What happened to stock racing?

Apr 15, 2014 17 Comments by

fastlapsgraphic

Of all the gigantic advantages in RC technology over the last ten years, there’s no doubt that the motor and speed control units of electric vehicles made the biggest jump in improvement – unfortunately, that transition destroyed the grassroots level of RC racing.

The “stock” class designation for motors has long been used by the RC industry to denote a standard across all manufacturers separate from the anything-goes “modified” class, with the purpose of preserving a slower and less expensive stepping stone between entry-level “Novice” racers and the upper echelon of competition. Stock racing was really the only victim of the otherwise seamless transition of the hobby from NiCD/NiMH to LiPo and brushed to brushless.

novak_supersport

Novak’s Super Sport speed control and SS5800 motor signaled the beginning of the end for brushed motors in RC racing.

Compared to the brushed equivalent of yesteryear, today’s brushless motor is faster, more efficient, and requires less maintenance even though the DC power source force-feeding voltage has not only changed chemistries from nickel- to lithium-based, but increased in both power and run-time. Just as its performance has increased exponentially, so has the technology – that motor communicates its temperature and rotor position to the speed control in order to ensure smooth and trouble-free operation. That speed control now has more adjustment potential including parameters that radically alter, and even improve, the performance of any motor that’s on the receiving end of its power leads.

For experienced and dedicated racers, this is all music to our ears. We love to tinker with every bit of our equipment for extra performance, and any leap forward in technology that makes our cars faster is welcomed, even ironically (see: cab-forward bodies). For incoming hobbyists, it’s part of a growing problem – because it signaled the end of the “stock” class as the starting point to a successful club racing career for three reasons.

MOTOR

Thanks to perhaps one of ROAR’s best rules created decades ago, brushed stock motors had to be available for sale for under a certain price in order to be legal – and as of 2010, that was $46. Though by this time stock motors were allowed to be rebuildable (which itself was a huge improvement over the original sealed motors), every motor used bushings instead of bearings and its endbell was locked at 24 degrees of timing. The only tools available to tune the motor were different combinations of springs and brushes, with pairs of each available for less than $4. The biggest complaint about brushed motors was the variance between motors produced by different manufacturers, and that their commutators needed to be trued very 6-10 runs, requiring either a $200 lathe (that lasted forever) or a ~$5 fee paid to the local hobby shop.

motors

Brushless motors (left) may have many more features, higher efficiency, and better performance than their brushed counterparts (right), but they’re also more expensive. Without any true way to match up similar classes of each, comparing the two technologies is like apples and oranges.

Today’s 17.5 motor, which is the “stock” class, can go for as high as $130 – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a motor that’ll keep up for less than $70-80. They’re fitted with bearings – which means that optional units are available for as high as $40. Instead of $4 springs and brushes, you can tune your brushless motor with replacement rotors that change how much power the motor creates – which can cost up to $60 each. Yes, you can build a single 17.5-turn brushless motor for the price of a stock brushed motor and lathe.

SPEED CONTROL

Back in 2006, the Readers Choice Award winner for the “Speed Control” category was given to a brushed unit for the final time. The flagship 1/10-scale racing unit of its brand sold for $175; tuning features included seven different throttle parameter profiles, and the seventh could be adjusted for drive frequency, minimum drive, brake frequency, minimum brake, current limiter, dead band, and drag brake – and not one bit of it required an additional programming device or laptop.

speed control

Novak’s GTX was their last flagship brushed speed control, and although it was the leader of its generation its performance and tuning options are both easily overshadowed by today’s brushless units.

Just eight years later, there are over a half dozen manufacturers with 1/10-scale specific racing speed controls for $200 or higher. Each can be programmed via either a standalone digital device or a personal computer using a proprietary connecting cable, ranging from an additional $25-100 – and nearly all units only offer certain tuning possibilities with this additional device. Adjustments include the above that brushed speed controls featured, along with some useful tools like BEC voltage and LiPo cutoff, but also modes that increase the timing of the motor even further than what’s available by twisting the endbell, as well as further modes that ramp up the timing dynamically based on motor RPM – and that last little bit of capability has made a nightmare out of policing potential cheaters at every level from the local club race to the ROAR Nationals. Manufacturers also release additional software upgrades for their speed controls, yet another facet to their equipment that racers must “keep with the times” to avoid being left in the dust.

