would seem like a no-brainer to extend open arms to verified working media in order to promote and spread the word of a completely new series, but heck what do I know?
My experience at the first two LOORRS races was positive and the staff went out of their way to assist me with immediate results which helps immensely when under deadline. The fans seemed to be just as complimentary about the staff and the organization. Of course there were things that could have been improved and built upon after the initial race, but what event is ever completely seamless? I decided to give the Traxxas TORC Series the same benefit of the doubt.
Upon my arrival at the track it was strange to see the obvious lack of grassroots racers – love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are the heartbeat of the sport. Nothing but the big dogs in the Pro 4WD, Pro 2WD, and Pro Light trucks made the trek out to the Texas venue and due to a lack of entries, the Pro Super Buggy competition was cancelled.
In any case, it was awesome to see such an elite gathering of professional racers assembled at an extraordinary venue such as Texas Motor Speedway. Many of the teams have not raced together since the undoing of the CORR Series eight months prior and it was refreshing to see the reunion of the major players in the sport.
[singlepic id=1053 w=320 h=240 float=left] Strolling around the pits, I noticed something strange at the Coyne trailer. I walked over to talk to one of the pit guys and at the urging of the powers that be from Traxxas, Travis Coyne was asked to remove the bedside and hood decals of the RC-10 sponsor from his Pro 4WD or “pack up and go home.” I think it goes without mentioning that it is extremely difficult to acquire, let alone maintain sponsors in the obscure off-road arena. After protesting the ultimatum handed down by the Traxxas brass and enforced by the TORC officials, Travis was presented with the difficult decision to leave or remove hismajor sponsor’s decal.
In an apparent sign of protest, Coyne decided to make a statement while abiding by demands of the exclusive radio control sponsor and series officials. Travis and crew covered up the RC-10 sponsor identification with bright orangish-red “X’s” that could be seen as far reaching as the sky view terrace above the luxury suites. Following suit in a show of support was Pro Light driver, Casey Currie.
While I believe it is admirable for Traxxas to step up to the plate as the title sponsor of the TORC Series through 2011 andsupport the PDG travel fund, I am not so sure I am sold on the idea of exclusive contracts that allow title sponsors the power to dictate racer endorsements. It would seem as though TORC is more concerned with their financial interests than the interests of the teams who have invested personal and sponsor funds – not to mention blood, sweat and tears into their race programs. Without the racers and their sponsors, there would be no show to attend. Without the influx of title sponsorship, the sanctions would not have the where-with-all to execute and promote races. Ah, what a double-edged sword.
In my not-so-humble opinion, exclusive title sponsorships allowing room for only one brand of toys in the sandbox harms the future and the growth of the sport. The short-sighted rush to gain a title sponsor allowed Traxxas the upper-hand to capture the monopoly and strong-arm TORC into the decision ultimately handed down to the Coyne crew.
It is no secret that competition creates a better product while exclusivity limits advancement and in this case alienates the racers and possible future sponsors. What happens when the Traxxas contract expires in 2011? Putting all the eggs in one basket and allowing title sponsors veto power is probably not the best example of a “unifying” force the TORC Series touts on their website.
The demands by Traxxas conjure up visions of previous sponsor disputes in the left turn racing league known as NASCAR. After the Cingular merger with AT&T, a Sprint Nextel clause in the NASCAR contract prevented Jeff Burton in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing (RCR) Chevy from displaying the new AT&T logo. Claiming Cingular was grandfathered in; NASCAR would not allow the universally identifiable globe logo. Lawsuits ensued and ultimately RCR reached an agreement to run the AT&T logo for the remainder of 2008 with the promise of obtaining a new sponsor for the 2009 season.
I certainly hope this issue is discussed at the next PDG meeting and a reasonable solution is offered to Traxxas to address this situation. If the RC-10 sponsor agreement reads anything like I imagine it does – then Coyne could be liable for not displaying the logo in the agreed upon location, at the pre-determined races. No logo, no money, no Coyne. Simple as that. I believe it is safe to say that every racer from here on out will be a little gun-shy to actively seek sponsors in fear of having the rug pulled out from underneath them. Ironically, I would almost guess that RC-10 has received more press from this debacle than they would have had Traxxas decided to just leave the issue alone.
As far as the results, the racers put on quite a show, as was expected. The crowd was light Friday evening and despite the uncooperative weather the stands filled up to capacity for Saturday’s bumper banging action.
[singlepic id=1054 w=320 h=240 float=right] Opening ceremonies for the inaugural Traxxas TORC Series kicked off and the Pro Light Trucks were the first class to take to the track. Marty Hart claimed the highest spot on the podium while Jeff Kincaid and Chad Hord rounded out the second and third positions, respectively. It was Kincaid in second place that claimed the “Oakley Bomb Award” for putting down the fastest lap time in his class. Saturday’s round two of Pro Light action saw Casey Currie not just take the checkered flag for a strong first place finish – but he dominated the track and earned his first ever short course win. With a nearly half-lap lead over second place Kyle LeDuc and third place Chris Brandt, the No. 2 RC-10 sponsored truck of Currie’s was flagged and sent directly to technical inspection at the commencement of the race. Finding no inconsistencies, Currie’s astonishing win remained and he currently stands as the number one points leader in the Pro Light class. As with round one’s action, it was the second place podium of Kyle LeDuc that claimed the “Oakley Bomb Award.”
[singlepic id=1063 w=320 h=240 float=left] With an impressive field of 15 competitors, the Pro 2WD trucks showed up in full force and the first round of racing commenced with an all energy drink podium. Series co-owner, Ricky Johnson, in the No. 48 Red Bull sponsored Ford took home the biggest trophy and the “Oakley Bomb Award” for the fastest lap in Friday night’s action. Rounding out the podium was second place AMA Supercross champion, Jeremy McGrath in the No. 2 Monster Energy sponsored Toyota and Todd LeDuc in the No. 3 Rockstar Energy Ford for third. Round two not only brought home the checkered flag for Scott Taylor, he also claimed the “Oakley Bomb Award.” Ricky Johnson once again earned a spot on the podium but this time for a second place finish while Rob MacCachren in his No. 11 Rockstar Energy Ford rounded out the top three and claimed the “Oakley Bomb Award.”
Not to be outdone, the Pro 4WD Truck Class brought the crowd to their feet as the fender banging fun of the 4×4 class wrapped up the action during rounds one and two of the debut TORC race. The energy was definitely flying high Friday night as the energy drink endorsed racers once again claimed all three spots on the Red Bull sponsored podium. Rick Huseman in his No. 37 Monster Energy Toyota struck gold while Rockstar’s Curt LeDuc claimed the silver and Monster Energy’s Johnny Greaves brought home the bronze during round one racing. Saturday brought a third lap red caution when Johnny Greaves suffered from a spectacular race-ending cartwheel on the front straight-away. Claiming back-to-back wins and securing a comfortable points lead, Rick Huseman once again took the checkered flag in first place while Scott Douglas claimed second and Kyle LeDuc earned the third place trophy.
Heading west for the next event, the Traxxas TORC Series will be held on May 29-20, 2009 at California’s Perris Auto Speedway. Replays of the debut TORC Series race can be seen on the ESPN2 Network on May 24, 2009. Be sure to check local listings for broadcast!