Photo: Wayne Johnson
Video: Chuck Doud
Results: Debbie's RC World
We recently returned from the East Coast Baja Nationals at Diggers Dungeon in Poplar Branch, NC. There were 122 entries who let it all hang out in search of a national title in one of six classes. The Diggers Dungeon Facility was extremely well prepared, and the event was ran as smooth as could be by the skilled guys from Debbies RC.
122 entries converged on the Diggers Dungeon in Poplar Branch, North Carolina for the 2010 East Coast Baja Nationals. Competitors from all over the USA and several other countries have all entered what will quite possibly be the most competitive Baja racing event in 2010. Six national championships were up for grabs in six classes, 5B off-road, 5T off-road, 5B oval, 5T oval, EDM oval and Late Model oval. The Diggers Dungeon is home to the Grave Digger Monster truck and its World famous driver Dennis Anderson. Dennis was kind enough to set aside a significant amount of his monster truck testing area for a Baja racing facility. The crew at Diggers Dungeon along with HPI’s John Schultz worked tirelessly to create the ultimate off-road track and oval racing track.
The action got underway Friday afternoon with the first round of qualifying for off-road and then the first round of oval qualifying under the lights. The track conditions were pristine, the surface ripe with traction. The first qualifiers were intense with the competition all running very hard and very close. The off-road and oval qualifiers started a big debate in the pit area regarding tire choice. There was a relatively even buzz going around between HPI, Hot Bodies, Hostile and Pro-line tires. Each of the tire brands were well represented and seeing positive results in different classes and disciplines. Early off-road hot shoes included Rusty Mihelich, Tony Phelan, John Schultz, Jady Baumgardner, Jack Holister, Joe Oneill, Dave Clutterback, Don Owens, Bari Musawwir, Scott G., Michael Dayton, Kevin Hetmanski and Mark Murgia. The leading contenders from the oval segment included a lot of the same names plus Dustin Brown, Woody Saunders, Scott White, Travis Mowery, Dave Greelish, Bill Marr, Jerry Goggin, Steve Massita, Michael Davey, Carlton Coleman and Randy Morris. The EDM and late model classes were extremely fast. The oval prowess many of these guys possess is simply mind blowing. Fast notables include a few from above along with Hostile Rob, Henry Cross, Brian Higgins, John Hawkins and Lance Jones.
Saturday Morning got underway with another drivers meeting hosted by John Schultz. In typical HPI fashion the emphases was placed upon fun and safety. There would be nothing tolerated that wasn’t conducive to fun. That alone appears to be the major draw for most racers to the HPI brand and events. This a company that prides themselves on fun, a company that flies passionate guys around the country to put on events, support the customers that have already bought HPI, and make sure everyone is having a good time. Sure, this is a National event, but competing in one of these big races is more about helping everyone get up to speed. There are more competitors here helping the next guy than can be found at most other competition based events. It appears that these guys want to be faster than the next guy, not just faster than his ill handling and ill running vehicle. The comradely displayed at this event would make anyone want to drop their 1/8 Nitro car and go Baja racing.
The second and third round of qualifying was underway by noon on Saturday. It was a full day of racing that ran well into the night for the oval classes. There were not too many improvements from the early fast off-road guys throughout the day. It seems as though many just kept consistent runs a priority and landed themselves in the appropriate main. The track had started to experience the wear and tear throughout the fast lines; so the 3rd qualifiers were fairly hard on the cars and didn’t allow advancement from some guys who may normally be running A Main speeds. It seems as though a lot of guys would have to race their way into the show. After the off-road qualifiers was a spectacle that will remain in the minds of all who attended the event, the “Last Man Standing Race”. The rules were simple, the first guy to complete 30 laps, wins. The problem was, there were no turn marshals, and no one was allowed to touch the vehicles in any way. 12 competitors lined up and began their warm up laps. At the last minute the racers were told to line up in reverse, and that they had to run the track backwards. This was especially hard because the lips of the jumps were only shaped properly on the front sides. The race got underway with three casualties on the first lap. Joe Oneill jumped out to an early lead and all but checked out. Two more drop immediately after the leaders settle in. Second place Steve Paul didn’t flinch and kept a consistent pace hoping for Oneill to bobble and make a mistake. Third place holder Bari Musawwir was everyone’s hero as he worked his way around the track flipping over stranded competitors with his 5T. A masked man also entered the course and flipped over all of the vehicles at one point. He was using a tool of sort, as though to not break the rules. In the end Oneill was able to hold off the competition and collect his new HPI Blitz for being the Last Man Standing winner.
The oval was a much different story, the track stayed fairly consistent and allowed the competitors to position themselves better overall as the day progressed. As Saturday came to a close the pits were just coming alive. Most of the competitors had commenced the rebuild process in preparation for Sunday’s Mains. Sunday would be the day when 6 champions would be crowned and 6 guys would have their place in Baja racing history.
