The full title of this Commentary article could easily be “You Should Pay To Practice And Pay Twice As Much For Racing But I Have An Idea To Get All The Track Time You Want For Free” . . . but that is way too long. Before I start getting you all bent out of shape with my thoughts regarding why practice should be a pay to play affair and my equally crazy notion that you are paying too little to race, I want you to do a few things for me. First, go to a bowling alley and just start bowling. Walk in, grab a ball and start winging it down an alley. If they ask what you’re doing, just tell them you’re only practicing. Next, go to a pool hall, grab a tray of balls and—you guessed it—just start taking shots. See where I’m going with this?
Those above mentioned examples may seem a little outrageous, but on the flip side, why do we RC racers feel entitled to free practice at the RC track? Hobby shops with tracks have overhead every day of the week, and yet the vast majority do not charge for track time other than on race day. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pay to practice. I don’t want pay for food at the grocery store either. The bottom line is the track costs money morning, noon and night. As foreign of a concept as it seems, it shouldn’t seem that unreasonable to pay to practice. As a matter of a fact, I can’t think of one good reason for hobby shops to not charge for practice. Most hobby shop owners don’t charge because they want happy customers and don’t want to be the bad guy. They are rewarded by a racing community that increasingly buys online.
If your head hasn’t already exploded, brace yourself. Like I said above, not only do I think we should pay for practice, but I think we should pay twice as much for racing as we do. This position isn’t going to earn me any friends. How do I know this? Well, show me an RC’er not complaining about race fees and I’ll show you a backyard basher. I suggest doubling the price simply because I want to see more tracks stay open and I want to see tracks in a better position to be able to reinvest in their business.
By now, you are probably shaking your fist and cursing me out . . . or you may be wondering how I think, as mentioned, you can handle all these additional costs for free. It’s simple and it’s all in the hands of the hobby shop. It will take a little bit of work (not really as most computerized register systems are built to do this), but it will be well worth it for all parties involved. The idea is called “Track Bucks” and it’s not an original idea (but it is one I pretty much never see implemented). The plan is simple. The more you spend at the hobby store, the more Track Bucks you earn. Track Bucks can be used to pay for track time and for race fees. If you’re a loyal customer, you will probably practice and race for next to nothing. In contrast, if you go online to save $10 on a $275 car, you can pay to use the track. Makes sense, right? Seems fair too, right?