The problem with the Oscoda Pro

Oscoda under night skies.

What to do about the 2022 Oscoda Pro Solo?

The National Office has emailed me asking if Detroit Region was up for putting on the Oscoda Pro Solo for 2022. Things will be different this year, I’m told. Their proposed date for the Oscoda Pro Solo is no longer a back-to-back weekend with the Toledo Pro Solo — it’s instead two weeks after. The 2022 Pro Solo season is also a points qualifying season too, which should incentivize folks to come out to the less popular Pro Solos in order to earn championship points and qualify for the Pro Finale. And finally, they did an informal survey of folks and suggested that there’d be a lot of interest in an Oscoda Pro for next year.

All great stuff. However…

Putting on the Oscoda Pro Solo really sucks.

Granted, every year that I’ve been Solo Director, there’s been a pandemic going on, which I know doesn’t help matters much and probably skews the experience of putting on the event, uh, a great deal. But I look back at the past two years and can’t really muster all that much enthusiasm for going through the same agony.

Back in 2020, when the pandemic first hit, the Pro Solo series quickly abandoned the qualifying and points requirements for the season. No longer did you have to hit a minimum number of events to qualify for the Pro Finale, and there were no points to win at each Pro Solo, as the Pro Finale was going to be a one-and-done winner-take-all event in the same style as Solo Nationals. Made a lot of sense, since you couldn’t really guarantee a Solo or Pro schedule in 2020 — there were simply too many unknowns. Including the biggest unknown: whether or not there’d even be a Solo Nationals or a Pro Finale, which ultimately didn’t end up happening.

Suffice to say, with all of the “motivation” for going to the Oscoda Pro removed, the Oscoda Pro didn’t meet the minimum entry requirements and the National Office pulled the Pro Solo. We still had some 80-odd people that had made plans to be in Oscoda for that weekend, and those plans are hard to cancel when folks have arranged for rides, flights, and most importantly, accommodations in the area that are simply uncancelable or nonrefundable.

Marcus Meredith, the event chair for the 2020 Oscoda Pro Solo, scrambled to put together a replacement event, something that we called the Test, Tune, and Drive. It was basically a tour-style Solo event on Saturday with a Test and Tune on Sunday.

We pulled off the event, but afterwards, Marcus came to me and mentioned that his days of chairing events were over. In any case, he wouldn’t be around in Michigan for much longer, since Rivian was moving him and all the other engineering staff from the Detroit engineering office back to their home base in California.

Fast forward things to 2021. I couldn’t find anyone else to chair the Oscoda Pro Solo, and so took it upon myself to chair the event. This year’s Pro Solo series had qualifying, sort of. If you won during the 2020/2021 combined seasons, or if you had competed in a number of events (I think it was five?), you could qualify for the 2021 Pro Finale.

Even then, we couldn’t make great numbers. Everything pointed towards another canceled Pro Solo; we barely had some 70-odd entrants, with many of our own Detroit Region members missing from the entry list. I was pretty sure that we were going to be told to table the event, and put together an alternative event budget for the DRSCCA BoD that I had cheekily titled the “Oscoda Not-Pro.” And yet… no word from the National Office came that the event was going to be canceled, even as the minimum entry deadline came and went. The most concrete acknowledgement I got from the National Office was a Facebook post, of all things, stating that the Oscoda Pro was going to happen one way or another. Such a statement was never sent directly to me, either by phone or by email!

So I’m scrambling last minute to get volunteers, and of course, there’s not enough Detroit Region attendees to staff a full roster of critical chiefs and volunteers. I begged SVR for volunteer help and they delivered, but in the end, that wasn’t enough either, as we were still short and the poor National staff assigned to the Oscoda Pro had to pull double duty as chiefs in certain roles.

I’m still trying to figure out what came of the finances for that event right now.

So yeah, I’m not really excited about putting on another Oscoda Pro Solo.

It is a perverse satisfaction to have the option of saying “no” and shutting down an event that is beloved by some (though not beloved by a critical mass of people, natch).

