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RC Racing Is All Wrong!

RC Racing Is All Wrong!

I know that’s a bold and intentionally provocative statement, but come on, it can’t really be all that much of a shocker. I have raced RC cars on and off for over two decades, and in those 20 plus years the basic format has essentially stayed exactly the same. I’m talking about club racing here. Weekend warrior stuff. Before I get going with my mega rant, let me back up to why I’m even on this topic. I recently went out to dinner with a friend of mine, David Maffucci, who has also been racing for a long time. His friend, a non-RC’er, joined us and our conversation led him to ask how RC racing works. If you don’t know, hobby-grade RC is the secret hobby, so he was completely in the dark. I looked at Dave and said, “If I deviate from the truth at any point, feel free to speak up.”

To start, I told our uninitiated companion that RC racing is almost an all day long event. Many people get to the track a few hours early to set up. They may practice, but most often they’re there to grab a spot they like, do some BS’ing (we call it bench racing) and start tuning a nitro engine or charging a bunch of batteries. Again, racers often do this hours before any racing actually starts. Eventually racers will sign up and pay for whatever classes they want to run. Eventually (Note: I could probably use that word a whole lot while describing race day, but I’ll try to stop), the race director/hobby shop owner/dude in charge will announce that “The heats are posted.” At this point, the day is officially behind schedule. If racing is scheduled to start at noon, it’s most likely at least 15 minutes past the hour. I explain that the “Heats” show when you’re racing, and I then explain “racing” actually means qualifying and that most tracks usually have three rounds of qualifying. I add that each round of qualifying takes at least an hour and there’s a good chance that there will be a break in the action between rounds. I pour on the sarcasm with the “break in the action” comment because if you’re Joe-average racer and race one class, you’ve been at the track for at least two or three hours and have only “raced” for about 10 minutes or less after the first round. There has been no action! You’re out about $15 (the race fee) and invested multiple hours for 10 minutes or less of fun that may not have been all that much fun. I add that you’re not even supposed to race during qualifying; it’s you against the clock and you have two more rounds of “not really racing” to look forward to. I add that we do all this qualifying as build up for a single race, called the main, that is usually only a minute or two longer than a qualifier. At this point I fast forward to explain that we basically spend ¾ of the day just to determine our starting order for the main event and we, more often than not, do everything we can to throw away that starting order in the first turn when everyone smashes into each other. I add that tempers flare, grown men yell and more than once I’ve seen a radio get tossed or a car slammed down. Again, this is just a weekend club race—not a world, national or even a regional championship.

My whole point is that even though people like David and I absolutely and sincerely love RC racing, when we step back and look at the whole thing, it’s kind of, well, silly. The format that determines the rank and order of each racer ad nauseam is perfectly fine for a big race, but it seems like it’s actually infringing on what club racers want to do which is race. Ok, so what’s my point? My point is that racing as we know it is all wrong and doesn’t work. I believe that if we, as racers, get over ourselves long enough to embrace a little change, we could see racing really grow. Here’s what I propose. Let’s skip qualifying altogether. In the past I’ve droned on about how RC racing needs more racing than qualifying, but now I believe we should just skip that whole part of the race day. I propose we treat every race like it’s a main. The first round is organized by a first-come-first-served basis and the order is resorted after each round. Here’s the beauty of it. You could show up and run each round or show up after you mow the lawn and then race half of the rounds. Whether you race two rounds for five, it costs you the same and each time you take to the track, you’re actually racing. The day takes as long or as short as you want. Of course, I don’t have all the details worked out, but maybe you can see that I might be onto something here. The pros have been running a similar format at Reedy races for years. So, what do you think? What do you think of the format we use for club racing? Is it perfect?