INCOMPATIBILITY

Just as they did for racing, brushless motors also revolutionized Ready-To-Runs. Back in the brushed days, very few RTRs came with motors that were faster than the widely-recognized “stock” class limitations – and those that did at least had a speed control unit that could accept the industry-mandated stock motor. Many of today’s brushless vehicles are faster than a properly equipped stock class racer, but the speed controller is often incompatible with a  racing-style 17.5 motor, and never includes the assortment of features that even today’s average club racers change and monitor with laptops in their pit areas. Though many tracks do offer a lenient interpretation of the rules when it comes to the equipment allowed in the Novice division, transitioning to the 17.5 class not only requires a significant investment but also a steep learning curve just to extract the proper performance out of the motor and speed control – attention that could instead be diverted to practicing and learning to tune the rest of the vehicle for free.

traxxascombo

RTR motor and speed control combos, like Traxxas’ Velineon VXL-3s system, are perfect for their intended use – but they’re not legal on the racetrack.

Not only are RTR’s no longer competitive, but the average speed of a “stock” class racer nowadays far exceeds what the stock class used to be back in the brushed days. Even though tires and cars have improved to handle the increased power, human evolution hasn’t kept up in such a short time frame – and while it’s no easier to be the top driver at your local track, it’s harder now for a new racer to drive a “stock” class vehicle around the track at speed than ever before. Perhaps the worst part, however, is the gap in speed between “stock” and “modified” has shrunk, while instead the gap has widened between a low-level “stock” class system and a high-dollar combo.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?

There’s no doubt that the performance and durability of today’s brushless electronics far exceeds the equipment that came before it, but the cost of being competitive at any level certainly didn’t decrease – especially since those “you have to charge at X amps to be fast, even if it’ll ruin the pack” and “I buy X motors at a time and pick the best one!” stigmas from the brushed motor days didn’t go away but only got worse. While it’s hard to argue that the increased performance, extra tuning options, and added durability weren’t all huge improvements for regular racers, who’ve demanded this advancing technology from the manufacturers and voted with their wallets, the average incoming hobbyist has a larger barrier between “playing in the backyard” and “lining up for heat one at the local track” than any time in our hobby’s history.

newer_racers

A slower, safer, and less expensive stepping stone is meant to encourage the younger and newer racers to stick with it, rather than simply being thrown to the wolves.

It’s difficult to say what will fix the situation that we’ve got now. “Blinky” mode, a specific function of the speed control in which a blinking LED denotes zero-timing has been activated, was a novel idea…but it didn’t take long for racers to be accused of cheating by manipulating the blinky mode software. Other manufacturers have released various locked motors and non-adjustable speed controls, but spec classes built around items offered only by a specific brand rarely catch on – especially when the classes are only offered at certain tracks, while others forego the increasingly difficult responsibility of ensuring its competitors follow specific rules.

The saddest part of all this is that the real positive changes for racers of all budgets and ability levels – the higher efficiency and lower maintenance of brushless motors, – aren’t the highlights of today’s technology. After all, if all ten cars on the grid are faster than they were five years ago, the competition didn’t really change – just the budget required. Make no mistake; it’s going to be next to impossible to convince both manufacturers and racers alike that we need to take a step backward. ROAR, who did more than anyone to keep the reigns tight on brushed stock motor evolution, helped open the door to allowing the “stock” brushless designation to spin wildly out of control – and for 2014, abolished a long-standing rule that specifically served to keep factory-sponsored racers from becoming career stock-class racers.

