Whether you want to become the next sponsored RC driver or you just want a hobby you can enjoy with your friends, RC racing can offer you a world of enjoyment—once you use the answers to some basic questions to help you find the RC classes you want to drive.
Let's set aside RC aircraft and boats, and focus solely on land-based vehicles. With the land/air/sky decision out of the way, you can begin to narrow down your selection even further. For starters, you'll need to decide whether you want to drive indoors or take to the track outdoors. Would you rather start with electric vehicles, keeping things relatively easy to run and simple to set up, or do you want to venture into the land of nitro, complete with the smell of speed? Are you looking for a large-scale vehicle or would you prefer something on the smaller side? What type of full-scale racing do you want to emulate? Off-road? Monster trucks? Fast-cornering speedsters? Are you a two-wheel-drive enthusiast, or does four wheel drive sound more like your style?
Don't let the vast array of choices scare you away from the fun. Use this guide to help you understand the world of RC classes and zero in on the right set of wheels for you. Once you get a handle on the types of vehicles and the venues in which they race, you'll be looking for RC best prices so you can get in the game. While you're figuring out how and where you want to race, don't overlook the value of some RC training to help you master insider tips and get the most out of your new pastime.
Off-Road RC Classes
Electric Off-Road Truck and Buggy (1/18th Scale)
You can run the trucks and buggies in this RC class almost anywhere, including a bedroom or kitchen floor, front porch, driveway, or anywhere you can put together a quick-and-dirty track. These tiny speedsters make up the smallest of off-road racing popular classes. To minimize your investment, look for a brushed motor, which offers less power efficiency than its brushless equivalent but can be easier for beginners to control and uses more-mainstream nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. If you're ready for a bigger challenge and can handle the cost of more-expensive gear, look for a brushless design with lithium-ion polymer (Li-Po) batteries. Don't forget that although Li-Po batteries don't suffer from the memory effect that keeps many other battery technologies from regaining full charge, these newer cell packs remain more expensive and last through fewer charge cycles than nickel cadmium (NiCad) or nickel metal hydride (NiMH). Li-Po cells also can pose a safety threat because of their potentially volatile chemistry.
Electric Stadium Truck (1/10th Scale)
With longer suspension arms and shocks, bigger tires and wheels, the 1/10th-scale electric stadium truck was a hot racing platform in the early part of the 1990s. This RC class owed much of its appeal to its ability to offer an easy-driving version of the buggy. You'll still find this class in use at many RC tracks, but the height of its popularity has waned.
Electric Short-Course Truck (1/10th Scale)
The 1/10th-scale Traxxas Slash, which debuted in 2008, gave the electric short-course truck a big boost in popularity. This RC class combines the handling characteristics of the electric stadium truck with enclosed tires that allow for more wheel-to-wheel action on the track. As scaled-down versions of real full-sized racing vehicles, electric short-course trucks gave RC race fans a chance to drive scaled vehicles that looked like the "real thing," right down to the paint schemes and graphics.
Electric Two-Wheel-Drive Buggy (1/10th Scale)
Die-hard RC racers consider these 2WD buggies to be the best 1/10th-scale RC class, bar none. These speedy, agile buggies attract serious pro drivers to a biennial World Championship held at various tracks around the globe, with winners that include Ryan Cavalieri, Hayato Matsuzaki, and Masami Hirosaka. These buggies aren't the best choice for newbies, however, as their power and agility can make them difficult to master and challenging to drive at competitive speeds.
Electric Four-Wheel-Drive Buggy (1/10th Scale)
Like their 2WD siblings, these 4WD buggies attract big names to win world championships, including Ryan Cavalieri, Mark Pavidis, and Jared Tebo. Unlike the 2WD entries, however, the electric 4WD buggies' competitive prestige hasn't translated to big popularity at local tracks, despite the 4WD vehicles' straightaway speed, big-jumping prowess, and ability to handle large amounts of power.
