Big on speed

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Remote control races offer big competition, only on a smaller scale

By Jeremy Joffray ~ Southeast Missourian

Trucks line up on a small dirt track, ready for the command to go. Their spare parts are strewn about. The smell of gas is in the air.

The scene at a Semo Scale Auto Racers race at Arena Park doesn't look much different than a typical auto race -- until you realize the cars aren't much bigger than a typical shoe box.

A group of up to 60 racers gather each Sunday at Arena Park in Cape Girardeau to compete in remote control racing -- RC racing, as fans call it. The races are organized by the Semo Scale Auto Racers club.

The racers spending their time talking shop and making pre-race adjustments. And in spite of a quieter atmosphere at an RC race, it's not hard to get into the racing mood.

"These aren't toys," 20-year RC veteran James Martin of Jackson said. "They think they're toys until they see what they're capable of."

RC cars measure about 18 inches in length with heavier 4-wheel drive cars weighing as much as nine pounds and 2-wheel cars four pounds. The RC cars at Arena Park can reach speeds of up to 40 mph.

"These things go faster than some dirt bikes," 14-year-old Adam Hunt of Perryville said.

For many of the serious drivers they're a 10- to 20-hour investment a week. High-end cars can start out at $500 before modifications.

"At the upper levels it can be pretty hardcore," Martin said.

Phil Talley of St. Charles, who has been involved in RC racing for 17 years, said he spends upwards of $250 a week on his cars.

"You can do it for cheaper than that, though," he said.

For many competitors, just making modifications and working on the cars is fun.

"It's pretty boring if you don't work on them," Hunt said. "You spend more time working on them than you do playing with them."

Now in its second year, the Arena Park track gives RC racers the chance to put their hard work to use. Races are every Sunday and run into October, except for a brief stop for the SEMO District Fair.

The Sunday races offer eight different classes. Racers can enter in novice, buggy stock, truck stock, truck modifides, unlimited monster, gas stadium truck, E-maxx/Original T-Maxx and 4WD/Modified buggy.

"Everyone wants a T-Maxx," Martin said. "They run basically like a monster truck."

The RC models feature either electric or gas motors and come in sleak, race-car looks or the off-road truck styles. The gas-motored cars offer higher speeds and more excitement around the track.

"Ten years ago you wouldn't have heard of these things," Martin said of the gas-powered engines. "They started developing them specially for cars now instead of adapting them from planes."

Races cost $8 for members for the first class entered and $10 for non-members. Novice entry only is $5, and non-members must pay $2 for each additional class entry. Currently the racers are only competing for bragging rights with plans of a points season in the future.

The Sunday races typically bring out many families and have a fun-filled atmosphere.

But when the cars are put on the track, the racers get down to business.

"If I want to play I go in the back yard," Martin said. "I'm here to race."

"I take it pretty seriously," Hunt added. "I get pretty mad when I can't race."

While the races remain competitive fellow racers are apt to give each other a helping hand when needed.

"You go to the hobby store and buy a $5 part for yourself and $10 to give away," Martin said. "Everyone shares parts. You want everyone racing."

35-6611, extension 171

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