Ideally, I’d like to see all existing speed controls outlawed from stock racing – and only allowed in Modified for another 2-3 years – while the manufacturers develop new speed controls that are less expensive because they do away with the additional tuning options. These units would be compatible with stock and modified class motors alike, just as their brushed predecessors were, and the motors will be the major determining factor of the car’s speed and acceleration. “Stock” class motors should have locked timing, a standardized rotor spec, keyed motor cans and stators that won’t accept stators for any other motor designation, and a maximum price of $50.

After all, how successful is a “slower and less expensive” stepping stone if it’s neither slower nor less expensive?

Trinity Monster Horsepower stock motor image appears courtesy Oople.com and Classic RC

Aaron Waldron, Featured News

About the author

Associate Editor Since receiving my first hobby-grade RC car as a holiday present from my father nearly 20 years ago, I've been fortunate enough to meet more people and experience more opportunities through the adventures I've had in the RC industry than I would've ever imagined. I've done it all - from working at a hobby shop, to being a factory sponsored racer, to working for some of the biggest brands in the industry. I've enjoyed each and every one of the dozens of kits I've built, hundreds of events I've attended, and thousands of laps that I've logged at race tracks around the world, and my passion is to share those experiences with other hobbyists so that they may find fulfillment in their own RC careers.

17 Responses to “What happened to stock racing?”

  1. Almond says:

    I agree, stock class has faded from existence. Technology will continue to get cheaper, but I don’t know how the price can drop that dramatically in the next 3 years.
    only novice and full-on classes now remain where I live. Intimidating to many, those people simply leave racing to go bash in a skate park now. long-term damage has now occurred due to lack of rules…

  2. Fastwayne (@WaynesRCworld) says:

    Aaron, thank you for this article. I’ve been wondering the same thing. what is stock anymore. 17.5 motors are not stock, they are modified motors with a lesser kv or wind. The 17.5 motors are very fast, too fast for beginners. I would like to race again but the 17.5 class is like a pro class. Most of the sportsmen (stock) class racers are sand bagging in the novice class. Who can afford a full race 17.5 with updated editions coming out almost twice a year. I remember when stock motors were limited to $25, that gradually increased to $46 or more.

    Probably Roar is the only entity that can define what is a legitimate stock class. $50 motors and non adjustable speed controls. Forget about blinky, who check anyway.

    I hope something happens, but for now I will go play with my fast electric
    boat; )

  3. Scott says:

    Couldn’t agree more, it’s the same over here in the UK with new rc racers spending £100′s on speedos and motors when they should be starting out much slower to learn their race craft. As I tell so many beginners, going slower will improve your skill and in fact going slower will mean you get more laps! It’s a strange concept but works every time. I also feel that the ‘fun’ has been lost at club level with too much focus on trying to encourage people to go to regional’s or nationals. The vast majority of RC racers are not interested in that. They just want to have fun. That’s why we’ve introduced a new class to our club here in the UK for a ‘back to basics’ class that’ll bring the fun back to the hobby – check it out here: http://www.bedsrcmcc.com/2014/03/a-brand-new-class-of-racing-coming-to-bromham/

  4. Rob K says:

    Spot on with your write-up. I see the frustration of the average driver at my local track ever week. Stock class is not for the average driver anymore. The entry price and experts pervading the class has made it prohibitive. Most new racers just jump from Novice to Mod Sportsman classes. Being competitive in Stock is almost impossible for the new driver.

  5. Earl says:

    I quit racing some 20 years ago when I saw how money was starting to ruin the r/c racing just like slot cars and full size racing. My son and I raced Tamiya Foxes turned into clay circle track cars. It was fun while it lasted. Once in a while we get the cars out to show the grand kids what fun it was.

  6. Dan Guyette says:

    I tried the Hobby Wing 21.5 combo and was amazed by how the 45 amp speed control and the 21.5 motor ran. But the motor only is 1 amp. So the Novak motor was way faster. Oh its still a 21.5 but they run them at 3.3 amps. But the Hobby Wing is just about $120.00 for the motor and speed control. Novak, well the speed control is about $120.00 and the motor is $65.00 or more. Its getting way to expensive to get in to RC racing. The 17.5 motors are very fast, too fast for beginners. But we only run 17.5 in novice and C.O.T! the only 21.5 class is NASTRUCK… so all of the novice guys go in the faster class as they dont need to change the motor.