Nitro Stadium Truck (1/10th Scale)
Although nitro stadium trucks may seem similar to their electric equivalents, they offer the smell of real competition that electric vehicles simply can't provide. They also outdo their electric counterparts in race duration, with fuel capacities that allow for half-hour or even hour-long main events.
Electric Rock Crawler (1/10th Scale)
Before you dismiss this RC class as a sloth-like creep instead of a flat-out sprint, take a closer look at the amount of finesse required to navigate the average rock crawling course. Yes, the events lack a defined race course; you won't be allowed practice time or pre-run course testing before the event; and you won't get a chance to redo your tuning midway through the event. If you enjoy competitions that require you to know your vehicle's capabilities inside and out, and substitute the defiance of gravity for the need for speed, you may be a born rock crawler. You won't be in the majority, but this RC class attracts hard-core competitors.
Electric Buggy (1/8th Scale)
Research the history of RC buggy classes, and you'll quickly discover that nitro-powered buggies have a long track record. The 1/8th-scale electric buggy incorporates a Li-Po powered brushless motor in place of a nitro power source, transforming the nimble durability of 1/8th-scale buggies into blazing fast racers capable of indoor competition. Their four-cell or six-cell Li-Po power packs offer the high discharge rates that translate to high speeds on the track.
Electric Truggy (1/8th Scale)
Wider overall and in terms of suspension system than electric buggies, with bigger tires and greater chassis length, 1/8th-scale electric truggies followed their buggy brethren into the RC classes. Their width plants them firmly on track for driving ease, but on regular-width facilities, that same width limits drivers from the kind of passing action that makes narrower RC classes popular. Although electric truggies seem to lack the appeal of electric buggies, they still show up on indoor and outdoor tracks.
Nitro Buggy (1/8th Scale)
Electric buggies may hold the honors as the most popular among electric 2WD RC classes, but for sheer racing challenge, it's tough to beat the 1/8th-scale nitro buggies, and the competitive field makes that clear, from local tracks to world championships. Although Atsushi Hara, Cody King, and Yuichi Kanai have reigned as world champions in the nitro buggy RC class, repeat championships have eluded even these top-shelf competitors.
Nitro Short-Course Truck (1/10th Scale)
Appearing in the middle of the 2010s, the nitro short-course truck combines closed wheel off-road outdoor racing with the extended race durations of nitro fuel. These vehicles look like full-scale trucks right down to the smoke they put out.
Electric Short-Course Truck (1/8th Scale)
Although this 1/8th-scale electric short-course RC class offers more power in a bigger, better-looking package than its 1/10th-scale equivalent, these electric trucks lack the popularity of their smaller equivalents. At this scale, bodies included molded roll cages that help brace the chassis at the same time that they offer some protection against rollover damage. If you're interested in a truck that can use four-cell or six-cell Li-Po battery packs, this RC class shares that capability with the rest of the 1/8th-scale electric vehicles.
Electric Monster Truck (1/8th Scale)
Like its full-scale relatives, this 1/8th-scale RC class boasts speed and crushing power in an oversized package. From their giant tires to their monster-worthy suspensions, these electric monster trucks are long on horsepower and can survive punishing use. Whether you deploy these trucks in an open field or on track, they can offer instant enjoyment.
Nitro Truggy (1/8th Scale)
Just as 1/8th-scale electric truggies tag along after buggies of the same scale, these nitro truggies serve as a support class to nitro buggies. Compared to nitro buggies, nitro truggies incorporate longer suspensions, bigger tires, and powerful engines that can run hour-long main events. If you hear an RC enthusiast refer to "nitro Cadillacs," that's a reference to nitro truggies, courtesy of their smooth handling.
Nitro Short-Course Truck (1/8th Scale)
This RC class has languished and all but disappeared in the shadow of other more popular RC vehicles. Its lack of popularity parallels that of the 1/8th-scale electric short-course trucks. Built on a platform similar to that of nitro buggies, the nitro short-course truck uses equivalent electronics, engines, and suspensions on a larger closed-wheel body style with short-course tires and wheels.