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Updated: July 20, 2015 — 3:36 PM


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  1. Hello,

    I am so green to the rc world you could call me Kermit the frog. I have not raced at any event and I got a full 7 minutes of time on my first “real” rc that I sent back to the company, but in that 7 minutes I was hooked. I am looking to purchase the Revo 3.3 it just looks awesome and seems durable. I would like to eventually get into races but for now I am the ” hobbyist” mentioned above. For the race fee you should not care about it you know what you are getting into deal with it. I am going to be here for fun and if kicking everyones butt on the track so be it but it will be fun and that’s what I want from my rc. To be 10 again

    1. How about you just have “open track” for 3 hours or whatever with a live loop. Then sort classes and mains based on 5 fastest lap times. Leave it up to the racer on how much track time they get or need. Granted the drivers stand will always be full but between breakage and batteries the turnover should be pretty regular. Maybe something like controlled practice if you get too backlogged.

  2. Here is my recommendation;
    8 Racers or less
    10 min Free Run
    8 min Qualifier
    8 min Main
    8 min Inverted Main

    9-16 Racers
    12 min Free Run
    10 min Qualifier (create 2 groups)
    8 min B Main (bump ups if desired)
    10 min A Main

    17-25 Racers
    15 min Free Run
    12 min Qualifier (bottom 1/3 C Main)
    10 min Qualifier (next 1/3 B Main)
    8 min Qualifier (seating for A Main)
    8 min C Main (bump ups if desired)
    8 min B Main (bump ups if desired)
    10 min A main

    Like every has mentioned with the advancements in equipement there should not be a problem with suggested runtimes. Free Run is for tuning and helping others. Track time is what all racers want and will help them improve. Just my suggestion and it really comes down to the racers expressing there desires to their local clubs.

  3. This thread is a little old now but I came across it and thought I’d trow my two cents in.

    What if instead of qualifying, you instead draw numbers for the first race first come first serve to determine staring position. Then have an old school le mans series start where instead of running to your car you “run” to your remote. I say “run” because I know most tracks have driver stands. So say you face away from your remote and on the buzzer you have to spin around, grab the remote and take off.

    The finishing order will determine the order you draw numbers for the next race. Just a thought. I don’t actually race yet. No money to start 🙁 but it seems like this would be a little more exciting and would result in more track time.

  4. To bad most folks are to closed minded for any new ideas regardless how brillant they are to give them a chance to see if it’s actually better or not. I personally like the idea but I dont see my local race spot even considering the slighest change in format. IE, Old dogs new tricks.

  5. “”If my idea of a Reedy style format being used for weekend club racing doesn’t work people how about a double race day for the guys who want to be there all day? You show up, run a couple two-minute qualifiers and then a 12 to 15 minute main. The track takes a lunch break and does it all over again.””

    That’s it Matt! You could be on to something. Really!

    I had a nice Chat with Dean from Model Airplane (AirAge) and we briefly discussed this as well. Like I said, there are lots of good ideas here, and full points to you Matt for bringing it up. I think now we must count on each other as members of race clubs around the world, and work together with our race organizers and flat out say, “we need a change”

    It’s in there hands now……….

  6. I’m going to agree with everything that James stated. I started racing back in 1999. In my area, nitro sedan was the big draw. Thats what pulled me into the hobby. Being at the track with friends trying to figure out these toy cars was a great way to spend the day. Even if it took all day. From nitro sedan i went to gas truck, then to 1/8 nitro buggy/truggy. One thing about racing nitro, the better you are the longer your main race will be. A main races at a regular club race was 15-20 minutes long. Add that with 3 sometimes 4 five minute heats and you can get a good amount of track time. Here recently, Nitro racing has suffered a huge decline. Since I only race electric powered cars, I felt as though I was not getting as much track time as i would like. I’ve since started running at least two classes to take place of the waiting in between rounds. One thing that we have started doing is increasing the heats from 5mins to 6mins and the mains from 6mins to 7 and 8 minutes. I would suggest that or running 4 rounds of quals or triple A mains.

