RcTek : Information & Resources for the Model Car Racer

The Webmasters History With Toy Cars

This article gives a fairly complete summary of the RcTek webmaster’s history with radio controlled model cars.

Note: This hasn’t been updated since 2001


The webmaster is, as one fellow webmaster put it;

“I know I am crazy putting in the hours that I do for OvalNet, but you must be completely out of your tree!”

This observation aside, I firmly believe in the furtherment of the sport of model cars and do what I can to pass on the observations and experience I have with model cars. I have previously made a statement about why this site exists on the Site Information page, but as I seem to be classed (by a few people anyway) as some kind of expert, I feel I should elaborate a little.

Although I am only in my mid-thirties, I have been playing with model cars for only around five years (people seem to think I have been playing with them for decades though!) after seeing one in a toy store and buying it in a fit of madness. Previous to this I had been interested in motorcycles and model making and had spent countless hours making models of many things. The wife thought I was mad, but having come from a large family there was no money spare when I was younger. The car was indeed a toy and it’s limitations soon became apparent.

The next car I bought was a Traxxas Nitro Rustler and I drove the neighbours mad with running what is a relatively fast car with it’s screaming engine (when I had sorted out how to keep it running for more than a few seconds anyway!) in a confined space. I decided to buy a Traxxas Sledgehammer then to see what the electric cars were like (and to give the neighbours a rest!) and I have quite a bit of fun with it, but soon realised I preferred the performance and sound of the nitro powered cars. The cost of the batteries to keep an electric cars was an overlooked factor as I, like many people want to play with their cars for long periods.

The next cars to enter the collection were a couple of second hand Tamiya cars, a King Cab truck and a buggy that I can’t recall the name of. These were both stripped and rebuilt. The buggy finished up with a broken chassis and is lying in parts somewhere!

After a few months I took another look at the Kyosho USA1 Nitro Crusher, a car that I had looked at when buying the Nitro Rustler and had decided against as it looked a little overboard with its massive wheels and tyres. This was an expensive car and I justified its purchase with the desire to build a customised truck. I made many things for it, a new radio tray with an all alloy servo saver to control the steering via a 1/5th scale servo. I also made some all alloy bumpers and a tow bar to tow the alloy trailer that I spent many hours making. I shall take some pictures at some point, but who knows when!

As my interest in radio controlled model cars had grown into almost an obsession, I set about finding out about race tracks in the area and was saddened that the local off-road track had closed recently, but upon visiting Bronte Models in Denholme I was told the nearest on-road track was located in Halifax, West Yorkshire, only a short distance away from my home.

The Bronte Model Shop in Haworth was where I first saw large scale cars, they had an FG truck in the window and the sheer size of it was impressively realistic.

I visited the track a few times on an evening and at weekends and saw various cars (and motorbikes) being driven around the track by drivers of varying abilities. I saw my first large scale meeting there and I must admit to being impressed, but not enough to make me want to join the happy gang at that point. At this meeting was Keith Plested (Mr. PB Racing) with a rather nice looking all alloy car fitted with twin fuel tanks and a neat looking carbon fibre exhaust pipe. I didn’t know who Keith was at this point and asked him a few questions about the car - The Dart, which had a price that was almost scary.

I fitted on-road tyres to the Rustler and lowered the car as much as possible and it was quite strange having to drive within the confines of a tarmac track. The car that I previously thought of as being fast was hopelessly under geared, but it proved to be a good learning experience for what was to come next..

My First Real Track Driving Experience

My discovery of the track at Halifax, which was run by the Yorkshire Radio Controlled Model Car Racing Club (YRCMCRC) coincided with the imminent closing of the track and I turned up at the final meeting to be held there with my on-road converted Nitro Rustler in the boot of the car.

I vividly remember seeing the 1/8th scale circuit cars and thinking “Wow”. The speed of the cars was amazing - the Rustler never left the boot of the car!!

I was lurking around the pit area and asked a few questions and was directed in the direction of John Russell, a man who has been devoted to remote controlled model cars for a few decades and is a person who I shall be eternally grateful as he answered all my questions and amazed me my clearing the track and allowing me to drive his own Serpent Vector car!!

This was a recipe for disaster as he knew nothing of my driving abilities, but I didn’t cause any damage. What surprised me was the lack of transmission drag when you let off the throttle - the clutch and one-way bearings instantaneously disengaged and the car just coasted along! I completed a few laps and handed back the controls to John relieved that I hadn’t made a total fool of myself in front of all the onlookers.

As this was the final meeting to be held at the track, there was a barbecue held later on and we (me, wife & baby) accepted the invitation to share the food on offer. Although it marked a sad point for the members, there was a very good atmosphere and it made the sport all the more appealing.