Nitro Monster Truck (1/8th Scale)
Whether you want to bash around a vacant lot or go fast on track in competition, this 1/8th-scale giant RC class boasts massive power, typically in the form of a 3-horsepower engine that can reach 50 miles per hour or faster. With shaft-drive efficiency in a 4WD platform, nitro monster trucks include two-speed transmissions, a seriously competitive package that earns them bragging rights as rulers of the fields.
Gas-Powered Two-Wheel-Drive Buggy (1/5th Scale)
The first of these 1/5th-scale gas-powered buggies hit the track in 2006 with the emergence of the Baja 5B, a Hobby Products International (HPI) offering that carried a $1,000 price tag. These buggies reach nearly three feet in length. The cost of entry poses dampens most local racers' interest in this RC class, but it stars annually at the West and East Coast National RC races, pointing to its enduring appeal. Designed by Akira Kogawa, and sold in kit form as well as in a ready-to-run version, the Baja 5B incorporates a 3.76 cubic centimeter gasoline engine.
Gas-Powered Two-Wheel-Drive Truck (1/5th Scale)
Built on the same chassis used in the 2WD gas-powered buggies, the trucks use larger bodies and wheels, with even more engine power. Local racers enjoy their easy-driving size and weight. Above that level, these 2WD gas-powered trucks compete at the West and East Coast Nationals.
Gas-Powered Two-Wheel-Drive Short-Course Truck (1/5th Scale)
Paralleling the growing overall popularity of 2WD short-course trucks, a market sprang up for short-course bodies, tires, and wheels for 1/5th-scale 2WD trucks. In turn, manufacturers began offering short-course parts for their lineups of 2WD trucks. With these bigger engines putting out increased power, and rubber tires with enhanced grip, the gas-powered 2WD short-course trucks gained in popularity among racers ranging from the local to the national level.
Gas-Powered Four-Wheel-Drive Buggy (1/5th Scale)
Despite the obvious appeal of a large 4WD vehicle with power to burn, this 1/5th-scale RC class has failed to gain interest in the United States market. Overall, with few vehicles available and questionable parts availability, these buggies have dwindled in popularity.
Gas-Powered Four-Wheel-Drive Short-Course Truck (1/5th Scale)
Unlike the gas-powered 4WD buggies, the 4WD short-course trucks have gained a wide following. Despite a $1,500 price tag, the Losi 5IVE-T, similar in chassis to the company's 1/8th-scale short-course truck, made 1/5th-scale RC racing popular again, especially thanks to its easy-to-drive power and the easy availability of parts.
On-Road RC Classes
Everything about this RC class is tiny, from its motors to its batteries and tires, but size alone doesn't predict enjoyment. Most racers field the Mini-Z on hard-foam tracks pieced together like large puzzles. The Mini-Z boasts an incredible level of body detail, which makes these cars as collectible as they are race worthy.
Electric On-Road Car (1/18th Scale)
The exploding popularity of 1/18th-scale electric off-road racing led many racers to run their vehicles indoors on carpet tracks. Their foam tires, big power, and stiff suspensions fit right in, but the trucks looked odd, with tires and suspension parts that protruded beyond their bodywork. Once manufacturers configured them with shorter shocks and suspension arms, along with rubber tires made especially for on-road racing, the 1/18th-scale truck turned into the electric on-road car.
Electric Pan Car (1/18th Scale)
Scaled down from 1/12th-scale pan cars, this electric RC class can run at outsized speeds, but these lightweight, responsive vehicles require a smooth, flat racing surface. Learning to drive these cars can be challenging, but once you master them, you should be able to learn to pilot any other RC classes with ease.
