Getting Started (Beginner's Help)


First things first:
There may be some terms in this brief tutorial that you may not be familiar with.  Don't fret, we got you covered!  We have made an extensive glossary of terms that should explain anything you need to know.  We have automatically linked any terms on this page, that we think might be hard ones, to our glossary, so you can just click on them to see the definitions.  If there are any other terms that aren't linked,  you can feel free to look them up yourself.

What is Nitro?
So, you ask, what's the deal with "nitro"?    Nitro, is short for nitro-methane.  This mixture of methanol, nitro-methane and lubricants is the fuel and lubricant for "glow-fuel" engines commonly found in model airplanes, helicopters and boats and more recently, radio control cars.  The incredible power, combined with the ear-piercing mini-roar they put out has drawn and ever-increasing crowd to jump into this hobby like no other in recent memory. 

STEP 1:  Choosing a Type, Format, Scale and Level
First of all, let us explain what we mean by "type", "format", "scale" and "level".  These are fairly ambiguous terms, so it's important to clarify what we mean by these terms.

May also be referred to as "circuit".  This is simply the choice between going offroad or on-road.  Stadium trucks, buggies and more recently, rally cars are designed to be used in off-road (typically packed clay, dirt, sand) tracks that will often contain hills and bumps for jumping.  On-Road typically include sedans, dragsters, pan cars, open-wheel sprints (basically scale equivalent of anything that is used on pavement racing in full-scale world).  They may be setup to run on carpeted indoor tracks or paved out-door tracks.  They generally do not included hills or bumps (at least not intentionally) as they aren't really designed to handle jumps, but rather are designed to corner aggressively and have extremely fast high-end speeds (20-90MPH depending on scale, engines, etc.).  Rally cars can be included in this on-road format as well, as they are designed to fuse both racing circuits together.

Within each type or circuit, there are different "formats" to choose from.  Stadium trucks, for example are just one type of off-road vehicle choice, buggies, another.  For a complete listing of formats, check out our Guide to R/C Formats (coming soon).

This refers to the size of the vehicle in relation to it's full-size counterpart.  Sedans are typically found in 1/10th scale and represent a vehicle that is 1/10th it size in terms of overall length (or width or height... any one dimension).  In other words, you could put 10 1/10 scale sedans end to end and they would roughly measure the length of the full-size vehicle it is mimicking.  Obviously a 1/10 scale monster truck will still be bigger than a 1/10 scale Honda Civic.  This is because their full size siblings are contrastingly different in size.  The smallest active scale is (and I know there are exceptions) is 1/12th scale and the largest is currently 1/4th scale, with 1/10, 1/8 and 1/5 in between.  Generally the higher the scale, the longer, heavier, faster and more expensive they are.

Refers to the extent of the quality and performance of the machine you are seeking.  People who are both experienced and are serious about competing against others in an organized racing circuit, might elect to purchase a racing (actually called "team" most times) vehicle, while someone who just wants to play around the neighborhood and be casual, might want to invest in a less-expensive model.  People often asks how much nitro r/c cars costs.  Well the answer, not surprisingly, is, "How much do you want to spend?".  You can spend as little as $150.00 for an entry-level model that includes a radio and basically everything you need to get going or you can spend $1,500 for a kit, radio, servos, engines and all the nice little titanium and aluminum hopups that can make you seriously competitive.  I think that most people would agree that if you are new to r/c racing in general, stick to an in-expensive model until you have mastered the driving skills and repair/modification knowledge to be able to properly handle a higher-performance machine.  Even though many of the serious high-performance vehicles are well engineered and contain extremely tough parts made of space-age metals and plastics, they also go faster, and therefore crash harder.  It's generally easier to do a lot more damage on a higher-end model than it is to on a lower-end model, especially when we're talking about dollars-to-repair.  If, on the other hand you have some experience (even with the electrics) and you are serious about getting into competitions, it might be worth it to invest in a kit or RTR that contains better parts.  This could actually save you money in the not-so-long run as kit's tend to have overall better parts prices than buying individually off the shelf.

STEP 2:  To Build or Not to Build
Okay, so hopefully you have an idea about what type, format, scale and level of a vehicle you want, now you need to decide if you want to build the vehicle yourself or buy one that is already assembled.

If you are serious about racing, maintaining, modifying and repairing your vehicle and it is at all possible for you to bear, I would always recommend going for the kit.  The reason is simple.  When you build a vehicle from a kit, you see every single part, how it's designed, how it goes together to create the resulting vehicle.

Not only does this give you (well, at least most people) a sense of pride for building your own vehicle, but it also gives you the unique knowledge of how to diagnose problems and make repairs.  This is a fundamental concept with the r/c hobby.  People can't get very far with just driving their vehicles until the wheels fall off.  It's a continual process of maintenance and repairs.  This is just the reality that everyone soon realizes.  If, on the other hand, you really don't have the mechanical inclination (keep in mind, most kits comes with very concise and easy to understand instructions) or simply cannot stand the idea of building a kit, than RTR's are a perfectly viable alternative.  Unless you have someone to fix your vehicle for you, you may end up tearing the vehicle down at some point to make major repairs, anyways.

Do I sound a little biased towards kits?  You bet, but then again, that is my personal preference and you need to make this decision for yourself. 

Choosing the right version of a kit or RTR is important too.  Many manufactures offer more than one version of the same model.  Some will come in a "Team" or "Pro" version that will have nicer parts such as bearings (instead of bushings), universal drive shafts or CVD's (instead of dogbones).  Again, if you feel that you will stick to the hobby and have the cash, going for the nicer kits will save you money in the not-so-long run.  

STEP 3:  What to do Next?

This, of course if up to you.  You may decide early on that this is a great hobby but you don't have the time or desire to do much more than hang out at the local parking lot and play dodge the big cars with your sedan, or terrorize the kitty in the backyard with your stadium truck or you might decide that you want to give organized racing a go.  If the first one applies to you, then just go have fun and be patient.  

No one drives like Brian Kinwald on their first time out.  I recently had the privilege of running with 2000 CART Indy 500 champion Juan Montoya on his first time out with a R/C and like anyone else, he started out driving just like any other newbie.  Like anything worth doing, it takes patients.  You may decide later, as your skills improve, that you want to go further with it.  This is not uncommon and I encourage you to take a chance and at least try it out.  You will find that most people in the hobby are truly wonderful people.  Most are helpful, friendly and willing to give a new guy helpful advice and assistance.   Most importantly, don't feel stupid.  Everyone started at the bottom.. we have ALL been there and most people will realize this and eagerly take you under their wing.

For those of you that really are excited about joining the racing circuit, realize that it is made up of all levels of skills and even if you're a complete beginner, the hobby welcomes you and is designed to accommodate your skill levels.  Club races, sanctioned races, national, regional and Po-Dunk"nal" races are all designed to match racers with other racers of like skills.  If you are new you'll most likely be grouped (based on your qualifiers) with racers who are starting out just like you.

The first step, is to find a track or club near you.  Most tracks hold weekly (albeit sometimes seasonal) races that will take open registrants for a nominal fee.  This allows you to meet other racers, get advice and compete (and most importantly), hone your driving skills.  Many clubs have scheduled races at parking lots (approved by parking lot owners) and do not require membership to race.

We have developed a database of all the racetracks (well, at least the ones we know about) in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.  To find a track near you, visit our Racetracks Forum by clicking here.

If you wish to find a club near you, we have an ongoing list you can check here.  You can also contact national clubs such as ROAR and NORRCA for information on clubs near you.  If you come across one and you'd like to share it with us, please submit the link to us by clicking here.



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This page last modified: 07/26/11