HPI Racing Header
nav nav nav nav nav nav nav nav home
Page Layout

Beginner's Guide

What is RC

This page of the HPI site is for people who have never been exposed to Radio Control Cars before and want to find out more before trying one out for real.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could have a scale model car that you could control? Have you ever seen someone playing in the street with a radio control car and wondered what it would be like to drive your own car? Or did you once have an R/C car many years ago, and you want to see how the hobby has changed? 

It's much easier than you think to find yourself involved in the radio control car hobby! Many people have R/C cars as children but give up the hobby as they get older. Now's the time to remember how much fun it all was!

Probably the most popular Radio Control models are radio control (or "R/C") cars. These range from the types of cars you see in toy and electronics stores to the types of cars that companies like HPI Racing offers. R/C cars can be off-road buggies, trucks, monster trucks, cars, street trucks and much more. 

Radio control cars come in two basic forms: "toy" style cars or trucks that are advertised during cartoon shows on television and sold at electronics and toy stores, and the "kit" type cars or trucks that are sold only at specialized hobby shops or mail-order companies and are available as a build-it-yourself kit or "Ready To Run". Toy-style cars are often advertised as "remote control", while hobbyists refer to kit-style cars as "radio control".

HPI specializes in the kit-type R/C car or truck, which can come assembled or in kit form, meaning you build it yourself or with a friend. While the kit R/C cars and trucks cost more at first, they are more durable and faster than toy R/C cars. You can also repair this type of R/C car or truck, which is usually impossible or very difficult to do with toy R/C cars. The cost to repair a car or truck is only a fraction of the cost it would take to send a toy-style kit to its manufacturer (if that is even possible). You can also upgrade an R/C car or truck to make it faster, stronger, more durable, more adjustable or just make it look nicer. All HPI R/C car and truck kits have optional bodies that you can replace whenever you want, meaning while you may have a street car today, you can have a street truck tomorrow, or a sedan, racing coupe, sports car, or nearly any other type of car you desire!

HPI Racing offers many types of R/C cars:

One of our most popular types of kits are the 4WD truck kits, which can run just about anywhere, taking jumps, dips, bumps and more! Because of large rubber tires and long shock absorbers, these trucks can run on dirt, grass, the street and almost any type of surface. These kits are available in both electric-powered and Nitro-powered ("gas" engine) versions. HPI also offers our Nitro-powered trucks in RTR versions, which means you don't have to build anything at all.

Also very popular are the HPI "Nitro RS4" series cars, which feature a real fuel-burning engine, real rubber street tires, four-wheel drive for stability and real working shock absorbers! These are just a few features of these exciting cars and only part of what make these kits extremely popular. These kits are perfect for teaching children about real cars, as well as other R/C hobby techniques like teamwork, communication and more. The "RTR" version of the Nitro RS4 is built out of the box, while the Nitro RS4 2 arrives in kit form so you can have the fun of building the car yourself.

The electric-powered versions of our "on-road" cars run on batteries and small electric motors, and are slightly easier to build and maintain than the Nitro versions. Quiet and easy to maintain, the 4WD electric RS4 line of cars are very popular where hobbyists can only drive indoors.

Larger versions of our Nitro RS4 cars are the "Super" Nitro RS4 kits. These feature all the same things as the standard-size Nitro RS4 cars, but are just BIGGER! The wheels, tires, bodies, everything is 20% bigger for a larger racing machine that is actually easier to drive.

Growing steadily in popularity, our line of "Rally" cars are go-anywhere, do-anything versions of our on-road cars. These cars feature longer shock absorbers, knobby-style tires and other features which allow them to drive both on the street and in your yard!

At the "top of the heap" are the car kits that we release for racers and R/C enthusiasts. These include the RS4 Pro 3 and Proceed cars. Completely adjustable for racing conditions and extremely durable, these all-out racing machines are for the racer who wants the highest-tech, most capable kits that are available today.

For more information on HPI cars visit the Kits Page.

What type of kit should you get?

