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100% of the Intensity

By on July 1, 2016

At a fraction of the cost

“The best way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a large one.”
– Junior Johnson, 6X NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Team Owner


If you’ve never seen 1/8th and 1/10th scale RC racing, you should. These highly sophisticated, radio-controlled speedsters closely resemble the looks and setup mechanics of their full-size counterparts. Yet you can be competitive without investing a fortune. While a race-ready RC car and controller can set you back at least a grand or more, you can get into racing much cheaper. That cost is a small fraction compared to fielding a full-size race car or truck.

A recent trip to Clark RC Park near Reeseville, Wisconsin for Round One of a five-round Summer Points Series documented just how intense the competition is and how skilled the racers are at driving. More than 120 scale race cars from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin were on hand, with several drivers entered in multiple classes. Even with racing tires costing $60 to $100 per set, you can enjoy the thrills, spills and chills of RC dirt trackin’—yet the cash outlay won’t break the family bank.

Matt Dickinson and Tim Clark

Matt Dickinson and Tim Clark

How It Grew

The story of this small-town RC race track began on June 1, 2006, when some grass was cleared for a 1/18th scale flat track with a very simple layout on a
30 ft. X 40 ft. piece of real estate adjacent to Tim Clark’s front yard. The drivers controlled their electric vehicles standing on the ground. Through word of mouth, more people started showing up for informal evening and weekend racing sessions. “The more racers, the merrier,” thought Clark.

In 2010, Clark and Matt Dickinson, friends who worked together in their day jobs and raced together on evenings and weekends, discussed formalizing the competition. The track was enlarged, Clark RC Park was launched, and an elevated drivers’ stand for eight people was built. A basic timing and scoring system including transponders was added. More people came, and the distance they traveled increased. “We really didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Clark. “We simply did things how we thought they should be don

Apparently the racers liked the way things were being done. Word continued to spread, and the car count and number of competitors grew. So did the size and sophistication of the racing pad and the elevated drivers’ stand. A 40-in. LCD TV was added in 2011 beneath the drivers’ stand to display qualifying and race information. Lights were installed for night racing in 2012, and upgraded to permanent LED in 2014. Live Streaming of select races began.

A spectator in a wheel chair watched, then wanted to race. Last year, a generous competitor, who happened to be a contractor, offered to supply the labor to expand the drivers’ stand yet again and add a ramp for handicap access. A lower railing on one endRC2 now accommodates three wheelchairs and provides an area for young drivers. For 2016, more lighting was added, almost doubling the lumen output. Black tiling was replaced with bright yellow, and a second monitor was added under the drivers’ stand for better views of the scoring.

The adjustability of these cars is nothing short of phenomenal. Learning how to size u
p and adapt to changing track conditions through three rounds of qualifying for seven classes and then finishing up with a series of 15 main events about 12 hours after the first cars hit the track is a combination of engineering, experience and some good guesswork. Much like a full-size dirt track, the predominantly clay surface RC3changes as the morning moisture transitions to dastardly dryness. When a “black”
or “blue” racing groove emerges, the track becomes slicker, and harnessing the power and hooking the tires become more challenging.

Running the Program

Clark and Dickinson oversee the show with help from some capable regulars. Each car or truck runs three 5-minute qualifying sessions starting about 10:00 a.m. Any lap started before the automated timing and scoring system reaches five minutes counts. The average lap time compared to the others in the same class establishes a position starting with one. The two best qualifying sessions count; the third is tossed out. Cars are ranked by the total position number of the two best sessions. Two is the lowest possible number for someone who tops two qualifying sessions.

Cars start the main events at five-foot intervals with the fastest on the pole. Depending on car count in a given class, the field is divided into multiple mains. If there are 30 cars for example, the C Main runs the slowest 10, and so on. The two fastest cars from the C Main advance to the B Main, and two from B make the A Main. Depending on the class of car, the Mains are typically 10, 12 or 15 minutes. That could yield 20 to 30 laps of racing. The nitro cars need to make one pit stop for refueling. Cars run up a ramp onto the elevated pit lane underneath the drivers stand and literally are down and away in a matter of seconds.

The timing and scoring system are accurate to 1/1000th of a second. With each completed lap for each car, the monitors display total time, last lap, fastest lap and interval to the car ahead. Numerous spinouts, collisions with others and the yellow tiling, and cockeyed landings over jumps can send the cars flying in all directions. Drivers from the prior qualifying session or race are posted around the track to right any wayward cars and send them on their way. Barrel rolls and end-over-end flips are common. Amazingly, the cars are very resilient and can usually resume racing after losing only a few seconds.

For the season’s early outdoor races, Clark calls the track layout “mellow.” It’s hard enough so the skilled competitors are sufficiently challenged; yet the rookies can advance their navigation skills. Using their own ideas and some borrowed from motocross racing, Clark and Dickinson make the layouts progressively more difficult through the season. Depending on the configurations of turns and jumps and the overall course design, pack-leading lap times for the various classes usually run in the 27- to 31-second range. While all classes are fun, the one-cylinder, 35,000-RPM nitro cars mimic a flock of screaming banshees.

Truckers Take to the Track

Based on their varying schedules and limited home time, the number of truck drivers participating in any given event varies. On this day, Dale Wesphal, a driver for Primary Transportation Services of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, was there as the car owner for his 15-year-old son, Brandon. Dale runs a dry van that is dedicated to hauling a wide range of cardboard products for a Georgia Pacific box plant.

With saved money and help from his dad and grandfather, Brandon purchased an electric car on New Years Day, 2014. A nitro car was added about a year ago, and they’re still learning the ropes. Racing almost every weekend, Brandon has progressed well enough to pick up some sponsorship support from MIT Tools. Dale provides financial support, car cleaning, battery charging, pit work and nitro refueling. “It’s a great father-son hobby,” said Dale, to which Brandon readily agreed.

It’s becoming quite common for truckers to take an RC car or two and enough support equipment on the road to run some of the indoor or outdoor tracks that operate in virtually every state. Depending on schedules and proximity, running a few hours during daily downtime or on a 34-hour break provides a nice change of pace. The intensity of the competitive challenge is fun, and the cost is comparable to some other hobbies and leisure-time activities that typically capture the imaginations of professional truck drivers.

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