R/C Racing 101: Terminology

By: Tim Gluth

Learning the lingo before you hit the track.

Contributed by Tyler Watkins (@TheOkieIronhead)

Since you already visited the track you likely know this but let’s break down some basic terminology.

Pit Area – This is the place where racers remain when they are not actively racing.  This area is used to store your gear and to provide you a workspace to make adjustments/repairs to your car between races.

Drivers Stand – This is an elevated area where drivers who are actively racing or practicing will stand.  The elevation is intended to give drivers an unobstructed view of the track.

On Ramp -(there is probably a ton of different terms for this) – most tracks will have a designated place to place your vehicle when you are going onto the track for practice or a race.  DO NOT JUST TOSS YOUR CAR ONTO THE STRAIGHTAWAY! If you don’t follow the designated start area you could wind up causing damage to your car or someone else’s. If this area is not clearly marked, take a minute and see where the other racers are putting their cars in order to get onto the track.

Corner Marshal Spots – Corner Marshals have a simple job.  If a vehicle becomes wrecked, disabled, or stuck their job is to get it back onto the track so the driver can continue the race.  It sounds easy, but it’s harder than it looks. Here is some advice, note where they are during a race, and note what areas they are watching.  If you are racing, you will likely have to take a turn as a corner marshal so be prepared.

Heat Sheet – Heat sheets are the lists of the different races and racers in each race or “heat.”  These will generally be posted for all to see so you will know when your race is coming up.  After the first heat, these sheets will also include the standings for each particular heat.

Let’s talk heats really quick.  Most races will begin with a series of heats.  Heats are qualifying rounds and are not scored like actual races.  In a qualifying heat (in most cases) the ranking is not based on who finishes first, but rather who sets the fastest overall pace. In other words, having one very fast lap is great, but you’re better off going a bit slower and having slightly slower but consistent lap times.   Be sure to ask your race administrator when you sign up what the race format is (this can vary from track to track). It’s ok to tell them you are new so that they know to give you more information up front.

Racers Tip: In a heat, it may be in your best interest to delay your start by a few seconds.  This will allow you to drop in the back of traffic. Doing so will give you clear track to race in and allow you to get a few racing laps in before you have to combat traffic.  

Generally, the rules of the track are posted, but there are also some unspoken etiquette rules that you should be aware of:

  1. Language, most tracks want to be family friendly so swearing is frowned upon.  Excessive swearing may get you disqualified.
  2. Try to be ready to go when your class is up.  Don’t be that guy/gal that every other racer is waiting on.  If you delay your race you have delayed every race after you.
  3. If you do race, volunteer to be a corner marshal.  That job can wear you out and it’s good to share the load with your fellow drivers.  Do your part!
  4. DO NOT yell at or disparage corner marshals.  It’s a tough job and they do the best they can.  After all, they did not crash your car, you did! Yes, there are some lazy corner marshals, but no matter how lazy they are it’s still their fault you crashed (usually).
  5. Stay off the track during a race unless you are a corner marshal.
  6. When you are working the corners for other racers, watch your corner not the race, don’t step out onto the track without first making sure you have room in-between traffic to do so, place cars back on the track about where they crashed (don’t give or steal half a lap from someone) and try to place cars back onto the track in the order they crashed (first off first back on).
  7. Be courteous and respectful to other drivers (no matter how competitive you are).  Avoid intentionally crashing other cars unless your class calls for that kind of rough and rowdy driving.  Don’t take it personally; we are racing toy cars after all!
  8. If you are not on the lead lap (this is known as being lap traffic) yield to the race leaders.  If you are battling for position then battle, but if you are 4 laps down and the leader is on your 6, take a wide line and let him pass.  No one wants to see a race decided when the leader is taken out by someone who is 4 laps behind and fails to move out of the way. If you are in the novice class I wouldn’t worry as much about this rule.
  9. If you cause someone to crash through your own mistake, and you are battling for position with that driver, the polite thing to do is to stop and wait for the corner marshal to get them back on the track and then resume your battle with them.  This is sportsmanship plain and simple.