This is one of the first questions that R/C newcomers ask anyone in a hobby shop or internet forum. There are many things to consider, such as what areas you can run the car or truck in, how much time you can spend working on the car or truck, etc. You will have lots of fun looking at all the different kits HPI has to offer, though!

We've split up the decision-making process with these three questions: Should I get an on-road or off-road kit, Should I get a Nitro or electric kit, and Should I get an RTR kit or a kit I have to build? Read our responses to these questions and see what type of kit suits you best.

Should I get an on-road or off-road kit?
On-road kits can hit high speeds and they look like the cars you see on racetracks and streets around the world. With four-wheel drive (4WD), they are easy to drive and you can get realistic treaded tires and bodies for scale realism. However, driving off your curb or over holes in the road is not what these are designed to do. HPI offers on-road kits in both electric and Nitro versions, in various sizes, so it's easy to find something that fits your situation.

Off-road kits feature big tires, long shock absorbers and the ability to drive just about anywhere. They can handle jumps, dirt and other typical obstacles in your backyard, vacant lot, and just about anywhere. While some R/C off-road car and truck kits are meant only for race tracks, HPI's line of off-road kits are meant for both the track and yard. HPI offers off-road kits in electric and Nitro versions as well, and our off-road trucks are available with either two-wheel (2WD) or four-wheel (4WD) drive versions. 4WD trucks are easier to drive and can usually drive over just about anything!

Bridging the gap between on-road and off-road are the popular "Rally" cars. These are in basic terms on-road cars with knobby tires and longer shocks than normal, but they can also handle jumps, dirt and most of the other obstacles that other off-road kits can drive right through or over. HPI has rally cars in both a small electric version or a larger Nitro version. Both are 4WD and can drive on the street or on the dirt. While they can't drive over anything in sight like our 4WD Nitro trucks, they can take rough driving and hard landings.

Should I get a "Nitro" or electric kit?
Electric kits are slightly easier to assemble and maintain than Nitro kits, are nearly silent (so you don't bother your neighbors) and require simple plugs and switches to run. You can also run electric kits indoors, while Nitro kits must be run outdoors only. A well-tuned electric car can keep up with a Nitro car on a small parking lot track, but on a large track the Nitro car will easily pull away from the electric. The batteries that power the electric car's motor and steering can be recharged from a 12-volt car battery or a wall socket. Charging typically takes 15-30 minutes, and a battery will last about 5-10 minutes, depending on the type of motor used.

"Nitro" is a term that refers to the fuel-powered cars that many R/C manufacturers offers. Nitro kits are much more reliable than fuel kits from just a few years ago, and except for the engine and its related systems (exhaust and fuel) the Nitro car or truck is just as easy to build and care for as an electric car or truck. The Nitro engine provides realistic sights (smoke), sound (tuned pipe), and smells (exhaust), which is a huge reason for the Nitro class's popularity. While the electric kit must use several battery packs to achieve run times of 30 to 60 minutes, all the Nitro kit owner must do is make sure his transmitter and receiver batteries are sufficient and fill the car's fuel tank every 5 to 10 minutes. 

Should I get an RTR kit or a kit I have to build?
"RTR" means Ready To Run, and in the case of HPI's RTR kits the only preparation that is needed requires about 30 minutes or less before you're running the car or truck. This option is good for hobbyists who don't have time to build a kit, want to easily add another R/C kit to the collection, or anyone who is buying a kit for a younger relative.

Any HPI kit that is not labeled "RTR" is a "kit", meaning it must be built up from parts that are included in the box. This is usually not as hard a process as it initially sounds, our instructions have improved immensely from even a couple of years ago and our kits are now easier to build than ever. 

These questions and their answers should help you decide what sort of car or truck you might want to try out for your first R/C kit. As you get more involved with the hobby, you may find that your first car isn't keeping up with your interests. Your HPI street car is lots of fun in the school parking lot, but it can't drive through the field next to the school, so you decide to pick an HPI truck that can run off-road. Many hobbyists have several cars so they can play on any type of terrain or surface! Start with one and see how you like it first, though.