Mini-Scale On-Road Car
The mini RC class models itself after equivalently "mini" front-drive full-sized cars with short wheelbases, especially the Austin Mini Cooper but also the Fiat Abarth, Honda S800, and Suzuki Swift. The mini-scale on-road cars feature bodywork, tires, and wheels that look like their full-sized equivalents. If you're looking for speedy RC competition, the mini class isn't for you, but many racers gain plentiful enjoyment from these little cars.
Electric Pan Car (1/12th Scale)
This RC class packs big power and dramatic racing action into eight minutes of battery life, making these cars the top dogs of on-road RC racing. They use foam tires and Can-Am-style bodies with smooth lines. The slightest break in concentration can send one of these cars flying off track and out of contention. At the world-championship level, electric pan cars have brought trophies for acclaimed drivers including Masami Hirosaka, Naoto Matsukura, and Tony Neisinger.
Electric Touring Car (1/10th Scale)
Twin-celled Li-Po battery packs and brushless motors pair up with highly efficient belt-driven 4WD to make this RC class one of the fastest in the sport. Ready to race, these 1/10th-scale dynamos can exceed 50 miles per hour on a long straightaway. Increased costs have dented the popularity of this RC class, but it sees more aftermarket support than any other does. Within the overall electric touring car category, various subclasses distinguish themselves by their body styling. These include RCGT, with realistic-looking bodywork and race trim; Vintage Trans Am, styled after American muscle cars; and regular touring car, with modern-style bodies treated to aerodynamic adjustments.
Electric Pan Car (1/10th Scale)
Best raced on carpet, these bigger siblings of 1/12th-scale pan cars feature foam bodies and flat bottoms. They share power systems with their smaller siblings, but their longer wheelbase and bigger dimensions make them less complicated to drive. The World GT class has helped return this RC class to popularity after a large loss in interest at the beginning of the 21st century.
Electric Drift (1/10th Scale)
Most full-sized drift-car events also feature competitions among their RC class counterparts, especially in Southern California, in which both forms of drift racing enjoy widespread popularity. Manufacturers base these cars on their 1/10th-scale touring cars. Despite the fact that these cars don't run very fast, given that they spend most of their time in a state of wheel spin, competitors place a high value on the look of their cars as well as on their on-track performance. With hard slicks, big power, and highly styled paint, electric drift cars catch the eye as they slide by, and the driving style requires considerable skill. Those who dismiss drifting as nothing more than spin underestimate what's involved in hitting each corner with this type of precision.
Electric Rally Car (1/10th Scale)
This RC class adds rally-style bodywork, tires, and wheels to a 1/10th-scale electric touring car. Although these cars ride higher than the touring cars, they fare poorly on outdoor courses that include grass, pebbles, or dirt because their drive trains are not enclosed. Although Traxxas and other manufacturers have remedied this deficiency, adding fully enclosed models to their rally car lineups, this RC class lags in popularity.
Electric Formula 1 Car (1/10th Scale)
Early 1/10th-scale electric Formula 1 cars lacked readily drivable tires, making them more of a novelty than an RC class that attracted serious racers. These cars looked just like the full-sized real thing, but lacked the precision driving that elevates Formula 1 to the pinnacle of motor sport because of less-than-optimal tires. Despite these limitations, some hard-core F1 devotees began giving these cars a workout on local tracks in the early 2010s. When the RC industry saw this rise in popularity, it responded with F1 parts made from exotic materials, including high-end tires. Out of this combination of grassroots and manufacturer support came the nationwide UF1 Series, along with national-level support for the F1 class.
Electric Paved Oval Car (1/10th Scale)
This lightweight RC class shares its front and rear suspensions with 1/10th-scale pan cars, but the similarities end there. Dubbed the NASCAR of the RC world, electric paved oval cars feature a different chassis design, and include a carbon-fiber plate that enables them to carry all their weight on the left side, earning them the designation of LTO (left turn only). On big velodrome tracks, these cars hit speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. This RC class has lagged in popularity, but LTO cars strut their stuff at a few annual events.
