The Great Divide: Why Splitting Classes Makes Absolutely No Sense

Jun 02, 2014 5 Comments by

fastlapsgraphic

When organizing racing classes for a big event or local club race, vehicle type and motor spec are the most typical designations (stock short course, modified buggy, etc.). Large racing events and club races alike, especially over the last decade or so, have increasingly split these primary divisions into different groups defined by skill level (sportsman and expert, beginner and pro, etc.) – often arbitrarily determined by the racer signing up. And it drives me crazy.

Before I get too far into this, let me explain that I’m not at all advocating for getting rid of a “Novice” division for those that are just getting their feet wet in racing and benefit most from having a place to grow. The Novice or Beginner classes at the local level are the most important at any race, because it represents the next generation of enthusiasts that’ll keep the program flourishing years down the road.

Splitting classes is particularly dangerous for local club races that often don’t have enough racers to support a greater number of racing classes – after all, you typically need at least 6-7 entrants in order to supply enough turn marshals for the following heat. That may not be a big problem for some of the largest events in the U.S., but even then the separation of classes creates a unique set of problems that often taint the overall outcome. In both cases, the drawbacks often negate the advantage of splitting up the classes in the first place.

splitting-a-log

This is what splitting classes does: cuts a whole into two halves – and splinters both in the process.

The original reason for splitting these classes is pretty simple – every racer wants to win. By giving “everyone” a “better chance” to win, race directors hope to increase entry counts. And it often works…at least for a little while.

The concept seems innocent enough – if you’ve got 20 people racing a particular class, why not split them up into two separate divisions? The faster racers can run together in the Expert division and battle it out for bragging rights without weaving around slower traffic, while the less experienced Sportsman (or whatever you want to call it) racers can have their own time to shine, giving a separate group of racers a chance to win. It just never works out that way.

Every racing program already has a method of separation built in – it’s called “qualifying.” Better yet, the process of qualifying actually uses empirical data, rather than subjectivity, to separate the groups without any chance of being tainted by sandbaggers and prideful underachievers. If a track typically arranges races into groups of ten vehicles, and more than ten are entered into one specific class, racers are separated after qualifying into individual main events based on their times – the A main, B main, C main, etc. Because racers improve at different paces, and because racing involves a bit of luck, a big group won’t always be split into the same order of drivers every time – and that means you won’t be racing against the same seven people every week.

the-letter-c

Unless you’re on Sesame Street, letters shouldn’t matter – just focus on winning your main. Mmm…cookies…

The biggest problem with separating classes by “skill level” is that rarely, if ever, is this split enforced by actual assessment of each racer’s actual talent; racers are simply left to choose which class they want to enter. Sure, it’s a no-brainer for the local pro who knows he’s among the top 1% at the track, and it’s equally easy for the relative newcomer who just graduated from novice. It’s the in-betweeners that create the rift: the underqualified Expert racer who thinks he’s above running in the lower division, and the overachieving competitor who’d rather dominate than scratch and claw his way to a mid-pack finish. It’s unavoidable that you’ll have overlap – the slowest racers in the higher division will always turn in times that are slower than the fastest racers in the lower division. Thus, those solutions to the original problems are erased completely, as the elite in the expert class will still have to cope with the bottom dwellers in Expert who don’t want to move down, and the career Sportsman racers continue sandbagging and cherry-picking wins from the incoming Novice graduates who actually deserve a chance.

venndiagram

Next time you’re at the track, check out how much the qualifying times for Sportsman and Expert classes overlap – I bet it’s more than 20% of the racers entered in both.

The end result, of course, is attrition. If you’re running against the same eight people every week, the novelty of the competition grows stale, and you find something else to do – whether that’s a different class to race, or a new hobby altogether. The slower racers in Expert grow frustrated with not having anyone their speed with whom to contend, and rather than face the criticism of the racers in the slower division (who will most often cry foul when someone who has been racing Expert for months decides to drop down and join the sandbaggers), they simply stop showing up. And the recent Novices that moved up into the lower division get frustrated with not being able to beat the same Sportsman holdouts for months so they, too, stop coming.

There’s no way around it.

If you try to introduce some sort of “move-up” program that forces drivers out of the Sportsman class once they’ve won a certain number of main events, or they go faster than a certain breakout time, you run the risk of driving them away too – after all, there was a reason they stayed in the lower division for as long as possible. Besides, unless you’ve got a steady influx of Novice drivers into the lower division, you’ll eventually graduate every racer out of the Sportsman class anyway.

As a favor to the owner of my local track (and my wallet, which enjoys the extra spending cash) I’ve been organizing and announcing the weeknight club races at my local track for about a year, and have had the opportunity to watch this happen firsthand – what once was the biggest class at the track got split into two divisions, and before long both were dead. Most often now we get enough people across both classes to join them into one just to have enough turn marshals for the following heat. Some drivers stopped showing up, and the rest got new vehicles to enter what is now the new biggest class – which, sadly, is now being split into two separate divisions. Even recent history, if ignored, is doomed to repeat itself.

