While the perceived upper echelons of full-size dirt oval racing may be sprint cars or late models, a huge amount of grassroots racing is done by regular Joes wheeling Street Stocks. Not only is this class a common stepping stone for up-and-coming drivers as they pursue dreams of NASCAR, but it’s the Saturday night, under-the-lights racing class of working folks. All across America, drivers spend their time and money transforming Camaros and Monte Carlos into fender-rubbing, dirt-slinging, V8-powered race machines. This is real racing. And, as it often goes, the way things work in full-size racing is how things work in RC. While some race carbon fiber-equipped, high-tech and expensive sprint cars and late models, others get dirty and up and personal with street stocks built out of old buggies. This gritty style of racing is just too cool to pass up, so I decided to build my own street stock ride. My platform of choice was the Traxxas Bandit. I could have gone with the latest and greatest 2WD buggy such as the current IFMAR world champion Team Associated B6 platform, but I decided the buggy basher’s best friend, the Traxxas Bandit, just seemed right for this down and dirty class. Don’t worry, I had a few tricks up my sleeve that I knew would turn the almost 25-year-old fun machine into a true racetrack contender.
ABOUT THE BANDIT
As said above, the Traxxas Bandit has been around for a long time. Released in 1995, the Bandit uses the same Magnum 272 transmission found in the 2WD versions of the Slash, Rustler and Stampede. It shares other parts such as the same chassis as the Rustler and the same shock towers seen on the entire stable. There’s no missing that they’re all related, but the Bandit is noticeably narrower than its siblings. Like the other models, over the years, to keep it from getting long in the tooth, Traxxas has updated it. Body, graphics and wheels got a modern look along the way. Metal gears replaced plastic transmission gears and the transmission now rides on ball bearings. A much better slipper clutch was also incorporated. The Stinger motor has been replaced by the Titan 12T, and a VLX brushless version, which features hex hardware, bigger 5×11 bearings in the hubs and adjustable camber links, has also been made available. The Bandit has grown up, but it is still basically the same buggy it was way back in 1995. It’s simple, fun, easy to work on and a great value. An RC car doesn’t stick around for over two decades if it isn’t a rock solid platform.
LET THE MODS BEGIN
This wouldn’t be much of a project if I left the Bandit bone stock. In addition to the obvious body and tire changes, I made improvements to the suspension and drivetrain. Overall, I kept the chassis stock because the rules where I’m racing require the battery to stay in the original centerline position. I rather offset the battery, but those are the rules. And, speaking of rules, I can’t stress enough that knowing your local rules and what is and isn’t allowed is a must-do step before you start modifying. The rules aren’t the same everywhere and what might be perfectly legal and how you TQ at one track might be blatantly illegal and get you a DQ at another venue. Know before you go.
Now, all of that said, I knew the rules where I planned to race specifically said no aluminum suspension arms or shock towers. Okay, good. I went with graphite shock towers. At one point, the local street stock class was limited exclusively to Team Associated B4 buggies and the rules stated only stock or RPM parts. While the towers I installed weren’t aluminum and, hence, legal, they also weren’t stock or from RPM. It was a little fuzzy as to whether the graphite towers were allowed under the new rules, but with the class now allowing such high tech and high dollar buggies such at the TLR 22 5.0 and the Team Associated B6.1, I didn’t think anyone would complain about some graphite shock towers on a Traxxas Bandit.
As almost everyone in NASCAR knows and believes, at least in the good old days, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” And, as Darrell Waltrip said, “If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot; if you cheat and don’t get caught, you look like a hero; if you cheat and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me where I belong.” He said that back in 1976 after his team was caught cheating with nitrous oxide. I might be a dope, but nitrous is a bit worse than graphite towers. Anyway, I ain’t takin’ the body off unless they make me.
As I previously mentioned, the chassis is essentially stock. I did, however, make some changes to be able to mount a full-fender street stock body on a buggy. First, I added RPM’s wide front bumper. This part is a classic in RPM’s lineup. I mounted this upside down and added universal body posts mounts from Parma. This takes care of front body support and offers some additional protection. In back, I used RPM’s Adjustable Rear Body Mounts & Posts, which are typically used on the Traxxas Slash and Stampede platforms.