  7. Dwight Stanton says:

    Agreed I miss stock racing a lot. Their is nothing like a group of racers running comparable lap times with all different types of chassis . Stock racing was all about driving and setup it didn’t involve computers and all the high tech mumbo jumbo. It was all about low budget and competition . Most tracks around here have a stock slash oval class ( it is highly competitive), but no class for stock off road, and I blame the truck and car manufactures for this dilemma. They all come out with different motor and esc combos are pretty much classify as a mod. They need to get with the brushless manufacture like you said and come up with a rtr ( esc and motor ) that they all can use to bring the box stock class back. I really miss the stock class and still run stock non adjustable esc and motor in my xxxbk2 and sc10 , and hold my own to a extent (but have a blast doing it ) . most guys cannot believe I run lap times like I do with a stock truck and buggy in a prodometly mod world. Maby one day the stock class will be the stock class again . For now I just have to do what I can do and make people scratch their heads and wonder how he did what I did with stock equipment.

  8. Scott Franklin says:

    USVTA. ESC and Novak Boss can be had for about $160 as a combo. Can be competitive with a 10 year old chassis. Inexpensive spec tires/wheels.

  9. Joe Kelly says:

    I think this is more about expectations when getting into RC. Many people think because there is a $300 ESC they need it to be fast. Or they need a $1000 chassis to be fast. “Fast” is all relative. Just like with wine. Will that $300 bottle taste better than a $35 one? Maybe, but could you actually tell the differences? Not without lots of training in most cases. Same goes for RC. All a $1000 chassis with $1000 in top level electronics will do for a novice racer is create that much more pain when it impales itself into the nearest drywall.

    You mention mandating cheap ESCs like there aren’t any. Hobbywing Justock – sub $50 spec competition ESC that feels every bit as smooth and powerful as its $200 brother. Tekin Spec RS, a sub $100 competition ESC with every setting and capability (other than motor wind limits) than its beastly $300 RSX cousin.

    No one gets into RC wanting to be a back marker and a chicane, being blown over by 17.5 cars going faster than modified cars a few years ago. But with how badly onroad atrophied in the last 10 years, there is no drive or desire for clubs to create more/new classes for their few novice racers, and with no guidance from ROAR on the topic, there isn’t anything standardized for those who do.

    IMO, if at a club level there was enough people to sustain a true “sportsman” or Novice class of 21.5 with cheaper spec motors, sub $60 ESCs, and spec/cheap batteries (like the VTA spec in some ways) but with real touring car bodies and tires, it could make for some fun.

  10. Peter Jansen Van Vuuren says:

    You are so right man, we as a committee (SARDA South African Radio Drivers Association) sit around a table and discuss future rules for our National classes and here the comments of existing drivers and make decisions based on that not thinking about new entry level drivers. Although we have fallen back onto blinkey mode, they still cost a fortune (in SA even more as the rand is weak against the US dollar) I still think its a good Idea if the suppliers can come up with a cheap approved Stock Brushless motor (no timming no hop-up rotors) and a no-software cheap aproved speedo each under $50. I also support the idea of RTRs comming out with these type of systems instead of 13.5t . It might even bring the cost down even more. If we can get the numbers in stock classes up, we increase the numbers in all the evens, even in club racing.

  11. Rob Mirsky says:

    This was a good article. I am not sure if stock class is the way to go anymore for several of the reasons they posted. I would almost rather see a sportsman class as the step up from novice, where you can still run whatever motor and esc you want. Then you have an open mod class for the step above that. I would not want to see it called “Pro” though. I think something like “Advanced” would fit better for a name.It would be a good way to separate different driving abilities without the need to buy specialized equipment. FTMS does this with 2 wheel buggy, and it seems to work well.
    It would be nice to see all the classes offer Sportsman and Advanced classes instead of stock and open mod. I think it would help people who are new to racing or to a class to have more fun racing if they were racing people closer to their ability. It goes both ways too, the top guys do not have to worry about running with the slower crowd and the slower crowd doesn’t have to worry about getting their doors blown off all the time.