The solution? Simple – give the racers in every main event, not just the A Main, something to shoot for. The winner of the A might get a trophy or track cash, but the winner of the B can earn something too – perhaps even the chance to bump up into the A. You’ll have the same amount of race winners, but with a closer variety gap between those who qualified to race against each other, the drivers have a better chance to gauge how much they’ve improved from week to week and the races will be more competitive. After all, you’re racing in the main event in which you actually belong, and the only way you’ll get faster is by racing with people faster than you are, even if it’s just for a couple of laps during a qualifying round.

participation award

Racing is a competition – and not everyone is going to win. If that’s genuinely the problem, take the transponders out and give everyone a “participation” plaque like they do in youth soccer.

Big events, of course, have their own problems! The greatest debate at “big” races revolves around the evolving world of sponsorship and the notion that sponsored racers are inherently faster than privateers.

This has led to the creation of “Expert/Pro” and “Sportsman,” which of course suffers terribly from the overlap problem that happens at club races, but the bigger issue is the exact definition of what constitutes sponsorship – and every race has its own definition. Sure, we know what class Adam Drake and Ryan Maifield are going to enter – but what about the gray area after the nation’s top pros. Some race organizers define “Expert/Pro” as being sponsored by a chassis manufacturer, but is it fair for the racer who gets free tires/electronics/fuel/engines to race against total privateers that pay full retail for everything? Other promoters define the upper division as “only 100%-sponsored” or “all sponsorship, even 50%” – yeah…good luck getting the manufacturers to admit who is actually under contract, who gets their equipment for free and who is “just a friend.” What about the full-time employee who works at the manufacturer and certainly gets help with his equipment costs? Look at the podium photos for any national-level event over the last decade that has offered a lower-level class. There’s never, ever going to be a way to enforce this properly. You want to reward the top privateers? Give the top three, or five, or ten non-sponsored racers a trophy, even if they finished 57th overall.

sponsoredornot

Luckily for race directors, sponsored drivers typically make it pretty easy to pick them out of a crowd…or podium photo.

We’ve already had a blow-up about this nonsense in 2014, in which the winner of a large nitro race was DQ’d just minutes before the trophy presentation. Not before qualifying, not before the main event, not even after his car passed tech inspection after winning . Yeah… that’s the kind of drama that RC really needs to grow.

It’s all pointless. Not only is the title “fastest racer that didn’t compete against the faster racers with the same equipment” just beyond silly, but separating classes has the potential to slowly kill the whole race itself – at any level. Race directors – just stop!

Aaron Waldron, Featured News

About the author

Associate Editor Since receiving my first hobby-grade RC car as a holiday present from my father nearly 20 years ago, I've been fortunate enough to meet more people and experience more opportunities through the adventures I've had in the RC industry than I would've ever imagined. I've done it all - from working at a hobby shop, to being a factory sponsored racer, to working for some of the biggest brands in the industry. I've enjoyed each and every one of the dozens of kits I've built, hundreds of events I've attended, and thousands of laps that I've logged at race tracks around the world, and my passion is to share those experiences with other hobbyists so that they may find fulfillment in their own RC careers.

5 Responses to “The Great Divide: Why Splitting Classes Makes Absolutely No Sense”

  1. Brandon Pitt says:

    great write up Aaron… I wanted to do away with Sportsman, Novice etc. at SS for years everytime I talked about it I would get shot down… I remember my first “big race” (The 1st T-Maxx and E-Maxx Shoot out) at Hot Rod Hobbies I took 3rd in the H Main and got a trophy I was proud of it… I Remember going to another big race this time at the Sun Valley track and finishing 3rd or 5th C Main I think (I didnt care where I finished because I beat my buddies that went down there with which was the reason why I went ) got to pick my prize from a table of prizes depending on where you placed you got to pick better prizes… I remember at the same Sun Valley race during practice I walked off the stand and looked behind me to see Adam Drake, Travis, Cav and you walk off the driverstand I remember thinking “Man I was just driving with those dudes!” LOL

  2. thecat51 says:

    Nice Article Aaron. As a Race Director/Club President for year I have seen exactly what you are talking about over and over. The “dilution” of classes has proven time and time again to kill attendance. One of the most successful clubs in Western Canada has a very strict policy to run 2-3 classes at every club race. They have huge turnouts at the club level and they produce some of the best drivers at larger events.

    Personally I take a lot of pride in winning a b or even c main at trophy races as it tells me exactly where I fit in the grand scheme of things. For that matter the competition and excitement is better in those heats as the lead changes over and over and usually it is about who can keep it together better than the other. In the A mains outside of a couple surprises we usually know who is going to end up 1 2 3 4 5 based on what we have seen over and over again.

    I am a big supporter of fewer classes and put everyone into the same class. Of course as you mentioned Novice should always be treated different, but put everyone else into the same field and you will fit where you are supposed to.

