Is It The Shoes?

Feb 28, 2011 9 Comments by

I may show my age here, but do any of you remember the video game “NBA Jam”?

Arguably one of the best arcade and console games of the mid-90′s, NBA Jam had a thrilling gameplay style and a mind boggling commentary for its time.  The sports commentators would call the video game’s action just like a real ESPN commentator would.  One of my favorite phrases from the game was frequently said after a particularly amazing move–be it a dunk, or a half court shot–was made; in response to the incredible move, the computer commentator would say in disbelief, “Is it the shoes?!”    Funny, but many a pair of basketball shoes have sold due to a perceived performance advantage…so, is it the shoes or the player that makes the performance?

Is it the shoes?

This question is a good one, since it applies in one form or another to any performance sport.  Was it Michael Jordan’s Nike shoes that made him so good?  Did Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari F1 car allow him to be so dominant?  Was it that absurd 3-foot long microphone that made Bob Barker such an epic “The Price Is Right” host?

The answer to these questions is usually a quick, “No, of course not.”  Or is it?  I just watched Jared Tebo TQ and win both classes at The Dirt Nitro Challenge–the first time this accomplishment has ever been done in the race’s long 12-year history–and it makes me wonder.  Is it Jared’s talent, his equipment, or both that brought him these wins?

In my opinion, it’s a strong combination of both.  To bestow all of the credit to a driver’s abilities without acknowledging the tools that hold up to the task (or vice versa) is myopic.  In racing, fans are quick to point out that the most talented racers like F1′s Schumacher or Kyosho’s Jared Tebo “would win even if they were driving a shoebox.” This is a silly, tired cliche to be certain.  At the level Jared Tebo races, every racer has supreme driving talent.   So what separates the talented from the winners–the car?  The tires?  Is it just Jared?  In my opinion, Michael Schumacher would have won races in F1 had he driven McLaren or Ferrari.  But it was that magical combination of Schumacher’s talent with Ferrari’s equipment, engineering brilliance and build quality that earned all of those wins.  The same seems true for Tebo and Kyosho.

Was it Schuey or Ferrari? I think it was both.

Kyosho has endured a hard rap the last few years.  True, the Kyosho MP9 is the most expensive buggy on the market, and the internet know-it-alls love to point this out.  When Kyosho wins–as current IFMAR World Champion Cody King did in Thailand last fall, or as Jared just did in Arizona–the internet mob screams, “The MP9 had better win every race at that price!” or “What are they going to do, charge $100 more now?”  as though these comments are clever.  When the Kyosho buggy loses, the mob posts “See, this is why that car isn’t worth it–it’s expensive and it can’t even win!”  This is a catch-22 that grows out of a lack of understanding about racing at its core.

I can’t take anything away from Cody’s skills and performance at the IFMARs, nor can I dismiss Tebo’s natural driving talent.  Yet we are amid the most competitive 1/8-scale market in history, with more cars and more talented drivers capable of winning than ever before.  Would Cody or Jared have taken home their big wins driving another car?

My take–it’s the driver and the car.  One couldn’t win without the other.  Want to know how I know this?  Countless other previously successful drivers, including Tebo, have left the sponsors that made them successful to sign contracts with other companies, and mysteriously failed to perform as well with the new equipment.  This indicates to me that there’s a quiet, difficult to understand harmony between drivers and their cars that exists at an elite level.  Giving all of the credit for a big win to the car would be an insult to the driver.  And giving all of the credit to the driver would be an insult to the car.

Racing fans tend to assign success or blame to whatever makes them feel best about their prejudices.  When their brand wins, it’s the car.  When their brand loses, it’s the other driver that made the difference—it could never be their favorite car’s fault, or the winning car’s positive attributes.

Being a fan means that sporting events exist in an alternate reality, where wins or losses are “obviously” the result of whatever we want to believe.

Sometimes it’s the driver.  Sometimes it’s the car.  And sometimes, it’s the shoes.

