RC You on the race track: Hobbies for the the whole family

39F0C949-1841-403D-A278-FC46A12EE6A8One hobby that runs all year long but takes on extra life in the summer is the driving, racing, jumping and general mayhem of Remote Control (RC) vehicles.
We’re not talking about the ready-to-go toys from WalMart. There are far more sophisticated vehicles that become a sort of cross in complexity between a toy and a real car. Like many hobbies, this one brings excitement and also ever deeper levels of involvement to those who want to go deep.
You’ll see kids – and adults who get drawn in – playing with basic models around suburbs and parks and lakes. There are RC ships, RC planes and RC cars and trucks. Most of these are between 1 and 2 feet long; some serious hardware, with a multitude of electronics and moving parts. But there are also special tracks, jumps and off-roading trails you can tackle that let you see what these small mechanical marvels can really do. And if you’re truly intrepid, you can tweak your vehicle and your technique between outings to maximize whatever you’re looking for – height, speed, handling or just aesthetic appeal.
I went to visit a master of RC tech at RI’s own Hardcore Hobbies in Coventry, and learned just enough to be dangerous.
“Hardcore Justin” Allen and his wife, Christina, took to the hobby first, and invested in the shop once they knew how much they – and others in the area – enjoyed the hobby and needed some kind of resource to draw them together and provide products, parts and tracks to race on. They’ve had the shop in Coventry – not accidentally near some substantial tracts of woods and trails – for a couple of years, just over a year in their current location.
MR (Motif): What does Hardcore Hobbies do?
Hardcore Justin: We specialize in Remote Control (R/C) machines from land (cars and trucks), to air (planes, drones, helicopters), to water (boats, fan boats and submarines).
MR: Tell me about your tracks (most of the indoor square footage at HH is occupied by an indoor astroturf track that looks like a cross between a train set and a skateboard park).
HJ: We recently reopened our newly expanded outdoor dirt track that is perfect for all experience levels to race, with some substantial jumps for the “Send it” portion of the track and some more technical rhythm sections to balance out the 25+ second lap times. We’re still working on and refining that as we speak…
We also have an indoor Astro Turf race Track.
Then there’s the Crawler Course that is a slower rock climbing course that uses specific trucks built to look like exact replicas of full-sized trucks that articulate and crawl skillfully up to 45-50 degree inclines. The trick is carefully climbing rocks and bridges, trying hard not to capsize.
Although Justin and Christina sell complete vehicles, they say most of their business is in renting track time – indoors in the winter and on the outdoor trails or track in the summer. Parties will take a slew of vehicles out in the woods behind the shop, or families may rent them for a limited run.
HJ: This a fantastic hobby to get the entire family outside, and different level drivers can pick up different controllers. Then you also develop technical skills to fix the inevitable breakage or to perform an upgrade.
In the time we’re talking, several regulars drop by. They’re all looking for tiny parts, and the process of fitting the correct part to the truck starts to resemble a surgery scene from “Westworld” or a Terminator movie. Justin’s day job is as an electrician at URI, and he’s happy to share his knowledge with visiting regulars, so that the place starts to take on a Cheers-for-RC-nerds vibe. I meet guys in spectacles and guys in full camo. There’s a semi-pro cliff diver and a bunji-jumping enthusiast comparing air-time stories. And all of them treat their vehicles like a cyber-kid or favorite pet.
HJ: You can get into a great starter truck that’s perfect for our outdoor track for well under $200 and that will grow with you and advance with your skill level. We also have specials on rentals, so you can see what the excitement is all about for the price of a few movies tickets.
RC vehicles date back about as far as engines, but they really came into their own as a viable, affordable hobby in the 1960s, thanks to the ever-marching progress in electronics equipment. Like other devices, they have been buoyed by increasingly sophisticated parts, but the core concept remains the same. These vehicles are for beating up – for our vicarious driving pleasure, to steer, accelerate, drift and jump in ways we would never dare – but might fantasize about – with real vehicles. As they get more electronically sophisticated, the classic question – can it take a thrashing? – remains the same. That’s also why, despite their high-tech, these toys have a back-to-nature quality about them. They want to be run through the mud and grass and dirt and bounce off trees, tip over and get right back on their feet – er, wheels. They thrive on the great outdoors.
When I took a couple of loaner vehicles for track spins myself, I clearly demonstrated my noobiness, getting stuck in ruts and flying over barriers. It was exhilarating. But I was also a little timid about damaging Justin’s loaners – so much for gonzo journalism. It’s easy to see, however, how much fun one could have with these action-figure-sized super vehicles. Especially with groups, and with other drivers to race or crash into.
MR: What sort of team or group activities do you have going on?
HJ: We’ll have a number of competitions over the summer. When people get competitive, some can reach speeds well over 120mph. We also hold private parties, Birthday parties and rentals for up to 10 drivers at a time. And our long jump competition is coming up, where you’ll see people launching these things over 160ft and to heights of 40+ feet.
At full size, I’m calculating that to be proportionally about 400 feet upwards. Definitely not something I’ll be trying with my Prius. But with one of Justin’s loaners? The sky’s the limit.   •