Electric Dirt Oval Car (1/10th Scale)
Just as full-sized dirt racing carries a large fan base in the Midwest, so does this 1/10th-scale RC class. Based on a 1/10th-scale off-road chassis, electric dirt oval Sprint cars display the typical features of full-sized dirt racers, including caged cockpits, slim bodies, and giant aerodynamic foils mounted atop their roofs. Eastern Dirt Modifieds (EDM) use wedge-shaped bodies with low profiles and full fenders. Although Sprint and EDM cars share a platform, they offer completely different performance parameters. With a few exceptions, commercial kits largely consist of conversion parts for off-road RC cars.
Electric Drag Racing Car (1/10th Scale)
At three pounds in weight, this RC class can accelerate from a standing start to 100 miles per hour in 1.5 seconds. Unlike a standard electric short-course car, these racers use a servo and micro-switch, along with brushless motors, and can reach full power in a finger snap, with super-soft foam tires on the rear to translate that power into motion. Long, slim, and fast, these cars move so quickly that their drivers look where they're headed instead of trying to watch them run.
Nitro Dirt Oval Car (1/10th Scale)
Virtually identical to its electric siblings on the right side, this nitro-powered RC class features a tuned exhaust pipe along its entire left side. The nitro cars may run longer than the electrics, but otherwise, their performance is much the same, although nitro adds the smell of speed.
Nitro Touring Car (1/10th Scale)
This RC class shares only its scale factor and a few parts with its electric-powered sibling. The nitro version features a totally different chassis design from the foundation of the electric touring car. During nitro events, which run only on large outdoor tracks, refueling pit stops are mandatory, and some teams even perform tire changes. With foam tires and a wider stance than the electric touring car, the nitro touring car boasts comparable speeds but faster overall performance.
Nitro Dirt Oval Car (1/8th Scale)
This RC class constitutes the largest commercially available dirt-racing cars. With 3.5 cubic centimeter engines, these are very fast vehicles. Based on the 1/8th-scale nitro off-road buggy platform, this class substitutes foam or treaded-rubber tires, shortened shock travel, and late-model bodywork with high-downforce aerodynamics.
Electric Motorcycle (1/8th Scale)
The origins of the 1/8th-scale electric motorcycle RC class trace back to the early 1990s, when the Kyosho Hang-On Motorcycle entered the market. As the HO bike leaned into a turn, its "driver" shifted its weight, which produced a highly realistic-looking effect. The Hang-On Motorcycle's initial popularity was short lived, but the company re-released the product in the 2010s, when it caught on once again at Mini-Z tracks in the United States.
Gas-Powered Touring Car (1/5th Scale)
These on-road cars constitute a one-of-a-kind class. Their design stems from no other form factor. Machined from billet aluminum, with weed-whacker engines and realistic paint jobs, these are the size kings of the on-road RC universe. Unpainted, the body for one of these cars can cost several hundred dollars, and that high cost of entry keeps this RC class from gaining popularity consistent with its off-road equivalent.
Electric Motorcycle (1/5th Scale)
Sharing the running gear of the 1/10th-scale electric touring cars, these giant bikes dwarf all other mass-produced RC motorcycles. Their high-traction tires, wheel-mounted front brakes, and Lexan bodywork give them head-turning realism on and off the track, as do their Lexan riders. The electric motorcycle class finds its greatest popularity outside the United States. A biennial World Championship attests to the adulation these bikes earn.
Nitro Motorcycle (1/5th Scale)
With fuel tanks instead of battery packs, this 1/5th-scale RC class is built with many of the same parts used on its electric-powered sibling, including bodywork and rider, maintaining the realistic look of the overall class. The exhaust system exits the bike below the rear fender, just like the real thing.
Once you decide which RC class is right for you, look for RC training in the form of beginner races at your local tracks, or even training sessions you can sign up for at local hobby stores. Because some of these RC classes can demand a large cash outlay to acquire all the gear that's necessary for serious competition, look for RC best prices locally, through online merchants, and on online auction venues.