- Parma Body Posts 4 1/2″ Long Nylon Part Number 18053
- RPM Adjustable Rear Body Mounts & Posts 81142
- RPM Wide Front Bumper 81162
Buggies, which are made to tackle off-road terrain, which includes ruts, bumps and big jumps, usually have plush, long-travel suspensions. That really isn’t needed for dirt oval, so I lowered my Bandit down and upgraded the suspension at the same time.
For shocks, I went with Pro-Line’s top-of-the-line Pro-Spec shocks. These aluminum 12mm shocks are ridiculously nice. They are precision machined and high quality. The 3.5 mm shock shafts aren’t bending anytime soon and the hard chrome shaft combined with the X-ring seal is as low friction and leak-free as you need to get. The caps feature bleeder screws, so properly bleeding and matching the shocks is easy. These shocks come preassembled, but I took them apart and added 3/8 in. of fuel tubing under each Delrin piston to get the buggy lower to the ground. I filled the shocks with 30 wt. silicone fluid. The one exception was the right front shock, which I filled with 40 wt. fluid. One of the many things I love about the Pro-Spec shocks is Pro-Line offers spring assortments. And, it’s worth noting that I ran front shocks at all four corners.
For shock towers, I went with Xtreme Racing’s carbon fiber dirt oval shock towers. These are a new dirt oval specific design and, like the Pro-Line shocks they’re working with, they are very high quality. At 4 mm of glorious carbon fiber laminate, these things really dress up the Bandit. These will also fit the Traxxas Slash, Rustler and Stampede.
In addition to looking completely trick, the Xtreme towers provide a whole lot more tuning options than the stock towers. The Xtreme Racing front shock tower provides five inner camber link mounting points and 12 upper shock mount locations. The rear tower has four inner camber link mount options and 16 upper shock mounting locations.These towers worked perfectly on the Bandit, but are wide enough to accommodate the wider stance found on the Slash and Rustler. There are no compatibility issues, but most of the upper shock mounting locations won’t be used on the narrower Bandit. The rear tower also features an aluminum adapting mount and both towers include shock mounting hardware.
Between the competition on the track and occasional brushes with the outside wall, dirt oval racing is definitely a contact sport. For years, RPM has been one of the top names in RC durability, so to make sure the suspension arms wouldn’t literally snap under the pressure, I went with RPM Heavy Duty Front and Rear A-Arms. Between the beefed-up design and RPM’s tough nylon, these parts are nearly indestructible. RPM offers the front arms in blue and black and the rear arms in black. I also added RPM’s front and rear outer hubs (bearing carriers). I wasn’t really worried about the stock hubs breaking, but I know for sure the RPM parts won’t.
The Bandit, like its stablemates, uses screw-in hinge pins. The drawback of this design is as the suspension cycles up and down, the movement actually unthreads the hinge pins. This problem gets worse with use and requires constant maintenance. Pro-Line’s Pro-2 Hinge Pin Set completely solves this problem and is an upgrade that is 100% worth every penny whether you’re a backyard basher or a racer. And, in addition to being secured with a locknut, the hinge pins are hardened steel for durability and wear resistance.
- Pro-Line Pro-2 Hingepin Set 6096-00
- Pro-Line Pro-Spec Front Short Course Shocks 6308-30
- Pro-Line Pro-Spec Short Course Front Spring Assortment 6308-21
- RPM Front Bearing Carriers 80372
- RPM Heavy Duty Front A-Arms 80492
- RPM Heavy Duty Rear A-Arms 73282
- RPM Rear Bearing Carriers 80382
- Xtreme Carbon Fiber Front Shock Tower 10641
- Xtreme Carbon Fiber Rear Shock Tower 10642
I once again turned to RPM. This time it was their aftermarket transmission case made for the Magnum 272. This isn’t my first rodeo with this item. I’ve used this setup for years on a brushless-powered Stampede. You can read a review here. The RPM kit replaces the transmission halves, and the RPM case design seals the hole at the bottom. The main benefit, arguably, is the 3 mm thick 6061 T6 aluminum motor plate. This helps with motor cooling and is far superior at holding the motor in position compared to the stock plastic motor mount. The real secret weapon, however, is the fact that RPM went with separate suspension arm mounts. This is a huge advantage for dirt oval because it allows you to adjust rear toe differently on each side. For example, I can, thanks to the RPM design, run 3º on the left rear and 0º on the right rear. Of course, I could run identical toe on both sides, as well. To protect the gears, I installed RPM’s popular gear cover for the Traxxas Magnum 272 transmission. The stock cover has a hole for clearance around the drive output. The RPM case fixes this problem. Be aware that the depending on the inner camber link mount locations you use, you may not have enough room for any gear cover. While I’d prefer to run a cover, if given the option, not using one isn’t a big deal. While it isn’t the case in street stock, to make tech inspection easier, many of the spec classes require you not use a gear cover.
