Rules in the Kit
There may be a little slip of paper that comes with the car kit that may pass as rules, but usually that is not sufficient for a fair race. Treat that as a starting point. Race organizers will need to determine if aftermarket parts, pre-cut cars, parts from non-official kits, and so on will be allowed. They will also need to evaluate which lubes will be allowed.
Good Rules / Bad Rules
There are good rules and there are bad rules. So, what makes a rule "good"?
A good rule is one that:
- Has a purpose - Why have that rule in the first place? Is it an attempt to even the playing field? Is it to match the rules of an upper level race? You should examine each of your rules to see what the purpose was behind them. You may find some that you really do not need or just need some clarification.
- Can be verified with a non-destructive inspection - In other words, an inspector should be able to check for compliance visually, with the use of go/no-go gauges or measuring devices and not damage the car or change the alignment of the wheels in the process. Some racers spend a lot of time working on their wheels and axles to get the car to run just right. It is not fair to them to have that effort go to waste so the inspector can check something.
- Is not vague - A rule should be objective, not subjective, so it should not be open for interpretation. A good example is a common rule that wheels may only be "lightly sanded". So, what is considered lightly sanded? That is purely subjective. If the rule stated that the tread contour cannot be changed and the minimum wheel diameter and wheel width are stated, then it would be a more objective rule. You can then use measuring devices or go/no-go gauges to inspect for compliance.
- Allows for creativity - Overly restrictive rules can stifle creativity. Racers should have some latitude in their car design so they can come up with a unique creation or try creative things that might provide a boost to speed.
- Is not affected by the race itself - Axle alignment can change over the course of a race due to handling, rough stops or loose axle slots. So, rules about "all four wheels must touch" or that "axles cannot be angled" end up being bad rules. A car may comply at check-in but at the end of the race it is out of compliance. That can lead to accusations of cheating.
- Is easy to comply with - Given an official kit, a racer with no prior experience should be able to build a car that is in compliance with the rules with minimal effort. It is harder for an inexperienced builder to comply with "all four wheels must touch" and "no angled axles" rules. It can be downright hard for a new builder to comply with those rules. Don't make it any harder on them. See also the point above these two bad rules.
Things to Consider
- Parts from Non-Official Kits - Usually, rules state that only parts from the official kit can be used. Other kits can have wheels that are of a different design and material, axles that are made and shaped differently, and even the blocks can be differently sized and have the axle slots in different locations. The differences may seem minor but can actually lead to an unfair advantage.
- Aftermarket Parts - There is no shortage of websites out there that sell lathed wheels and axles. Some of these can pose a significant competitive advantage. Though, you do need to be cautious about outright outlawing those parts, as that can be really hard to enforce and it can very well be possible for someone with simple tools to accomplish the same thing. An example is grooved axles. Some rules prohibit them outright. How do you inspect for them without pulling the wheels off? Someone with a drill and a file can easily make grooved axles. That someone can be a kid, with some adult supervision.
- Pre-Cut Cars - There are many local stores and websites that offer pre-cut car bodies. Some don't like the fact that part of the normal build process has been shortcutted. Unfortunately, there are a lot of single moms out there and dad's that don't have the time to do a full build. There are also plenty of moms and dads that should not be let near any power tools;-) Personally, I would rather have a kid use a pre-cut car and be able to race than to not be able to race at all.
- Fully Built Cars - Unfortunately, you can find fully built "guaranteed winner" cars on some websites and eBay. Some adults would rather pull out their wallet than to spend time with their kid or just have the misguided sense that they are helping their kids self esteem by getting them a fast car. You rules should state that the car be built by the child, with adult help. Of course, that can be hard to verify. Some race coordinators have gone as far as stamping the bottom of the blocks and at check-in they are checking for that stamp. Some have mandated attendance at workshops, so they can see that the kids have had a hand in the car building.
- Axle Slots - Some rules mandate that axle slots must be used. That's great, as long as the slots are perpendicular to the sides of the block. Some slots can be significantly off, which will put the racer at a disadvantage. Because of that, for our rules we do not require that the slots be used. Racers can drill holes for the axles instead of using the slots.
- Wheelbase - If everyone must use the axle slots, then wheelbase is not an issue. However, if you let racers drill axles holes, then you need to consider wheelbase. An extended wheelbase (where the wheels are pushed close to the ends of the block) can provide an advantage, as it is more stable and allows racers to push the center of gravity further towards the back wheels (more potential energy to get the car down the track). We don't restrict wheelbase in our rules, but some limit the wheelbase to a certain measurement in an attempt to even the playing field.
- Lubes - There are a number of dry and liquid lubes that have been used by racers looking for an advantage. So, what will you allow? Many people are afraid that allowing liquid lubes will result in oil slick on their track. Personally, I think that graphite is the messiest lube of all. At the end of a race there is black all over the track and people's hands. We allow liquid lubes and have yet to have an oil slick on the track. At our check-in inspection, if a car is oozing oil out of the wheel bores, we have the racer wipe off all of the excess before we will check it in. We even do that even with graphite. If it is all over the car or falling out of the wheel bores, we have them wipe off the excess. Our check-in inspectors don't like black or oily hands.
After Check-In Disqualifications
Too often, I have heard of racers getting disqualified during or even at the end of the race because something slipped by the check-in inspection. So, the racer ends up getting penalized for a failure of a check-in inspector to catch the problem. To me, that is not fair to the racer. If it passes check-in, then the car should be able to race. If it doesn't pass check-in, then the racer has the opportunity to resolve the problem so the car will be in compliance. If there is a problem with the check-in inspection letting things through that violate the rules, then you should note that and address that issue before next year's race.
Post Race Tear Downs
I have heard of some races that do a post race tear down of the cars. They pull the wheels so they can get a better look at the wheels and axles. I am not a fan of taking someone's car apart, as that can damage the car. Taking wheels off can require considerable effort and lead to breakage. A racer should be able to get their car back at the end of the race undamaged. Anyways, this goes right back to the good rules / bad rules discussion. If a rule cannot be verified visually, with the use of go/no-go gauges or measuring instruments at check-in then it is a bad rule.
Running good workshops can actually help with racers being able to comply with the rules. A good workshop provides the necessary tools to build a car as well as providing people that can give builders guidance on construction. That can help reduce the temptation to go out and just buy some aftermarket parts or even a fully built car. There are those that don't provide any workshops for their racers or have poorly run workshops. They really are doing their racers a disservice by not having good workshops. Workshops are also and excellent way to help ensure that the kids are involved in the building of their cars.
Here's the rules that we have used for our Awana club. We have two sets of rules, one for the kids and the other for the adults. We call the adult race the "Outlaw Division", as the rules are more relaxed. That can lead to some crazy designs.