  7. Mr. Higgins I like your idea for R.C. racing but I do understand the other points of view because I used to do a lot of full size mud racing and we treated it as a family outing . All classes would have to have their vehicles there by 10am for registration & inspection . You could leave after your class ran but we always stayed to the end , usually 10-12 hrs. One time I did not run my class until 11:30pm & the racing did not end until 1:30am . Even though my run took less than 2 minutes we were there for 17hrs. Talk about a race day! It was always a great outing with family & friends . The main thing is to go prepared for weather changes , have a cooler full of drinks & food , a grill is nice but lunch meat will do . The reason I quit was because of a spinal cord injury & even with sponsors it was extremely expensive . The entrance fee was nothing compared to the expense of repairs , maintenance , & up-grades to the truck . I still have the truck , it’s a 79′ Ford . I like the 79′ because I got my driver’s license in 79′ . When ever somebody would ask me what I was doing for the weekend ? I would tell them I was going to go play in the mud with my toy truck & ask them if they want to come ? I still ask people if they want to come play with toy trucks ? Only now I mean R.C. instead of full size .

  8. Thanks Matt,

    Tried to offer a different perspective for people to ponder a bit.

    Chris M,

    What I’m not seeing you say. Let me quote a line from you then. “New people or non die hards wanna race and have fun and kill say 4-5 hours not leave the house at 7 am on Sun and get home at 5.” That is exactly what I am seeing. The convenience factor. It seems to be more pronounced now than it has been. I suspect that may be in part because the hobby has gained many new people, most of whom might not have a racing backround. Those that have a racing backround, or have been around full scale racing, have already accecpted that fact that a “Race Day” is pretty much a day, not hours. They don’t seem to complain too much. I understand that not everyone can or will give up a whole day for racing. That is why I said that the hobby is for anyone, but racing is not for everyone. If it were, we’d all be over in Finland at the Worlds right now.

    Can the “day” be too long? Yes. I’ve been at races that took a lot longer than I had hoped for, knowing that I had a 2-4 hour drive home after being there all day. Did it suck? Yup. Yet I could have either not gone racing that day or just left early. That choice was mine to make, but the thought of asking for the race day to be shorter never crossed my mind. Many tracks run more classes than needed, but the track/race director is at the mercy of the racers in that regard.

    At the end of the day (pun intended), if racers want a shorter day, they need to make sure they are ready for their race and out marshalling when they are supposed to. Those two things, when not done, bring the race program to a crawl, if not a complete stop.

    As far as a mentor program? Well old racers like me should be doing that anyway. We were all the new guy once. Rome wasn’t built overnight.

    1. Well Matt, this topic sure struck a few cords for people huh???? 🙂 🙂

      I see a lot of fare points made here. Here a few quick pointers on the whole thing.

      I agree with the fact the heats are not “long enough” and that it’s kinda poopy to have a whole day at the track, but only 15mins of driving.

      Remember that in the last 10-15 years we have had a huge advancement in battery technology. 15 years ago you had to worry about even making the 5 min mains. Now, with 8min, 15, and even 20min mains in some classes. It’s not so bad. So maybe now that the batteries can take the load, the heats at some tracks and classes will get longer even if they were 5mins mains in the past.

      As far as Practice, and pro driver’s and rookies, there are solutions already in place at many tracks.

      For example: Here in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada we have two very large racing organizations. We have one that is ran by a hobby store, and one community and strictly member driven. Open to new members, but like most tracks you need a membership to drive on the track. This shouldn’t be shock to most. If you don;t have a member ship, some track will charge you more “per race day/event” Anyway, both tracks offer practice times during certain dates and on race days they have “sportsman” classes. This is great because for you ego boosting guys that don’t wanna drive with the newbie, they have there own class. Sometimes refereed to as the “hack” class. Which by the way, is really un-sportsman and professional. A lot of tracks haven’t jumped on the band wagon, and that’s a shame. Because will everything discussed above, there can be solutions so no one looses out.

