Is On-road Racing Dead?

May 29, 2011 25 Comments by

Let me start off by making it clear that I’m on on-road racer. I’m not devoted strictly to on-road, but I like it just as much as off-road, and before short course came along, I probably liked on-road just ever so slightly better than dirt racing. Now that we have established that I am not anti-on-road and that I don’t have some sort of bias towards off-road, we can get to the subject at hand. Is on-road racing dead? If it is, why?

My take on the subject is that while it isn’t dead, it’s pretty close. Don’t get mad; it’s just one man’s observation. I know there are some popular and well attended on-road racing clubs out there, but overall, the scene just isn’t anywhere near as big as it once was. I’m not talking just being smaller than when touring cars ruled RC; I think the on-road racing scene is smaller than even the pre-TC craze. I think on-road racing across all segments is down–touring cars, 1/8-scale, oval, 1/12-scale, etc. And, I love oval racing. It pains me say it, but the oval ship has done sailed.

So, we could argue about how I’m wrong, but I believe it’s far more important to focus on the why. If we could all at least agree that on-road is smaller and not worry about to what degree it’s smaller, the focus can be on what’s really important–the why. I hate to over simply something, but on-road racing has suffered because it got too complicated. That’s it. What you have to go through to be competitive in any of the on-road racing segments is just far too much for the average Joe. While it’s a horrible sounding term, that means on-road racing is elitist. When something is elitist you simply can’t expect huge numbers.
Got a different option? Let’s here it.

I should also add that the best news I’ve heard in a long time was that my local off-road track is adding a carpet track. I’ve already started blowing the dust off my oval cars.

Featured News, Matthew Higgins

About the author

About Matt:I think it’s safe to say I’ve done a little bit of everything in RC. That said, I predominately race off-road and my current passion is short course. One of my all-time favorite classes is oval carpet racing. Besides racing, I can often be found working on one of my many never-complete projects, and it seems I have an ever growing collection of rock crawlers—specifically scale crawlers. Matt’s 5 Hot Topics: Short course, Racing, Scale Builds, Crawling and the General RC Hobby

25 Responses to “Is On-road Racing Dead?”

  1. Sean Schweitzer says:

    I think that the costs have gone through the roof especially the competitive TC chassis and you need them to stay close to the competition. I love oval and I think the cars are too expensive as well. I think 1/12 is about as easy as it has ever been with regards to the equipment is concerned and the price is nice. I love the concept of USVTA, World GT, and RCGT. I just wish everyone wasn’t so concerned with being so fast and just have good competition. That will bring on-road back to what it should be.

    • Matthew Higgins says:

      I’m not sure on-road is more expensive than off-road. I believe it’s more that on-road is too complex and involved. I do, however, 100% agree that there should be far more focus on close competition compared to speed. Slow the cars down. It will be better for everyone.

  2. Chris from TX says:

    I agree 100% Matt. I just sold off the last of my onroad gear recently, even though I love it. I’ve been into onroad since the late 90′s (I still have my original Nitro RS4 for sentimental reasons.) The reason isn’t lack of places to race. It’s the 1) cost and 2) complexity. I can afford the new stuff, but there just ins’t value in it to me. I love SC and 1/8 electric buggy. I too was brought back to the dirt by SC. It’s great fun, easy to drive and realitively affordable. Until onroad can come out with a game changing chassis like the Slash did for off-road, I’m afraid it’s destined to stay at or below it’s current level.

  3. Brian says:

    Right on Matt. My son and I bought a Traxxas SC 2WD a couple years ago. Love it, but we don’t have any tracks near enough. The closest is over an hour drive, and with a family, work, and various activities it’s difficult to even get to a track. Add to that extra costs, and us every-other-weekend warriors just can’t keep up.

    I’ve shared our RC passion with other kids and dads, and all love the idea…that is until I tell them how much. And we all know on this forum that $250 is actually the low end for a solid RC vehicle.

    So my take is the key to increasing turn out in RC – especially on road (Which I’d love to see a rally class) is more tracks to race, and entry-level cars to buy. I might be wrong, but it seems the stock spec class of RC is probably one of the biggest draws, or at least the most important hook for a newbie to get in. Once they’re hooked, they need a convenient and inexpensive track to race. Otherwise, most – like myself will be left on the sidelines.