Singing two strokes broke the silence at Diggers Dungeon shortly after 8 AM Sunday morning. Several teams and racers were tuning their Bajas and making last minute preparations for the days Main events. The day opened with the final drivers meeting with Schultz at the Microphone. He instructed the competitors to bring their HPI Bajas to the Oval straightaway for a group photo and a prize give away. Just fewer than 100 cars, trucks and Oval racecars lined the entire front straight. This was an incredible sight, so much time and effort all in the same place at the same time. Upon completion of the group photo, Shultz began the prize distribution. This is how it works, if you signed up to race; you got in line and waited for a random prize to be dropped to you from the drivers stand. Upon receiving the prize you would go to the back of the line. If you haven’t been to an HPI Baja event it is hard to comprehend. These competitors must have made 10 laps each, all enjoying the prizes donated by the entire HPI Baja community. Thousands and thousands of dollars in Baja related equipment was being horse traded in line giving each individual an opportunity to secure what they most desired. At the end of the prize give away was a presentation of a new HPI Blitz. This prize was given to the spectator that drove the furthest to watch the event. A roughly 350 mile journey landed one lucky gentleman a brand new RTR HPI Blitz, and on his birthday!
The Mains were set and the guys were all ready to race. The HPI Baja off-road mains were up first The Baja 5T A-Main had a lot of people on the fence watching. There was a long awaited battle about to happen. Tony Phalen has dominated the west coast for quite some time, where Rusty Mihelich had dominated events on the east coast. This battle was the subject of speculation leading up to the event. Mihelich TQ’d with Phelan in tow. As luck would have it Tony would go to the back of the pack on the first lap, caught up in some early drama. Rusty would lead for the first 7 laps. Phalen was on the move and was in position. He overtook Rusty on the 8th lap and managed to hold him off until Rusty suffered a failure on lap 13. Meanwhile Joe Oneill, John Schultz and Scott G. were all arguing for the 2nd best spot. In the end Phalen held off a charging Scott G. who finished 5 seconds behind him with Schultz on the podium and Oneill just out of striking distance.
The Baja 5B off-road A-Main was next on the block. TQ Scott G. would have his work cut out for him as a talented group of guys lined up behind him for the start. This time it was Phalen’s turn to have mechanical issues just 9 laps into the feature. Mihelich started 3rd and crossed the line on his first lap in 8th. He clawed his way to 2nd and began to chase down Scott by the 9th lap. He was on a mission. Michael Dayton and John Schultz were in a battle for 3rd for most of the feature with Jady Baumgardner and Jack Holister in the mix as well. Scott G. had checked out while an always consistent Mihelich was plugging away checking off the laps. In the end Scott was able to hold off the charging competition for his first title, Mihelich would have to settle for 2nd with Schultz rounding out the podium.
The 5B Oval A-Main was quite a show. When the start tone hit it was full throttle. These guys all wanted to win badly! Rusty Jumped out to an early lead and managed to hold it until lap 13 when Holister was able to get by him. Rusty stole 1st back from him a few laps later when they ran into traffic. Mark Murgia was pushing hard, working his way through the field from 6th all the way up to 2nd at one time. He would have to settle for 3rd in the end, as Holister was just too cool and consistent. Mihelich was able to secure his 1st title with the win in 5B oval.
The 5T Oval A-Main was wild to say the least. There is something to be said about running full body trucks on an oval. The competition was fierce, with Rusty Mihelich and Jack Holister going at it for the top two spots for the entire show. Right behind them was Steve Massita and Michael Davey engaged in their own battle for that last podium spot. After both of these pairs switched positions numerous times the Consistency of Mihelich paid off once again giving him his 2nd National title of the weekend. Jack Holister would have to wait for next year to secure his title and had to settle for 2nd. Massita was able to hold off a hard charging Davey and retain the last spot on the podium.
The Late Model A-Main was quite a spectacle. This is a brand new class so there were only 4 entries, and 4 interpretations of what a late model should be. The wildest by far was John Schultz and his 62CC SkoPod powered monster. We say monster because it appeared as though it was impossible to drive straight. Normally there is no such thing as too much power, until now that is. Ricky Smith scratched from the main for unknown reasons so the battle would be between business partners Lance Jones and Don Owens. These guys manufacture late model Bodies and were there to promote their new product. Even though there were so few cars on the track, these guys managed to put on a good show for the crowd. Expect this class to grow rapidly for the rest of 2010 and into 2011. Both Jones and Owens managed to avoid the wild wheel standing Schultz and make a good battle for the crown. In the end it was Owens who goes home with the number 1 plaque, and bragging rights over Jones and then Schultz.
One of the most highly anticipated shows of the whole event was the EDM oval A-Main. All of the guys on the track had what it takes to take home the top spot. Mr. Oval himself “Hostile Rob” drove down from New York just to race this feature. He TQ’d and ran away with it from the start tone. Not to say he wasn’t challenged, as Rusty Mihelich was right there with him keeping him in check. John Schultz had a solid run going and spent a few laps on Hostile’s bumper as well. Schultz eventually suffered a failure that put him out of the race. The most improved run came from Henry Cross who crossed the line on his first lap in 8th and managed to inch his way up to 3rd by the end of the show. 4th and 5th place Brian Higgins and John Hawkins were swapping spots and paint for most of the feature and landed themselves just outside of the podium. Mihelich managed to hang on to 2nd and finish on the same lap as EDM Champ Hostile Rob only 11 seconds back. It was an awesome show!
With that the East Coast Baja Nationals had come to an end. 6 new champions had been crowned and tons of fun was had by all. There is one thing that has to be mentioned. It was great to see all of the top running guys make their way around the pits offering a helping hand to the up and coming drivers. This is very much a sportsman type of racing with pro level competition encompassed by sportsmanship and comradely of good old fashioned backyard racing. HPI has developed and nourished the formula for Maximum fun. Thanks HPI!
Debbies RC World
Hostile Racing Products
Team Fast Eddy
Oneill Brothers Racing
No Limit RC
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