Just who are the big races for, anyway?

Just who are the big races for, anyway?


In the RC racing world, the term “big race” is loosely applied to any competitive event that’s deemed more important than the typical club race. Sure, there are ROAR National Championship races for all major racing classes, but many local facilities organize special events throughout the year in order to draw a larger crowd, often with a longer schedule, more notable awards, and accordingly higher prestige; some of the more established events even draw a large turnout of sponsored racers from the country’s top factory teams. Organizing an event that caters to attendees of all budgets and skill levels can be difficult, but who are the most important entrants at these events?

As the line between “paying customer” and “factory star” grows blurrier as manufacturers grow their teams with more partially-sponsored racers that receive a discount on products, so too does the target customer for these “big” races. The three biggest areas of concern, in my mind, are the length of the schedule, the preparation of the racing surface, and the difficulty of the layout.


Nearly a full week of 12-hour days? That’s quite a way to spend your hard-earned vacation time…

In terms of racing schedule, today’s events are simply too long. Though it has been a blessing to this industry that entry counts continue to climb at many of the country’s biggest events, the racing schedule has spiraled out of control. If qualifying doesn’t start until Friday morning, why do races allow practice beginning on Tuesday? Professional automobile and motorcycle racers, who put their lives in danger every time they enter the track, get far less track time before the start of qualifying than RC racers do! After the first 20-30 minutes to learn the layout and its obstacles, practice turns into an endless tuning session as racers try to adjust their vehicles and tire choice in an endless search for “perfect” – and all it does is cost more money, because no racer wants to give up an advantage to his competitors by sitting out valuable practice time. If every racer was only allowed a round or two of practice on Friday morning before qualifying begins, the field would still be on a level playing field but could save a night or two in the hotel and reduce the number of tires they run throughout the weekend. At the same token, stricter entry limits and a reduction in the number of meaningless qualifying rounds would shorten the events as well. Why do racers spend more time “qualifying” than they actually do racing?


Sugar isn’t so sweet when it chews up tires and makes your car erratic and nervous.

The definition of “off road” has changed so much throughout the last few years that the tracks on which we race today are nowhere near what they were even at the beginning of this millennium. Back in the 80s and 90s, off-road tracks may not have had the extreme obstacles that we see today, but the dirt was much softer – which required tires with larger pins. The soft dirt created a few problems, like ruts that increased in size as the race wore on, which made the track unpredictable and sometimes unfair to racers who ran in later heats, and required more work on the part of the track crew. As the cars got faster and tires got softer over the years, tracks also got harder-packed and formed what is called a “blue groove” condition as the rubber of the worn-down tires built up on the surface. Over the last couple of years, though, this has also gotten severely out of hand – as track builders across the U.S. have started blanketing tracks with sugar before watering over it, making the dirt as abrasive as coarse-grit sandpaper. Not only does the extreme grip make it difficult to drive, especially when the track is rough (like we saw at this year’s Cactus Classic), but tire wear has shot through the roof – and even though many racers end up running harder compounds simply to make their cars easier to drive, the tires go from “brand new” to “unusably worn” in a single five-minute run. Even nitro off-road races have started transitioning to blue-groove style tracks as they’re more consistent and require less maintenance, often perpetuating the same scenario.

Coverage_2013 Electric Nats_Saturday Rnd4_0950

Any track that has a racer as talented as Ryan Maifield on edge is borderline overkill for the average racer.

The last factor contributing to the increasing void between the entry- and elite-level racers is the design of the course itself. A common complaint heard from the top racers at many competitions over the last few years is that the track is “too easy;” the argument is that tracks lacking difficult features limit the number of overtaking opportunities and make it harder for racers to make up time on their competitors, which makes the qualifying and racing times extremely close (as though that’s supposed to be a bad thing). The best NASCAR racers in the country routinely find a way to rise to the top when navigating oval tracks, yet the top RC drivers want intense rhythm sections, huge make-or-break obstacles, and risky track sections that offer a stopwatch-measurable reward for making it through cleanly. The biggest problem? What’s considered “difficult” by a national champion professional racer is often labelled “impossible” by the sportsman-level racer who already has enough trouble completing a mistake-free five minute race, and probably didn’t have the budget to attend all three days of practice in the first place.

