Motorama 2004 Event Report

The Setup... For the First Time Ever

This was my first-ever event so naturally I was terrified out of my mind. I was only 15, and had no idea what it took to actually bring one of these machines out to play. I read the rules over and over again, but was actually shaking when we arrived at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Of course, that might be because it was only about 12 degrees outside... My dad and I didn't really know where we were going but we unloaded the tools and bots and carried them into one end of the building. We knew we wanted the Small Arena, but had never been there before and had no idea that it was on the other side of the building. For those of you who haven't been there, it is a Really Big Building We started basically at the top edge of the picture and carried our tools all the way to the bottom.

Through my huffing and puffing at carrying the 60 pound toolbox I still had time to be scared witless by not knowing what the whole deal was. I had talked to a couple of people that I randomly found on MSN Messenger about it but having never done it before I wasn't even sure I'd recognize the place when I saw it. My fears were unfounded however when we finally made it to the small arena and I saw table after table of combat robots sprawled out in the pits. This year they were using the bright orange toad tank that I had seen in Pittsburgh before Fuzzy had to close his doors. This arena weighs a ton and was never meant to be moved around though, so NERC eventually sent it on to Texas and it eventually made its way back to Meadville, PA to serve the BotsIQ event that I referee for. Small world I guess.

I didn't know who was in charge, or how I would even recognize them, but my dad was feeling resourceful so he found somebody with some tools and asked what we should do. I don't remember who it was, but they helped us find a table and go to the main arena room to sign up for the safety checks. I had to hold my breath during the weigh-in because we had been using an ancient counter-balance scale at the local post office right up until the week or so before the event when we took it to a real scale and found it was 3 pounds over. We made weight (phew!) and it was into the big box to test the bot. Jerry Clarkin of Team Hammertime was there helping me through everything.

I put the bot in the box and when the safety officer asked me to test the bot I gave it full throttle toward the wall. It was pretty fast and I was kind of showing off but like most flagrance it was a stupid idea. Jerry pointed out that I should just go out to the middle and spin in place because driving into the wall like that risked bending the shell or damaging the bot. In my excitement I think I said something to the effect of "It should be able to take it - it's a fighting robot after all!". He was right of course and much to my dismay my silly stunt did end up bending the shell in a little. Fortunately for me the shell was so monstrous that it didn't matter, but it did show that this particular shell was not anywhere near strong enough for combat.

After I safetied I distinctly remember Jr. of Team Mad Cow Robotics helping be to battle-harden the IFI Thor Spin Controller that I had powering the weapon. He added zipties around the corner fets so that they couldn't hit against eachother under huge impacts. Apparently they will short out when this happens and the controller will die. IFI Robotics wanted $60 to fix one that this happened to, so ten cents worth of zipties was the perfect solution. It's help like this that really kept me in the sport. After we were done at the venue, Dad and I went out and got some dinner. We headed back to the hotel room and I was too wound up to sleep. I ended up watching Rambo until after midnight.

The Fights

Like I said above, this competition supported the biggest bots NERC has ever run with the 120 pound middleweights. There were 138 bots registered in all. The featherweight class held 23 of those machines and I had a total of three matches.

Match #1 vs Mini-Doom

The first match was against another rookie bot called Mini-Doom. This bot was a steel tube frame with an EV Warrior motor that had a lawnmower blade stub welded to the shaft. The steel tube frame had lexan panels bolted to it, and steel corner panels with casters behind it. He used harbor freight drill motors for a drive system. I was pitted right next to those guys and thought my weapon would surely destroy them (ha). They didn't look too formidable to me, and like me had brought along their test target - a block of wood with some dents in it.

The match started and I tried to spin the shell up. It kind of rotated a little - maybe made it to 80 or 100 RPM before the belt popped off and it spun down. I was frustrated but still had a fight to win so I focused on driving. The bot was very squirrelly to drive because it was geared too high for the drive motors at 14.4v, two wheel drive, and monstrous. I didn't really know where the front was and hadn't really practiced driving much, so I just kind of floundered around for the most part. We did manage to run into eachother enough times for him to blow the 80A relay he was using for the weapon motor. The 8" or so long lawnmower blade stub did cut into one of the holes in the shell but never manage to hit any of the insides of the bot. Eventually, after pushing eachother around for a while Mini-Doom's right wheel unthreaded from the drill motor and fell off. The judges gave me the decision and I had won my first ever combat robot fight. I was totally amped-up and shaking from head to toe.

Match #2 vs The Midnight Express

The Midnight Express was a big diamond-plate-aluminum-coated metal box with giant wheels sticking out. It looked kind of like a big toaster. Around the bottom were square tube steel 'spikes' that had been cut off at a 30 degree angle to the floor. This meant that when it charged forward it made wedges on the back and the front parts stuck up. This was seriously unfortunate for me. Remember how I drilled all of those holes in the shell to save weight? The little spikes sticking out of TME were the perfect size to jam into those holes. That meant that instead of wedging under him like I expected to, he could hold me off and push me around. While it looked like a toaster, the big black rubber wheels sure gave the bot good traction so I pretty much got owned. I drove around crazily for three minutes and the judges gave it to him. By the end of the fight my drive battery was very low. TME went on to do pretty well with a 5-2 record overall. Not too shabby I guess.

Match #3 vs Dark Thunder 2

Dark Thunder is a pneumatic flipping bot. It has a lot of flipping power - enough to even flip itself over easily. The drive likes to fire the flipping arm almost continuously so the bot seems to be jumping around. It's pretty exciting to watch but it has big square corners that are just ripe for a horizontal spinner to break. I was a horizontal spinner so I was hopeful that I would have a chance. Before this fight we noticed that the little rollers that I was using for pulleys were wearing down in a taper. The belts I had weren't working right so I sent dad out to Sears down the road to get some vacuum cleaner belts. He did eventually come back with some but they weren't the real problem. It was just a really bad design.

When the fight started I actually spun the shell up to the highest speed it ever attained - somewhere around 150 RPM. While that is pretty pathetic in the grand scheme of things, I was pretty impressed with myself at the time. Dark Thunder box rushed me at the beginning of the fight and was rejected by my spinning shell. I even spun up a second time, another first for the bot. This time it was more like 80 RPM before he hit me, so he didn't bounce off very much. All of a sudden the bot died on me. When I look closely at the video I can see a wire sticking out under the shell.

After that it was somewhat quick and painless - Dark Thunder drove right up to me, fired the flipper under the edge of my shell, and flipped me right up on my back. I had officially been "turtled" for the loss and my drive battery wire was just dangling there. I didn't tape that connector together - I thought it fit tightly enough and it never occurred to me that that could come loose. I know now that powerpoles notoriously do that so tape or zipties must always be applied when they aren't contained tightly by the frame. Lessons learned I guess. Bipolar was out and it was back to the drawing board on the weapon. Next build was for July of 2004 for the Rocket City Robot Assault in Alabama.