  12. Jim Campbell says:

    Some of us seem to remember brushed racing very differently ;) I recall brushed motors that were not very consistent, cost a fair amount to maintain, limited to short run times, and had a pretty short life span overall.

    Stock racing may be too fast in some classes, but we have the right technology to produce any speed. Current products allow anyone to get involved and be on pace performance wise immediately and stay on pace battery after battery. I have not taken the motors out of many of my cars for months, if not longer, and they run the same every time I turn them on.

    The reality is also that brushed motors are not going to be as low cost as the were back in the day. The material costs and production costs have gone up just like everything else. In the end you end up with a slighty lower cost motor that has maintenance cost making it more expensive overall.

    Even a low cost sealed motor does not really work out like you might think. The box stock SC class learned that quickly. The motors were very low cost, but they were very inconsistent and you needed a new one almost every weekend of racing to be on pace. Over a season most spent at least what a BL cost if not far more. Those who could not faded off.

    Stock racing is more fair and equal right now than it has ever been in the history or RC racing! It is also the lowest cost and effort per minute of driving time by far.

    Tekin Prez

  13. Jim Decker says:

    Aaron, Very good article. Many of my RC racing pals have had this exact same discussion a number of times over the last couple years.
    I am still relatively new (within last 3 years) to carpet oval so I missed out on the stock and mod brushed 4 and 6 cell racing years. At one of my local tracks for the winter season we started a “new” class aimed directly at the “stock” type of RC enthusiast. Basically we adopted TOUR’s Supertruck rules with notable exceptions that a 21.5 motor instead of 17.5, fixed gear at 72t spur and 48t pinion. The class started out small but saw steady growth thru to the last race. There is the issue w/ tire wear changing gear ratio and some guys may bring newer high tech link and t-plate cars to run this “stock” class.
    As our first season “experiment” it was focused on fun and close door to door racing. It came down to driver skill, staying clean for 4 minutes and finding the smoothest, fastest line around the track. Many guys that tried the class out loved it. It was always the closest and cleanest racing of any of our classes. I will also add it is a great outlet for guys with older T-plate cars to dust off and go racing again. I loaned out 2 of my old KSG Gen2 cars out set up for this class and they did very well.
    We aren’t ignorant to the fact we do need to tune the rules a bit to address tire wear and keeping high dollar chassis out of the class. Nothing firm but definitely will limit the chassis to “any” t-plate car built pre 2010 or something along those lines. We are also looking at a possible “spec” rubber tire, which is essentially a rubber touring car tire mated to pan car rims. This will end the tire wear issue AND permit a low budget racer to run a set of tires for nearly an entire season or longer.
    My long winded point is, there ARE things local clubs can do to try and revive a true “sportsman” level of racing. We plan on building on the success for the upcoming fall season.
    Cheers!

  14. Bananaramma says:

    Thank you for the nice write up. In my experience, the 17.5 weekend warrior has never had it so good. The cost of racing has really come down and really opens it up to newer drivers.

    But I disagree about the point of racing becoming too expensive to stay competitive. The days of cutting comm and redoing brushes every other run in order to stay fast have left a bad taste in my mouth. Instead of practicing and learning a layout, time was spent conditioning batteries and taking care of motors. Battery packs could be only used once a day and the matched cell packs would cost just as much as a modern lipo.

    Fast forward to now, where run times are 20 minutes and literally no down time between packs. Knowledge of track lay out and knowing where a half a second could be picked up is worth way more. At my local tracks, tires can last up to 4 weekends of hard driving and contrast that to the days of square fuzzes which would only last a couple fast runs.

    Technology has really come a long way in the last 10 years and can’t wait for bluetooth technology to finally start being integrated with chargers and speed controllers.

    Keep up the awesome work.

  15. James M. says:

    This is something I also had wondered about.

