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Will Nitro Short Course Ever Take Off?

Before short course trucks came along and almost instantly became the dominate segment in hobby, nitro was the most popular power type. Nitro-powered monster trucks, buggies and truggies were the hobby. Even when on-road racing was popular (I call it the Dodge Stratus era of RC), nitro was almost as popular as the electric cars. Yup, before short course, nitro enjoyed a pretty long reign as king.

The popularity was most often chalked up to the fact that nitro appeals to the senses more so than electric. You can see and even smell the smoke and, of course, hear the engine. And, for a lot of people, nitro made it less of a toy since it had a “real” engine. At the same time, electric technology hadn’t yet blossomed. It also didn’t hurt that when you went to the hobby store to get your first RC car–often the hugely popular Traxxas T-Maxx–you most likely got a RTR with a nitro engine.


When short course took off, it officially took off when Traxxas released the electric-powered Slash in 2008. Traxxas, however, wisely had nitro covered with the fuel-burning Slayer which was announced three months later. We were all now short course racers, and the whole short course phenomenon happened fast–like something out of 28 days Later fast. It happened so fast that it took a little while before we noticed that nitro short course trucks (and there were more options than the Slayer) was rather conspicuously absent from the track.

Electric had officially reclaimed the throne by mid 2009, and for the next few years, the dynamic duo of short course and electric built on its dominance. In the meantime, the Slayer was updated, Jammin’ and OFNA continued with their nitro offerings and Associated had the SC8. There have also been more than a few nitro short course trucks from what can best be described as the off brands. There wasn’t exactly a shortage of nitro short course options, and yet, none were at the track.


Lately some high-profile nitro-powered short course trucks have been released–the Team Losi Racing (TLR) TEN-SCT Nitro and Team Associated SC10GT. These are both legit racers. They’re fine for bashing, of course, but if there were ever two releases that could kick start nitro-powered short course racing, it’s these two trucks. Yet, nothing. I’ve raced short course at six different tracks this past summer, and I can say with reasonable confidence that nitro and short course racing just don’t seem to mix. Why? Maybe it has nothing to do with short course and is simply because the coolness of nitro with its smoke and noise has lost its appeal when compared to the ease of use and power output of current-day electric systems. I’m not buying that. There’s more to it than that … at least I believe there is.

Ultimately, I am perplexed. There are plenty of choices. The traits that made nitro so desirable four years ago are still there today. I am actually beyond perplexed. I am shocked. With the full-size short course trucks being so much about power with their high horsepower V8 engines, one would think that, on the RC side, nitro short course be the most popular nitro class we’ve ever seen at the track. Imagine a field of ten TRL TEN-SCT Nitro trucks. Imagine the buzz of multiple engines as the trucks take off into turn one with smoke trails and rooster tails of dirt thrown in the air as they push each other out of the way. Picture all of that and answer: Will nitro short course ever take off?

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  1. I have only been into RC for a short while, so take my response how you will. Short course trucks seemed to appear roughly around the time that brushless motors became wildly popular. Brushless motors brought big power and speed while running cooler and more efficient that the previous brush motors. This was serious competition to the nitro world. When I got into RC around 2007 or 08 the first truck I bought was the Rustler VXL. I was starstruck by the 70MPH claims right on the front of the box. My friend who first got me into the hobby shop had an Associated MGT. When I got my Rustler home and out of the box, I let him play with it. He bought one the very next day. He has since almost forgotten about his MGT, and has bought several electrics since then. The MGT was a bad@$$ truck, but there was no competition in a drag race, cornering, or bash-ability. Any time he has taken out his MGT, he is always working on it. Brushless and its lack of maintenance, was the nail in the coffin for nitro, not so much that a new class sprung out of nowhere that seemed to favor electric.

  2. It really is amazing how much nitro has fallen off. I like Nitro RCs, I would get another Savage in the future…The thing I dont like is on every electric RC vid you can see someone saying “that would be better if it was nitro” or “its not nitro” or something like that. Nitro is very cool because it gives you a more realistic feel, but it has its disadvantages. With brushless growing so fast and so many indoor leagues the nitro RCs are naturally fading. Its easier to give a kid or anyone an electric RC. Less maintainence and less money. I think Nitro will always be around but the popularity will decrease.

    1. I’ve said for years that a micro-sized EFI system would change nitro. The need to constantly tune and the high likelihood of making mistakes while tuning are major reasons why nitro isn’t embraced by everyone. Add in the fact that simple mistakes can make them fickle. I see people stop nitro engines by plugging the exhaust and I want to tell them that technique will flood the combustion chamber and starting the engine difficult and/or gum up things if allowed to sit like that. I’d love to see an EFI with a kill switch that cut fuel off and, of course, the ability to tune on its own.

  3. wait, what ever happened to hpi’s 1/8th scale gas engine?????

    it’ll take a big new innovation to bring fuel burners back to the forefront. something like what brushless and lipos did for electrics.

  4. Good topic,

    I’m thinking that it may possibly be more of “when” vs. “will” Nito SC take off. The answer to that is something that I can’t say for sure. With the shift to the elec. side of the hobby, for sure in the racing side, the nitro side has fallen off from where it was. That alone will more than likely push the “when” back further than it would have been if the Nitro side was still the preferred class(s) for most to run.

    I agree that Nitro in general had a very long run in populairty. You did leave out the gas trucks (1/10th niro ST) though, which for a long time was the cheaper Nitro class to run for most. 1/8th Buggies back then were looked at as being very expensive (not that it’s all that much cheaper now) and to a point they were. the Gas Truck class gave the racers who wanted the option to run Nitro a class to do so. I actually miss that class a bit.