Here is some commonly used racing terminology that may not be in your vocabulary quite yet:

Racing Line – The “line” or “racing line,” is simply the path a driver takes around the track.  This term is specifically used to describe the path around corners. The “inside line,” or “outside line,” may be used to describe different ways to navigate a corner.  Taking a bad “line” might allow another driver to pass you while taking a good “line” might give you the advantage you need to make a pass.

Apex – Apex is the point in a corner where a driver completes the turn and applies power to drive out of the corner.  Hitting the apex is the fastest way around any corner (sorry drifters) as it allows you to carry the maximum speed going into the corner without losing control, and allows you to apply the throttle at the earliest possible moment exiting the corner (again without losing control).  You will hear the terms “early apex,” and “late apex,” to describe different corners and/or different methodologies for traversing those corners.

Turn-In-Point – the Turn In Point or TIP is the portion of a corner where the driver begins to turn his/her wheels into the corner.  This is also known as the “entry point” for a corner. The TIP is important because if you miss it, you will very likely miss the apex and at best will be slower in the corner, at worst you could lose control and crash.

Lapped Traffic – Lapped traffic is composed of all the vehicles currently racing that are not on the lead lap.  They have been ‘lapped’ but are still a hazard for the lead drivers to have to navigate around during a race.  If you are in a race, but not on the lead lap, you are part of the lap traffic.

“You’re On Your Own Time” – This is a phrase used by race administrators to let drivers know they are in a heat (aka group qualifier or time trial) rather than an actual race.  In a race, the first person on the lead lap to cross the finish line wins. In a qualifier or heat, the person with the fastest overall average lap time wins.  The phrase “you’re on your own time,” simply means you are on a personal clock, and your clock does not start until you cross the starting line. If you are in a 5-minute heat and you wait 8 seconds after the start tone to cross the start/finish line, your 5-minute countdown will have started 8 seconds after the start tone.

TQ (Top Qualifier) – The top qualifier position is owned by the driver who posted the fastest session during one of the heats.  The TQ spot is sought after because this spot will place you in the pole (or first) position during the A-Main race.  Having the front spot at the start of a race is VERY advantageous as it allows you to avoid all the traffic and possible mayhem that can happen when races start and all the cars are bunched up.

Transponder – This is the device that allows the track’s software to keep track of your lap count and lap times.  Most tracks will have these to rent to new drivers. Once you decide this is for you, and then you can purchase one.  You will want to rent or purchase one when you go racing!

Tire Sauce – This is a compound applied to race tires which softens up the rubber and increases traction.  More traction allows the drivers to carry more speed into and out of corners decreasing lap times.  The downside to tire sauce is that softer rubber wears quicker and your tires will wear out faster if you use it.

Generally, races are composed of several heats or qualifiers.  The drivers after all the qualifiers are ranked in order of their performance based on their fastest heat out of all the heats they ran.  The racers are then divided up into “mains.” Mains are where the qualifying ends and the racing begins. In a "main" the racers are lined up in the order of their qualification, fastest first and then second fastest and so on down the list.  If there are too many drivers for one race there will be multiple mains. Main races are generally lettered with “A” Main being the fastest drivers.

Class winners are the winners of the "A main" race.  You might hear the term “making the A main,” this just means a driver qualified high enough to be in the top group of racers.  Our local track has several classes, but one is very large. That class requires 3 mains. The A Main, for the fastest drivers, the B main for the intermediate drivers, and the C main for those of us who bring up the rear.  In most cases, the slowest mains will be run first saving the climactic final A main for last. Many tracks allow the top two finishers in a non-A main to bump up to the next main and race. For example, the #1 and #2 finishers in the C main will be “bumped up” to the B main race.

Then the #1 and #2 racers in the B main will bump up to the A main.  This means that if you landed in the C main, you still have a chance to make it to the A main if you perform well enough.  I have bumped from a B to an A and greatly improved my finishing position (started 8th in the A and finished 4th overall).  This gives racers something to drive for even if they didn’t make “the big show (a main)” during their qualifying drives.

Image credit: Tyler Watkins

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