Editors Blogs, Stephen Bess

About the author

Executive Editor I jumped into R/C back in 1987, when mechanical speed controllers and hard rubber tires were all the rage. Since then, I’ve experienced R/C in almost every state in the USA. I've built and raced every type of RC vehicle created, and traveled throughout the country (and world) to attend and cover more R/C events than I can remember. But what a fun ride it's been! I'm fortunate to live in Southern California, and I take advantage of my location by enjoying R/C outdoors year ‘round. Club racing is the future for R/C growth, and I’m always looking to bring new people into the hobby, whether it’s through backyard bashing or organized racing.

9 Responses to “Is It The Shoes?”

  1. Keith Allen says:

    I agree its the combination of driver and car. But I’d take it a bit further and say that the car has little to do with the brand. These guys change their cars, their setups, etc. These are not box stock cars, thus all cars of Brand-X aren’t the same. At the elite level if you have a respectable brand chassis and an elite driver its has alot to do with the driver, alot to do with the setup, and a little to do with the brand.

  2. stephen bess says:

    Good points Keith. When I started racing, I used to believe that the pro racers’ cars were highly modified. Then over the years I’ve seen that these guys’ cars are almost always stock, or very close to it, but instead are built, maintained and driven perfectly. And I also agree, at the elite level, it comes down to driving…yet how many times have we seen a pro driver win several big races one year, switch cars to pursue a “better deal”, and then get stomped the next year (or vice versa)? The driver didn’t change, just the car. Coincidence?

  3. ollie says:

    I agree it’s a combination of driver and car, but then the driver has to have confidence in the product to gain results. This is why when drivers make a move sometimes it’s not the right move for them and their results show this.
    If it was down to just the product then you would have to question why other team members don’t get the same results.

  4. Benjamin says:

    Stephen – My opinion is that different brands of cars, when set up well, behave so differently that some brands (and even model variations within the brand) just suit the different driving styles of the racer. For Tebo, it is Kyosho.

    Some drivers sling the car, some like it planted and smooth, some want it loose and others want it to float. I believe it’s the perfect match of car and driver that take them from a top 20 to a top 3. I do believe that any of the top drivers could pick up any other brand and do well, but it’s that perfect match that takes them to the top.

    Yes Mars, it’s the shoes.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      LOL…”It’s the shoes, Mars!” You just showed your age too, Benjamin :) A great commercial from back in the day!

  5. Aaron Waldron says:

    At Jared’s level, it’s absolutely a combination of driver and equipment; the myriad examples Stephen referred to with successful drivers struggling with different cars have proven that.

    I believe it’s starting to go further than that, though; it’s not just the car that factors into the equation, but as the other equipment we use continues to evolve and manufacturers go in different directions, there are different variables in the mix. This seems to be most apparent lately among teammates with different tire sponsors. On track conditions where tire brand A excels while brand B struggles, the gap widens.

  6. Donnie Rodriguez says:

    Spot on Bess, it is a marriage of car and driving style that seems to produce the best results, unfortunately some of the elite or forced or chose to go outside those elements for financial or other reasons and then you get the results of which you wrote of.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Donnie, this is true. Everyone has to provide for their families. It’s just fascinating to me that the equipment can make a difference at all at this elite level. It’s fun watching the different drivers make moves and see how/if their results improve.

  7. Squidward says:

    ‘He’s on fire!” loved that game! :) and I’m quite sure i can beat you SB.

    At that level it’s both driver and car. Tebo proved that by running the Kyosho a few years ago and dominating to running the OD car and looking like the rest of the field. Now back with Kyosho he is nearly unbeatable again.

    I will say as good as Tebo is, if Ryan Maifield drove a Kyosho he’d never lose a race IMO…as hard as it is to believe I think RM is on another level behind the wheel.

    I think AE should just copy the MP9 and sell it for $400

    Squidward out

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