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Clinton Township

RC car hobby shop hosts dirt track races

October 10, 2012

» click to enlarge «
Timothy Vallad, co-owner of R/C Maddness Off Road Racing in Clinton Township, competes in one of several race heats and classes that took place during the Oct. 6 RC racing event. The drivers steer their cars while looking down on the dirt track from a high-rise stand. ABOVE RIGHT: Electric RC cars in 13 separate divisions make
Electric RC cars in 13 separate divisions make their ways around the dirt course.

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Whether young, old or somewhere in between, RC car racers of all ages and skill levels steered their miniature, electric vehicles through hairpin turns and soared off dirt hills on Oct. 6 in what was, for many, the last RC race of the year.

“It’s a lot of adrenaline,” said Josh Roberts, of Fowlerville.

Hosted by R/C Maddness Off Road Racing, the racers ran in 13 different classes on the commercial land behind the Clinton Township hobby shop’s storefront on Olson Street. The event drew 66 racers, including RC hobbyists from around the Midwest and a few dozen more from around the neighborhood.

For most, it was the last race in the six-race Factory Tracks Midwest Series, which included stops as far as Fremont, Ind., though not every competitor goes to every race. The cars are all electric, which means none of the louder gasoline or nitro cars are allowed in, said R/C Maddness co-owner Timothy Vallad.

The cars raced on the dirt track aren’t the sort of toy you’d give to a child on Christmas morning. Most cost at least a couple hundred dollars and have been modified by the driver.

“Anything you can do with a real life car, you can do on these — changing different shocks, different tire compounds, different style tires,” Roberts added.

Throughout the day, racers compete in five-minute races. Once the qualifying races were done, the racers moved on to the main event. Drivers stand up on a high-rise while they’re racing, looking over the dirt track as they move their car as nimbly as if there were a miniature driver behind the wheel.

“You got to concentrate for five minutes,” explained Jason Mosher, of Midland, of what it’s like for drivers during the race.

Those who are in between races stand on the sidelines, watching the competition, bundled in jackets and hooded sweatshirts. Others are underneath one of several canopies on the adjacent field, fixing or modifying their cars while they eat and joke around with friends. For many, it’s the camaraderie that counts.

While Mosher drove from Midland to spend his Friday practicing, and then his Saturday actually competing, it’s really about fun for him, he said.

“Some guys will go golfing. … There’s all kinds of hobbies; this just happens to be ours,” he added. “It’s a fun way to race without the expense of full-size vehicles — or the risk.”

Like any hobby, you can take it as far as you’re willing to go. Some racers are sponsored and travel the country racing RC cars professionally.

Al Horne, who owns the Factory Tracks series, was among the elite on the professional circuit for several years, up until about two years ago. Since then, he has established his own racing team, Factory Tracks Racing, and nowadays is geared more toward helping his two sons, 10 and 12, reach the professional level.

“There’s been world champions at age 15,” Horne said. “There are guys who make upwards of $1 million a year racing these things. There’s probably about 10 guys in the country that are making a really good living.”

While most of the racers who came to the R/C Maddness races say they’re in it for the fun, there is an underlying competitiveness as many of the racers tried to win what, for many, would be the last race of the series and, ultimately, the Factory Tracks Midwest Series.

The series is taken to different tracks, and leases the different facility — though the money made by the business is nominal compared to the money and effort that goes into hosting the event.

Points, based on each racer’s qualifying and main event performance, are picked up and accumulated throughout the six races that make up the series. Each drops the scores from their two worst races, meaning not everyone has to attend each race.

“Most of the people that are here have went to a race once a month all summer long, and they’re all trying for the ultimate goal — and that’s to win the championship in their class,” Horne said. “Winning the championship, or even being in the top five for the series, can lead to other sponsorships.”

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