This experience marked a turning point in my R/C career as I was then totally hooked. As the YRCMCRC club was homeless, I spent the next few months travelling to meetings held at Tibshelf and Wombwell. The funds to buy my own ‘real’ car at this time were not available and I spent my time at the meetings learning as much as possible about the sport by acting as a pit man for almost everybody and volunteering to marshal.

I won’t apologise for asking dumb questions as they were (and still aren’t) dumb questions - more about this later.

As time went on my desire for my own car grew to the point where I decided to buy a very well used Serpent Excel. The car was a complete rolling chassis, but had seen better days and, armed with a manual borrowed from John Russell, I set about stripping, cleaning and restoring the car to its former glory. This was a super-budget rebuild and I bushed pivot points to reduce the drastic play in the suspension as well as pinning cracks in wishbones with piano wire. I stripped and rebuilt almost all the bearings - there are so many of them in an 1/8th scale car that replacing them would have cost more than the car! This was rather time consuming and the somewhat intricate processes (try drilling an average plastic wishbone out to accept a bush that is 1mm oversize and you will see that it is fraught with difficulties) taught me a great deal about model cars and how they work (or not!).

Once the rolling chassis was back looking like a circuit car I bought an engine from John Russell and fitted the radio gear from my Traxxas Rustler. The only other thing I had to make was a battery pack and the car was ready for driving.

I bought a hand held starter and tried to master the art of holding a car and trying to start the engine at the same time - no mean feat for the beginner! A starter box is recommended (either bought or home made) but it helps in starting engines if you remember in which direction they actually run - you can be successful in starting some running backwards!

Impatience got the better of me and I had a few trips to the local car park to test out my new ‘toy’ - don’t do it as there is so much dirt and small pebbles, etc.. on the average car park to ruin an 1/8th or 1/10th scale car in a short space of time even if you can find one that is flat enough to allow a car to run at speeds in excess of 70mph.

1/8th Scale Driving

I took the car and its associated accessories with me to club meetings held at Wombwell and ignored the pleas of others to enter and simply practised before and after meetings. I also went to a fair few national meetings, but helped those there rather than entering the meetings.

The first thing to become evident was the need for a powerful servo to control the steering. Having drive to the front wheels and the forces generated by such high speeds soon overpowers a standard servo.

My learning to drive an 1/8th scale car only really started after successive failures by the YRCMCRC in obtaining land and planning permission for a new track failed. It was decided to temporarily take over a go-cart track in Skipton, North Yorkshire. There was a lot of work done to the site, but it was ideal for me as it was nearer to home and gave me the opportunity to visit the track almost every weekend.

Although the track (and its location) weren’t particularly liked, there were sufficient people turned up for some good practise sessions, although the large scale cars did cause problems for the other car drivers due to a combination of poor driving and inappropriate tyre selections, etc..

One incident from my many trips to the Skipton track will stick in my mind forever and this was the absolute frustration I felt at trying to set the engine on my car whilst three experienced members stood track side and crowed about their prowess in setting engines. They offered me no help whatsoever and I will not name them, but it is behaviour like theirs that would lead me to personally exclude them from the club.

The engine setting experience was off-putting to say the least, but I began to share my knowledge with anyone who needed help and was soon solving problems with cars by making small parts and radio trays, etc.. in return for spares for my car.

After many weeks (probably months) of practise I actually entered a couple of club meetings and did reasonably well.

The People

Apart from key people such as John (and Muriel) Russell I did make the acquaintance of a fair few people at these Skipton weekends and a couple of these have been good sources of inspiration, help and technical knowledge.

The first of these was Bhajan Panesar, aka Baj, who was almost some sort of mythical legend as his name popped up in conversations for months.

Baj turned up at one of the working weekends at the Skipton track and is a quietly spoken, but authoritative person who has ‘presence’. He is the person that ultimately everyone turns to for a solution to a problem (especially engines).

As far as driving is concerned, he is one of these ultra-smooth drivers that makes his car look slow on the track. He has had a long history with radio controlled model cars and his training ground involved countless hours racing his brothers around a Scalextric track.

He has helped me immeasurably with my understanding (and collection) of model cars and I have assisted him with my abilities to make the ‘widgets’ used in the various modifications to his cars.

The second of these people is Rob Lochier of Alro Racing, who used to turn up with his SVM Columbia on a Saturday for a blast round the track. I spent a lot of time talking to Rob and he helped me whilst I played with an on-road converted rallycross car that was to be run in a new class aimed at creating a low cost racing class, Sadly the rules never got formulated/published and so the class never materialised, but I learnt a great deal by such as substituting the centre differential for a one-way bearing arrangement.

