You didn’t win? Again?! You’re foot-stomping mad and about ready to spike your transmitter like you just scored a game-winning touchdown–only in rage. While we wait for the whambulance, let’s take a look at what you’re doing wrong. Yes, I said you’re doing something wrong. I’m not your kindergarten teacher or your mom–it’s all on you. The bad news it’s all your fault and not the fault of the guy who you think bumped you or the corner marshal who didn’t make like Usain Bolt when you wrecked yourself. The good news is we can fix it. Here are the top five reasons you’re not winning:
5. WRONG GEARING
There’s only one way to get the hot gearing setup (that’s hot as in good, not hot as in letting the magic smoke out) and that’s experimentation. Get a temp gun and make long enough runs to see how hot your setup really gets. 30 second runs don’t count. Also, I don’t want to see you fry your electronics, but make some big changes. Motors usually have this gearing sweet spot where they really come alive. If you’re going to try a big 10-tooth pinion change, check the temps frequently, but keep going to see just how hot it gets. Here’s a story about conventional wisdom being wrong. Back in 2005, I was in Italy covering the 1/10-scale electric off-road world championship. The track had next to no traction, so I asked world champion Mark Pavidis what he adjusts first when traction is this bad. His answer was gearing. He puts on a bigger pinion, so that acceleration and power “off the line” is lessened. He didn’t go with a smaller pinion to make the vehicle slower and easier to drive. He put on a big ol’ pinion to take the snap out of it. Incidentally, Neil Cragg, who eventually won the 2WD class, took the top spot with a 5-cell pack as opposed to the typical 6-cell pack (no LiPos in racing back then).
4. NOT PRACTICING
Not only are you not practicing enough, but when you do, you’re doing it wrong. Step one is to practice, practice and, you guessed it, practice some more. And, it’s not a tuning session, it’s a driving session. Don’t worry about setup. The more you drive, the less you’ll be mentally dependent on setup being the key to victory. Step two is practice after race day, not for hours before racing starts. You can still show up early and knock the kinks out of your RC truck and make sure everything works, but save the marathon practice session for after racing. The track will most likely be empty and the racing surface will be in actual race condition. Even if it’s a little blown out, it’s a whole lot better to practice on than the dry pre-race track. Another practice trick is to treat the race program like practice. Instead of worrying about where you finish, focus only on being faster than your last run. Of course, try to do more laps than the last time (somewhat hard to pull off on big tracks), but try to improve your fastest lap and get your average time (if the time sheet shows it) as close to possible to your fastest lap. When your average lap time is close to your fastest lap time, you are consistent. Consistency wins races. A single hot lap never does. Basically, the only thing you should worry about beating is your last best effort.
3. GOING BIG
The vast majority of tracks aren’t made for one class or vehicle type. Often the track that guys race big block truggies on is the same track as the 17.5 short course class runs on. So, some jumps, such as big motocross style doubles and triples, are made for truggies to sky over and are not really possible for short course trucks to clear. The big jumps that send your truck flying sky high may be fun and the hang time may be impressive, but you’d be much faster if you took the jump a little slower and got back on the ground sooner. You see, your truck only gets slower while it’s in the air. On the dirt, the tires get traction and you can go faster. In the air, you only decelerate; on the ground you can accelerate. Pretty neat, huh? So, air equals slow and ground equals fast. Sometimes tracks are designed as compromise tracks—the jumps are just big enough to satisfy the 1/8-scale truggy guys, but small enough that short course trucks should be able to clear them. This is usually worse as it tempts you to, well, tempt fate—each and every lap. I am here to tell you to not go big. Don’t go for it. I’m talking about that one double that you clear most of the time . . . but not always. The single second you shave off your time that one time you clear it in an actual race isn’t worth the many, many seconds you add to your time when you case the jump multiple times. What is easy in practice, when everything is fresh and at its best and when you can pick the perfect line, is often much harder during the race when motors and batteries fade and some dude is leaning on your fender like Dale Sr. The other time to not go big is when there is a pack of trucks in front of you. If “Move B*tch” by Ludacris instantly pops in your head every time a truck is in front of you, you need to back off a bit. Crashing is slow. Whether it’s one truck, two or three, it is far better to pick them off one at a time with deliberate and planned passes. Don’t just go for it. In a club race, 90% of passes aren’t planned. What I mean, is most drivers catch a car and just keep going around it—wreckers or checkers. Most drivers don’t pick where they are going to pass and just pass as they catch the RC car in front of them. Instead, catch, wait, and pass in the corner (when they blow wide).
2. WRONG TIRES
I have been beating this drum for a long, long time. Racers love to talk setup. I think they like bench racing more than actually racing and would take winning a forum argument over winning a race. Here’s the deal, shock fluid, caster, piston hole size, camber, roll center, etc., etc. is all fine tuning. Tires are tuning. None of that other stuff matters until you have the right tires, and even then it really matters very little. Keep your RC truck in good shape, keep it clean, keep the right tires on it and keep it off the pipes. Also, there’s no rule saying you have to run the same tires on the front and rear of your short course truck or truggy. While having only one tire to keep track of is more convenient, you simply don’t need to run the same tires front and rear. While conventional wisdom tells more traction is better and super soft compounds give more traction, the fact of the matter is super soft compound isn’t always the best. Super soft tires can cause traction rolls. They can also be too soft for some tread designs. When this happens the tread folds over and the handling is erratic. Super soft tires also wear out really fast. Also, rotate those tires. Even if you just rotate the rears to the opposite side, you will notice a difference. Take a close look at the tread. Even if the tread height looks good, a close inspection will show how much the edges round off from wear. Rotating the tires will give you a new sharp edge to grab into the dirt.
1. OVERDRIVING CORNERS
Overdriving corners is the number one driving mistake racers make. Slow the ____ down, already. You aren’t shooting the opening sequence for a Duke of Hazzard remake. That dust slinging power slide is just about the most out of control and slow way around the corner you can take. Go wide, roll in slow or tap the brakes and accelerate at the apex and on out. Why pay for a speed control with proportional throttle if you’re going to use it like a light switch? When you go in hot, slide to the outside, hit everyone and the track barrier and then grab full throttle, it may look fast, but it’s hack and leaves the door wide open for inside passes by the guy who actually drives his race truck like a race truck. Slow in, accelerate out. That’s how it’s done. Be smooth. You’ve probably heard slow is fast. Well, slow is fast and smooth is freaking ballistic. It may not look fast, but smooth wins races. Think of the corner as a group of girls at the club. You can’t go flying in there like you’re doing a smash and grab. You have to be smooth—don’t freak ‘em out. There, now I’ve told you have to drive RC cars and pick up girls. How’s that for a website?