R/C Racing 101: The Costs of Competition

By: Tim Gluth

What you can expect to spend for speed.

Contributed by Tyler Watkins (@TheOkieIronhead)

If budget is an important factor for you then let me give you a few things to think about…

Generally, there are three costs that you’ll want to understand:

  1. How much does it cost to get a vehicle up and running in this class
  2. How much does it cost to be COMPETITIVE in this class (this is RARELY the same as #1)
  3. How much does it cost in consumables to race in this class (entry fees, practice, tires, broken parts, etc.)

If you have not evaluated all 3 of the above costs then you really don’t know if your budget will fit the class you want to race.  This could put you in very bad shape if you blow all your money getting started, and can’t afford to replace the first part that breaks.  Why do I suggest talking to drivers in this case and not track owners?  Drivers know the cost better than anyone else and are more likely to give you the real truth about how much it costs them to race each month.  

OK, if you are comfortable with the track and racing class you picked, then the time has come to make your purchase.  Hopefully, as part of your discussions with drivers, you found out what they were driving.  There are two important reasons for this!  You want to know vehicles perform well at your local track, and you want to make sure there are some local experts to help you with your setup.

This information will help you make an informed purchasing decision.  I talked to several racers who had spent a ton of time and money upgrading vehicles only to find if they wanted to be competitive they would ultimately have to sell them off (at a big loss) and buy something else.  Had they spent their money up front on the competitive model, they would be far better off.  This may mean you need to save up an extra month or two before you get started.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

As for the second reason, having local parts availability, local resources to help you with driving tips and troubleshooting will be priceless once you start racing.  If you grab a one-off racer, even if it’s a very good one, you could be up a creek when you need some parts or just some help with your tune/setup.  Personally, I am big on supporting your local shop.  If you are going to race there, it’s a good idea to buy there.  My LHS has been tremendously helpful to me in my early racing career and they are always willing to go the extra mile if I need some help.  They even offered to assemble my Associated B6 kit for me.

I declined since building the kit was something I actually looked forward to, but I appreciated the offer.  When they offered to glue my tires for me I asked if they would show me how instead, and they did!  Sure I might be able to save a few dollars buying online, but that internet hobby shop is not going to help me troubleshoot a problem at the track on race day.

Ultimately if we don’t support our local shops none of us will have a place to race in the future.  Ok, off my soapbox and back on topic…  Make your purchase(s) and get to building (if it’s a kit).  

You will need some accessories, batteries, a (fast) charger, tools, and tires chief among them.  Select your type and quantity of batteries according to local racers advice.  Don’t sweat brands as much, though some are better than others, pay more attention to how many batteries of what size it takes to get through a race.  Likely you will want a charger that can deliver a quick re-charge to your batteries between races.  You may pay a bit more for a good charger, but it will save you money by allowing you to purchase fewer batteries in the long run.  A good charger is NOT a consumable and it will last you a long time. Don’t skimp here!

As for tires, that should be part of your discussion with the local racers, especially the fast guys/gals.  I’ve yet to find a racer who refused to discuss their “setup,” with me.  If you want to know what tires work best for your chosen track, find the fastest drivers in your chosen class and ask what they run.  Chances are they will all be running the same or very similar tires, and that should tell you where to start.  You may find other tires that work better for your car or your driving style, but you have to start somewhere and copying the fast guys/gals is the best place to begin.  I would give the same advice on tools.  Find out what the local folks are bringing with them to the track and don’t be afraid to ask why.  Chances are the more serious you are about racing the more tools you will need.

Casual racers can get by with a decent set of Allen wrenches and a nut driver or two.  Serious racers will roll up with a big chest full of all kinds of things, often including a soldering iron.  Don’t go overboard here.  In my opinion, it’s better to wait until you realize you need something then make a purchase.  If you buy a bunch of stuff first, you may wind up with gear you never or very rarely use.  If you don’t know what to bring with you, ask your fellow racers what they feel like they can’t race without.

Once you’ve built your kit, your gear is ready, and you’ve found a way to get it to the racetrack, you are ready, and it’s race day! WAIT!

Back up one day, to the day before race day.  Check your setup.  Alignment, gear mesh, ride height etc, can all get a bit off kilter during practice so it’s worth doing a pre-race inspection the night before.   Give your vehicle a thorough once-over for any broken, damaged, or any parts showing signs of excessive wear.

I had to replace a ball cup after the first heat on Saturday, and I had a heck of a time getting that done, and the camber reset before the next heat began.  It was very likely broken before race day and I just missed it.  The last thing you need on race day is any additional distractions.  When race day arrives, make sure to give yourself time to arrive early, secure your pit space, and get some practice in.  Find your rhythm, but don’t overdo it.  I’m going to make a video on what to expect when you get to your track for the first time, but I will try to walk you through it…

When you arrive you’ll need to register and/or sign up for the race.  This is also the time you will need to rent a transponder, or if you own one you will need the number available to add to your registration.  Race fees will likely also be due at this time.  Once you’ve taken care of the paperwork head back to the pit area and secure a pit spot.  Be mindful of your spot, try to position yourself somewhere that allows you enough space, but still provides the chance to talk with other racers.  It’s harder to get help when you are isolated in the far corner of the room.

Image credit: Tyler Watkins

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