    It also reminds me of my love/hate relationship for “Stock/Spec” classes. I hadn’t run a “Stock” elec. class since ’02 ish and my how things had changed. Since making a full circle return to elec. racing, I mostly ran the mod classes. There’s a lot of things on both sides that I like and dislike. The relative maint. free operation of the brushless systems is something that I could only dream of once apon a time. For sure love the consistency of the brushless from run to run, yet, I do miss part of the motor maint. that I once had to constantly. Kind of like a lost art, that many will never know or appreciate, even with all the headaches. I don’t really miss the need to have a lathe (though I still have one for some reason), a motor dyno, a battery zapper, magnet zapper, or the time needed to use each in the never ending quest of finding the perfect setup. Yet, oddly enough, the time many racers I knew back then spent doing all of that has now been replaced by the almost constant fine tuning of their ESC’s on the PC or similar device. Which, to me is actually kind of funny and somewhat sad at the same time.

    I recently decided this year to try out the stock classes in elec. again. First in 13.5 down at the Cactus and locally for a series in 17.5. For all the differences between the old and new Tech., a lot of it is still the same. Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go? How far will you try to push the envelope to get there? Not a whole lot different than yesteryear. Mfg.’s have long since tried to get every last ounce of performance out of their “Stock” items, and it’s not really much different now. Their still pushing the limitations to the max, in some cases, skirting any grey area of a rule that they can get away with, maybe break a few even. Just like it was many a moon ago. I did enjoy both “stock” classes I have ran so far, and I’ll likely play with them a bit more, as the driving aspect is a bit more pronounced, which being an old guy, I almost need more than just speed.

    There’s no doubt that the “Stock” classes of today are far faster than they were, yet, so too are the mod classes to an extent. The overall costs of racing hasn’t really gone down, the money gets spent in different ways than it used to be spent, but the amount hasn’t really changed. I agree that for a new kid to the hobby/racing, it’s a bit daunting, both in costs initially and the learning curve that follows. Most aren’t going to be able to fund their racing by simply cutting grass all summer, and truth be told, I doubt that most kids these days would even bother, more a reflection of the times I guess. There’s a for sure need of a “Stock” class or entry class, what it’ll take to define or redefine it and how we’ll get there, I have no idea, but I think on a local level, there’s a lot that could be done to help if there’s enough people or interest in finding the way that’ll make the class work for that area or track.

  16. John says:

    kV-wise, a 27T brushed racing motor on 6 round cells is much more comparable to a 13.5 brushless on a 2S LiPo than a 17.5. I don’t know why everyone is talking about things being too fast or a loss of control. Look at something like the Trinity Green Machine 27T stock motor. Great oval racing motor of it’s day. Won many a championship. Rated for 32,300 rpm / 7.2 pack = 4486kV. That’s just sick. 17.5 brushless are like 1800kV. Sure, we gear them differently (basically for run temp instead of run time because batteries are so much better) but those little motors scream! Granted that’s an oval motor designed for RPM and not torque but look at something like a Team Orion Core Stock 27T. The “CS” powered several XX’s and B2′s to victory and that was dyno’d at 28,200 / 7.2 pack = 3,916 kV.

  17. Tim says:

    We have a spec slash class at our local track. Trucks have to be all stock except you can use a 2 cell lipo. This being said, this class is meant to be entry level and to keep prices down. We also have a open sc class that you can run what ever you want. This class can be more expensive but at least I can put a sc10 that came as an rtr in it. The problem with the spec slash class is people can stay in it as long as they want. So I have a 10 year old daughter that wants to start racing and the class that is the cheapest to run also has a lot of competition. I used to race dirtbikes back in an earlier life and the ama only lets you stay in a class for so long and once you start showing improvement you are supposed move on and if you dont and are sandbagging the class the ama will move you into the next class. I think there should be a sc, buggy, and stadium class that you can run any rtr in or equivalent to rtr (motor and esc) and there should be somekind of desire to move onto the next class because who wants to be in a beginner class forever anyway. then base the classes on motor size maximums. So we can have a 25 turn max beginner, intermediate, and advanced, same with a 17.5 turn and a 10.5 turn and so on.

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