Let’s Learn From Our Mistakes

Jan 26, 2011 23 Comments by

“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

Someone much wiser than I said this phrase many ages ago, and it applies directly to politics, engineering, life in general, and of course, RC.  With participant turn-over rate in RC that’s remarkably high–ie, our hobby has more new RC’ers each year than those who stay in it–we are bound to overlook, as a group, certain failures of the past.  In fact, most RC’ers are so new to the hobby that they’re completely incapable of remembering these failures in the first place.

More specifically, I’m writing about our hobby’s mind-bending ability to take a cool, fun new racing class and ruin it.  Hey, calm down; I’m not implying that anyone has ever ruined a racing class intentionally.  It’s just the way things happen.  It’s inevitable. Racers strive to make their cars faster at any cost.  Speed costs money.  Whether we like it or not, increased costs equals fewer people participating.   Over time, when left to its own devices, a racing class tends to whittle itself down to a hardcore, tiny group of die-hards who either have far too much money to burn or are far too competitive to walk away.  In either instance, this small group of die-hards scare the daylights out of newcomers, and eventually the class either dies completely or becomes an ultra-niche class.

So, what makes a class cool and fun and popular?

In my opinion, it’s all about participation.  The more people that participate, the more fun any class becomes.  Large groups of racers in a single class creates competition, bench racing, bragging rights and smack talking.  It’s just more fun when you have 6 heats of a class rather than one.

The Short Course class is the class I’m concerned about.  Need proof that forgetting about the past dooms us to repeat our mistakes?  Do any of you remember slot car racing?  How about dirt oval?  Or touring car?  What about competitive rock crawling?  Each of these classes started out HUGE, with tons of participants.  Over time, each class became more and more competitive, with racers spending untold piles of cash on the latest, greatest tires/speed control/batteries/engine/you name it.  What happened each and every time as the class progressed towards ultra competition?  It shrank.  The guys who were in it to have fun quickly dropped out when they got lapped five times in a qualifier.  The guys who just wanted to show up and race for the heck of it found their jaws on the floor once they realized it would require a capital investment of thousands of dollars or a Haas CNC machine to stay competitive.

So how do we curb our urge to push short course racing towards its possible extinction?

SPEC RACING.  Novak recently released its new GTB-2 “spec” speed control.  No adjustable motor timing.  No laptop PC link.  Just an speed control that controls the brushless motor.  Spec tires are being discussed.  All of these are things that will stop the avalanche of costs that are slowly killing the short course class before our very eyes.

If we want to save the short course class from itself and from the die-hards who want no rules, the short course class needs a strong set of SPEC RACING rules.  ROAR is working on it.  Local clubs are figuring out that “open” or “modified” classes where any motor or speed control is allowed produces exponentially smaller entries than “stock” or “spec” racing.  This isn’t a coincidence!

What are your thoughts?  Is the short course class destined to suffer the same fate as other once-popular classes, or can we save it from itself?

Featured News, Stephen Bess

About the author

Executive Editor I jumped into R/C back in 1987, when mechanical speed controllers and hard rubber tires were all the rage. Since then, I’ve experienced R/C in almost every state in the USA. I've built and raced every type of RC vehicle created, and traveled throughout the country (and world) to attend and cover more R/C events than I can remember. But what a fun ride it's been! I'm fortunate to live in Southern California, and I take advantage of my location by enjoying R/C outdoors year ‘round. Club racing is the future for R/C growth, and I’m always looking to bring new people into the hobby, whether it’s through backyard bashing or organized racing.

23 Responses to “Let’s Learn From Our Mistakes”

  1. Aaron Waldron says:

    Gee, I’ve never heard that quote before.

  2. Chris says:

    As you said, participation is key, but sometimes that’s not only limited by the the non-spec hopups you mentioned, but also by how well the class you might to run is represented on any given race day. For example, I considering the purchase of a 4×4 shortcourse truck (I wish Associated would relaese it already) or a 4×4 1/8 th scale buggy. My dilemma is which one will be this years leading contender for participation. So assuming I were to go with the truck, which would be my preferance, and assuming others show up to race with the with a 4×4 truck, what class are they going to run? Will it be spec or something else? It’s been my experirence that most people will run spec only as long as it takes for them to move into a nonspec class – because that’s where everybody else is. As a result, you can often end up running in a class or an vehicle type you didn’t necessarily want to run in order to participate with the masses. I agree there should be stronger support for the spec class to help ofset that situation but from what I’ve seen, this goes nowhere with out the support of track/hobby store. It does make a certain amount of sense that they aren’t usually enthusiastic about encouraging a process that discourages the purchase of all the gear/hopups required by those running open/mod racing by “pushing” the spec class and unfortunatly if it’s not a ROAR sanctioned facility it’s usually just about whatever gets people through the door more than anything else.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Interesting point about tracks not pushing “Spec” classes for fear of not selling hop ups. The most common way to enforce a spec class while still allowing customized, hopped-up trucks is to mandate 2 things: tires and power systems (motor/ESC). Let people run whatever else they want. Tires and motors/ESCs tend to be the great equalizers.