      –“The only thing i feel is wrong about racing is he fact that we pay 15-20$ for 3 races and we are REQUIRED to turn marshal after each race (something most of us don’t like doing)”–

      -Whats wrong with marshaling??? I mean, what if the guy ahead of your race thought the same thing…. who is gonna pick up your car???
      Just saying.

      -Christopher Oswald ( R/C Car Action Blog Author)

      1. “I agree with the fact the heats are not “long enough” and that it’s kinda poopy to have a whole day at the track, but only 15mins of driving.”

        That’s the deal right there. That sums it up, but it used to be worse. I remember when races and qualifiers (it wasn’t that long ago) were only four minutes long. You ran two qualifiers and a main. Because everyone was charging old school packs, the day took forever and you only got in about 12 minutes of track time. As battery technology improved eventually races got a little longer. Back in the day I always thought there had to be a better way. Now that the technology has totally changed we have to really embrace it and make good use of it. I think the format we use is plain silly, but RC’ers hate change–hate it.

        If my idea of a Reedy style format being used for weekend club racing doesn’t work people how about a double race day for the guys who want to be there all day? You show up, run a couple two-minute qualifiers and then a 12 to 15 minute main. The track takes a lunch break and does it all over again.

  9. I wonder if the local tracks would offer more “free time” of just letting kids(big and small) drive their cars,trucks or buggies for fun.sort of like open bowling where everybody can play until it’s league only time.would more interest be created in rc?

  10. club racing isn’t it perfect dont get started on the drivers that show up ….they need to make a (iam just here to have fun class)..race race race….and have the regular format for people who still like the old style.

  11. All really great ideas and no reason not mix it up to appeal top the as many people as possible. I think what James isn’t seeing is that new people or non die hards wanna race and have fun and kill say 4-5hrs not leave the house at 7am on Sun and get home at 5. I think the intent of the suggestion was to bring more fun and “actually” track time to the racers which keeps people coming back. Honestly the die hard guys tend to not make it fun and are often the reason people quit racing. Winning isnt everything, competing is fun and can be even without winning. And a suggestion for local clubs and tracks would be a track mentor program where elder more honed racers take on a beginner or someone struggling and work with them for the day. You will be surprised how that can inspire a long time fan of rc racing.

    1. I think you have some really good ideas. I was very fortunate when I went to the track, there were a few guys that kind of took me under their wing and helped explain exactly what was going on. They were even as helpful to explain what they were doing to their own cars to make them faster after finding out that I had just purchased the same car. I think that this should be a universal feeling among drivers. I think that without new guys in the hobby, like everything else it would die. So why not help the new guy out and get him into the hobby.

  12. I thought I would just give a newbie’s opinion of the racing format. I caught my first and only RC race a few months ago. I have to say as a first timer I was very confused by the format. I grew up around dirt oval track racing and was expecting that kind of format. I was very shocked that with the cars on the track in the first few rounds were just trying to see how fast they could go. I can see doing a qualifying race for the first round because you do not want to go the traditional route of one car at a time for qualifying it would be very time consuming. but I think that you should be there for the racing. I can go out to any track and take a stopwatch and time myself. If I was going to race I would want to race. I don’t mind being there all day that’s what I’m there for. I would have to go the way that Tony R. stated after that. three heats and two mains. Each heat the order gets reversed (so if you finish first you start last in the next round) if you win two or more rounds you automatically get to start first in the A main. everyone else starts in the B main and that determines the starting order for the A main. Just an idea to add more racing to the format.

  13. we race heads up on qualifiers…but we also run all qualifiers and mains at 5 minutes. It funny this post is up here as we were talking about race format this week.

    I hate to see people complain about marshaling though. No one likes it but I want my stuff flipped back over if I make a mistake.

  14. At my local track we do 2 rounds of IFMAR qualifying and then single A Mains. After the 1st round we will resort the heats to group the fastest guys together, but like Matt said when you get to the Mains you will always have a big pile up on the 1st corner and someone’s good day of qualifying goes out the window as the TQ usually breaks away from the pack.

