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Burning Rubber by Remote Control : Radio cars are enjoying a resurgence, among novices and experts alike. The high-tech hobby has a strong following in the Valley.


However, the number of tracks across the country has begun to dwindle. The Encino Velodrome near Balboa Park stopped staging RC events in 1991. Other RC tracks in Encino, Northridge, Pomona and Santa Anita have closed during the past two years. Last year, four more tracks in California closed, including those in Bakersfield and Costa Mesa.

"The cost of competition became too much for some people," said Dan Moynihan of Chatsworth, an RC manufacturer and race promoter. "Tires, bodies, chassis, components. . . . Obviously, if you're racing against somebody's machine that is technologically more advanced over what you have, you either have to step up or leave. (Some people) got frustrated and left."

A return to the hobby's roots is geared toward attracting newcomers by keeping costs down and competition levels reasonably high.

In February, NORRCA began publishing guidelines for entry-level competition suitable for parking lots. Separate classes are established for novices and experts, and modification of cars is all but prohibited.


"The parking lot stuff has helped pick things up," NORRCA PresidenR. Sitman said. "It's not a high-money thing. It's geared more toward Mom and Pop and the kids coming out to spend a few dollars in the afternoon."

Advanced technology has helped matters, too. Last year, Japanese companies Kyosho and Tamiya began marketing affordable "complete-car kits," race-ready vehicles designed to give entry-level racers high-quality performance at a minimal expense. The cars sell for between $150 and $300, including the controller, battery charger and batteries. Sarnelle and other owners say the cars are big sellers.

"It's a lot less expensive to get into the sport than it used to be," Dunn of Race Prep said. "When I first got into it in 1980, a car was about the same price, but you had to modify it with another couple of hundred dollars worth of stuff to make it work well."

Of course, serious competitors still spend thousands. Killam estimates he has pumped more than $100,000 into the hobby over the past two decades. McDonald, who has earned an expert ranking, fields several cars in competition.

But even the Richard Pettys of the RC world are finding the time for a stroll through the parking lot.

"This isn't like at a major track where most guys there are so busy trying to win they don't have time to talk," McDonald said. "Here, there's no pressure. Sometimes, I actually laugh while I'm driving."

Where and When What: Radio-controlled race-car competition.

Location: Victory Speedway, 22960 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. first and third Sundays of the month.

Price: $10.

Call: (818) 888-9000.

Location: Race Prep Raceways, 20115 Nordhoff St., Chatsworth.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

Price: $10.

Call: (818) 709-6800.

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