We continue our series of articles about famous figures from a decade ago. The year 2002 marked the ending of the popular Comedy Central series, BattleBots™. The year 2003 inaugurated a new era in combat robotics, where our sport left the spotlight and tried to fly on its own.
Grassroots events sprung up everywhere, as documented in our 2012 series of articles, «The History of Robot Combat» For 2013, we’re taking a more personal approach, interviewing media stars from that time.
Richard Stuplich first came to the public’s attention in the final two seasons of BattleBots. His super heavyweight, New Cruelty, was eight wheels and 220 pounds of rock solid battering ram. He reached the finals in Season 4.0, fighting Toro in (arguably) one of the best nationally televised fights ever.
The episode featuring that fight was the first time I’d ever seen the sport. Right at the end of the fight after his bot was dead, Dick made robot combat television history by screaming at his opponent, Reason Bradley, «Hit it again! Hit it again!» That moment epitomized the whole sport for me and is one of the most classic film bites from the series. (You can watch it at Battlebots: Toro vs. New Cruelty Finals Season 4.0 www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzMJvIseDew.)
The next major event — a post- BattleBots pop-up — was held in Orlando in January 2003. Robocide: The Showdown in O-town, was just a few months later, and the opening fight featured a rookie team fighting with (not very arguably) the worst lightweight bot ever built. After a day of wandering the pits, meeting all the TV personalities and famous bots, I stood next to Dick, facing (also not very arguably) one of the finest lightweight spinners ever built, and certainly the best in the business at that time.
Sadness ensued. Within about 20 seconds it was all over, except for the steadily slowing spiral of death. Dick leaned over to me and asked: «Are you okay?»
There could only be one answer: «Hit it again!» So he did. It was my proudest bot moment, and my only fight outside the Insect classes. (Check it out … Chupacabra vs. 2EZ Robocide: The Showdown in O-Town www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzH RSLsiBw8.)
Since that time, I’ve been to many events with Dick and watched his support for the sport. If he’s in the pits, he’s helping someone else. If he’s on the driver’s stand, he’s out to win.
We linked up with Dick to get his reflections on a long and productive stint in our sport.
Combat Zone: It’s been a decade since the «glory days» of televised Robot Combat. BattleBots encouraged me and dozens of others to join the sport. You worked your way up from competitor to television regular. Could you give a short version of how you moved from the pits to the camera?
Dick: My first exposure to robot combat was seeing the Comedy Central season 2.0 of BattleBots that aired in December 2000. At that time, I didn’t own a hand drill but I was fascinated by the concept of building remote controlled machines that fought each other. It became something of an obsession. What I decided to do was learning the basics and take my time. I bought a welder, hand tools, a drill press, and found a friend who worked as an AutoCad™ drafter to get a crash course in design.
Being from Wisconsin, the idea of driving to California to lose in the first round of a single elimination robot tournament was not interesting to me. I built a complete version of my super heavyweight, New Cruelty.
What I decided to do was skip BattleBots 3.0 and head to a local Midwest event called «Twin City Mechwars.» New Cruelty had problems but was able to win first place, knocking out all opponents but one.
After that, I was hooked and made two more complete revisions before BattleBots 4.0. During the BattleBots 4.0 season, I was able to do very well, defeating all but the final opponent, taking second place in an event with well more than 400 bots entered. I was happy my parents, wife, and children could make the trip and experience it with me.
When it came time for BattleBots season 5.0, I was slightly disappointed at the «seeding» system that put veterans through into the TV rounds. I talked with production and requested to be inserted into the normal brackets but they refused. I took third at that event, losing to an opponent I had defeated the season before. They had made strategy changes and were ready for a rematch.
Combat Zone: Was it a huge disappointment to you when the show was cancelled and the sport slipped back into smaller and smaller events?
Dick: I was disappointed that the days of the huge mega events seemed to be over. The BattleBots pits were something to behold with 400+ teams all working on robots. It was an event that I think will never be duplicated.
Combat Zone: Because I’ve always noted your bent to helping others before and during events, I wanted to put in a couple questions about that.
Were things as sportsmanlike in the BattleBots pits as I’ve always found them to be at other events I’ve attended around the country?
Dick: I think they would have been. The size and scope of the event meant that most builders wouldn’t even interact. I remember «Team Mauler» had a hydraulic press and it became common knowledge that they were letting anyone use it to try and bend back bent parts. I would say that the stakes for the top teams — the guys I not so affectionately called «the untouchables» — made them quite secretive.
I should note that only at BattleBots have I witnessed blatant cheating, and I nearly was in a physical altercation with a team that I was to face next that sent a person over to take up residence in my pits and would not leave or move to give me room to work. I beat them handily an hour later. I brought the incident to the attention of BattleBots and I was told, «We know. It’s okay. Don’t worry about that.»
Combat Zone: Tell us your favorite story about the fabled sportsmanship competitor’s show in this sport. What has someone done for you to repay your investment in others?
Dick: This is common at all events now. From people sharing CO2 fill stations to competitors giving/selling motors right out of their own robots. This is so normal that it is hard to pick one incident. There is a story I like to tell about a boy going to his first event, though.
He was desperate to get the electronics working and was having failure after failure. I told him in a forum, «Bring the bot. I will bring everything you need to make the electronics work.» We were able to get his bot working, and after a few events this boy was soon helping others with their bots. We have seen many kids grow to surpass our skills in this sport and in the world. Paul Ventimiglia, for example, has a long resume in robotics now, including winning BattleBots events and claiming NASA awards in engineering.
Brian Benson also springs to mind. I met him at Robocide in Florida when he was attending his first event with a bot that was, well … terrible. Today, he has won many events and is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic and is a mechanical engineer at iRobot.
Combat Zone: Coolest win? Coolest loss?
Dick: Probably the coolest loss was to Toro in the finals of BattleBots 4.0. After a massive flip from Toro, the flipper bot, New Cruelty landed on its side and the power switch turned off. We were there for a show so I was screaming «hit it» and then took my controller and slid it across the table to the other team. They went in for a few more flips. It was a great time and good TV!
The coolest win was likely defeating the famed YU812 hammer spinning lightweight with my 60 pound lightweight bar spinner in Florida at an event called Battle At The Beach.
Combat Zone: So, it’s been 10 years. You’ve done a lot since then. What would you like us to know about your current interests and endeavors?
Dick: I still build combat robots and have had continued success in nearly all weight classes. My next major event is MotoRama in Harrisburg, PA in February 2014 (www.motoramaevents.com/ robots).
Dick: Robot combat is alive and well!