    When I went to Trackside in June they ran heads up style qualifying which was much more enjoyable to compete in. They lined you up in rows of 2 and everyone was on the clock when the buzzer went off. Just like an A Main there were some pileups on the 1st corner but if the race didn’t get off to a clean start Scotty called everyone back to the starting line for a restart. I actually saw a Mod qualifier get restarted 3 times due to one driver!

    The beauty of this format is that it does feel more like racing than qualifying and you have a better idea who is winning on the track which is key if the Race Director isn’t very good on updating everyone on the PA system with lap times. And by conditioning the drivers to have a clean start each time you see less hacks in the Mains.

    But of course to do this format you need a good Race Director and Scotty Ernst is one of the best in the world. If you don’t have a good Race Director to keep the race program moving along, and the drivers aren’t getting off the stand and to their marshal spots quickly, then the day/night will drag on and turn people off from racing IMO.

  15. At my track here in Fitchburg MA, the night racing is great, We start promptly at 7 and finished between 9 and 10 depending on the number of classes. We usually run 2 buggy classes, and 2-4 short course classes. We run 2 qualifying rounds and the rules are setup so we have to move quickly to turn marshal and then have time to work on the car before the next qual. Personally I really like this format. The quals give you a bit of practice before the real thing, and by having the quals and getting ranked you have something to shoot for, at least in my case since I am a newbie to racing I keep falling into the B Main, but I can see my progress as my times get faster and I get closer to the fast guys.

    The quals give me a chance to relax for a couple of rounds before I really have to buckle down and concentrate. And using the current method makes sure that you have turn Marshals! If people come and go as they please on a race day conceivably you could have races where there are no turn marshals!

    Now Sunday racing is an all day affair, I wish they could condense it and run it more the way the night racing works, but I think this system works well and why it has endured for a long time!

  16. I agree with the format you proposed, Matthew, if we had this, it wouldn’t be a long event like it is, also, rc needs less of an emphasis on times and more on actual racing imo

  17. I think we can further breakdown the topic into two main (pun intended) parts.


    The length of a race day. Is it too long? While I’m sure that many would feel that it is, there is a reason it is referred to as a “Race Day” and not a “Race Hour”. In almost all forms of full scale racing, you are at the track pretty much all day (or night if the race is at night/evening). It’s part of racing. To that end I don’t RC racing is all that wrong. I think too many people are looking for the convenience factor. Meaning that they are looking for things that are convenient for them to do. A short “Race Day” means for many that they can og off and do other things after racing. To those people are not so much racers as they are hobbiests. Two very different mindsets. The hobby is for anyone, but racing is not for everyone.


    No less important and almost as equal is the thought of the ammount of track time for the ammount paid on a given “Race Day”. For those that are hung up on that part alone, I often wonder what goes through their mind. If you got invited to your friends for a cook out, would you ask said friend to cook earlier or faster so you could justify being there and make it worth it? If you did I bet that you probably wouldn’t get asked to come over again. The same can be said for RC racing. It shouldn’t be all about how much track time you got for what it cost you to race. It should be about being around your friends, who just happen to all be at the track.

    I have been lucky enough to make life long friends by being at the race track racing. The 15 dollars it may have cost me to do so is way worth the price. Some of which I only get to see when I’m at the track on race day. I don’t know about them, but I look forward to that. Sure we all want to get that win and thus bragging right on our friend because we beat them that day. It’s the time that gets spent in the pits between the races, BS’ing (bench racing if you will), that makes it all worth it. Can’t put a price on a good friendship. I don’t think RC racing is all wrong in that regard either.

