Need for speed satisfied by radio-controlled cars


August 03, 1998|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A SMALL OVAL race course is painted on the asphalt in a section of parking lot at the Elkridge Corners shopping center.

During the week, it sits unnoticed. But every Friday afternoon, staff from the HobbyTown USA store in the shopping center begin setting up for RC -- radio-controlled -- car races held there Friday evenings.

The operation is run from a trailer that HobbyTown USA pulls to the site at Montgomery Road and U.S. 1.

Store staff assemble the outer walls of the track -- pieces of plywood about 6 inches wide, joined with hinges and removable cotter pins.

The inner loop is made of white PVC pipe, with a semicircle of plywood anchors at each end.

The "scoring tower," a simple wooden structure about 2 feet high, spans one side of the race course.

The tower contains electric wires connected to a computer in the trailer.

Every time a car goes under the bridge, the computer logs a lap and emits a high-pitched beep.

Races begin about 6 p.m.

Around the race area, owners prop open the hoods of their vehicles to charge the batteries.

Some racers set up tables with equipment, tools and paraphernalia. Some have canopies covering their tables.

Close to the center of the track, young people sit around a full-sized car battery.

They tinker with their RC cars, using parts kept in several tackle boxes as they talk.

Each participant signs in, paying $5 to participate in three races.

Vehicles are placed at starting positions marked on the asphalt. Racers stand on a wood platform.

Typically, eight classes of races are held: two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive electric; two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive "nitros"; and four other categories.

The nitro cars run on a mixture of oil, alcohol and nitromethane -- similar to the fuel used in top-level drag race cars. The nitros are more expensive and finicky than electric cars.

The races begin with battery-powered vehicles.

They are followed by nitro racers, then more battery-powered races.

The pitch of the RC engines changes as cars move into and out of the turns.

The battery-operated cars sound vaguely like a dentist's drill, the nitros like miniature chain saws.

Racers cannot modify their engines -- a rule designed to ensure that youngsters whose budgets are limited can compete with older racers who can afford to soup up their cars.

Some racers are more experienced and some heats run more smoothly than others.

In one heat, a truck hits the outside wall, spins and is plowed into by other trucks.

In another heat, one of the cars swerves from side to side on its way around the track.

In a third, a 10-year-old boy races his new car and in the first loop, the car hits the outside wall and loses a wheel.

When two of the best racers control their cars around the track, the sounds of the cars slowing and accelerating in and out of the turns and the beeping of the computer as they go under the scoring tower becomes mesmerizing.

The announcer calls for "turn marshals" for each race.

Six to 10 participants spot the turns.

When a vehicle crashes, they jump into the course, pick up the vehicle deftly and flip it upright and back into the race.

Their movements are quick and acrobatic as they try to avoid getting hit by other cars on the track.

"The youngest racer is 8, the oldest says he is in his late 40s but he lies a lot," says Jim Dodge, an RC specialist from HobbyTown USA's Glen Burnie store.

This year, participants are racing for points in a season that began in April and will end next month.

At the end of the season, those with the most points will win prizes or a trophy.

RC car races are also held in Glen Burnie, Manchester in Carroll County, and Hanover, Pa.

Elkridge residents Shaun Gordon, Chris Parkison, Charlie Garcia, Tim Avara, James Ballentine, James Booker, Allyn Davis, Robert Reda, Bob Moore, Bobby Moore, Kash Krickler and Joel Bennett recently won first, second or third place in the spring season.

Winners from Ellicott City included Lars Leaf, Jim Knabe, Jackie Leaf and Doug Burchardt.

The event is a spectator sport for all ages. Some residents bring lawn chairs, but most sit on the parking lot curb.

People wander over to Cindy's Soft Serve for ice cream or snowballs and return to watch the entertainment: miniature race cars zooming around the shopping center parking lot.


Congratulations to Sherry Knowles, recently featured in the June 1998 issue of American Cheerleader magazine as one of four Maryland high school cheerleading coaches to be included in the top 100 "Who's Who of American Cheerleading Coaches."

Ellicott City resident Mohan Karulkar has won the 1998 Wal-Mart Competitive Edge Scholarship.

The $20,000 scholarship is awarded to students in fields related to manufacturing, industry and technology.

The Centennial High School graduate will study chemical engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park this fall.

He is the only Baltimore-area student to win this scholarship.

Vacation Bible School

Harwood Park United Methodist Church will hold its Vacation Bible School from 6: 30 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. Aug. 10-14.

The theme will be the "Storytelling Tree."

Information: Luci Gajewski, 410-796-7613.

Sing out

Columbia Pro Cantare chorus is holding auditions for its 22nd season.

Rehearsals begin Sept. 8 and are held every Tuesday at Hammond High School in Columbia.

Information: 410-730-8549 or 410-465-5744.

Pub Date: 8/03/98

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