How to get started in RC Car racing

If you are interested in RC racing but do not know where to start, this guide will hopefully help you on your way.

Model car racing is a very popular hobby around the world, and it’s a lot more fun than racing over the local car park on your own. At an RC car club you’ll meet lots of like-minded people who can share tips and offer advice.

You can start racing rc cars no matter what your age or experience level. If you are completely new to Radio Control, racing is a good way to learn a lot more about the hobby.

The main thing about this hobby to remember, is to have fun and enjoy yourself. A small minority of people do take the hobby a little too seriously; remember, it is only toy cars after all!

What RC Car class and scale do you want to race?

If you already know what rc car type and scale you want to race, skip to ‘things you will need for rc racing‘.

photo of vintage rc buggies on astroturf track
Losi XXX and Mardave Cobra 2wd buggies in the Vintage class on an astroturf track (SRCCC Southend on Sea, Essex UK)

When starting out in Radio control car racing, you will need to decide on the class and scale you would like to race. Your choices will probably be limited to what the clubs in your area run, unless you don’t mind travelling to a distant club. Visiting your local club to get an idea of what people are racing is a good idea.

Choose the class you want to race

Popular On-Road classes on tarmac or indoor carpet include, but are not limited to:

  • Touring Cars
  • GT10 & GT12
  • Tamiya or Mardave Minis
  • Tamiya Trucks
  • Pan cars
  • Formula 1

Popular Off-Road classes on grass, astroturf, asphalt, clay and indoor carpet include:

  • Buggies 2WD & 4WD
  • Stadium Trucks 2WD
  • Short Course Trucks (SCT) 2WD & 4WD
  • Rally Cross
  • Vintage

There are many more classes – these are just a few examples. Choosing a class that is popular in your area is the best idea, as you’ll always have plenty of competitors to race against.

Choose the scale you want to race

The scale determines how many times smaller your RC car is when compared to a real life example. For example, a 1/10th scale touring car is 10 times smaller than the car in real life. Therefore, 1/8th scale would be larger than 1/10th.

Is RC racing expensive?

Larger cars are generally more expensive for parts and maintenance, and require a larger track to race on. Smaller cars, on the other hand, are less expensive to buy and parts are often cheaper too. 1/10th buggy tires cost a fraction of what 1/5th tires cost; if you are on a limited budget, keep this in mind when choosing a scale.

If you become a regular radio control car racer, you will be consuming lots of tires over time. The kind of track surface you choose to race on can also affect tire wear rate.

In the long run, race fees and tires (and Nitro, if racing IC powered cars) are probably the most expensive aspects of rc racing, once you have paid the initial costs of the car and all the required gear. Replacing broken parts can get expensive for a completely new driver, but the professional kits are very robust, and, as your driving improves, you won’t break things as often if at all.

Things you will need to start RC Racing

Other than the obvious – the RC car itself – you’ll need the following;

  • Club Membership & Race Fees
  • A Transponder (for timing)
  • Pit box or hauler
  • Tools
  • Spares
  • Ideally two or more battery packs
  • Tires for the correct surface you plan to race on
  • A way to charge batteries

Club Membership & Race Fees

BRCA or the relevant car association membership for your country

To race at club level you will normally, at the very minimum, need to be a BRCA member (or the equivalent association in your country if outside the UK).

This association membership includes insurance that covers if you (or someone else) gets hurt whilst you are racing at any club. It also covers using your rc car outside of clubs so is useful to have. As of 2019, the BRCA membership is £20.

Model car club membership

Joining your local club is optional, but worth it if you plan to race there often. Membership of a club will normally mean discounts on race fees, so it is worth joining up if you plan to race more than a few times a year at that particular club.

There are lots of benefits to being an rc car club member. The experienced racers will be able to help you and give you lots of advice, and there will be lots of opportunities to buy and sell used rc cars and parts at the club.

Race fees

Most clubs charge race fees to cover the rent and costs of the grounds that the car club is on. The race computer and software, lighting and other facilities at the club are all paid for by the race fees. They vary from club to club, so visit your club’s website or ask a member about race fees.

Transponders

What is a transponder and what does it do?

A transponder is a tiny transmitter that plugs into a servo port on your receiver. You’ll need one if you want to participate in races. Having one fitted will allow you to see your lap times if your club has a race timing computer and the relevant software.