  4. Derek Limback says:

    I have never been able to try on road racing. There are no tracks in my area. Not that I need another addiction, but I would love to try the GT class where everyone runs a more realistic body and you don’t need a $500 chassis and another $300 in electronics. I also like F1 cars for their realism. I got into the 4wd offroad game under $400 by purchasing a B44 with a coupon and using a used ESC and motor. Been running this set-up for 3 years and it has grown with my driving. I would love to get into on road but the price would have to be right and I don’t just want to tool around in some parking lot. I would rather have a dedicated track. Basically, if you build it, I will come.

  5. Mark says:

    OnRoad, while more driver dependent than oval, is still more power dependent that OffRoad. As such, the combination of recession plus the brushless/lipo revolution plus the ESC of the week phase of that was very detrimental to OnRoad.

    Adding to matters, when companies of questionable ethics actively work against bringing some form of spec-ness back to the stock classes by “accidentally” releasing ESC profiles that enable electronics trickery when the ESC should be in blinkly mode (think: brand “T” ‘s earlier software releases and the brand “O” ESC fiasco at this year’s Carpet Nationals), that hits OnRoad hard.

    OnRoad is not too complicated. I could build a WGT or 1/12th scale kit in the time it takes to rebuild a SC truck’s diff. What is too complicated is when your car has to be dialed in with a laptop computer instead of on the track.

    OnRoad, more than any other form of racing would benefit from having ROAR step-up with technology freezes to control the cost of racing. New ESC’s could/should be approved every two years and the same for batteries and motors but in alternating years. Example: All current ESC’s, batteries and motors that are approved right now remain so until 1/1/13. Nothing new comes in before then, period. On that date, new batteries and motors can be approved and then not again until 1/1/15. New ESC’s would come up in 1/1/14 and 1/1/16 and so on. Now, you can plan for what you need instead of chasing what you might need next week and then having to re-buy the same type of item again in six months. As an added bonus to the entire hobby, such rules might prevent many of the “shovelware” ESC’s from appearing on the market if companies knew they’d be stuck with whatever they put out now for the next two years.

    OnRoad is my preferred form of racing but right now, I’ve joined the masses and am racing SC OffRoad where I can thoroughly enjoy sometimes even winning an open SC class with a 17.5 motor in blinky mode with an ESC that would, mysteriously, not be competitive in a stock/17.5/blinky OnRoad class and that speaks for itself.

  6. avery schwab says:

    well i have to say oval is not dead up here in the Midwest there are plenty of oval tracks for 1/8 late models and sprint cars. my local track we have been racing short course trucks with late model bodies on them FUUNNN!!!!!

    • Matthew Higgins says:

      I have wanted to do just that. As I’m sure you’re well aware, the Losi L8IGHT body drops right on a short course truck chassis like the Traxxas Slash

  7. JoeMomma says:

    Sadly, all RC racing is dead around where I live. You can bash, but that’s not really as much fun.

  8. Bob F says:

    I got out of onroad long ago mainly becasue to stay competitive I had to spend way too much time working on the cars. Tweak, droop, shock oil this, diff setting that, it just got to be too much work and hardly any fun. Not to mention the costs to keep up, offroad is simply more forgiving on car performance, a good driver can do well on a club level with a worn out half set up car in offroad where onroad you need a car that works right or you dont stand a chance, and offroad you can run a 2 or 3 year old kit and still keep up,

    the point earlier about needing a cheaper entry level car would only work if it was actually competitive which would never happen in the current market. With companies releasing a slightly improved model every year it becomes impossible to keep up on a budget, and IMO this is what has driven companies like TLR and AE, which are the companies that usually put out lower cost race kits, from putting much effort into onroad becasue they dont have the resources to develop a new car every year, if ROAR were to only approve esc/motors/batteries every 2 years, why not throw chasiss into that mix too, then maybe companies wont release a new model with the batteries 0.01″ closer to the centre line and the COG 0.001″ lower, they will release cars with actual significant changes,

    Another thing that hurts the local onroad scene is there are too many classes which means only 4 or 5 guys show up in each class, which equals terrible racing.

  9. Larry says:

    I did a lot of oval racing back in the southeast and had no trouble with track availability or technical issues. When I moved to southern California, I found that people would look at me like I was crazy when I asked about oval racing. I don’t think oval racing or on road racing is dead. I think it might just be a matter of attitude in your area, Matt.