- RPM Gear Cover 80522
- RPM Gearbox Housing and Rear Mounts 73612
BODY, TIRES & WHEELS
Five companies come to mind for Street Stock bodies–Custom Works, JConcepts, McAllister, MR/Kustoms and Shark RC Bodies. Four of the five offer Camaro shells with MR/Kustoms being the one exception. JConcepts and McAllister have ’70s-era Camaros, which are extremely popular at the track–RC and full-size. The Custom Works is a more late model ’80s Camaro and the Shark RC Bodies is a true modern-era Camaro. Did you know that the internal nickname at General Motors for the Camaro was the Panther? If that particular bow tie isn’t your thing, don’t worry. McAllister has a wide range of other offerings ranging from Mustangs to Monte Carlos, and Mr/Kustoms and Shark RC Bodies have alternatives. I guess this goes with any race class or type of RC racing, but it’s definitely true with dirt oval, you need to check your local rules before settling on a body. Some tracks have approved body lists, so check first.
I chose the McAllister 70s Camaro Street Stock body, which as I said, is probably the most popular choice. It’s made out of o.040 Lexan, but McAllister states different thicknesses are available. Matt Bury Digital Designed cut the custom vinyl numbers and lettering. If you want custom vinyl, I highly suggest hooking up with Digital Designed. As cliche as it sounds, from mild to wild, Digital Designed has you covered. Can you identify where I got the paint scheme?
[Insert grumpy old man voice] If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, tires are the single most important part of setup. [Okay, back to normal] All other things being equal, any day of the week, a car with a poor suspension and chassis setup but the right tires will beat a car with a good setup and the wrong tires. Whether you agree with me or not, at least you know how important I believe tire choice is, and with that I went with Pro-Line’s still-new Hoosier Angle Block rear tires and Super Chain Link front tires. These tires not only look scale, but are made to perform. The Angel Block tires feature a rounded side tread that, according to Pro-Line, is designed for a consistent slide that will not catch ruts. The inside of the front tires are smooth while the rear tires have reinforcement bars to help the carcass hold its shape when accelerating and cornering. The Hoosiers include Pro-Line’s blue closed-cell foam inserts and offer the tires in “soft” M3 and “super soft” M4.
We wanted learn more about the Pro-Line Hoosier tires, so we went right to the source–the designer, Pro-Line’s Gerardo Gonzalez.
RC Truck Stop:
The Pro-Line Hoosier Angle Block and Super Chain Link tires are obviously race tires, but they’re also realistic tread patterns. Is it harder to design a tire that must factor in both performance and appearance? What challenges did you encounter?
Yes, it’s harder because you want to match that scale look, but a real car is a lot heavier, so trying to get that same grip out of a scale tire can be difficult. The challenge to get a tire to work in RC is the tread spacing can only be spaced out so much before you start losing that scale look. We believe we hit that right balance with the Hoosier tires.
RC Truck Stop:
The Pro-Line Hoosier tires include closed-cell foam inserts. What advantages does closed-cell offer open-cell inserts and how do the two materials impact handling?
The closed-cell inserts give the tire better sidewall support and it lasts longer than open-cell inserts. Dirt oval racing generates a lot more sidewall force, so that support is key in maintaining a consistent run.
RC Truck Stop:
Do you recommend venting the wheel or tire on Hoosiers and how big and how many holes?