But those thoughts are not productive. What would it take for me to say “yes” to the Oscoda Pro? I think it comes down to four problems.

  1. Oscoda-Wurtsmith is far away from everything. It’s far enough from Detroit that most Detroit Region locals don’t really view it as a “local” site. It’s hard to call a site “local” when it requires a weekend away from family and a hotel room (or at least the willingness to camp on pavement). Oscoda has few lodging options, and accommodations must be booked well in advance in order to avoid competing with the stampede of seasonal tourists, and these bookings are hard to cancel or change.
  2. People would rather go to the Toledo Pro. It’s a larger site, it’s easier to get to, and the competition there is always good. Is it any wonder, if Detroit Region members had to choose between the Toledo Pro and the Oscoda Pro, that they’d always choose Toledo? For that matter, anyone else traveling in from out of town will also choose Toledo over Oscoda. Having both events on back-to-back weekends means most are forced to choose one or the other, as being away from work and family on successive weekends is not an option for most. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not having the two events separated by a week helps matters that much more for the out-of-towners.
  3. It’s hard to find volunteers. Take #1 and #2 above, and it’s always a crap shoot as to whether or not Detroit Region can muster up enough manpower for running the event. And that’s before we even get to the question of “who is going to chair the event?”
  4. It’s hard to commit to competing in the Oscoda Pro. It’s the chicken-and-the-egg problem. You may want to go to the Oscoda Pro, but you’re not willing to commit to booking lodging, taking vacation time, and steeling up for the long drive unless you’re certain that the event will hit its minimum entry limit and will be a lock to take place. But because everyone is waiting for everyone else to sign up first, the entry limit never gets met, or it does get met and by that time, all of the vacationers have hoovered up what little lakeside lodging options there are, and you can’t attend anyway unless you camp.

You can’t really do anything about #1 and #2, so I’ll disregard those for now. But perhaps we can do something for #3 and #4.

If Detroit Region is incapable of supporting the Oscoda Pro by itself, perhaps we could team up with SVR. They filled essentially half of the volunteer roles this year, we could simply make it official and split half of any revenue earned with them. I’m not sure which region would take the lead on finances, and what we’d do regarding equipment, but maybe this Pro Solo could happen with two regions supporting it.

Finally, I’d like to kill any uncertainty about the Oscoda Pro. I’d like to suggest that the event be guaranteed to take place, with no minimum entry limit. Oscoda is one of the cheapest sites on the Pro Solo schedule, so I’m sure that we could make the finances work for an event with less than 120 entrants. Sure, competition might be a bit wonky with so few competitors. But this could help persuade more people to sign up if they could be confident that their hard-to-change-plans-because-it’s-Oscoda-and-they-have-never-heard-of-booking-things-via-websites plans will not rendered useless due to an event cancellation.

Basically, what I’d like to avoid is a repeat of the last two years, where I prepared two budgets for the DRSCCA Board, one for the Oscoda Pro and one a replacement event for the Pro’s possible cancellation, trying to convince event volunteers and local members that they should sign up for a Pro that appears to be destined to be canceled until it is (2020) or isn’t (2021), while trying to keep the folks who have made vacation plans, lodging bookings that can’t be canceled, or made the effort to come from out of town happy with some sort of replacement Not-Pro (2020) or the tiniest Pro Solo you’ve ever seen (2021). That is a lot of hassle for an event that the majority of National competitors wouldn’t miss if it disappeared off the schedule. (I’m sure most would prefer having two Toledo Pros instead!)

So if we want to make this Pro Solo happen in Oscoda, I think those are my demands. I myself cannot guarantee that I’ll be able to chair the Pro Solo, and my edict for the 2022 season is that I’m not chairing a single event. I will scale our local season to the number of event chairs we can sign up, and if I can’t sign someone up to chair the Oscoda Pro Solo — either from the Detroit Region or SVR camps — well, I’m not putting myself through hell again to put this event on.