  10. Jared says:

    Matt Higgins, Is this the reason why the 2011 ifmar 1/8 onroad worlds in Homestead Fl. did not have any race coverage in rcca? I was there, and I saw you there. I waited for the race coverage to show up in rcca, and all there was, a picture and couple of paragraphs summarizing the whole event. kinda cheesy for a world class event.

    • Matthew Higgins says:

      Jared,
      There’s more coverage in the August issue. Depending on timing, it can take a while to get stuff in print. We covered the race in the magazine (twice now), on The Radio Control Show, in our e-Newsletter and online on our free site and paid membership site. In my opinion, we have gievn this even plenty of coverage.

  11. Brian says:

    Are more regulations the answer?

    Years ago, a government agency called the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated all things flying. They told airlines where they could fly, what they could fly, and even how much they could charge. Airfreight companies suffered the same regulations. Worse, packages had to be shipped with the luggage. Want something overnight? Buy an airline ticket and pick it up yourself.

    Once the CAB was stripped of its regulatory power, the airlines began to breathe again. Prices were lowered, new technologies were developed, and creative strategies came into play. Airline prices went down. Best of all, you could finally ship a package via airfreight, and now of course we have companies like UPS and Fedex. None of that was possible under heavy government regulation.

    So, is regulation the answer? Enforcing the rules is necessary. I wonder if creating the space for RC to explore and innovate we all might benefit. Maybe transparency could serve to weed out the guys who want to cheat? If you knew a guy was pimping his ride beyond the class that you were racing, would you keep racing with him? At some point, wouldn’t the larger group of RC push him aside? I’m wondering if all the rules haven’t actually created all the barriers ($$$, expert knowledge, and even time required) that keep more people from being involved.

    Something to think about.

    • Mark says:

      Kind of a good point Brian.

      However, what in my experience has traditionally happened in the case of ,”…a guy was pimping his ride beyond the class that you were racing, would you keep racing with him? At some point, wouldn’t the larger group of RC push him aside?” is that you are correct that people will stop racing with him but they just stop racing instead of pushing him aside.

      You’re also clinging to the anti-regulation example of the CAB because it’s one of the few examples that worked out over the long run. On the opposite side, concerted de-regulation of banking and financial instruments began in 1999 and picked up steam in 2002 and it took only 6-8 years of de-regulation for that to fall apart. I don’t want to digress into politics (read the book “I.O.U.” by John Lanchester if you have an open mind regarding the topic) but rather to use that as a segway to point out that in full-scale terms, the NASCAR rulebook is, quite seriously, in it’s printed form, not much thicker than ROAR’s. On the other hand, the Formula 1 and Lemans rules, for “open” racing series that pride themselves on innovation run many, many times longer. It is my belief that RC is closer technologically to LeMans than NASCAR but that the cost of being so is too high and needs to be reigned in. And if it takes regulation to do that, then so be it.

  12. @Art_Mighty says:

    I think it’s a problem of the available classes (as well as a little common sense when the noobie starts out). Boosted TC or Mod12th scale is exciting to watch but they aren’t entry points into the hobby.

    Without cost controlled entry level classes there is no sport (and with the death of the “Spec Slash” class at tracks Short Course is headed full speed to the same fate as Touring Car).

    As a relative newcomer to RC racing I don’t think that On-Road is too complicated. Learning how to setup a VTA car seems to be about the same as setting up a spec slash. Literally, learning suspensions tuning (shocks and springs, tow, camber, caster, roll-centers, etc…) seems to be the same to me. On-Road is a LOT easier and more satisfying to learn because the cars don’t end up on their lids as much and I’m spending a fraction of what I spent on parts when I was learning Off-Road.

    I think that part of the reason on-road is struggling is the perception of on-road being expensive, and difficult to learn. My reality has been somewhat different. Right now I can put together a competitive VTA or USGT car for a LOT less than getting into any “Stock 17.5″ Short Course class in my area.

    Another factor is that there’s really nowhere to go to learn the basics (this is a problem in both on-road and off-road).

    Lastly a personal frustration I have with RC CarAction since I subscribed a couple of months ago is the near total lack of On-Road coverage (Cars, Events, Tech).

