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Off-Road Racing – Dirt or Carpet?


I became involved in this great hobby in 1984 when I got a Tyco RC car for Christmas.  I proceeded to get it wet a few days later which ended the car’s life but that was all it took to get bitten by the RC bug.  I then went to Craftech Hobbies in Enfield, CT (now closed) and my dad and I walked out with a Tamiya Falcon, Airtronics SR2P radio and 15-minute quick charger.  Where did I use this car? On dirt and asphalt like most kids.  I then saved up my paper route money and a few months later I had saved enough for an RC10 and Aristocraft ESC.  I was now ready to race at High Tec Hobbies in Enfield, CT.  What was the surface?  Dirt! Not screened, not clay, not sugared, it was DIRT!

For years, and years, and years, off-road racing meant on dirt, not compacted clay, not chemically treated, just plain old dirt.  Tires were often hard compound so they would last and tread variety was limited.  Sure, times change and I really like some of the compacted clay tracks, blue grooved tracks and even “hybrid” type tracks with dirt and wooden jumps.  But historically off-road has always meant dirt.

Well, times sure are changing!  Off-road recently has been run more and more on carpet, some call it AstroTurf, but no matter how you slice it, it is not dirt.  While this has taken strong root in Europe and Asia, here in North America off-road dirt is still by and large the norm.

This leads me to the most recent “off-road news”.  The 2015 1:10 IFMAR World Championships, to be held at Yatabe Arena in Japan, (some consider this to be the home track for Team Yokomo) will be held on AstroTurf, NOT DIRT!  What, what!?!  Yes, you read right.  A race that has been run on dirt for nearly 30 years, since 1984, will now be run on AstroTurf.  Off-road has always been considered a dirt surface, it’s an unwritten rule and an amendment to change the racing format doesn’t sit well for many. Carpet and Astroturf are an off-shoot and may need to be considered separately.  The great thing about dirt racing is that almost anyone with a backyard can, with a little effort, create a makeshift track and get together with friends and race.  Not so with a carpet track.  It caters to the elite who have money to go to a place with such a track, usually pay for practice, and specialty tires and cars.

I really think we have gotten away from the true spirit of off-road racing recently with the new tracks, new cars and new tires.  Is it time to roll back the rule book?  I’m not sure, But I am certain that the vast majority of those who were racing in 1984 would not approve of or recognize what off road racing is now.

So, what’s next?  Will racing on dirt eventually drop in popularity? Is carpet off-road just a fad? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.





  1. I’ve been racing off-road RC cars and trucks since the early 90’s … and I would much prefer dirt (just how you described it). Having said that … today’s technology, motors and batteries are providing much more power and speed … people want to go fast and it’s much harder to lay down the power on a dirt track compared to blue-groove, carpet or turf. In addition to that … almost any facility north of the Mason-Dixon line needs to have an indoor facility in order to sustain themselves. The depth of the racing communities don’t always provide enough resources to maintain two tracks for year-round racing. The carpet, turf or blue-groove/sugared tracks allow instant traction, lower maintenance, cleaner and more consistent surface. I wish it wasn’t so … but I don’t see carpet or turf tracks going away any time soon.

  2. You know the whole concept of rc is to emulate to some degree the real or 1:1 counter parts stadium trucks race on a wet dirt surface thats it period no sugar no carpet dirt i will not support the championship race this year due to the change i understand that its all about technology and i also understand japan is pry not as big on offroad racing as america but i will not support anyone that bills a race as “offroad” then races on carpet

  3. I would have to agree that real “off-road” racing is just good old dirt! Show me your driving skills when the track is loose and dirt is flying!

  4. I love racing on dirt. I have tried carpet and found that you either hook or don’t. when you do, it’s great!; but be ready to either buy lots of tires or a tire lathe!! (for foams).

    Part of the challenge of racing Dirt is that the conditions change all the time.. even parts of the track are different from the rest. There can be a great sweeper with lots of bite.. than 2 turns later, a hairpin that is loamy and dusty!!

    Admittedly, racing on carpet has it’s benefits for the hosting track: less mess, less dust, easier cleanup post race, no watering (cheaper water bill), and layouts can change mid race (DON’T GET ME STARTED THERE!!!)… But layouts don’t require heavy equipment to alter the track. Down side for track owners is this: if the racers don’t like the surface, THEY WON’T SHOW UP!!!! so much for a booming business.

    Just my $0.02!!!

  5. Have raced since the 90’s and prefer dirt but up here in the north west it rains a lot. If I lived in socal I would not race on anything but dirt but to race year around carpet is a must for us

  6. its call work that is for the track owner, most new track owners don’t know what it takes to keep a track, i have owned a outdoor and indoor facility for 17 years now and the expectations of the racers continually increase as time go on

  7. I haven’t raced at a track in 10 years, but I must admit I’m tempted back into 1/10th ‘Off-road’ if it was on carpet. I never liked the clean-up after each day’s racing. That thin film of dust, covering the motor and the electronics, always made me ‘anxious’. On the other hand my 1/12th 4 cell days would be a quick blast air duster to bring it back to being pristine.

    I’m looking at a Schumacher K165 for this next step…

  8. I raced off road up north back in the 90s and recently started back into the hobby here in the south. The big dirt tracks that we had were loose loamy dirt, but matched every other track in the area, so we had a very good turnout and no significant complaints. Now I am racing at a local hobby shop with an outdoor track and there is nothing but complaints on the track conditions, since it is a hard packed clay that breaks down into lots of dust and is very challenging. The problem is that the closest indoor track is running clay that becomes bluegroove and some of the drivers love the control that this gives them and don’t like having to drive in the conditions where they can’t lay down the power we have now. The local hobby shop is trying to simulate that indoor track, but just cannot be done without a lot of maintenance (which he either does not know how or is unwilling to pay the cost). In the end, I think with our connected world we are seeing most people attracted to the hobby looking to run on tracks that are similar to those that RC pros run on and outdoor tracks without doing a very large amount of maintenance will likely move to astro turf to provide the grip that the bluegroove tracks provide.

  9. I miss Carpet Racing. Good tight and more precise passing, but waiting for an opportunity to pass might come sooner on dirt. Good arguments to make on both sides. Jumping also adds extra excitement, especially for the younger kids. It’s what ever it takes to get kids away from there istuff and more hands on and outside – i’m for it. I’m partially getting back into racing with the grand kids. I will be right beside them letting them come up with there on conclusions – even though i would rather be racing on carpet. Keeping your mouth shut comes part of being a gram-pa.

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