Part 1: Getting into the basics of R/C Racing
Contributed by Tyler Watkins (@TheOkieIronhead)
So you want to go R/C racing… Are you new to R/C? Have you been in the R/C hobby for some time, but just now caught the racing bug? Have you been thinking about racing for a long time but never knew where to start? You are not alone! I was in the same boat just a month ago, and I decided to write this article for folks just like us!
First, A little about me… I’m new to hobby-grade R/C, and while I only have about a month and a half into the hobby I already have 30+ hours of track time under my belt. Why should you invest time listening to a fellow R/C racing rookie you ask? Great question! I believe that as a fellow new racer we share a similar perspective.
While I cannot make you an expert on racing, I can at least let you know what to expect when you go to the track. I can also give you some tips based on first-hand knowledge on just how to go about getting started in R/C racing. I’m a long time hot rod builder and drag racer, and I have 15 years of experience racing the real thing. I’m not a pro, but I’m not new to the motorsport game either!
“Ok Ironhead, that’s great, but where do I start?” First, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions.
Question 1: “Is racing really for me?”
It may seem silly to ask that question at this point in the article, but it’s worth pondering. Racing is an investment, and I’m not talking about just money. You will be investing time, work, and yes money too. Like all things in R/C there tend to be some ongoing expenses. Unlike all things in R/C, however, racing tends to have more of those ongoing expenses, and they will come up more frequently.
Question 2: “Realistically, what is my racing budget.”
When you consider your budget think about not only the upfront expense to get your rig up and running (this will need to include accessories such as batteries, a charger, tools, and the means to get your gear to and from the track), but consider the repeat expenses (entry fees, tires, new batteries, upgrade parts, break fix parts etc.) If you are only going to race once a month then your ongoing expenses will be mitigated. However, if you plan to be serious and race every week (don’t forget twice a week practice sessions) then your expenses could add up quickly. For serious racers, the lifespan of tires is measured in weeks if not days depending on your practice schedule.
Question 3: “What are your expectations?”
Are you planning to race and just enjoy the time you spend on the track or is your goal to be competitive? If your aim is just to show up and have fun, that’s great it will save you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run! However, if you are like me and feed on competition, enjoy the challenge, and ultimately want to win, your investment will be larger. How competitive you want to be will have a large impact on the equipment you choose to race with and also on the time investment required to develop your skill. I am, what I believe is, a more casual racer.
My plan is to go racing twice a month, I practice when I can, but it’s not as often as I would like to. Because of this, I know that it’s going to take me a long time to be a regular on the podium, and even longer to take that coveted top spot. I believe, for any class at my local track, I could put myself consistently on the podium within 4-6 months if I raced every weekend and practiced 2-3x per week. As it is I will race twice a month and I’m lucky to get one practice session in between races, so I know it will take me much longer.
Now let’s see what it actually takes to get started. My R/C racing career started at the local hobby shop where I purchased my first hobby-grade R/C. It’s about a 20-mile commute from my house, which considering I live in a more rural area in central Oklahoma is actually pretty darn close. If your local hobby shop sells hobby-grade R/C and does not have a track they will certainly know where the nearby tracks are located so, find the nearby track that most interests you and start there.
Before you purchase your R/C racer…
Visit the track where you will likely do most of your racing! Find out what their race day(s) is/are and go watch a race. If possible catch an entire race day (including the open practice before the race). Most race days will take up an entire afternoon (or more) so plan accordingly (I did mention this was an investment in time). While you are there, mingle with and talk to the racers.
Striking up conversations with strangers is not something I care to do in most cases, but in this case, it’s essential. Find out what kind of racers you have at your track. Are they friendly and inviting? How about willing to share advice? It’s ok to tell them you are a new racer or are considering getting into R/C racing. If the local racing community is very cliquey or just unfriendly I suggest finding another track.
You will need the support of your fellow racers. I really can’t say this enough. I’ve raced several times now, and I can’t imagine trying to do it without some help from the local crowd. Once the practice ends and the racing begins, observe the cadence of the race.
Try to figure out how racers know when it’s their turn to run, how the races are scored, how are the heats determined, and in general how many races/rounds you will be looking at running in a single day. Trust me; you don’t want to be trying to figure that out on your first day of actual racing (I speak from experience).
The last thing on your to-do list while you visiting the track is to figure out what class you want to race. Figure out which class interests you the most. If you are looking to keep costs down then generally spec racing is the way to go. If you are looking for more of a driver’s class, the stock classes are probably something worth looking at.
If you want to see how fast you can go with few limits on what you can build mod racing might be your ticket. Don’t know what any of that means? No worries, keep reading! Make sure you talk to the track owner to see what classes they normally race (this can fluctuate depending on who brings what on race day), and you don’t want to wind up in a class that does not race very often. Once you narrow it down to a class or two, talk to the racers.
Find out what the real cost of racing that class is, and what advice they have for someone considering joining it. Pay attention to the fast guys, and make sure you talk to them. This may help you make a decision on which kit/RTR to buy and/or which motor, ESC, tires, and gearing combos work well for each class.
Spec classes are generally the least expensive classes to race in. A spec class puts very specific limits on the vehicle, suspension, motor/ESC, chassis, and even wheels and tires. The idea of a spec class is to give all drivers the exact same racing car/truck. This keeps costs low and eliminates any equipment advantages someone might have.
Stock classes generally don’t limit the chassis, modifications to the chassis/suspension, or wheels and tires. Generally, there is a limit to the motor in a stock class. This is done to try and keep everyone running a car with similar power. Thus, good driving and tuning will the keys to winning the class (rather than just throwing the most money at a hot motor/ESC combination). Stock classes are middle of the road as far as cost goes and this is where a lot of racers get their start.
Modified classes open up the motor/ESC options and allows for even more customization and variation in parts. How much is different for mod vs stock can vary from class to class, but the motor and ESC is a big differentiator here. Mod racing is the most expensive class to get into (at least at my local track).
Ultimately, choosing your racing class is up to you. Odds are, when you first start, you will be in a novice or beginner class anyway. Most tracks will take all their new racers, regardless of what they drive, and put them into the same class. Our class is usually a mix of 2WD and 4WD Short Course Trucks along with 2WD and 4WD buggies.
Obviously, this leaves the door wide open for some pretty unfair matchups, but the Novice class is not meant to be a place where you remain. It’s meant to give you a chance to get a feel for your vehicle, the track, and how a race day goes. The idea is to run a few races in novice, improve your skills, and then move up to the actual class you want to race in. Winning in these entry-level classes often won’t come with a monetary reward. What it does do, however, is provide the means to learn and move up into other classes.
Be sure to check your local track rules for their novice class, as they might do things a bit differently. In the next installment, we’ll look at costs that you’ll need to consider before hitting the track.
Image credit: Tyler Watkins (YouTube)