Where can I find a kit to buy?

This is one of the easiest questions to answer. Use your local telephone directory (look under "hobby shop or dealer") or our Shop Search page to find a hobby shop near you. You can also try a mail order company that advertises in one of the many R/C magazines around the country. For many hobbyists, an online retailer of hobby products is their only choice because of location and convenience.

Where can I run or race a car or truck?

Part of the process in deciding what type of kit you get should involve the area you have around you, where you can run a car or truck. Cars generally need a paved surface to run on, open parking lots such as schools, churches, office areas, etc., provide plenty of space to play on. (Make sure to ask permission if you need to!) With trucks, the type of surface doesn't matter too much because they can drive on pavement, dirt, gravel and all types of ground. Long grass isn't the best place to run in, but for short periods of time it is okay for the truck. Open fields, vacant lots, construction yards and other places are perfect places to run or race an HPI truck. Again, make sure to ask permission if it's private property!

Most of HPI's customers enjoy simply running their car or truck by themselves or with a friend or two. Running the car up and down the street or through a field or vacant lot can be lots of fun, but it's ten times as fun to drive around with another car or truck! 

However, some of our customers find that just driving on their street isn't as much fun as they thought, and want to actually compete with other R/C car or truck drivers. These people need to RACE!

If you want to try racing the kit you buy, you will find yourself involved in one of the most exciting and fun activities you can participate in! For some R/C hobbyists, nothing can come close to racing against a group of other drivers each week. All HPI kits can be raced, it's just a matter of finding enough racers to form your own race class at a local track. Most race areas are on-road (paved) tracks, because it's easy to find a parking lot that isn't used. Other locations are off-road, featuring all-dirt surfaces with lanes separated by boards or plastic pipe.

Racing can be an activity enjoyed every few months or you can dive in and surround yourself with the terminology, routines and competition. It's entirely up to you, but for some hobbyists there's nothing else that compares.

To find a track near you, see our Links page or ask for track locations on our R/C Forum. Most metropolitan areas have a race track nearby. 

What are the advantages of the R/C hobby?

Like any popular hobby, radio control cars have a mass appeal that draws people in, often for good. 

Do you enjoy putting parts of a kit together to make a single operating machine or structure? Have you ever wanted to make one of your scale model cars move on its own? Have you ever wanted to race a car, but realized the costs involved were prohibitively expensive? Have you ever wanted to teach your son or daughter more about real cars and how they work? Do you have a competitive spirit but don't have a good way to release it? Do you enjoy working with and learning from others for a common goal? Do you enjoy good sportsmanship in a friendly, open setting? Do you enjoy meeting new people with common interests?

A "yes" in answer to any of the questions (and many others not mentioned) is a perfect reason to try R/C and see how it fits into your life and busy schedule.

Building a kit from parts you get in a box is a form of entertainment that most people can understand. The grin of satisfaction and happiness from "building something from nothing" is one that almost can't be explained. Have you ever built a piece of furniture, rebuilt or repaired your car, put together a model kit, written a story or simple computer program, pieced together several items to make a single working piece or assembled anything from instructions? If you have ever done anything similar to these things, you understand the joy that will come from building your first (and second, and third...) radio control car kit. 

The first thing most people do when they run their car or truck is race it up and down their street or neighborhood parking lot. Running an R/C car will always bring out a crowd who is eager to find out what a speedy little car is doing zipping around the place! Meeting new people and telling them about your new hobby is one of the joys of R/C. People have always liked miniature things, and anything you can control (like your R/C car or truck) is even more exciting! Explaining everything about your car or truck is a great way to meet new people, make friends and impress your neighbors!