Another frequent visitor to the Skipton track was a man with a big van that had Oddie written on the side. Unbeknown to me, this was the British Large Scale Champion Ian Oddie, who got much amusement from the unpredictable nature of the rallycross car pitching and changing ends around the track on its soft off-road springs. Ian kindly gave me a pair of suitable springs, which provided a partial solution - I’m still waiting for the other pair!

One of Ian’s comments, which you have to know Ian in order to understand how he would have delivered it was, “It sounds like a little bee. Ooh, it’s black and yellow as well..” - Thanks Ian.

Enter The Diamond

At what was the first National 1/8th scale meeting held at Skipton I made the acquaintance of an ex PB Racing team driver who was trying to get rid of his remaining collection of Black Diamond parts. I really do like alloy cars and there was almost enough to build a complete car, so I made a successful offer and returned home with a box full of what many thought was scrap as the PB Racing company had its financial problems. I remember feeling at the time I was some kind of traitor to the Serpent marque, but that is a problem that some other drivers seem to have.

Project Diamond proceeded swiftly with a car cobbled together ready for action the following weekend and my first impressions of the car was that it was good. Breakages were very few with the exception of the plastic quick release levers that were quickly replaced with the alloy items from the later cars.

As he had been a team driver for many years, Baj helped me with the car and so did Dave Briggs, who was still running one (or two) of the cars along with his son Wayne. I started helping Wayne at National level and we travelled together to club meetings at Wombwell and Tibshelf.

I spent countless hours modifying the Diamond and making little parts, although when I decided to polish all the suspension pivot balls I created a reliability problem. The pivot balls on the rear of the car face outwards and the smoothing of the balls reduced the friction to the point where the balls would pop out of their sockets in an impact!

I gathered parts from various people and finished up with two complete cars plus Baj’s development car, which formed the basis for many of the changes implemented on the Black Diamonds over the years.

Large Scale & The Dart

After spending a couple of weeks preparing a new Diamond for the next years season, Wayne decided to switch to the PB Dart, so I continued my assistance and remember attending the first of many large scale meetings. This meeting was at Skipton and the weather was absolutely atrocious, it was cold and rained incessantly for the whole day. Wayne hadn’t had time to test the Dart and it didn’t finish the meeting due to a combination of reliability problems and water in the receiver.

Keith Plested was at this meeting, but had retired from PB Racing by this time and was l an assisted driver for the new Mr PB Racing, Callum McGillivray.

I stayed pretty much in the background at this meeting (trying to keep warm in my van mostly!) as Dave Briggs was acting as pit man and mechanic for Wayne.

I took the Dart home with me from this meeting and stripped and rebuilt it for the following meeting which was at Mendip. This was another freezing cold meeting which went OK, but I was really impressed at the fun atmosphere track side. There was very little of the polarisation and seriousness of 1/8th scale meetings, which more than made up for the cold and damp conditions.

The next meeting was only a week later at the same venue, meaning another 5 hour drive to a place that wasn’t going to be particularly warm. The Dart was stripped and totally rebuilt yet again in preparation and I also had to make an adapter to fit the PBtec clutch to the Solo engine that Wayne had decided to fit to the car.

The Saturday practise was going well until Wayne lost all drive as he came off the back straight and when the car coasted into the pit lane I looked inside the body to find the complete clutch rolling around the nerf plate. I pulled off the body and looked at the clutch to see what had happened. The 8mm thread off the end of the Solo crankshaft was still in the clutch and had simply sheared off - oops.. one unhappy driver.

Callum wasn’t too pleased about this breakage as he too had a Solo engine in his car and although it lasted the meeting OK, it too failed a few weeks later.

A couple of meetings later I was privileged to be loaned a car to assist me in development work and I spent a great deal of time in building it before starting my ‘testing’ at the Skipton track.

Before I left the pit lane I knew that this was going to be different than driving an 1/8th scale car, but I was amazed at just how different they were. The size and weight of a large scale car radically alters the dimensions of the track as the track is effectively narrower, but longer due to the reduced speed. Two wheel drive on rubber tyres is a real come down from the grip available from a four wheel drive car that has foam tyres. Tyre choice is easy with 1/8th scale cars as it usually is a choice between 35’s or 40’s. Large scale is a potential nightmare for new drivers as the there are so many tyres and the choice has to reflect the changes in grip that the heat of racing creates.

I practised as much as possible in the following weeks and changed as little as possible (just cambers and shock oils) in preparation for the next club meeting, which I entered and came a close second (just over a second in a 15 minute final) to Rob Lochier.