We generally put two holes in the wheel and two holes on the tire opposite of each other just offset from the top center of the tire. Both around 2 mm wide.
For wheels, I decided to switch from the pin-driven Traxxas wheels to hex-driven Pro-Line Veleocity 2.2 wheels. I went with what are “AE offset” wheels. To be able to use hex wheels, I installed Slash front axles and used Traxxas black hexes on all four corners. I will also use Traxxas gray hexes on front wheels when I want to increase wheel spacing, which impacts handling. It’s worth noting that the rear outer axles, not the drive shafts, are the same on the Bandit, Slash, Rustler and Stampede.
BODY, TIRES & WHEELS PARTS
- Digital Designed Cut Vinyl Numbers
- McAllister 70’s Camaro Street Stock Body 264
- Pro-Line Hoosier Angle Block 2.2 M3 8274-02
- Pro-Line Hoosier Super Chain Link 2.2 M3 8275-02
- Pro-Line Velocity 2.2″ Hex Front Wheels 2735-04
- Pro-Line Velocity 2.2″ Hex Rear Wheels 2736-04
- RPM Adjustable Rear Body Mounts & Post 81142
- Traxxas 12mm Hex Wheel Hubs w/Axle Pins 7154
- Traxxas Slash Front Axle 3637
For battery power, I turned to SMC. Lately, this company has been a go-to source for bashers, but, make no mistake, SMC is well known in oval racing. I chose a SMC True Spec Premium 5200 75C 2S LiPo. This is a high-quality pack offered at a reasonable price. While there are plenty of companies with much higher claimed C rates, the SMC 75C has plenty of punch and I trust the SMC numbers. To learn more about LiPos and why higher C rating labels don’t always equal more performance, check out this article.
My transmitter of choice for this build is the Hitec Lynx 4S 2.4 GHz system. This is a high-end system that is perfect for racing, as it’s loaded with adjustability. It’s just as well suited for crawling, as it has four channels and ton of programability. In this application, I most often reply on it’s exponential adjustments, for throttle and steering, and the dual rate for steering. Some of my favorite features are the built-in antenna and 30-model memory. I also love that the 12-character model naming means I don’t have to use cryptic abbreviations. My guilty pleasure on this radio is the ability to upload and program in .wav files for custom tones. The Hitec Lynx 4S is literally every radio I’ve ever loved rolled into one.
I did swap out the standard RTR Traxxas servo for a more high performance servo. Between the pipes and the other cars, a servo that’s fine for the backyard will quickly give up the ghost at the dirt track. so, for steering duties, I also went with Hitec. While hardcore racers know it, many people may not realize that Hitec makes some of the absolute best servos in the business. For this project, I’m using Hitec’s DB777WP low-profile brushless servo. This servo has a full metal case and is completely waterproof–all good features–but the reason it’s ideal for this application are its metal gears and lightning fast speed. At 6 volts the transit time is 0.08 seconds. At 7.4 volts it’s an even faster 0.06 seconds. Word of warning when using a low-profile servo such as the DB777WP, it does require some trimming of the servo mount to get the servo to clear without the servo lead getting pinched.
- Hitec Lynx 4S transmitter 16201
- Hitec DB777WP Brushless Servo
- SMC True Spec Premium 5200 75C 2S LiPo 52390-2S1P
My local track, for both off-road and dirt oval, is Thunder Alley R/C Speedway in Wilson, North Carolina, which is part of the World of R/C Parts hobby store complex. It’s a small, flat outdoor oval with clay-mix surface. It can, at times, have a thin, loose layer of dust on top and at times it gets partially grooved, meaning it’s not a full blue-groove track. Regular watering and/or use of a leaf blower on race day keeps the dust at bay and the traction up. Overall, it’s not so small that it’s a crash-fest bullring and it’s not so big that top speed is the only determining factor.
