Dirt-track demons

The cars are small but stakes are big at the Silver Dollar R/C Raceway

Kevin Jelich, race director at <a href="http://amain.com/">AMain.com</a> Performance Sports and Hobbies, said the Silver Dollar R/C Raceway has developed a reputation as one of the world’s best since it opened in 2012.

Kevin Jelich, race director at AMain.com Performance Sports and Hobbies, said the Silver Dollar R/C Raceway has developed a reputation as one of the world’s best since it opened in 2012.

Photo by ken smith

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For racing and practice schedules and more information visit http://blog.amain.com/tracks

Kevin Jelich stood surveying the newly revamped Silver Dollar R/C Raceway, a coiling and burmed path cut and shaped from a 100-by-200 square-foot patch of dirt behind Chico’s Costco, from atop the 12-foot-tall driver’s platform. The air was quiet and the dirt still that morning (June 15), a stark contrast to the scene Jelich expects this weekend, when hundreds of racers and fans from Mexico, Canada and every corner of the United States will meet to compete for national titles.

“There’s an awesome energy at these races,” said Jelich, director of race events for AMain.com Performance Sports and Hobbies, the company that owns and operates the track. “There’s this loud buzzing noise, the sound of these nitro-methanol-fueled 21cc engines pushing these cars around this track. They’re flying through the air and landing perfectly, the drivers are yelling back and forth with the pit guys, who are changing tires, fueling cars … it’s intense.”

This weekend’s race is the ROAR (Remotely Operated Auto Racers) 1/8-scale Fuel Offroad Nationals, at which 180 racers will compete for two national titles. Jelich said many of the big names in RC racing will be there to take a shot at the title, including the current world champ, Canadian Ty Tessman.

For the uninitiated, Jelich offered a quick primer on RC racing. RC vehicles range in scales, with one-eighth-size cars averaging close to 2 feet long. This weekend’s competition will focus on off-road buggies and “truggies.”

“Those are the two premier types of vehicles in RC racing,” he said. “Buggies are the most popular. They’re basically the F1 [Formula One] cars of the RC world. Truggies are kind of like the ‘monster truck’ version of buggies—they have bigger tires, longer arms, they take the bumps a little better and both have about the same top speed.

“What these vehicles are capable of doing is mind-boggling,” he added. “They have fully adjustable and independent suspensions, sway bars, triple differentials, adjustable valves in the shocks, adjustable gearings, tows, ride heights, kick-ups … a tremendous amount of effort goes into the engineering of these vehicles.”

Basic versions of the cars slated to race this weekend start at about $400, Jelich said, while a professional-level rig averages about $1,500. “The industry does a pretty good job at designing ready-to-run cars if you just wanna come out and play, but like any sport, there are different levels.”

Winning is more than a matter of who has the most expensive toys, however.

“Having a competitive setup is important, but only about half of what it takes to win,” Jelich said. “The other half is driving. You’re probably not going to luck into a national victory; you have to have the full package, the equipment and the skill. It’s going to come down to the decisions you make and the mistakes you avoid, and how well your car is working in relation to the other racers. If you choose the wrong setup, you could be losing a half-second per lap, and that makes all the difference.”

Jelich noted setup considerations even include gas mileage, with racers carefully computing how many times they’ll need to refuel each race. Stamina and mental endurance are also factors for good racers: At big main events, like the culminating races of the ROAR nationals this Sunday, racers drive for an hour straight, and those who complete the most laps win.

AMain.com (formerly A Main Hobbies) runs a retail store on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, and also has an indoor track—the Outback Raceway—at the business’ online distribution center on Otterson Drive. Both tracks host about four major races each year, and are available for anyone’s use with daily or monthly passes.

Jelich also noted that, though racers come in all ages, RC racing at the pro level is more than child’s play.

“The top-level guys are being invested in by marketing campaigns of these product companies to come out and produce results,” he said. “Some of their sponsorship agreements have $5,000 bonuses for a national title and they have multiple sponsors, so some of them could be shooting for a $25,000 payday on Sunday.”

He also noted big events at the track benefit the larger community; this weekend’s races, for example, are bringing hundreds of visitors to Chico to rent hotels, eat, and look for entertainment beyond the racetrack.

The track is open for competitors to practice Thursday and Friday, with qualifying runs on Saturday and main events on Sunday. Food trucks and other refreshments will be on-site.