  3. Almond McClain says:

    At our Yuma, AZ Track there’s about a 5 second difference between my box stock Slash 2WD and my Slash 4X4.
    I think you’re right, we need SPEC rules. When the slashes first came out, it was box stock only, and then of course people start tooling on them to see what they can do.
    Right now the 2wd class has to be very close to box stock, while anything is allowed in 4X4 short course simply because everyone is very close to the same skill level.
    My Slash 4X4 has the stock motor and ESC, 30C 7.4 li-po, , a light kit, some fans, and a spare tire zip tied on the back bumper because it looks cool, and I’m the second fastest at the track. Everything else on the car is bone stock.
    I was around to see the touring car class come up and die, I would hate the same fate to hit the SC’s.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Encourage your fellow racers to support Spec racing at your local track, if only for beginners. All of us who’ve raced for years love speed, and I’m not suggesting we do away with the Modified classes–just that each track support a Spec racing class, along with other “faster” classes as well.

      • CAM BEAM says:

        I liked your opening story. Alot of that went on with the 1/8 late model class at our local track. (nitro barn) Our new rules keep the money low, and the racing really close, and getting bigger. Other tracks in a 150 mile radius say our new rules stink………..Most of them are closed due to racers getting lapped 5 times in a heat race by money/ no good rules. go figure.. Cam

  4. Dante says:

    I have a couple of comments in this regard. First, my experience with racing at a local hobby store track has been like most peoples, whoever shows up with the most entries in a class, determines the classes to be run. Given that there are only so many classes that can be supported in a day of racing, the inevitable happens, and classes are eliminated, albeit sometimes over time. To keep stock/spec class interests, and still cater to those who are competitive, more tracks should offer multiple days for racing (i.e. one day for spec & beginners, another day for the hardcore competitors). This may ultimately reduce the number of classes offered in any given day of racing, but this decrease could be offset with additional qualifiers, two mains per class, etc, giving racers more of what they are really there to do, which is drive and have fun.

    Second, RTR’s have digressed away from offering a truly stock class. With different manufacturers offering different RTR’s for a particular vehicle, the vehicles can be significantly different regarding their power systems, electronics, tires, etc. In the late 80′s and early 90′s, many kits could be purchased without any of the above mentioned items, and were relatively inexpensive. Someone new to the hobby, with guidance from their hobby store, would then pick up the necessary gear to compete in a novice, spec, stock, etc. class. If the idea is the keep stock alive, then I believe the price and components offered need to be agreed upon and offered by the Manufacturers just for that purpose. Else, offer the vehicles as kits or ARR’s so that the price is cheap, and the enthusiast can acquire stock gear for any Manufacturer’s vehicle. I know some companies like Team Associated still offer kits for this purpose. However, the trick is, how do you get Traxxas, Losi, HPI, etc. to offer low cost vehicles that can be configured to compete in stock classes when the trend seems to be shifting to RTR’s with a variety of capabilities?

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Dante, great points. Sometimes it’s not about what the manufacturers can band together to create, though. It’s necessary for each club track and race director/shop owner to suggest and create Spec classes, and sell the appropriate gear for that class. My local track, Hot Rod Hobbies, mandates their 2wd “rookie stock” class to be any 2wd short course truck BUT every truck regardless of brand must run either the Traxxas Slash stock silver-can brushed motor or the Losi silver brushed motor. These motors are only ~$20, and it allows everyone to be on the same playing field w/out giving an advantage to a particular brand.

      • Bruce Slawson says:

        Hot Rod Hobbies changed the rules to allow 17.5 brushless and timing advance ESC in the stock class. There goes the budget.

  5. Eric Dantz says:

    I like the idea of a spec/class. Im on a major budget so all i can do is have fun. I will never be competive in any way. I wish they would do something about lipo’s.There to dangerous with fire and all. I cant risk having them in my house. I run a 5000 NIMH 7 cell. As for a spec tire thats not going to matter. Its going to cost you $20 bucks a pair anyway. So you might as well get what you like. So i guess what im saying is a spec/class could give me and anybody else like me a chance to be able to race.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Eric, you may be surprised at how competitive you can be with a true Spec class. IMO it’s all about having a good time and challenging yourself rather than comparing your lap times to the competition each race. Try organized racing and ask your local track to create a spec SC class if they haven’t already. You’ll have a blast.

  6. Ted says:

    At my local track we have two classes of everything. We primarily run touring cars. We have a spec class for begginers then we have a “masters” class for older people or really good drivers. We have two possible categories to race in with the same cars. The masters only allow a few hop ups besides the begginer class. Then we have one mod class where anything goes. That way it can help keep competition fun and close while keeping running costs low. Then you can also have the speed freaks in their class. It keeps the # of races down and keeps the drivers engaged. It then becomes a game of who can have the better set up, and ultimately who is the better driver. When you do well it is very satisfying knowing you raced better than everyone else, you didn’t just buy the best equipment.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Ted, where is your local track? It sounds like they have a great thing going to keep club racing fun and affordable!