Racing an R/C car is definitely a unique way to have fun and hang out with friends and acquaintances. Spending a day at the track is cheaper than a night at the movies, with race fees costing about $5 to $10 (US dollars) at most tracks. You will quickly find a friendly person there who can give you advice, tips and other help, and eventually you'll get a friend to two to go with you and have fun as a group! While many HPI cars and trucks never see a race track, we always encourage this activity as a way to meet new people, learn more about your car and get more involved with the hobby! Our HPI Challenge events are just one way to have fun racing, plus you may have a track near you! See your local phone directory for hobby shops and if you don't have a location nearby, you can always ask permission to use an empty parking lot or vacant dirt field. 

Many parent/child "teams" can be seen at any R/C track or event, working together on one or more cars and racing or just having fun. Usually, the parent has been involved with the hobby and wishes to share it with their child, or the child has gotten his or her first R/C kit and both parent and child are learning the hobby together. Learning the R/C hobby as parent and child is a hugely bonding experience. Building R/C cars, learning how various R/C systems work, adjusting car and radio settings, making friends and working together are just a few of the many things that a child can learn from their parent as they assemble, adjust and play with their R/C car. It's a truly good time that both child and parent will enjoy and cherish as they work together to make the car work the way they want. 

The organization of an R/C race day


Usually there will be a long practice session before the racing begins. During this time you should sign up for the race and prepare your car or truck. Before you run, find the frequency clip or pin for the frequency you will use and put it in your pocket or on your radio antenna. This will make sure you don't accidentally run on someone else's frequency and prevents people from using your frequency! When you are practicing, use the first run to get used to the track layout and slowly work your way to full speed as you get used to the track. Use the rest of your practice runs to get faster and faster, and if possible run on the track the same time as someone else you've noticed who is slightly faster than you - it's one of the best ways to learn the track and your car or truck!

Get in as many practice sessions as you can, but remember that you should do only one battery pack or one tank of fuel and then put the frequency clip back on the clip rack so the next person has an oppotunity to practice.

As the race time gets closer, the race director will announce that the qualifying heats are available for racers to see their car numbers and race numbers. These are very important! Get your car number decals and with a pen or marker mark your race number on one of the car numbers. This will make sure you remember when your race is coming up, you don't want to miss one of your races.

A 'round' of races is one complete set of races, from race one to the last race. Most tracks will have at least two and sometimes three rounds of qualifying. Qualifying is your chance to make your best run on the track, in preparation for the 'mains', or the final races. Usually the top ten fastest racers in each class will be grouped in what is called the A Main or A Final, and the next ten fastest racers are in the B Main, and so on. Sometimes a class will have ten or less racers in it, so there is only an A Main and no B Main.

The novice class is usually the first class to race, so if this is your first race make sure your batteries are charged for your first race and your correct transponder installed (if the track uses transponders).

When you get ready to race, be as relaxed as possible and just try to make it to the end of the race without hitting any barriers or other cars - that is what will slow you down the most.

After the race is over, make sure you follow any directions the race director gave everyone before the racing started. Sometimes your car and radio must be left on a table, sometimes you are able to take your car back to your pit area. Either way, make sure you get back out to the track to do your turn marshaling duties! Every racer has to turn marshall the race immediately after theirs, this is the best way to make sure everyone does their marshall duty and everyone has an equal chance to get going the right way if they crash or make a mistake during their race. Turn marshaling is basically watching a specific part of the track and turning over any cars that crash in that area.

Once you are done turn marshaling you can head back to your pit area to work on your car, get your next battery started charging, or whatever you need to do to get ready for your next race.

When the qualifying races are over, the mains begin, normally after a short break in the schedule. Your car number may change, and also your race number may be different, so be sure to pay attention to the main event listing.

The main event is run just like the qualifying races, except that this time there's usually a real prize at stake!

After the races are all over and everyone is packed up, sharing a favorite racing story is a popular way to pass the time. Getting a bite to eat with your friends (and new racing buddies) is a great way to prolong the race day as well. When you get home check over your car and do any battery or engine maintenance that needs to be done, so you can be ready for next week's racing adventure!


We at HPI Racing hope this page helps you decide what type of R/C car will interest you the most. If you have questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page. If you want to learn more about specific HPI kits, find the kits that interest you on our Kits page!