My first run with the dirt oval Street Stock Bandit was just a shakedown, but it also happened to be a trophy race. On one hand, I just wanted to make sure my best-guess baseline setup was close enough to make it around the track and, on the other hand, I wanted the car to be as close to competitive as possible. The good news is it didn’t want to instantly spin out. Okay, so I knew the tires would work. Second, I was looking for excessive body roll. Here, I’m just trying to see if I have way too soft of a suspension setup. Next, I try to eyeball where my gearing is at. I should mention that these three things–traction, body roll and gearing–are all interrelated. How so? Well, if the car wants to spin, I will probably try a gearing change before a tire change. To be more specific, if the car is spinning out, I’ll swap in a larger pinion. This is especially true if the car is on-power loose. And, if the car is rolling over too much in the turns, I’ll typically try stiffer outside springs. If that works, I’ll quickly try going down a tooth on the pinion and see if I can get away with it. Now, if the race car is loose on- and off-power and I just can’t drive the thing, I will try softer compound rear tires or a different tread pattern. Anyway, my initial goal is to just get the car race-worthy. After I have the car where I’m comfortable with it, I try to see where it might be pushing–if it’s pushing at all. This is where I’m trying to go from drivable to fast. I want the car to turn with as little steering input as possible.
This trophy race was a night race, under the lights, and consisted of two four-minute qualifiers and a five-minute main. All qualifiers and mains featured rolling starts. The qualifiers were your typical racing-again-the-clock affair, which means the rolling starts are a bit counterintuitive, at least in my opinion, but they add some fun and excitement and are good practice for the mains. I started in the back of the pack in the first qualifier and quickly moved up to second. I knew I didn’t have anything for the leader as my Bandit had a horrible push. It just didn’t want to turn, but it was fast enough and handled well enough that I easily held on to second, finished a lap down to the leader and a couple laps up on the third place car. For the second qualifier, I added a softer right front spring and stiffer right rear spring and added traction compound to both front tires. Even though I was racing in typically warm North Carolina, this night it was only 40º and getting colder. The Pro-Line Hoosier Angle Block rear tires in M4 were perfect, but I selected M3 Super Chain Link front tires. The front were probably too firm in this cold weather. The changes I made definitely helped, but the outcome was the same in the second round. I picked up a lap, but so did the race leader. I settled for second again, but was pleased to be going in the right direction. By the time the main rolled around, I found the track to be a bit slicker, which worked in my favor. I got a decent start, but I ultimately just wanted to avoid a first turn wreck. The racer starting third must have felt he had a little less to lose and dove hard into the first turn. I let him have the inside with plenty of room. I just as quickly reclaimed second and took advantage of a couple mistakes by the leader and took the lead. So, here I was leading the A-main with a Traxxas Bandit built with a bench setup (aka best-guess setup). Right then I knew it was mission accomplished for this Bandit dirt oval conversion. Since he had an overall much faster car, when the leader caught me, I didn’t exactly pull over, but I didn’t fight too hard either. I was content to let him eventually pass. I just followed in the ready for any slip ups. We had a good race going until I heard a beeping. A loud ominous beeping. My Hitec Lynx radio was dying. I hadn’t charged it in weeks and I had left it in display mode on my bench accidentally for about five minutes. Those dumb moves combined with the really cold weather meant I didn’t have enough radio juice for a five minute race. With my transmitter beeping away, I hung on for a few rather-distracted laps until while throttling down the back straight, I turned and, well, the car didn’t. Interestingly, it wasn’t the failsafe that kicked in, the metal screw backed out of the metal gear servo. Talk about the fates not being with me. Even if I had charged my radio, I never would have finished the race. Oh well, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. It seems like I was determined to be a bug actively aiming for the windshield. The Traxxas Bandit, all of the modifications, the Hitec radio were all great. I was undone by my own rookie mistakes. I’m not exactly crying a river. Like I said, it was clearly mission accomplished. I froze my butt off, but I had fun and this car will be back at the track as soon as possible.
Well, that was fun. I absolutely love the Street Stock class and was thrilled with my Traxxas Bandit race machine. While I’m not 100% sure it wasn’t the only Bandit out there, I liked having something a little different and I got a thrill out of running up front with a more budget build–at least in comparison to the brand new buggies. For more on the budget build aspect, see the “epilogue” below. While it’s built for fun, there’s no doubt the Traxxas Bandit can be a competitive dirt oval race car. If you already have a Traxxas Bandit or have a line on a good used one, doing a Traxxas Bandit dirt oval conversion is a no brainer. If you’re racing a Traxxas platform in another class, such as Mudboss, it also makes sense to go with a Bandit for the convenience of parts interchangeability. The Bandit I created is going to see a lot more track action. In fact, I’ve been so impressed with it, I plan to build a second one for my son. Hope to see you at the track.