  3. David Willard Jr says:

    I couldn’t finish your article…Don’t get me wrong, I love RCCA and read it cover to cover and when you post an article on a subject I enjoy I will read it too. But in this one you RC Car Action like many keep putting the focus on WINNING and not what we “The True Sportsman” are at the races (mostly club level) to do and that’s HAVE FUN. We keep trying to focus on winning and not splitting levels by skill because the “sandbaggers” just hang out in Sportsman to win. Well…that problem is fixable by the RACE DIRECTOR. If you run laps times and counts that put you in line with the experts then you shouldn’t get butt hurt when you are TOLD to move up. If winning is your only motivation for racing then tour with the pros. Join the flooded market of local series races and leave the club raising to the guys and FAMILIES who want to have a good time. You say you don’t want to get rid of novice….why not? Our track routinely has guys in Novice turning laps that would be mid pack in the AMain with the Experts. My daughter (14) who use to enjoy racing now would rather hang out in the shop mostly because she gets run over by 30-40 year old “Rookies” some of whom I have seen racing the class and WINNING for the 2 years I have been back in the hobby. I too ran rookie when I returned and even though I was still losing to these guys I moved up because I was not a rookie after 2 months of refreshing. The problem isn’t class splitting, the problem is directors who won’t call a sandbagger a sandbagger or DO but then joke about it. The problem is we put such an emphasis on the drivers who leave because we say they are too good to be sportsman drivers. I personally, LOVE to race and winning is fun but I am there to have a good time with my family and friends and having someone who spends 3 club nights a week JUST at 1 track finishing on the same lap as the “Expert” leaders yet still calls himself a sportsman level driver makes it NOT fun. Because I can’t get more consistent or improve my driving as I am pulling over starting on Lap 2 to let half the field go by. When we had a Sportsman and Open Class, yes there were guys who left because they were told they were too good for Sportsman. But the racing was fun and most of us in Sportsman were on the same lap at the end. Then we went to Blinky only and everyone jumped into the 1 class and you had a podium of 15 lappers, a few more at 14 laps and the bottom of the A and the B Main at 13 laps. It doesn’t look like much but when you then run an 8 minute main those numbers spread out. I will never be a 15 lap guy and in stock I doubt I will ever see 14. But I can have fun in that 13 lap crowd. I don’t have the time or talent to tune a car for changing conditions but I am certainly not a rookie. That’s why I am a Sportsman.

  4. Ryan says:

    “had the opportunity to watch this happen firsthand – what once was the biggest class at the track got split into two divisions, and before long both were dead.”

    You are assuming that the class is dying down BECAUSE they were split which is totally not true, there is no evidence you gave that supported that theory. Short course is dying down because people are getting tired of it, and people who go into RC because of the short course explosion are now venturing into other classes. From talking to people around the track and reading opinions on RCTech, it’s pretty easy to tell short course popularity is dying down. Of course the new “split class” will also die down in entries, because people will get tired of their new B5 and B5Ms and new cars will come out, or they will switch to mod. I don’t think the stock buggy class split will last more than a couple more weeks because of consistent entries.

  5. Brad Wyldes says:

    While I agree completely with what you have said, after being in the hobby for many years and observing different trends and issues that have come and gone, I believe that while splitting the classes, and all the drama that comes along with it, is a real issue, the biggest problem I see that is killing our hobby is……the BIG races.
    Why? Because I know SO many racers now that never club race anymore because they are saving their money and equipment for the next big race at wherever raceway. This mind set is closing tracks at an alarming rate, because the club races/racers are now becoming nonexistent. And with them dying off, then you don’t get new people coming in to see what’s going on. And with no new people seeing what’s going on, then you don’t get new people into the hobby. And when no new people are coming into the hobby, then as people move onto other things besides r/c, there is nobody to take their place and the numbers just continue to drop, which magnifies the problem of shrinking already split classes.

    If I had a dollar now for every time I’ve seen racers post on a social media board something that went like this……(anyone racing at X track this weekend? I don’t wanna go if nobody is going. And the responses usually go like this….No, I can’t afford it. I am saving for, or needing to buy this or that for the next big race at wherever next month, so I can’t go this weekend, or the next, etc…), I could probably take the wife on a cruise or something.

    So many are so obsessed with getting sponsored these days, that all they want to do is travel around and race the big races, and hopefully ‘get someones attention’.
    I believe this will work for a while, until all the local tracks close because nobody goes there and spends money on club races, and therefore nobody buys parts from the LHS because they aren’t racing there, and because everyone is now ‘sponsored’ in some way or another.
    So the ‘big race’ monster keeps everyone traveling searching for ‘glory’, and the local club race fun that introduces and attracts new racers and families, gives us a place to practice, test and tune, and buy parts, and brings in the money to keep the tracks open, goes by the wayside, never to return.
    Eventually, we’ll have the ‘supertracks’ around the country to race at, and the people that are very serious about racing will go there. But at this rate, I believe in a few more years the local scene will be gone, and with it, the future of the hobby, because the new faces haven’t had a place to see, learn, and race, and therefore bring new faces and racers into the hobby. And when that happens, there will be nobody for all the sponsored drivers and companies to advertise and sell their products to, so it all won’t mater anymore. :(

    Just my 2 cents. :)

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