No matter which HPI kit you pick, remember the number one 
"Golden Rule of R/C": HAVE FUN!

How an R/C race is run

For many new R/C hobbyists, attending their first race can be an intimidating experience. It doesn't need to be like that, however, as long as you are properly prepared and arrive with the right attitude and mindset.

As long as you approach your first race knowing that you don't need to have the latest coolest gadgets and equipment, understand that you may not win your first day, and realize that you'll be racing with other people - some of whom will be very competitive, you'll leave the racetrack wanting to go back and do better!

The first thing to do is visit the track's web page or give them a call to confirm their race schedule. You don't want to show up on the wrong night or too late to register!

When you call the track to check their race times, ask what classes they race. For off-road, this would include buggy, truck, nitro truck, etc, while on-road racers will be separated by electric touring car, nitro touring car, "gearbox" (on-road buggies and trucks) and possibly other classes. You will be grouped together with similar type vehicles and possibly separated into different skill levels. Smaller tracks or clubs may not separate by skill level, while large tracks may have up to three skill levels (typically novice, sportsman and expert). If it's your first race ever, ask to be included in the "rookie" or "novice" class, or just tell them it's your first time. If you find the novice class is too easy, you can always race in the sportsman class next time.

Also find out what tires work best for the class you will be racing. Often the shop or someone at the track will have the tires you need for sale, or you can order them beforehand to have them ready to go when you get to the track. Although tires are an extremely important part of having the proper "setup" for racing, you probably won't have to worry about having the "right" tires the very first time you go racing.

Spare parts can be handy if you know what to bring, otherwise make sure you are racing at a track that has spares for the car you are racing. If not, order some in advance from the shop and keep them in your pit box "just in case". Even though you may be able to get around the track without hitting anything, there is no guarantee that no one else won't hit you!

One more thing you should ask is if the track uses transponders, and if they do, where they should be on your car or truck. A transponder is a small radio transmitter that communicates with the race computer to figure out what place you are on the track during a race. Some tracks require it be placed in a particular spot on the chassis or body of your vehicle, so it's important to know where to put the mount - and your fellow racers can help you put a mounting spot on your car.

Most tracks charge between 4-15 dollars to practice all day and race. Bring a sack lunch and drinks or extra cash to buy snacks or lunch/dinner while you're at the track. Nothing's worse than racing on an empty stomach!

By the time you actually plan on attending your first race, you probably will already have what you need to race. If you have an electric car, you will need your car or truck, two or three battery packs, your radio and a battery charger (ask the shop if they have AC power, because if your charger is DC only you will need to borrow a power supply or charge from your real car). For Nitro, you will need your car or truck, about a quart of fuel, a fuel bottle and radio.

If the track is in a parking lot (a temporary track) you may need to bring a folding chair and table. Many friends who travel to races together will share the cost of a folding table and buy their own chairs. Outdoor racers should bring a hat to protect themselves from the sun.

That should be it! Don't be afraid to ask questions of your fellow racers or the track/shop personnel. Most people will be happy to help you and eventually you'll make plenty of friends who will cheer you on when you're racing! Remember - a great attitude during the race day is required! There's no sense in putting too much pressure on yourself to win or perform well your first time out. Like any skill, racing should be practiced to be proficient at it.

What to ask the shop when you call (or find this info on their website):

  • when is race time and when does the track open (so you can practice early)
  • how much is it to enter
  • where is the track (if any directions are unclear)
  • if the pit areas are covered (bring a wide-brim hat or beach umbrella if they aren't)
  • what classes of cars and trucks they race
  • if they have spares for your car or truck
  • if there is fast food or snack machines nearby
  • if they have AC power (if you have a DC-only charger, you will have to charge from your real car's battery or borrow an AC power supply)
  • if the track uses transponders and if they must be attached in a specific location

Page Layout
Page Layout
page layout Home > Service > Beginner's Guide Spacerwww.hpieurope.com