Day 2 – Saturday Morning

With the drivers’ meeting at 0800 and first car scheduled for being on course by 0830, Saturday morning came extremely early, and cold! With temperatures in the mid-30s and a brisk wind as we trickled into the I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, NE, there was abundant frost on windshield, and knit caps and heavy gloves were the order of the day. This was a brutal change as just a couple short days previous it was in the 80s. The overcast skies and cool temperatures didn’t help dry out the course which remained very soft and spongy. Some grooming of the track surface had been done since we left on Friday night and before competitors arrived back on site on Saturday morning, but with the area receiving an entire year’s worth of rainfall within a few short weeks, including a major deluge the days immediately prior to the event, the surface was saturated, soft, and spongy.

2014-RXNat_10-04-14_029The morning, and really the entire event, was an exercise in “hurry up and wait.” The 0830 FCO time was certainly ambitious, and we didn’t make it. Combine that with event officials constantly chasing the surface, and the day was painfully slow. The first session of three scheduled too six hours to complete, and unfortunately saw the first roll-overs of the event. The upper section of the course was very susceptible to the development of ruts and berms, and having a high-speed entry, decreasing-radius corner just exacerbated the problems. A number of competitors, many of them including myself being licensed safety stewards, complained about the course conditions and that a number of course elements heightened the risk of roll over incidents.

Sadly, minimal action was taken to correct the course design, although there were numerous breaks in the action to work on the surface. I think Brianne Corn, who came all the way up from Texas to volunteer for the event and didn’t even compete, logged the most miles over the weekend on the tractor trying her best to smooth a very challenging surface. In spite of the work done on the surface and the protestations of many of the competitors, one of the Prepared AWD class cars ended up going into the final elements in the upper section of the course with too much speed and trying to turn too sharply on the extremely tacky and rutted corner. 2014-RXNat_10-05-14_080 The result was a slow roll over which fortunately left the driver unharmed, but the car, although drivable, was totaled.

The roughness of the course added an additional driving challenge as the car danced atop its suspension. Keeping the car settled, especially under braking, was difficult. The biggest concern caused by the rough surface was the reliability of the chassis. The course was quickly being littered by various bits of trim, splitters, and fender liners that had fallen victim to bumps, holes, and ruts. One of the Modified FWD competitors saw his right rear axle fail to withstand the punishment. Once the wheel was gone, the remainder of the hub dug into the turf and caused the car to flip violently, rolling three times before coming to rest back on its three remaining wheels. Fortunately, the car had a roll cage, and the driver was unharmed.

Day 2 – Saturday Afternoon

The remainder of Session #1 saw everyone remain shiny-side-up, but only just. Many of the drivers, especially in the Modified FWD class were up on two wheels in a couple of the corners. The session took far longer than schedule, though, taking a grand total of six hours to complete!

The event officials elected to continue and push on with Session #2 in spite of the rapidly approaching sunset, but reduced the number of runs for each class from three to two. The course was reset, but the course for Session #2 had some significant safety issues that again many of us tried to bring to the attention of the Event Safety Steward. 2014-RXNat_10-04-14_037 Our protestations fell on deaf ears, however, and a corner whose entry was directly pointed at a concrete pile for a light pole, and with an exit that was over-crest into a tight off-camber left which ran a mere 15 feet from the aforementioned pile was allowed to stand.

I spoke to my co-driver, and although we were only a second out of the trophy positions after Session #1, we considered withdrawing the car and filing a safety protest. In retrospect, that’s exactly what we should have done. As it was, we approached the course with a great deal more caution and trepidation than we had in the previous session, since the car was our ride home. No trailer queens here! As it was, we did manage to break some bits off the car anyway. We lost the left front fender liner, many of the retaining fasteners for the rear diffuser trim, and a few of the fasteners for the front air dam. The car looked a little floppy, but at least she remained upright and came back to grid under her own power.

This time around, there were no roll overs in the Stock or Prepared classes. Much of that is owed to fact that the landing area of the over crest corner mentioned previously was very hard packed and holding up well. Had it been even a little bit soft like most of the rest of the site, there would have been mayhem and destruction. The session was halted after the Prepared class ran as there was not enough daylight remaining to run the Modified class even after reducing the number of runs in the session from three to two. The course would remain in place and the Modified class would run on Sunday morning.

Day 3 – Sunday and Final Runs

When we arrived to the site on Sunday morning at 0730, it was obvious that Brianne had spent some quality time with the tractor and box grader as the surface looked much smoother. It was still very moist, though, and it was clear that the surface wasn’t going to hold. The Modified class was first to compete as they still needed to complete their two runs from Session #2. Once they were clear of the course, thankfully without incident save for a number of two-wheeled adventures.