There’s certainly something to be said for offering the nation’s top drivers and their sponsors a platform on which to shine, but a compromise must be reached in order to financially protect that opportunity before the off-road bubble bursts and today’s hottest segment follows in the footsteps of what on-road racing has endured over the last half-decade – low turnouts at events large and small. After all, without the “Average Joe” at the race there’s no reason for the factory teams to attend, and then the scene collapses. The most ironic part of all this? The IFMAR World Championships, which is arguably the one event where none of this matters as the only drivers allowed to enter are those who either qualified or were invited to attend by their home country’s sanctioning body, and the event that has the most marketing potential for any manufacturer, is the only off-road event with a strict handout tire rule in order to control the cost of competing. Makes no sense, does it?

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Updated: July 21, 2015 — 5:14 PM


  1. As a racer, I enjoyed the old style off road where the track rutted up (just like in motocross and in real life short course racing). It is part of what makes off road actually off road…changing track conditions. I understand and appreciate that not everybody shares this opinion. Back when I was younger, this was taken into account just like we do on today’s super high bite tracks. Rather than a broom at each corner to remove dust, it was a garden rake to remove ruts. Same concept, same amount of time. Both “issues” go away if you go “euro” for off road and use different surfaces like in 8th scale, or go with carpet as is often done for 10th scale.

    Damp indoor clay seems to be a somewhat reasonable answer for today’s true off road tracks. It holds up well and provides good traction in a fairly consistent way, but without the extreme tire wear of the sugared tracks. It also changes slightly with ruts or braking/acceleration waves, but that happens over a larger period of time, generally in time for a track change. The down side, as with the sugared tracks, is that a track change requires heavy equipment, rather than just some folks with shovels and rakes.

    When an appropriate off road track gets “blown out”, just running on it tends to change it to something runable (though perhaps not as easy and predictable) as the surface isn’t hard like a rock so provides give for the parts hitting it, as well as the ability to be formed by the car parts hitting it. When a super high bite sugared track gets blown out in a section, or the face of a jump cracks and gets a pot hole…nothing fixes it except more sugar and an even harder patch of dirt, and you really can’t run on that area until the patch is done, as there is no give to the dirt.

    Note: I race(d) on and have also maintained all of the mentioned track types.

  2. I believe the “Big” races are for the the companies and the local racers. By “Big” races I’m talking pretty much any race that is written about in the magazines or on the news sites. It plays to the old saying that NASCAR use to be about, “What wins on Sunday, sells on Monday.” Its baffles me that as soon as the “Big” races are done people are on the internet trying to get the ins and outs of the Pro’s set up. And if something new is on the car they are trying to buy it Monday because it will make them faster. Case in point, the Next Team Associated 1/8th scale buggy showed up in Jerome’s hands and at a covered race. The very next day people on the forums were already talking about getting their hands on one. “I need a new buggy I’m gonna wait till this hits the market. You think it will be out by the end of the month, I’ve got a new series starting…” As much as a lot of the Bench racer’s don’t know about the process to design a winning and reliable product, when you read comments like that you start wondering about the state of the nation when they think that because a band aid (particular part, car, or accessory) was used in this race that it will solve all their issues of keeping the car between the pipes in the first place.

    Slightly off topic of the original question, but we race OFF-ROAD. It doesn’t say ON-ROAD with some jumps. I understand when you run heats all day long that the consistency of the track goes down. But when you hear the same people that complain about the track being too easy, complain about the track falling apart it just bothers me. It’s the same for everyone in the heat/race, deal with it. You wanted a tougher track, there you go. You don’t hear motocross racers complaining about the track falling apart, at least I don’t.

  3. Great story need more of this type of writing in rc mags.
    Racing and even the cost to initially get in the RC scene is very daunting

  4. The factory racer is very hard to beat the average racer is just a field filler ” BUT” if the average racer pays attention and ask question he or she would be hard to beat in the future. ..so I think it is for factory and the average racer…just do what I do use the big races as like a seminar to learn about the cars and hone your craft even futher…good luck to all the racers…

  5. Great Story, I use to race in the National races closer to Home and learned so much. It made me a much better local racer. And could hold my own against the big dogs…………..for a lap or two anyways!

  6. As a track owner we try to have a bigger race once every month or so this has a few reasons it helps the track with a bit extra income from increased entries even though we are supplying prizes and awards. Big races in my opinion are more for the sponsors of the event. And believe me we would all love to see a true pro driver show up out of the blue to just race . Our track tries to encourage our local club racers to race by adding classes for them to have a shot at. All big races should be racer friendly and budget Friendly 2 day max. So if your ever in the buffalo area check out KRZ RACEWAY & HOBBIES

  7. This hobby is definatley a “Money Pit”.

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