By Aaron Waldron
This week, Team Trinity surprised a good chunk of the RC racing scene by releasing a “Monster Lock” sealed end bell brushless motor that went back to the days of brushed handout motors in an attempt at creating a level - and perhaps less expensive - playing field. The timing has been locked at a preset position, the sensor board cannot be tweaked, the rotor is specific to this motor only (making tech a two-second process), and they’re not available to tuning companies - only straight to track owners and race promoters. Unfortunately, they might be about a decade too late.
Yesterday, I was talking to one of the fast guys that frequents SDRC Raceway about the strengths and weaknesses of the local scene. With a current weekend series drawing over 100 entries for each round and strong weekly club races, the track enjoys a healthy mix of drivers from all ability levels racing in a bunch of different classes.
The driver, who most often races 2WD Modified Buggy and dabbles in either 4WD or Stadium Truck, said he was considering building a new kit just to enter what has easily become the most competitive class at the track, week in and week out.
“I’m thinking of building a stock car,” he said, “The class is just so big.”
Indeed, even when racing against a handful of experienced racers that provide plenty of a challenge in Modified, it’s difficult to resist lining up against two full heats (or more) and seeing where you stack up. However, our conversation quickly took a turn for the worst.
“It’s just stupid what needs to be done to be competitive,” he said, “because stock cars are just so fast these days. You have to spend a lot of money.”
And this is a factory-supported racer.
Indeed, in order to transition from what he currently races in Modified, he’s looking at a hefty amount of parts he’ll have to shell out in order to be on the same level as even just the racers at his home track. “There are lightweight driveshafts, lightened slipper clutches, fancy high-amp chargers,” he said, “but luckily the car I run is already pretty light.” There’s no three-gear tranny option for his buggy yet, but he said one of the stock racers at SDRC has already figured out how to mount a three-gear rear-motor tranny backward.
It doesn’t stop there. Racers have the option of buying ceramic bearings, custom chassis, and exotic metal hardware. “I imagine it’ll be about an additional $XXX in parts (typical hobby shop price) to get into the ballpark of what some of the guys who run here,” said the driver. It’s possible to build any car well under the weight limit.
While announcing the SDRC club races on Wednesday nights, I can admit that I don’t weigh the cars when they come off the track. In fact, I don’t even check the cars for 17.5 motors or “Blinky” mode. Without the help of an additional track crew member, or adding time to the program required to run 8-10 heats on a Wednesday night, there’s no practical way for me to be able to enforce the difference between what a rulebook defines as “legal” and which racers simply sunk some extra dough into the stuff on the hobby shop wall. In fact, at that point, local tracks enforcing what rules most tracks specifically look for (weight, overall dimensions, motors, Blinky mode, etc.) are not only costing the tracks money to enforce, but they’re also potentially stifling to sales of aftermarket equipment from the hobby shop.
The argument you’ve already been formulating in your head (and perhaps started typing furiously into a Facebook comment) is that 2015 money goes a lot further than 2005 money when putting together and maintaining a stock car during the “brushed” era - and there’s no denying that. Yes, what you can get for $1300 (kit, speed control, motor, batteries, radio, tires and wheels) is a heck of a lot better, more durable, and faster than it was “back in the day.” Not only that, but today’s tracks are almost completely different than they were 20 years ago.
As a result, the performance envelope has been pushed far beyond what was possible during that previous generation of RC racing - and when that transition happened, the rules that have defined “stock” or “spec” classes as a means of providing a someone “cost-controlled” form of a stepping stone to Modified died.
Is stock racing too fast? Uh, yeah. The gap between the normal entry-level RC car that an incoming hobbyist might buy, and what he could reasonably use to race at the club level, has never been wider.
While it was originally feared that ROAR could’ve put the stock class in serious jeopardy when they defined 17.5-turn motors as the “new normal” because it was too slow, stock-powered vehicles today would leave the Modified class cars of just ten years ago in the dust on some tracks. And unless there’s enough room to really open up a low-turn motor, most drivers rarely find an advantage in running higher than a 13.5 in the Modified classes. Lap times between “stock” and “modified” lap times are often incredibly close.
Thanks to the tremendous traction and incredible performance of today’s off-road cars on most club tracks, fitting cars with a slower motor as a means of limiting a class will only place a higher importance on every other aspect of the car - the lightweight drivetrain parts, the mass-eliminating options, and the pushed-to-the-limit batteries. That’s already happening now, with the tracks that we race on today and with the current technology. Even if stock racers admitted that the class would be less expensive, better for the sake of the industry, and more fun if stock racing was slower, enacting rules that retract from today’s spec and slow the cars down would be next to impossible.
So not only does an incoming hobbyist have a huge investment to make with buying a new car, but he has to drive it faster than he could’ve possibly imagined - and risk smashing parts doing it. But what if all drivers were free to use one tool that could level the playing field?
Both Spektrum and Traxxas have released two different takes on active stability control systems not dissimilar to what is used on many road cars. The systems analyze the car’s position in relation to the driver’s transmitter inputs in real-time in order to better translate the driver’s intentions to the ground. Both systems allow the driver to adjust the limits of what the system will do, too.
There’s no denying that, with the right amount of research and development, this type of aid could help most drivers at the local level - but the part of the “serious club racer scale” that stands to benefit the most are those with less experience and a slower car. By allowing those drivers access to driving aids, they’ll be better able to exploit the limits of the gear that they do have. And they’ll have more fun, too. The drivers with very fast cars and plenty of practice will likely always be faster with the aids turned off, so the upper limits of “stock racing” speed will continue to be defined by the almighty dollar.
While telemetry was once only offered on a handful of radios, it’s now becoming increasingly standard across manufacturers - and stability control is not far behind. Just like Blinky mode, it's something that will have to be inspected - and leave the door open for manufacturers and drivers to bend the rules. Legalizing stability control across the board might increase everyone’s speed, but the gap between the slower drivers (with the cheaper cars) to the fast drivers could close. If allowing stability control means racers who were currently running 18.4 second laps will dip into the 18.2 range, but it helps a Novice-level racer drop his personal best by 2-3 seconds, the whole racing field will get closer - that could change everything.