Club taps into appeal of radio-controlled cars

Parkton off-road track home to Nuclear-RC members

September 01, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to the sun

About once a week, David Baker loads up his race car and makes the 40-mile trip from his home to an off-road track in Parkton.

Upon arrival, he performs a system check before firing up the engine and sending the car zipping around the twisting, turning, hilly dirt track.

However, the degree of danger is minimal, given that Baker positions himself in a driver's stand overlooking the track and uses a control box to "drive" his 16-inch, 10-pound radio-controlled racer.

"You can fine tune them almost like you would a full-size race car," the 42-year-old Carroll County resident said.

Baker is a member of Nuclear-RC, a club for radio-controlled car enthusiasts in Baltimore County and beyond. Members can practice at the track and the club holds occasional races that are open to nonmembers and have attracted as many as 100 participants from surrounding states.

Nuclear-RC was founded by a Cockeysville resident who envisioned a place where his 11-year-old son could race his new car.

"I wanted to help develop my son's interest in racing because there weren't a lot of activities that we could both compete in, where he could keep up," said Bryant Gorrell, a service manager for a county heating and air conditioning company who started the club in 2003.

Gorrell, 44, and his son, Christopher, approached the county government about the idea of building a track and eventually came in contact with Amy DiAngelo, a program coordinator for the parks and recreation department.

DiAngelo didn't need much persuasion.

"The Nuclear-RC program is a good family activity," DiAngelo said. "It's not one person in a family playing softball while everyone else watches. It's the whole family doing it."

She sent the Gorrells on a search to find the right place for a track. For almost two years, they scouted potential locations on county-owned land before they discovered a former Nike missile silo site in Jacksonville.

Gorrell named the club after that location, and the club raised $1,800 to pay for the driver's stand and a track. Once the construction was completed, the track became very popular -- too popular, in fact.

"There were people at the track all the time, and the neighbors began to complain about the noise," Gorrell said. "Amy and I agreed that we needed to find another location."

They held one race at the track before closing it down.

"We named it our Inaugural Finale Meltdown," said Baker, an associate editor for RC Driver, a Ridgefield, Conn.-based magazine for radio-controlled vehicle enthusiasts.

The club members soon found an alternate spot at the 204-acre Parkton landfill that was being used by a radio-controlled airplane club.

"The track sits on a landfill so they can't dig into it to build, and of course they didn't need to," DiAngelo said. "And there is already a great amount of noise from [Interstate 83] so the noise wasn't an issue, either."

The county helped ready the new location by moving the drivers' stand, but the club had to raise more money to build another track, which opened for use this past spring.

After starting with 10 members, the club has grown to 70 participants ages 8 to 60, though most are 30 to 45. Members pay $75 the first year, and $50 in subsequent years, with the money helping to pay for upkeep of the track, The track covers an area about 180 feet by 180 feet.

A basic RC car -- which runs on a mixture of nitromethane, methanol and oil -- and accompanying gear costs about $250, while racing-grade vehicles can run into the thousands of dollars.

The cars are maneuvered using a radio controller through frequency channels 60 to 90, Baker said.

Drivers must check a frequency clipboard to determine the availability of a channel. If the frequency is free, the driver attaches a clothespin with the number of the channel to the controller.

"If your frequency clothespin is gone, you either have to use a different car, or wait until your frequency comes available," Baker said.

But even when all precautions are taken, the sport can be dangerous.

"These cars weigh about 10 pounds and they travel more than 30 miles an hour," Baker said. "They are not toys."

However, the sport continues to grow in popularity, Baker said.

"People love this sport because it's family-oriented," he said. "They can come out here for fun or to learn about things like auto mechanics. It's a great place to meet people. Some of the best friends I have I made through RC."

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