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Welcome to Mini 4WD Racing, Where Tiny Cars Go Unbelievably Fast

Created by Tamiya in 1982, these miniature electric racers are a great challenge for builders and tuners.
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Playing with toy cars is one of the joys of the young, budding car lover. Most of us had some Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars, but the truly next-level stuff was always radio-controlled cars and RC car racing. We all know about slot cars, but Mini 4WD is the stuff of my childhood dreams.

Mini 4WD is nothing new, either. Tamiya created the format in 1982 as another form of car racing on a 1:32 scale. Driven by a single electric motor sending power to both axles, the cars are designed to snap together instead of using glue, making them cheaper and easier to build and maintain. They’re also affordable at about $20 for a car to start but can go up to $100 for the most competitive builds.

The cars run on a special kind of tracks that are either five or three lanes wide. The track has walls that keep the cars in place laterally but also features jumps to unsettle the cars and send them off the track. Technically, the cars have eight wheels. Four are normal wheels, and another smaller roller wheel lives at each corner of the car to aid turning. The cars ride the walls of the track to steer. 

There are even classes that stratify Mini 4WD racing. The most basic goes from Box Stock and Box Stock Junior, to Tuned which allows any official Tamiya modifications, to the unrestricted Outlaw class. In Outlaw, cars only have to fit in a specifically sized box to pass tech inspection, but custom parts are allowed. Racers go as far as using carbon fiber parts in these rapid little racing cars.

The well goes so deep that it would take a small book to explain. The crux of it is optimizing the setup for the track. Gear ratios and tire size, electric motor break-in procedures, the tire’s shape, the friction of the rollers and overhangs that slow the car down, and the different types of chassis all contribute to making a competitive Mini 4WD. 

These cars also go fast, specifically cars in the Outlaw class. They aren’t remote-controlled, so the owners set and forget the cars for a race. The entire point of Mini 4WD is preparation, which makes it interesting in a different way to RC car racing. But the speed with which they clear these twisting, technical tracks beggars belief. 

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