With a transponder fitted, your car will register each lap as it passes over the ‘loop’ at the race track. The loop is a section on the track with a small wire running under or over it that receives the car’s transponder signal as it passes. Race timing software on a computer in the timing hut will log those laps to your transponder.

Some clubs will let you participate in the race without a transponder, but your positions and lap times won’t be registered so you wont be able to win. For me, half the fun in racing is seeing how I can improve on my previous best lap times.

A typical Mylaps transponder with code
A mylaps transponder with code showing on the front

A transponder simply plugs into a spare Channel on your receiver. You’ll need to ensure your receiver has the extra channel slot; a three or four channel receiver is ideal. A transponder has a serial number assigned to it (sometimes written on the top, or in the paperwork). You tell this to the race controller at the beginning of the day so that they can get your transponder number registered on the computer system.

Transponders are quite affordable and start at around £40 for an MRT clone, and around double for the ‘MyLaps’ brand. With the cheaper clone, you don’t have a unique transponder number, but it is uncommon for someone to turn up at the track with the same number as you. If it happens, you have an alternative number that you can select on MRT type clones.

You will need to speak to your club to find out what transponders are compatible with their race timing software.

Pit box and Haulers

If you are going to be racing, you will need a pit box or hauler to store your racing gear such as tools and spares. Ideally , you will want one with wheels, especially if you are racing at tracks where the car park is some distance from the pitting area.

RC Racing Tools

You’ll need RC racing tools to carry out repairs and perform maintenance on your RC car. Eventually, as you learn more about the hobby, you will be doing lots of this at the trackside; especially when tuning and adjusting your car for racing at different tracks.

rc tool set photograph

At the very minimum, you’ll want nut drivers and hex/allen drivers to get started. You’ll be able to swap wheels quickly, or make quick adjustments with decent tools.

Later you may also want other specialist tools such as a ‘ride height gauge’ and ‘digital callipers’, but these are not totally necessary for a beginner – once you learn more about tuning, you can look into getting these.

Kits often include basic hex keys, but if you are taking RC racing up as a long term hobby, do yourself a favour and invest in some good quality RC Tools. Quality tools are quicker and easier to use, will put less strain on your hands, and your RC nuts and hex screws will last longer. High quality RC tools will last you a lifetime, and the ones that do wear can normally have the tips replaced.

MIP Hex Tools photo
MIP are beautifully made tools that will last you a very long time.

Good Brands to look at are Arrowmax, HUDY, EDS, and my favourite – MIP tools. MIP are very expensive, but are built to last.

Spares

When starting out you will probably break a few things in crashes on the track. This is especially true with cheaper ready to run cars, because the parts are not so durable. The items you’ll need to stock up on will depend a little on the track type, but in general, front wishbones/arms, a front shock tower and front bulkhead are all commonly broken parts in off-road racing. On-road is a little different.

Ask at your track what parts are commonly broken on the car type and brand you are using.

Batteries

If you are racing electric, then investing in two rc car batteries would be good to start with so you can have one on charge while using the other.

typical lipo battery
A 5000mah 2s battery pack

Your fellow club members will be able to give good advice on batteries. A higher capacity will be more useful for racing, because you can often get two races out of one charge.

What Tires for rc racing?

It is often said that tires are 80% of set up, so getting these right is absolutely vital if you want to be competitive.

Tires need an article all of their own, but the main thing to note is that you will need to find out from club members what is commonly used at the track. Alternatively, experiment with different tires to see what works well on the track you are racing on. You may not notice much difference, but, after enough practice, checking your consistent lap times will tell you what tire is better.

Grip conditions can change drastically from day to day, and even throughout the day as the temperature or humidity change. If you don’t have enough grip, you’ll be spinning out and slow getting around the track. Too much grip and the car may roll over (grip or traction roll) – also costing you lots of time.

You’ll need a selection of tyres for racing in dry and wet conditions if racing outdoors. If you plan to race at other tracks, you will benefit from keeping a selection of different tread patterns and different compounds in your pit box. Find out what the regular and best racers at the track use, and you wont go far wrong.

A way to charge batteries at the track

Some clubs offer power in the pitting area, but if they do not, you will need a way to charge your batteries. These are the options:

  • 12v leisure battery
  • petrol generator with inverter
  • charge from your 12v car battery

Another alternative is to take 5 batteries fully charged for the day – this will give you enough for the common race format of three qualifying rounds and one final, plus you’ll have a spare for practice.