Because it’s fun.
That’s the main reason, but it goes much further than that and relates to your 1:1 scale car in a big way.
If you’re one of the many people that think we’re talking here about playing with toy cars, you are absolutely correct but let’s put it into perspective. Unless your full size car is nothing but a practical vehicle you only use for practical applications then you own a toy. If you desire a fast fun car, then you desire a toy.
I’m a firm believer that you don’t get older, your toys just get bigger.
Just like your big toy you can spend a bunch of money and go race it. You’ll find racing from every level from local to international. You can take it at as seriously as you like and as far as your talent will allow. I started when I was something like 12, and was hooked first time I went racing and sucked. When I went the second time and won the junior class I was into it hook line and sinker.
They bumped me up after winning three weeks in a row to the senior class and I’ve sucked ever since, but that hook is still well and truly set.
Personally I’ve mainly been into off road stuff but there are many types of racing. Short Course trucks and buggy for off road, then there’s a few different types of on road racing ranging from small electric cars to big nitro fuel cars. The advantage of electric being they can be raced indoors in large rooms and halls.
I could talk at length about how fun it is, but let’s look at what you can learn and apply to a real car, and even if you wanted to go full sized car racing as well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence we have a few guys at my local track in California that work for stadium truck teams.
First of all, an RC race car is subject to all the same vehicle dynamics as a full size car but when you crash it you don’t get hurt. Fully independent oil filled and fully adjustable suspension, a differential for two wheel drive and three diffs for four wheel drive. On larger gas cars you have adjustable clutch and brakes you adjust the bias on, and every element of the suspension is adjustable. Camber, toe, castor, link lengths… more than your road car and the same as built race car.
That means that you can drop it on the table at a track and make adjustments in a few minutes and drop it back on the track to see and feel the difference. If you think your car in the driveway could do with a stiffer rear sway bar, to know exactly how that effects your car you have to spend a few hundred bucks and spend a couple of hours on it. Then, if you don’t like the effect you have to reverse it and you have a big piece of metal to sell at a loss.
You can understand all the theory of vehicle dynamics, but there is nothing to solidify an understanding of how it all meshes together better than practical application. Figuring out how to get the car to have more initial turn in, or how to get it to rotate better mid corner, how to get more traction out of a corner… is incredibly satisfying. My biggest learning curve was in shock absorbers. I race mainly off road classes where we use what are pretty much tiny coil overs and everything from spring rate to rebound is adjustable. Track to track on different surfaces and different jumps your alignment setup and shock building skills make all the difference once you have the correct tires.
The other aspect of course is racing itself. Having a fundamental experience in racing lines, overtaking lines, working in traffic and all the other attributes that add up to race craft is both fun to learn then lends a genuine understanding to watching full size motor sport. Nothing drills you in the importance of consistency like leading a race for five minutes before overcooking into a corner and stuffing it into a pipe because you didn’t set a realistic pace for staying out in front for twenty minutes. I’m the king of top five finishes because I suck at leading from the front, and then when I watch full size motorsport I have such respect for someone that can do that with so much team time, effort and money on the line as well as the very real possibility of being in the vehicle if there’s a crash.
If it sounds like fun to you and the idea of figuring stuff out like that is appealing, find a local RC car track and go watch. I’ve been all over and I have yet to find a track that isn’t welcoming and hasn’t had a bunch of people happy to help out new blood. I’ve found myself over the years meeting and racing around local, national and world champions only too happy to point people in the right direction. Hell, I’ve had a regular worlds competitor watch my car at a small race, identify a problem and tear apart then rebuild a diff for me between heats.
For fun here’s some world class racing from the finals at the 2014 Nitro Challenge in Arizona. You’ll see how they control the cars in the air using the throttle, brakes and steering to get the nose up or down, and/or to balance the car left and right to land flat. It’s a long race as well so there’s pit stops for fuel…