I’ve worked in RC media since 1998. First, as a freelance writer and eventually as a group editor-in-chief. Over the years, I’ve built many project vehicles and have seen many more. I have tried to avoid the bolt-on bonanzas. I’ve never been a fan of installing every widget just for the sake of replacing every part. These sort of project vehicles almost always end up being really expensive shelf queens. Usually, loaded with aluminum, they shine like a Cadillac bumper, but weigh three times as much as stock and often perform worse in every category. For me, I always start with a theme and/or purpose for each build. The purpose for this project is pretty obvious–race performance. In my opinion, the goal was achieved. But, I believe it would be a bad idea if you built a Traxxas Bandit Street Stock exactly the way I did. What? Some of the parts didn’t work well? Nope. The parts and Bandit all kicked butt. So, let me explain. One of the best and most frequent reasons to go with a Bandit as a race platform is that it can be done on a budget. The second best reason, maybe even tied for first, is the substantial factory and aftermarket support. If you take full advantage of the second reason all at once, spend a good chunk of change and bolt-on a bunch of awesome modifications, you kind of defeat the first reason. Hey, it’s your money, but I advise building as you race. Slow your roll. In my opinion, if you’re going to cruise into the hobby store and drop hundreds all at once, you might as well get a buggy kit that’s made specifically for racing. Granted, the Bandit will probably still win the budget battle in the long run. My goal is to show what could be built, not what needs to be built all at once. So, by all means, do it your way, but please just realize you don’t need to go on a spending spree to get a Traxxas Bandit ready to race on a dirt oval.
Update (1/7/2020): I finished my project dirt oval Bandit weeks ago. Between racing and going up to practice, it’s been to the track multiple times. But, is an RC project ever really done? Since finishing my original build, I have messed with setup and I’ve also added a few parts. The first addition is an aluminum bulkhead from STRC (ST Racing Concepts). This CNC-machined piece replaces the stock plastic bulkhead and provides a secure mount for the front suspension arms, bumper and shock tower. Besides being beautifully machined, what I like most about STRC’s bulkhead is it isn’t just an aluminum exact copy of the stock component. The geometry is the same, but front of the bulkhead is hollowed out, which creates the perfect spot to add chassis weight if desired. If you know 2WD buggies you know it’s fairly common to add nose weight. Today’s buggies are light enough and so overpowered that we can add weight where we want it instead searching for ways to shed every ounce possible. Not only does the STRC aluminum bulkhead easily accommodate ballast, but it’s slightly heavier than the stock plastic piece it replaces–39 grams versus 25 grams. That’s not exactly a profound difference, but it does add weight where I want it. I choose gum metal, but STRC also offers this part in blue, green, red and silver.
The other part I added was also from STRC. This time it was their CNC Machined Heat Treated Polished Front King Pins. The kingpins on the Bandit, Rustler, Stampede and Slash are notorious for bending and that exactly what one of mine did. Dirt oval is a contact sport. These are sold in pairs, so even though I bent one, I replaced both.
Last, in addition to trying a variety of spring combinations, messing with shock fluid (I’m now running 30 wt. in all four shocks), tweaking camber and front wheel spacing (I’m using a gray wide front hex on the left front tire), I switched to “super soft” M4 compound on all four Pro-Line Hoosier tires.
- Pro-Line Hoosier Angle Block 2.2 M4 8274-03
- Pro-Line Hoosier Super Chain Link 2.2 M4 8275-03
- Pro-Line Velocity 2.2″ Hex Front Wheels 2735-04
- Pro-Line Velocity 2.2″ Hex Rear Wheels 2736-04
- STRC Aluminum Front Bulkhead ST2530GM
- STRC CNC Machined Heat Treated Polished Front King Pins ST3640-FK