    Now for the format. Could it be changed to make for better racing? Sure it can and I’m sure it’s been done many times in many places. Why the cureent format has remained around so long, I guess people don’t like change. I’m all for making the racing better and I think the MX style format might be a good thing to use or at least try, but until people can be happy with parts one and two mentioned above, I would suspect that a change would be pretty hard to do

    1. Some good points right there

  18. Line ’em up by pill draw and have at it! It’s not just great for real racing (I’m a grassroots purist that loves the format at the *full-scale* dirt oval level), but I think it’s a great idea for RC as well. Maybe use a top x # transfer to the main or if your autocount software is savvy enough (and I think all of them should be upgraded if not), use something akin to passing points. This system rewards those who pass the most cars in any single event, using a tiered points for each position and an arbitrary point value for each car you pass on your way to the top finishing position. Backslide and you don’t earn any but you get the point total for that position. I agree though… a simpler solution to get on with the racing sounds just like what the Dr. ordered.

  19. Some very good points made in that article. In the race-series I race in we changed that race format nearly as suggested there. We only have a short qualifying run to determine the starting order and then we have 5 main races with 4 to count.

    So you could win the event, even if you miss the qualifier and start last in the ‘slowest’ group. All the main races go into one ranking. There is no A or B-Final, etc. Starting positions in the grid are determined by the outcome of the last run. Racing is much more exiting this way.

    1. I like it

  20. i see what your saying, but most tracks in so cal run heads up qualifying. in that sense it is a race each time we hit the track and it makes it fun for the club level in my opinion.

    The only thing i feel is wrong about racing is he fact that we pay 15-20$ for 3 races and we are REQUIRED to turn marshal after each race (something most of us don’t like doing)

    1. But who will marshall the cars, if not the racers themselves?

  21. I really like the fact that we have qualifiers, and that in these you get a chance to size up the competition and see where they are faster than you and where you are faster than them. It lets you make changes to your car to get that extra speed you need without risking the overall finish of the day

    It nice to be able to drop a couple of rounds where some new guy screwed you in a turn as you lapped him for the 4th time, or you just simply blew out

    and also …..

    if we just go straight into racing how does that sort who is in the A, B, or C main? I like having a main because I know that when I make my A’s I am in there with good drivers who will not hack me and know how to hold a line.

    It comes down to earning the right to drive with the fast guys… and if we out qualifying we might as well be there on an open practice night

    1. There would be a resort after each round with A, B, C groups and so on.

      The track director would run each race day like a mini point series–best four out of six.

  22. I definately leave the track saying “15 mins wasn’t enough!”

  23. I cant comment on racing in the US, ‘cos I’m in South Australia, but here at the local track, (part of a local hobby shop, and not ROAR, or even any Australian racing association that I am aware of, appoved), the format is evey Saturday night, (1st Sat – Nitro, 2nd Sat – Electric), there are three heats and three mains. The start positions in the three heats are determined by computer, and the same for each. The start positions for the three mains are determined by the results from the race previous, or the cumulative total from the three heats for the first main. Every one gets 6 races, (there are about 4-6 classes), over a 6 hour period, and each race lasts 5 minutes, and every one _is_ a race,. I’m not saying this is the best way, but it sounds something like what you were talking about. Maybe something to consider? Or at least maybe a starting point? 🙂

    1. I like the concept, but even six hours kills me. It does sound like you get a lot more racing in.

  24. I don’t like it. That’s more or less why I stopped club racing, and switched to scalers. After the competiton part of a scaler comp, it’s all just messing around. Or if your at a recon g6, the actual competition is going to be at least an hour of actual driving. In one of four stages too, so it’s more about driving than competing.

    I would love to see an hour long electric race, with everyone thrown out there at once, last man standing wins. Now that would be fun.

    1. I’ve now done a G6 event. Let’s just say I got in plenty of driving. That was fun!

  25. I agree 100%. Not only that, but if it was condensed into 1/2 day events such as nitro morning and electric afternoon or short course saturday, etc,…. then you might get a lot more interest from newcomers. I hate racing because it is a complete waste of a day. The night racing is fun. Starts at 7 and ends roughly around 11, but that is because close of business is forced onto us.

    1. I too like night racing, Mike. A friend of mine sometimes race at night during the winter, but even then we leave most often after qualifying.

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