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RECREATION / RADIO-CONTROL CARS

Road Warriors on Fast Track : Since R/C Offroad Raceway opened in Fountain Valley, many adults and youngsters have found safe thrills and fun racing mini trucks and dune buggies.

April 07, 1993|VALERIE ORLEANS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — As the driver rounded the hairpin curve, his sleek car began to skid, narrowly missing a competitor's vehicle. With his jaw firmly set, the driver once again entered the race, rounding sharp turns, banking left, then right, always maneuvering with the goal of staying ahead.

The track for racing radio-control cars looks similar to racetracks found throughout the nation . . . with one exception. When these cars "crash and burn," nobody gets injured, other than a bruised ego.

Racing radio-control cars is a quick adrenaline rush for anyone 7 years old to adults who delight in racing miniature monster trucks and dune buggies around an off-road track.

There are about 1,200 off-road radio-control-car tracks in the United States, including the R/C Offroad Raceway in Fountain Valley and M-N-M Hobbies in Corona.

Since R/C Offroad Raceway opened a few months ago, manager Jeff Paul has been working seven days a week, 15 hours a day. But he's not complaining.

Although RC racing has been around for decades, it wasn't until the mid-1980s that its popularity rose to the point where a business such as R/C Offroad Raceway could be sustained.

"It's funny too," Paul said. "Each year, someone will say, 'Well, the popularity has peaked,' but every year you see more drivers."

*

On any given evening, dozens of people are at the Fountain Valley track with various styles of buggies and trucks, many spray-painted and customized. Races are held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

"I think part of the attraction for the younger kids is the feeling of total power they get from racing. They're in total control, and if you're 9 or 10 years old, you don't get that feeling too often," he said.

The track is a large dirt pit with a racecourse built on it, complete with walls, jumps, tight curves and other obstacles. A raised platform to the side provides the drivers with an unobstructed view of the course so they can best maneuver their vehicles.

Many of the best drivers seem to be those who are "mentally in the car," Paul said.

He says he can often tell the good drivers even while they're up on the platform. As the car turns, their body turns. They jump when the car takes a jump.

*

There are basically two versions of racing vehicles: trucks and dune buggies. Each has its advocates.

"It's really a matter of personal preference," Paul said. "I'd say we have about a 50-50 split between truck and buggy drivers here."

The buggies are more nimble and responsive and tend to be faster, according to Paul. The heavier trucks, with the weight more evenly distributed, tend to be more stable and less likely to roll when they hit a curve or come off a jump.

"I'm partial to the buggies, but there are plenty out there who swear by trucks. Since they handle differently, we don't race them against each other. Trucks will compete against trucks, buggies against buggies," Paul said.

A beginning racing buggy or truck will cost about $250, including the car, the battery charger and the radio controller.

"There is an initial expense," Paul said. "A $60 car is capable of driving, but it won't last in a race. Unfortunately, a lot of people buy inexpensive models, and they end up breaking right away. Those cars aren't designed to last long or to race. The more sophisticated models will last, though, and they're a lot more fun."

The cost to use the track is $5 a day, except on race days, when the fee is $10 per entry.

According to Paul, youngsters and adults can learn a great deal about mechanics in the process of racing.

"What I find especially interesting is that there seems to be no generation gap here," he said. "Adults are talking to youngsters; teen-agers are talking to older men. Sometimes, though, some of the youngsters are so knowledgeable about their cars that when you start talking to them, you can forget that they're only 10 or 11 years old."

Paul is organizing workshops to explain basic mechanics to young drivers and to provide demonstrations to local youth organizations.

"It's a very hands-on kind of learning," Paul said. "You are basically disassembling cars after almost every race. Eventually, you become very adept at what you're doing. It's not a passive entertainment by any means. You're heart is pumping while you're racing, and it takes total concentration. Then afterward, you have to sit down and adjust the car."

In the "pit" (tables throughout the facility), racers spend hours taking their cars apart and putting them together.

"I think it's a great self-esteem booster. Racers do it all by themselves . . . racing and repairing. Of course, there's always someone here to help with a difficult problem, but once you learn how the car operates, the driver can usually figure out what needs adjusting or replacing.

"Parents want a positive environment for their children, so that's what we are trying to establish," Paul said. "Some of these youngsters develop excellent mechanical skills as well as a better understanding of mathematics. They learn about gear ratios and how it affects speed. It helps them determine ratios in math classes. They begin to understand that although mathematical concepts often seem abstract, they have very practical applications."

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