  7. GP40X says:

    Did slot cars when I was a kid, ran dirt oval in the late 80′s/early 90′s until I got tired of 12 year olds who could not drive but always had the latest and greatest along with a bottomless supply of replacement parts due to daddy’s credit card. Did Nitro Touring car until the cost of tires made it too expensive (a set of Nitro Shoes a week was not cheap), and even did some Scale Comp crawling. Now I am running in a Spec Slash Class and having a blast getting back into racing finally. Still about 2 seconds off the three fastest guys pace but I will get there. Other than the occasional broken part (front bent shock shafts in particular) this is the least I have spent on racing in a long time and having a blast. Hopefully we will see the resurgence of stock/spec class racing on a larger scale.

    • Stephen Bess says:

      GP we’ve walked similar paths in RC; I did all of those things too. Great to hear your local scene has a strong Spec Slash class. It’s the most popular in my area as well!

  8. D. Poe says:

    SPEC racing is EXCITING if the track designers provide a “SPEC” friendly track to race on. I think the facility has to find that medium to satisfy both SPEC and MOD racing(Trackside comes to mind as being both mod/spec friendly) and really work hard if they are not a dedicated 1/10th track. When you include 1/8th that shares the same track it really becomes important for the facility to put some thought into the track design(raceworld hobbies has this down to a science). None wants to roll every jump because they dont have the motor to clear anything. Thus they move up to the more powerful MOD class. Leaving the SPEC class in a hurry.

    I truly believe that tires are the great equalizer. Spec tires is where its at, as long as they have a SPEC price. I think its the reason that in 1/10 off road NATS/Worlds a SPEC tire is used. Makes the playing field as even as possible. The cream will always rise to the top.

    My fear is that unless ALL of the ESC manufactorers get onboard with a SPEC ESC, that class will become the “NOVAK” Spec class meaning that all participants will have to have a NOVAK Spec ESC to race, thus creating another “money” driven funnel.

    We also have to remove the stigmata that Stock/Spec class is for the slow guys who cant handle mod. The promotion of the class has to be endorsed by the big companies. We have to perhaps glorify SPEC racing and its winners like we do the Mod guys.

    Equipment limitations are good for REAL RACING on a club level…

  9. Aaron Waldron says:

    Some of the most fun I’ve ever had racing was with the stock Slash, with the silver can 550 and the original kit tires back when nothing else was available.

    The key to the spec tire rule for this concept to work is to find something that lasts for a long time at the expense of all-out grip. For short course, using one of the RTR tires as the spec tire would be a good option. There’s no point in having a spec tire rule if the tire has small pins and wears out quickly.

    • GP40X says:

      Waldo, you hanging out at RC Car Acttion now? COOL!!! Our Slash spec class allows three tires. The original Slash tires, the BF Goodrich Slash Tires and the Kumho Slash Tires that come in the 2WD RTRs. S1 soft compound tires are not allowed. Depending on the time of year, the Slash class seems to do pretty well. A lot have moved on to 4WD SC but there still enough for a good 7 to 10 truck heat every week. As more Christmas gifts show up to race, we may see two or three heats for a while. Also more people are coming out to get ready for the Bigfoot Race at Mikes the first week in March so a lot of new faces are starting to show up.

  10. CaddyDrvr says:

    Not sure I agree fully on this “ultra-competition cost thing” killing off the classes mentioned. I think those classes more along the lines of just ran their natural course of life. Competitive rock-crawling? Really? That would have had staying power? A PERFECT counter-example is 1/8th nitro (and more recently electric) buggy. This class has been widely popular for well over a decade now, and is one of the more expensive forms of r/c racing. Yet most tracks capable of running 1/8th, have strong showings every race night.

    This might not apply to 4WD SC, but in 2WD SC, these trucks, IMHO will only get so fast. Maintain the current minimum weight limits (or even increase them) and the current, relatively narrow, tire limits, and regardless of the motor/esc combo, or the compound/tread on the tire, you’ll only go so fast.

  11. James Mikoliczyk says:

    Reminds me of the good old days of running a big event and getting hand out tires and motors, which by the way is almost never done anymore. The idea of keeping costs down is good, but racers will spend money and it is almost impossible to stop them from doing so. Even in a “spec” class. I do see the need for it, but history being what it is, it’s a fine line to walk. I agree that shops and tracks need to grow “core” classes of racers, but shops are trying to make money for what their customers want and not always what the tack wants/needs. If there are shops and tracks working together to have that “core” class base, I applaud them for doing so. It’s no easy feat to pull it off, but well worth it. Unfortunetely many racers want to spend the least ammount possible to race and then complain or quit the class because they cannot or will not spend the money needed when needed to keep racing. “Spec” classes help in that regard, but it still happens. You can also have the racers that always want to run the newest car or truck on the track. That doesn’t help grow a given class if racers are always jumping classes

    • Stephen Bess says:

      Ah yes, the old “spec tire” days. Remember those smelly blue Losi tires? I miss the spec motor/tire days, especially with all of the speed a “stock” vehicle has nowadays.

  12. James Mikoliczyk says:

    Yes I do remember those tires. LOL.

    Actually still have some for some reason. Smurf tires some called them.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I have a e firestorm flux and want to know what would stand out and how to do it by painting a shell

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