Monday, September 30, 2013

And now for something completely different....iFMAR Wold Championship RC Car Races: A Spectator's Review

This isn't going to be one of my usual blog posts full of bullet points and whining about my life.  If that's what you're here for, you may want to skip this post and come back when I post something else hopefully soon.

Over the weekend my husband and I made a road trip down to Chico, California to see the iFMAR World Championship RC Car Races.  If you're anything like me, you will have NO idea what this event is, but to my husband it was a big freaking deal.

My very nerdy (and handsome) husband Damon, has been loving and racing RC cars since he was a kid.  On my last count he had around 200 different cars in various stages of completion scattered throughout our garage.  He has subscriptions to all the RC magazines, frequents all the websites, blogs, and chat rooms about RC racing, and follows most if not all of the professional RC racers.  So when he saw that the World Championship races would be held not terribly far from us, it was a quick and easy decision for us to drop everything and go.  (Apparently this race happens every 2 years, and is only in the US once every 8 years, so yea, it was a big deal that it was driving distance for us.)

I instantly got online and made hotel reservations at the only hotel not booked in Chico (and it was a crap hole).  I requested a day off of work so that we could leave early to drive down to California and get to the track in time to watch the full day of qualifying on Saturday.  We found a sitter for our dogs. Packed a cooler full of snacks and beverages and hit the road.

It was a LONG 8 hour drive South for us.  I hate road trips and I suffer from car sickness like whoa.  I did not enjoy the drive.  Damon drove the whole way, wide awake out of pure excitement.  We checked into the hotel at midnight, set the alarm for 7 AM, and crawled into bed.

The next morning (Saturday), Damon was up early, dressed and ready to go in no time.  We got to the track, picked up our free tickets and entries into the HUGE raffles the were having, and went straight to the grand stands so we could watch the beginning of the qualifying rounds.  I looked around, and my first impression was that it was a beautiful track.  Huge, well maintained, and top of the line.  My second impression? "Why are there not more people here?".  While Damon watched the qualifying rounds, pointing out to me who was who and what team and what products they raced, I looked around at the people.  Just about everyone I saw had on a neck tag signifying that they were a Guest, Driver, Supplier, etc.  Everyone.  I saw no one with out one.  I figured we were missing something, so I went to investigate.  All I found was a few food venders, a couple bounce houses for children, a small test track for children to try out different RC cars, and that was it.  No vendor tables, no information booth, no schedule of events, nothing.  We were blocked from the back area of the track were the racers had their tents where they prepped for the races.  That was no big deal, it made sense, they didn't need tons of spectators wandering around back there.  But man, it was busy back there.  Tons of people coming and going constantly.  Lots of activity.  I could tell that was where all the action was!

I went back to my seat on the nearly empty grand stands and watched the races as patiently as I could.  Eventually I got out my book and just read.  I can only watch cars drive in circles for so long before I go cross-eyed.  Damon didn't mind.  He knew I would be bored.  He wasn't at all though.  For the 11 hours we sat there he never took his eyes off the track.  Not for a second.  He was completely entranced.  Just blissfully happy.  It was a lovely day.  Beautiful sunshine and a nice breeze.  A nice gentleman in a "Staff" shirt walked by the stand occasionally asking if anyone had any questions about what was happening and sat for long periods of time talking to spectators.  Since Saturday was "family day" it got pretty busy in the late afternoon.  There was a big raffle where they gave away "$10,000 worth of prizes" that in theory was a great idea, but just upset me.  (Every person was handed ONE ticket on their way in as entry into the raffle.  So every person should have ONE raffle ticket in hand.  Nope, there were people with STACKS of tickets.  It was ridiculous.  The were obviously only there for the raffle as they only appeared when the drawing was about to start.  Luckily the family I saw who had the largest stack didn't win anything, but another family who had at least 30 tickets walked away with a $500 car which he proudly stated he was going to sell on eBay as soon as he got home.  I wanted to punch him. But I restrained myself.)  There was a fantastic fireworks show in the evening which was an unexpected treat for sure.

There were no tents or displays set up at all.  None of the teams had booths or anything where we could look at products, talk to people, or buy souvenirs.  The only displays I saw were for who broadcasted the entire race, and RC Car Action Magazine.  And both of those displays were terrible. had a tent with a TV in it showing what was streaming live on the website.  The tent stayed mostly empty.  The announcers stayed in their trailer.  The RC Car Action Magazine tent was simply a tent, with picnic tables underneath, and 3 boxes of the latest edition of the magazine sitting on the table.  No reps from the magazine.  An no one even bothered to take the magazines out of the boxes so they were displayed in a way that people understood they were free.