A week or two later saw a round of the TOPSA championship being held at Skipton and I entered and was put in the first heat. I was nervous both because this was my first large scale meeting and the fact that the team boss, Callum was present. Tyre choice was limited to the few I had and the first lap was hair raising until the tyres heated up, but the top drivers in the heat had totally got their tyre choice wrong and I romped home after nearly lapping the whole of the field. I was, along with Callum, very happy, but it was a short lived euphoria as the race director (Callums son) had cocked up the computer settings and the heat had to be run again. This gave the other drivers a chance to put on the right tyres and therefore I didn’t fair so well in the rerun heat.

In the second or third heat I was back on the pace, but another driver took it upon himself to either rear end me or side swipe me at every opportunity. I pulled off the track and wasn’t too happy, but Callum was livid and marched into race control and lodged a complaint about the driver concerned. The driver was called to race control and was cautioned but then marched straight up to me at the end of the heat and started verbally abusing me and pushing me about for having complained about him.

This really shocked me, not only because I hadn’t actually complained, but the utter nastiness of his attack - this was toy car racing at a minor meeting and to resort to near violence was totally out of order. He was reprimanded by a few of the other drivers present and I have yet to see him at another race meeting. The memories of this incident are another thing that will remain with me and I must say it dampened my enthusiasm for entering subsequent meetings.

The only other meeting I have entered since that date was the TOPSA Grand Prix held at Mendip and was one where I pulled out as I had never driven there before and the stupidity of whoever placed me in a heat where all the other drivers were top National drivers. After two rounds of being a moving road block I decided enough was enough, it wasn’t fair on the other drivers.

I took the Dart to some of the large scale meetings I attended after this time and occasionally had a little track time on the Saturdays, but as I seemed to spend more of my time to being a pit man and mechanic to Callum, I left the car at home.

I have made probably made more parts for the large scale cars, even once making a brake plate for a Dynamic car track side that was more accurate than the original one!

When PB Racing fell into financial problems Callum stopped attending meetings for a while and I began being the pit man to another driver for a few months.

Since Then And The RcTek Web Site

Somewhere along the line I traded a couple of my 1/8th scale cars for an SVM Columbia Standard car that had only done one club meeting and I played with this for a few weeks with the assistance of Rob Lochier. Amongst other things, the lack of tyres stopped this developing into anything further, but it has provided inspiration (and parts) for a few of my modification projects.

The YRCMCRC club finally found a new home and a new track was built, but I have only driven there a handful of times as other things have taken priority in my life.

Although I have had a computer for around 10 years I didn’t join the ranks of the Internet connected until a little over two years ago and this opened up my eyes to a wealth of information. The Internet has really been a benefit to such as the model car drivers as they form only a tiny minority of the population. This tiny minority becomes a substantial number though when the Internet provides a means for them to communicate as new ideas and products etc.. can travel around the World almost instantaneously.

My interest in the technical aspects of web sites started a few months after I got connected by annoying Rob Lochier in pointing out errors in his Alro Racing Systems web site. I looked at the source code of pages and started creating my own off line pages and eventually learnt enough to redesigned Robs web site for him.

Soon after I started making plans for my own site, but money was thin on the ground and I wanted to do it with a proper hosting package and domain name. I eventually took the plunge and launched the first version of the RcTek site at the back end of 2000. I had had time to prepare a reasonable amount of information up front and so there was enough to capture peoples attention. I received some good feedback from those that I asked, but to this day the level of feedback from site visitors remains very low - not even one a month.

I put together articles in the best way I can think of and they seem to be accurate and well understood - I’ve only had two unknown visitors point out errors.

A good few people have offered to submit articles in the past and they have, on the whole, not really materialised into anything. The lack of beta testers for the site is something I particularly miss, but human nature being what it is, I’m sure people would be quick to point out or ridicule any glaring errors.

The site has grown into a real monster as far as keeping on top of things is concerned, especially as I seem to be fond of redesigning the look quite frequently.

The major addition to the site was the introduction of the Forum and I am pleased that I have managed to set up a place for the model racing community to ask questions and get answers. It is not a busy forum by any means, but in a way I am glad as I still run the site on my own and find it increasingly difficult to keep on top of things.

I am attempting to build a fairly complete reference for model car racers and there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. I can only apologise about some of the series of articles being incomplete at this time, but this is free and has its limitations! The major problem with such as the Model Car Handling series is that there are so many overlapping areas where one thing affects the other and therefore it is difficult sometimes knowing where to start. On the top of this are the facts that I don’t have years of experience in either model cars or web site design - I am armed only with a common sense approach and a desire to help.



Don’t Do It!!!!!!!

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© 2001, 2009 by Darren Burnhill