With a rapid reset of the course, and a quick excursion to Chubby’s for lunch, we were set for Session #3. No, I kid you not. The actual name of the joint was Chubby’s. I can’t make this stuff up. Like with Session #2, the number of runs was reduced to two given the time pressures. Not everyone was happy with the reduction in the number of competitive runs, but with many of us facing lengthy drives home, no one complained too loudly. The breeze continued to be stiff, and with sunny skies and higher temperatures than Saturday, parts of the course were starting to dry out. The problem was that the drying out of merely parts of the course made grip levels very inconsistent and unpredictable.

2014-RXNat_10-05-14_098The drying conditions meant that course maintenance was required less often, and the Stock and Prepared classes ran relatively smoothly and in a timely fashion. As with the first day, there were still a number of bits left behind by several of the cars, but no one broke down on course. The Modified class did not fare so well. Many of the Modified FWD and even several of the Modified RWD competitors found it difficult to keep all four wheels on the ground. Many were up on two around some of the high-speed sweepers and some even caught full air over some of the bumps. The area by the finish line was still extremely sloppy and tight, a bad combination. The result was yet another car on its lid. It was a hell of a way to finish out a National Championship event.

Congratulations to all the class winners, and best wishes for those who ended the weekend upside-down. Here are the final results. At least I didn’t end up DFL, so Goal #1 was achieved.

Parting Thoughts

Needless to say, being a SCCA RallyCross Safety Steward for the Kansas City Region, I was extremely disappointed with not only the safety of the course, but the attitude of the officials toward safety. When numerous experienced individuals are telling you that you have serious problems, it is generally recommended that you at least make an effort to listen. The feeling that I got from the event was that safety was at best an afterthought. The Town Hall meeting that was held on Saturday night was replete with these type of complaints about the attitude toward safety at the event.

As big of a concern as on-course safety was, an even bigger concern that I had was the attention toward safety in grid. There were numerous spectators milling about in a hot grid area as competitors were rolling out to the course and returning back from their runs with adrenaline still coursing through their veins. Among those wandering about grid were folks with pets and even toddlers. My repeated protestations about kids and pets being in grid were, not surprisingly, unheeded. Thankfully, there were no incidents of people getting hit, although there were a couple close calls that I saw. 2014-RXNat_10-05-14_058 The most mind-boggling thing was the acceptance of smoking in grid, even while working on a car with various fluids and fuel nearby! It certainly isn’t the type of organization and attitude I would have expected from a National Championship event. This is where I need to insert Todd’s impersonation of Nicki Lauda, because it was total bullshit.

I doubt that the SCCA National RallyCross Championships will be held at the I-80 Speedway again next year, but if they are, I doubt that I will attend. I love RallyCross, and I’ll continue to compete at the Regional and Divisional levels, but unless the Nationals move to a different site, I will pass on making a run at a Championship. I think of the courage Niki Lauda showed in Japan when he withdrew from the race after the conditions became so bad that the course had become unacceptably unsafe, and I regret not having the same courage on Saturday afternoon. It would have been the right decision.

Event Photos

  • As a “jounalist” I’m sure you feel obligated to share the naked truth about this event and give voice to your disappointment about the conditions and circumstances. As I read your report, it was hard for me to figure out why you (or anyone) would enter a rallycross event in the first place. I couldn’t find any enthusiasm for the competition, the people, or the nature of the sport. All I could find was obsession about the flaws and imperfections of the event. It’s okay to be frustrated and have concerns, but my question to you is whether this is the place to air those concerns. If you love the sport of rallycross and want to see it grow and succeed, this is not the way to make it happen. I’m not asking you to ignore problems, but rather to consider the impact of your comments on the sport. The SCCA is a club of individuals volunteering their time to make events like this happen. There is no “them” in the SCCA, only “us”. If you really love rallycross, figure out a discrete way to help things get better and use your blog to share the excitement and challenge of RallyCross.

    • Hi Ken, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just as a clarification, this isn’t Doug’s blog, it’s mine and he is a contributor to the site. Just wanted to make sure we understood the position of everyone at the site. Having said that, I tend to think that SCCA members who volunteer, Doug among them, all should share the positives and negatives of an event to learn and perhaps solve certain conditions that may or may not be optimum. Sometimes an open review of things can prompt a discussion and introspection. It’s best to have those honest exchanges over potential safety concerns rather than, I’m sure you would agree, a discussion after the fact such as Jules Bianchi and the Japanese GP. We may very well come up with a way to minimize the danger in double-yellow zones because of it but I would have liked to have addressed it prior to the incident. Perhaps sharing these thoughts might prompt discussion that could be constructive instead of destructive. Just my thoughts after reading Doug’s review. As an aside, I know Doug is very passionate about SCCA and grassroots motorsport in the US and that’s a good thing.