While we were sitting in the stands occasionally drivers or suppliers that Damon recognized would walk by and he would have a moment of total celebrity awe.  As happy as Damon was, I was highly disappointed in them.  First off, most of them smoked.  Like chimneys with no consideration for those around them.  It was gross.  Also, they hung out in their little cliques and didn't pay a lick of attention to the few scattered spectators that were there.  Especially the high profile racers.  Not once did I see ANY top ranked racer walk around and talk with people.  Sure, they were probably busy prepping and getting ready for their next race, but the lower qualified racers sure seemed to have the time to stand around and smoke and bet on the outcomes.  I would have paid money for my husband to get the chance to shake hands with or get an autograph from ANY of the racers.  Watching my husband point out racers and people who used to be top racers when he was a kid and the light in his eyes when he talked about how they inspired him or how much he looked up to them just put an ache in my heart because he was SO CLOSE to these people and yet, so damn far away.  While he was happy to just be in the same facility as them and to have the opportunity to watch them, I was disappointed for him.

I was hoping that the race finals on Sunday would at least be different for him.  We brought some of his magazines he wanted autographed and the free poster he received that clearly stated on the flier was for autographs in case we got the opportunity to meet any drivers.  We were the first spectators on the grand stands again.  The only people there without passes around our necks.  The only time the grand stands were full was when the high profile races were happening.  The moment they were over everyone cleared out and went to the back tents to work on their cars.  I found that very unsportsman like for the lower level racers who were not top qualifiers.  The final race on Sunday was fantastic.  Very action packed and enjoyable to watch.  Everyone cheered and clapped for each competitor.  It was a blast.  The second the winner crossed the finish line, he disappeared.  The crowd vanished behind the pits, and the grand stands were empty in minutes leaving my husband and I just standing there, utterly confused.  The announcer went silent, the crowd was gone, and the track was empty.  We stood around for a little while, I took a few pictures of him in front of the track and we packed up and started to head out.   That's when I noticed a gaggle of people standing just inside the "No spectators beyond this point" sign.  They were setting up for the award ceremony.  IN THE BACK!  HIDDEN FROM VIEW!  I wanted to cry for my husband.  He was SO upset and told me several times "let's just go".  I refused to leave.  He needed to see that, needed a last second chance to maybe, just MAYBE, meet SOMEONE, ANYONE who he looked up to in the RC industry.  We stood at that gate for nearly an hour.  (There was a medical emergency which caused a delay.  Prayers for the gentleman who was taken away in the ambulance.  I hope he is okay.)  Because of the crowd and our inability to get past the gate, we were able to see none of the trophies being handed out.  I got a few pictures of the winners with their trophies, but they are mostly blocked from view and at terrible angles.  After the press had their shots, the crowd dissipated, and everyone went to go pack their gear.

My husband and I walked back to the car.  I was disappointed for Damon to the point of tears.  Damon assures me that he is completely happy with the outcome of the weekend.  We left the track, headed to In & Out burger for lunch as we had both never been there before, then went back out onto the open road for a 12 hour drive home.  (Yea, 12 hours...the rain storm was killer.  We barely did 40 most of the way because of road conditions and visibility.  It was terrible.)

So anyway, here are my suggestions for improvement for future iFMAR events:

1) Schedule of events. - Post it somewhere, hand it out, something.  I saw people with badges had them.  It would have been nice to know as a spectator what the heck we were watching and when certain things were going to happen.
2) Supplier/Vendor tents - Something for people to stop by and ask questions about products, get information, maybe buy some souvenir t-shirts or meet drivers sponsored by that product.
3) Event souvenirs - we had to walk across the street and a block over to buy an event shirt.  It would have been nice to have a booth or something at the event location itself.  The hobby shop the hosted the event had the few souvenirs at their shop across the street.  My husband bought a T-shirt and a hoodie.  He hasn't taken either off since.  Such a devoted nerd.  ;)
4) Meet & Greet for drivers - I know they are busy, but have a tent, and a schedule, and put a few drivers out every once and a while to shake a few hands and sign autographs.  I think these guys can spare 20 minutes of their day for their fans.  (Obviously, they feel that they cannot or they would have...but the should and that's my point here.)
5) Girls - why the heck are there NO girl RC drivers?  LOL.  

Maybe I am a total jerk and wrong in my expectations of the event.  My husband is happy, so I should be too.  But I am not.  I wanted so much more for him (as I always do).  And beyond that, what about the few random kids that attended the event.  I wonder how disappointed they were.  They look up to those racers, just like my husband does.  Developing the passion in these kids early is what will keep them devoted to the hobby their whole lives.  I know my future child will be as devoted to the hobby as my husband is.  I look forward to them spending lots of quality time together building and racing cars.  He is looking forward to the opportunity to attend more RC events in the future.  Hopefully with our future kid and not with me, of course.  ;)

Oh, and if you look at any of the coverage of the race, I am easy to find in the stands.  On Saturday (qualifying races) I am in either a black & white striped tank top or a pink t-shirt.  On Sunday I was in a white hoodie or a pink hoodie just above the Swedish flag in the grand stands.

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