Building an RC Car Dirt Track

     Recently, a friend gave me a four wheel drive 1:12 hobbyist RC car that he had built many years ago.  The car was designed for dirt tracks, and came with a complex multichannel remote control and a timed charger.  It drove quite well and gave the operator had very good control of the car.   To get the most out of out the car, we decided to build a dirt track outdoors, to race RC cars on.  The track turned out pretty well, although the plan to race cars on it has not worked out yet.  My friends car ran into problems, and my other RC cars were not best-suited for a “dirt” track and the performance was sluggish.
The plan is to build another new 1:12 RC car from a kit and race that on the track.  I’ll provide details on the experience of building the car in another post.  Here I’ll describe how we built the track.
     First, let’s start off discussing the materials needed to create this track.  We needed a grass cutter in order to clear the grass out of the way.  We initially had a gas-powered cutter, but it wouldn’t start.  We went out to Home Depot to buy an electric version, so that we would not have to deal with the same issues.  That worked just fine, and we were able to clear the grass out of the way.After clearing out the grass, we were able to use the dirt surface for the track.  The soil had more gravel, i.e. small stones, in some places and was not all fine dirt, which is not ideal.  But fortunately most of the track did not have much gravel. We had to make it level, so that the cars would run well.  We had  initially thought about using asphalt shingles for the track surface, but we thought it would be hard to cut out on the turn sections of the track.  So we decided on a dirt track and only had to find a way to build a barrier along the track, to keep the cars from going off the track.  After visiting the hardware store to look for solutions, we found the cheapest option was to use plastic chicken wire netting for the side barriers.

After leveling out the track, we had to hammer in redwood stakes along the sides of the track.  The stakes were needed hold up the netting.   The plastic netting was stapled onto the wood stakes with a staple gun.  We felt one drawback of having that kind of plastic net was that the cars could occasionally get stuck in it.  Turned out it was not a big problem and none of the cars got stuck on the netting.  This approach allowed us to create a track relatively easily, that is large enough for big RC cars.  If you have a lot of backyard space, you can easily build this kind of race track.

    I invited three friends of mine, and they seemed to enjoy racing on this track.  However, my cars were not great for this track.  One friend of mine brought his large car, and it surprisingly worked pretty well, even though it was rear-wheel drive.  The 4WD car started off great, but the wheel broke off and the motor burned out.  When I complete my kit car, I will give you my experience with that car on the track in a separate post.  I assume it should work pretty well because it is 4WD.  I really can’t wait to test it out.
Looking closely, you can see some of the damage from the deer.
When building a dirt track at home, I’d recommend having the right RC cars ahead of time, otherwise, you won’t have as much fun with friends.  Good tires are critical for dirt, so make sure to look at that factor when buying RC cars.  Also, it’s a good idea to get a 4WD drivetrain for dirt.  Better traction is safer on for real cars, as well as when buying RC cars.  Unfortunately, the track was destroyed by some deer in our backyard.  I’d suggest that you watch out for animals and the damage they will do to the track.
     Overall, this track was definitely a great setup.  The only thing missing was a good set of cars to race.  I’m looking forward to opening up my RC car kit and building and racing it.  More on that soon.
    • Ashwin
    • September 27th, 2012

    Hi Naveen,

    Interesting post. I had meant to ask the story of the track’s creation at your Labor Day barbecue but was rather distracted by the zip-line(!) and the children hurtling down it at alarming speed down the ravine.

    I’m curious as to why you elected to purchase an electric grasscutter, rather than simply renting one. Do you plan on modifying or, indeed, expanding the track at some point?

    I am interested in your reasons for choosing the new car kit you did, which hopefully you will address in the post you promised on the build process (pictures!). In light of your friend’s mechanical issues with his 4WD rig on your track, I wonder if you won’t require something beefier still to handle all of the punishment?

    Perhaps consider discussing the kinds of things that tend to go wrong with RC cars, both in your own experience and more generally. I know next to nothing about RC cars, but if the replacement parts for these things cost anything like the ones for bicycles and motorcycles, you may have to take out a mortgage to fund this hobby. 😉

    • Hello Ashwin,

      So the project started out in early June. Prior to the start of this project, we got somebody to do an annual grass trimming in our whole property. Later, we cleared out the grass with the electric grass cutter, which we bought because the gas version wasn’t working, as said before. The reason we actually bought the electric grass cutter is because we thought it might be a useful solution in the long run.

      My dad and I initially thought we’d use asphalt shingles for the surface of the track, but we realized that it wouldn’t be an easy solution for especially the turns. Instead, we dug up the ground after the grass was cleared, and we used the dirt underneath the ground as our surface. It took a fair amount of work to level out the dirt. The work didn’t stop there, however.

      Next, we had to pound in the wooden stakes with a hammer or mallet, and that was something that required a lot of strength. To finish up, we stapled the net onto the wooden stakes using a staple gun. Previously, I had never been taught to use a staple gun, so my dad handily showed me some basic principles of using it. By the way, before buying the netting, we actually measured the track’s perimeter. We decided we didn’t need the net all over the track, just on the tight curves, especially.

      I actually got some of my friends to come over, and one friend brought a rear-wheel drive RC car, that actually worked better than the ones I had around. At least we got to test something. Unfortunately, the deer destroyed the track while on vacation. So you asked about modifying, you say? Well, I might end up fixing the track at some point, maybe when I get my new kit car to work.

      So actually, when I was first testing the RC car my friend gave me, it worked on the track really well. That car was really quick and agile on dirt. However, the mechanical issues were a huge problem, after sometime. Good suggestion for discussing more on the RC car problems! I will certainly make sure to address some things in my post about the new RC car.

      I’m actually right now helping another friend of mine to give suggestions for shopping for a midsize sedan hybrid, so I will probably post something on that comparison before the new RC car.

  1. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing several weeks of hard work
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    • I’m very sorry to hear that. I would frequently change your password in order to stop hackers.

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