  • Ed Trudeau

    As the first car to roll on Saturday due to the aforementioned track conditions, I think this description is pretty accurate of what happened during the weekend. Needless to say I was very disappointed inhow the whole event was handled. I love the sport and do not want to scare people away, but the contingency planning for the event was nonexistant. There were other areas at the location that could have been used even though they were shorter, but they were much safer than what was used.
    Where I take issue with the event is that it is planned over an entire year, so there was plenty of time to know that the site would have issues with rain and have an alternate plan worked out. Since the event can’t be canceled like a local event this should have been planned for.
    We left the event early because of all the reasons above and are very seroiusly considering not running next year because of this.

    • Brent Blakely

      It is good to know that you weren’t hurt in the incident. Sorry to hear that you feel the track conditions caused you to roll your car. If that were true more cars should have rolled in the same corner, particularly anyone who had faster runs on that course.

  • Great write-up! Since they had to run the event, there were definitely things that can be done to make a course safer (like not putting a decreasing radius turn at the end of a high speed section, especially since they weren’t allowing course walks). Keeping away from hard objects and obstructions, etc. You can still run, but you just run safer. They should have at least listened to another Safety Steward. That is the kind of attitude that keeps people away from events. I was registered for the event but had to cancel, now I am glad that I did.

  • By the way, you are much better getting this stuff out in to the open, discussing it and resolving it than you are just trying to cover it up. If you just cover it up and don’t discuss it, people will just express their displeasure by not showing up and our sport will suffer in the long run.

    • Thank you, Kevin. This is not the article I wished to write about this event. I was really looking forward to writing about how much fun the sport of RallyCross is, how awesome the people are that are involved in the sport, and how great the competition was. To be sure, there were awesome people and great camaraderie, and there was great competition. That wasn’t the story that defined the weekend, unfortunately. What I wrote was.

      Ken, I appreciate your position and understand your point of view. As a matter of fact, I will continue to advocate for the sport of RallyCross and encourage people to be a part of it. Listen to my recent interview with Brianne Corn if you doubt this. As both Kevin and Todd have pointed out, however, there are issues that we as the RallyCross community must address if our sport is to be healthy and grow. I will be working hard within our own Region and Division to make sure that we face, address, and solve those issues, and I look forward to future articles sharing the joy that can be had by competing and volunteering not only in RallyCross, but in all forms of motorsport available with in the SCCA including Solo, Road Rally, Club Racing, and even the various Pro Racing series the club has to offer.

  • Brent Blakely

    Your article is very interesting to say the least. How many RallyCross Nationals have you attended? I have been attending since 2007 and even the 2006 event in Hasting, only not attending 2012 in Tulsa. With this understanding of the programs evolution, I feel sorry for you if this was only your first nationals and factors like the weather are something out of the organizers control, even the site itself is left more to the locals to ensure prep happens beforehand, as few people can afford to spend their own money and time traveling for a sport of this nature. In fact, possibly the best way for you to impact the future of rallycross is to do what everyone should do, send your interest to SCCA to join the RXB and aid the sport to evolve to the next level. That’s what happened to me, I attended a National Challenge in 2008 and was shocked to see how an event of this level was being run. So I invite you and anyone else who was dissatisfied with the National Championship event and how it was run, to show your support and make the commitment of time and energy to make it better.

    • Brent, this was my first National-level event and while weather certainly made things more challenging, that’s no excuse for the lax attitude toward safety that I witnessed. I do plan on sending a note to the RXB with not only my concerns, but also potential solutions to those concerns and ways in which we can move the sport forward. I am very involved in our Regional program and will be becoming more involved in our Division this coming year. Rallycross is an amazingly fun sport, I want to see it grow, and I will continue to work to see it grow as much as I can.

  • Brent Blakely

    That is great to hear Doug. I could’ve walked away from RallyCross in 2008, but I loved the sport enough to want to help anyway I could as well. So when I attended the 08 nats in Tennessee, it was weird to see a car roll on a smooth flat surface, except that there were plates of rock that would become exposed as runs would go. Eventually leading to a roll. Safety is always first and foremost, even from the driver/competitor point of view. The car I was driving should’ve easily been one to go over, but I chose to drive within my limits and people still would come up to me and tell me how it looked from the outside. That aspect, is something at events I organize, has forced me to tell entrants to settle down or they are done because they are driving in an unsafe manner, ie. overdriving. Even the MF competitor that rolled near the finish told me that he was doing the right thing to bring the car back down on the wheels and that it wasn’t working, so he just let go of the wheel. I do believe he could’ve saved it and brought it back down. The video someone took of that roll looks like it was possible to save it, but that gets into car control beyond what RallyCross is.