    The Nitro side has always been looked at by many in the hobby as something that is more serious and more involved. Not just a plug ang play thing. There is truth to that, but it’s not as over complicated as some have been lead to believe either. Sure, there are things that have to be known and understood about them. Tuning can be somewhat of an art, but it’s not some sort of black magic voodoo to get right. A lot of the newer Nitro engines and fuels are better than they used to be and has helped to make many things about them easier to run.

    Yet the stigma if Nitro being too hard to run remains and I suspect that it will always be there to an extent. We have all heard the numerous reasons for why people don’t like Nitro. Some are with out a doubt correct and some are not even close to being true. With the advent of the LiPo/Brushless Tech. for the elec. side, the shift towards elec. was almost a given. Took a little time and with the help of some new car/truck designs/classes (SC’s and 2wd Buggies come to mind), the shift went in high gear (pun intended).

    What will it take to get the Nitro side back on top or near the top again? An advancement in Nitro tech. such as EFI? Maybe, but I do love the challenge of having to tune for different locations, adds a degree of difficulty and helps keep you on your toes so to say. A 4 stroke engine? Maybe, though some are out there now and have been tried, albeit not with the same results to what is already available. Costs and designs may need to be cleaned up a bit before that could take off and become the norm.

    So what will it take then? In my best guess, it’s going to take the people in the Hobby to want it. Want a change of pace. Want something “new” to run. Want something different from what is out there now. Right now, the desires of people in the hobby is such that Nitro is taking a back seat to elec. in many places. Just as Elec. was when Nitro was King. Nitro will come back around. Just as it has before. Will a Nitro Sc still be a viable class to run at that time is anyone’s guess. I’d sure like ot see something like Nitro ST, SC, and 4×4 SC be popular and only time will tell if that can happen.

    1. First, excellent comment, James. Thank you for reading this article and leaving such an intelligent comment.

      I think one thing that could kick start a nitro short course movement would be longer mains. Most tracks I race at still consider an 8-minute electric main to “long.” Granted, it’s a huge improvement over the 4-minute sprints we used to run, but I would love to run a 20-minute nitro short course main.

      1. Well I am from florida and nitro was huge I raced the winter nat. Races all over florida onroad and was all nitro and also raced a 1/8th buggy now living in Tennessee seems to be all eletric wich I was never in to since the old frog I am thing its because they can’t race out doors due to wether

  5. Matt,

    Thank you for the kind words. I’m not always a smart man, but I do have my moments.

    Longer mains for Nitro shouldn’t be an issue. Most Nitro mains at a club level are 15-20 minutes now, so I wouldn’t see why they would be shorter than that for the Nitro SC’s. At the very least I suely wouldn’t understand that logic if mains for a Nitro SC were shorter.

    There are a couple of things that could help and/or hurt Nitro SC, or Nitro 1/10th in general for that matter, from becoming popular or popular again. Some of this might not be exactly on topic, so bare with me.

    First, the lengths of a race day. There are a lot of complaints that most race days are too long now and should be shorter. I disagree with that. There is a reason it’s referred to as a race “day” and not a race “half day” or race “hours”. I am not saying that most race programs can’t be improved to be more efficient than what they are. We all know that they can be. The issue is that it is never short enough for people. It’s a matter of convenience. Many only want what is convenient for them first, then everything else can follow. This speaks to society as a whole and the world we live in, but is easy to see in the hobby. If it’s not convenient, they’d rather not be a part of it.

    That doesn’t help. The race day (or night) will take as long as it takes to get through the program. Wether the program is run efficiently or not, it’ll take what it takes. Unfortunetly, that just isn’t good enough for some. Which would then lead me to ask why would you rac ethen to begin with if you can’t or don’t have the time it’ll take to do so? When I show up for a race, I plan on being there for the duration. If I can’t, I’ll either leave early or not make it. It’s really that simple. Now changing the mindset for those that already think the day (or night) is too long, so longer mains could be run is where the effort will need to be placed. It’ll be no walk in the park in doing so, but it’s not impossible either.

    Second, and this could possibly help the Nitro 4×4 SC’s. Depending on where you currently run an Elec. 4×4 SC (big outdoor track or small indoor track), making an 8 or 10 minute main could prove very difficult to do. There are many reasons why that could be an issue and a number of ways to correct it (I know of a couple threads that are around discussing that very topic). If the outdoor 4×4 SC racers are having too many issues with their elec. gear, then the step to a Nitro 4×4 SC might not be a bad thing. At the very least the reliabilty of a Nitro 4×4 SC could prove more useful in that track setting. Why that has yet to be the case probably has to do with the stigma that Nitro has, as was already addressed. If you only run your elec. 4×4 SC indoors, then a Nitro option maynot be something worth looking at. Which leads me to my last point.

    Third, the running if Nitro indoors just isn’t an option for most people, racers, or tracks. While not impossible to do, it’s not very common either. I know of a few places that can and do run Nitro indoors and do so very well, but those places are few and far between. It takes a lot of work to make sure that everything is done right so that the exhaust fuems are properly ventilated. That alone is usually enough for most places to to not even want to bother with it. The added costs to do the ventilating correctly is usually more than track owners can afford. Never mind that it still may not even be legal to do in a given place due to local laws and Reg.’s.

    Outdoors shouldn’t have all of those issues. Noise may be a concern, but if that track is already or has been running Nitro classes, it should be doable with Nitro SC’s. Again time will tell if that can or will happen. Hopefully some 1/10th Nitro racing will happen again somewhere and I hope that those that take part in it enjoy it.

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