    • Matthew Higgins says:

      You make a valid and interesting point about short course potentially following in on-road’s foot steps. I’m not sure if it will or won’t, but we should learn from history and try not to repeat our mistakes. This goes for short course, rock crawling, etc.

      Thanks for subscribing, Art. We’ll try ot get you more on-road coverage. Did you check out the how-to article on building the perfect pan car in the February issue? You might like the review of the Hot Bodies TCX in the May issue. The three how-to articles (Tune for maximum power, clean a brushless motor and understand gearing) in the May issue may also interest you as an on-road racer. We reviewed the Traxxas Rally VXL in the January issue and did a how-to on getting better fuel mileage. I won’t go on and on. We do a lot of how-to articles that work for on- and off-road. We value your feedback, Art, and will try to get you more of the content you want. Thanks for reading!

  13. @Art_Mighty says:

    Matt,

    Thanks for the Reply!

    All that have arrived are June and July 2011 so far so I haven’t see any of the articles you have mentioned. (I was getting worried…)

    • Matthew Higgins says:

      Keeping letting us know how we’re doing and we’ll keep doing our best to exceed your expectations. That might sound cliche, but that’s really how we do it around here. If you want and expect more on-road, let us know.

      The June and July issues aren’t loaded with on-road. June was dubbed “The Truck Issue” and July was loaded with short course. We do have a review of a couple touring cars coming up as well as an 1/8-scale on-road car. Plus, like I said before, the how-to articles usually work for on- and off-road.

      Thanks again for reading RC Car Action.

  14. Ted says:

    I love onroad, and would have to agree its only popular on the club by club level. If I didn’t race competitively I certainly wouldn’t have as many onroad cars as I did.

    I feel one place they fall off in is just that. They are only onroad, they can’t tackle every terrain and need smooth pavement, no potholes. That has been a big obstacle for me when buying new cars, but I somehow seem to stick to on road.

    One reason that does draw me to on road is that it is very realistic. I love chasing the set ups and gaining every ounce to win. It helps fill in the hole that I can’t fulfill with real racing. I make connections to it all the time and it keeps the dream alive.

    I have yet to see a major off road racing series. Yes there is short corse but you hardly ever see it outside of the rc companies. You have to be a really in depth fan to even know about it. Compared to say the largest racing league in the world, (emphasis on world) Formula 1, it has less than 1% of F1′s popularity. So theoretically onroad should be most popular, but as I said before, its the ease of offroad to be able to go on both terrains that make it supreme.

  15. Kyle says:

    WOW……….!!!!! I’m sad to hear all this .I live in Pearland TX and I just got into the R/C world all do to Traxxas stamped 4×4.I’m 40 young and now going crazy.I have now the Traxxas stampede 4×4 1/16 Slash 4×4 and 1/10 Slash 4×4 and I’m getting the SC10 4×4 kit frist build.But I’m now really looking for a on-road rc and I’m looking at the HPI 2 sprint to trick out. and there are no tracks that are worth going to because there all in bad shape but I’m going to get into the painting clear body 1/10 as well but just running r/c on the street is sooooo cool I love it and I’ve got 4 other buddys getting into it .So I hpoe I dont get all the on road stuff I like and then not to be able to get parts that would not be cool .If I am going to have this problem , PLEASE let me know ASAP PLEASE I will just stay with off road and wait till on road comes back around before I buy. .well thank you for your article and I love the mags as well cant wait for the next one

    • Matthew Higgins says:

      Please don’t let this article stop you from getting an on-road car if you want one. I’m not giving mine up. There is excellent parts support fro on-road, so worries, Kyle. Go o-road and enjoy it!

  16. rccartips says:

    I’ve been playing since 1978. In past 3 years I’ve raced more on-road than I have in 30 years.

    And even if it’s dead, I will still keep playing, even by myself :)

  17. Q says:

    On road seem to be popular with the street tuning scene since the cops had locked down our street racing we just migrated to racing 1/10 nitro cars. We tried to do 1/8 but it seems that there isn’t that many companies doing that these days. Remember hpi super nitro RS4 why we don’t see cars like that on the street anymore.

    I even notice guys that race in real life are getting into 5 scale “street racing”

    It cracks me up to see the cops come to stop a race that is lined up with rc cars to funny….

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