Last September, Atlas Race rolled out their inaugural event in Medford, Oregon. The OCR startup demanded attention from the community by drawing in big names like Brakken Kraker, Hobie Call and TyAnn Clark. Atlas boasted large payouts for individual racers as well as for the rarely seen team format. That first event had 569 registered racers. Lance Landers, a partner for Atlas Race, said in a pre race interview with Focus Today that he’d expected between 1200-1500 people to attend. Despite the low numbers, the elite heat held serious competition, something unusual for a start-up, let alone an inaugural event.
Tiffanie Novakavich was impressed with their debut race. In a review for ORM, she wrote, “The women’s and men’s fields were both stacked with Olympic Trials qualifiers and hopefuls, National and World Champions, and professional obstacle racers… If they can do this well their first time, I can only imagine that they have SO much more in store for us!”
Atlas Race set themselves apart sending elite winners away with checks and prizes in hand after the Medford race. Novakovich said they went out of their way to make sure she left with the cash she’d won. “They paid me the day of the race, Lance actually met TyAnn and I at the mall and delivered our checks to us personally.”
Atlas Race’s pay out scheme was aggressive and coveted. For men’s and women’s elite racers, $2,500 was offered to first place, $1500 for second place and on down to $500 for the fifth place runner. Likewise for teams, the large sum of $4,000 was offered to first place, $2,000 for second place and down to $800 to the fifth place team. Their payouts reached an impressive total of $31,100 per race.
From their inaugural event, Atlas Race captured the attention of the OCR world and elites and showed great promise. While Hobie Call didn’t race in Medford, he was on-site assisting racers and adding to the atmosphere. “I really enjoyed their first event, and I appreciate their determination and desire to go big with team racing,” he said.
Founder Scott Gephart, like many OCR fanatics, was hooked after just one race. He began to race regularly and soon became passionate about starting his own event and trying his hand at creating new, harder obstacles. Gephart and other Atlas Race staff are liked throughout the community and people respect their dedication to the sport. Their personal stories and connections to OCR have made them relatable and have drawn athletes to experience Atlas Race.
In his Focus Today interview before their first race Landers talked about their goals. “People come out the other side of these races and they come out a little different mentally and physically. Maybe they didn’t think they could do the obstacle and they did it and they triumphed and it empowers them to maybe push themselves a little bit more.”
In February, Atlas held their highly anticipated follow-up event in Temecula, CA. The race was a who’s who of elite athletes. Hunter McIntyre, April Luu, Hobie Call, Max King, Maggi Thorne,Matt Murphy of Australia, and Amelia Boone were just a few of the faces seen.
Despite the stacked field, the overall turnout still did not meet their expectations. There were 930 registered participants over the two day event in California. Since the prize payout cost over $30,000, it’s fair to assume they lost quite a bit of money on the race.
It became clear that the funds were not flowing when winners of the Temecula race didn’t receive their prize money. Call’s team placed first awarding him $1,000. “We were definitely under the impression we would get paid the day of,” Call said. “But, I don’t think they actually made any such guarantee.” So far, they haven’t responded to Call’s attempts to contact them. He hasn’t received payment as of the release of this article.
Hunter McIntyre took first place in the men’s elite as well as in the team event, being on the same team as Call. In total, McIntyre won $3,500. As for the same day pay out? He’s never seen it. “They cut a few checks to athletes, and pretended to run out of checks.” McIntyre said they’ve avoided his attempts to contact them and assumes he won’t ever receive payment.
Atlas Race had their third race schedule for April 19 in Fort Worth, TX. The week of the event, their website still read that the event location was “To Be Decided.” Just over a week before the race, Atlas very quietly postponed their race. Without an announcement on their Facebook page or even their website, they simply sent an email out to registered racers.
They stated, “We at Atlas Race have been in negotiations and working diligently to finalize the partnerships that will allow us to provide the very best Obstacle Race event for our participants moving forward.” They briefly explained the race would be postponed indefinitely with details coming soon.
Atlas Race was immediate and responsive about refunds, with participants touting how impressed they were with the efficiency. But, they’ve maintained radio silence about the negotiations and new partners they spoke of in their email. OCR is one of the fastest growing sports and while racers regularly recite the mantra of there being a “place for everyone,” it hasn’t proven true for start up races. We reached out to Lance and Scott to see what they had to say regarding their race. While they were open to chat about the race, we were unable to get an official statement from them.
Atlas Race is one of the many who have dreams of joining the “Big Three” in OCR. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash continue to dominate the field. Call, who was involved with another up and coming race, Extreme Nation, explained the elements it takes to be successful as a race. “Well, big prize money means you need big sponsors. Big sponsors means you need big publicity. Big publicity means you either need millions of Facebook fans and many thousands of participants at each event, or you need to cater to spectators. The days of replicating the success of the “big 3” are over. Facebook pages and big participant numbers aren’t automatically going to explode like they did in the past. “
McIntyre echoed Call’s reasoning, “If you don’t have the structure of the big three- I mean what Spartan has done is unparalleled; created the sport, created an athletic point base system and made it international. Tough Mudder has created an overall name for our kind of culture and outdoor fitness and obstacle events. And Warrior Dash keeps it fun, young, and alive. They are three components about what our outdoor OCR lifestyle is like… [Atlas Race] put on a great race and everyone was excited. We knew it was a hot air balloon; once it runs out of gas that big pretty thing we are all looking at is just going to crash down.”
McIntyre closed explaining that he has nothing against those starting new races, but that the pattern of the rising and falling races is tough on racers and the sport. “I wish all these people the best. My intention is never to be mean to these people. These people are trying hard and trying to do something good and make a dollar off of it and I don’t mind that. But, I don’t like being suckered.”
The OCR community generally rallies around expansion of the sport. Despite ups and downs, the reviews of the race continued to be positive, especially surrounding Lance and Scott personally. Call, an outspoken supporter of the team racing format, said, “I really hope they find a way to bounce back from this, the industry needs more companies that are willing to be team players. “
Atlas Race’s website shows their next race is currently scheduled in San Diego, California on May 10th, 2014.