Small cars, big speed - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Small cars, big speed

Locals jump, race and slide remote-controlled cars around a dirt track

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Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:37 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Chance Chapel and his stepfather Travis Robinson used to go to all the University of Arizona basketball and football home games.

They've left that all behind, completely dedicating themselves to art of racing and working on their remote-controlled cars.

Robinson runs a bread route and Chapel, 16, is a junior at Tucson Magnet High School. Chapel, who has been racing since he was 9, makes his way to Competition Hobbies with his stepfather three to four times a week to either race other competitors or to practice laps around the course, bettering his hand-eye coordination.

The father and son duo aren't the only ones sliding their remote-controlled cars around the tracks.

From first-time hobbyists to people who travel all over the world competing on the national and world circuits, Competition Hobbies is becoming a location to get your mind off your daily troubles and to have a good time.

"People need to let their stress go," said co-manager Steve Martin. "This is a relatively inexpensive way for people to do that. The excitement of it is racing and going out, having fun with people. Everyone goes out there to have a good time, and that's what this is all about."

The facility, located at 3930 W. Costco Drive, houses an indoor carpet race track, which doubles as an area where pilots of radio-controlled helicopters can get a handle on their aircraft without having to worry about wind.

Competition Hobbies also has a dirt track, with jumps, tabletops, dips, turns and a long straightaway on the backstretch.

If people stick with it, they can be like Chapel and Robinson, who have a couple sponsorships from winning a few big races in Phoenix. Sponsors give them discounts on replacement parts, keeping their vehicles in top racing condition.

Jason Gordon, 26, races for fun. "Unfortunately, I don't get paid. I'd like to."

He enjoys the competition.

"Everyone has their own unique driving style," Gordon said. Chris Martin, a top driver, likes to "move inside, on a tight line. I like mine to be a little bit looser," and "faster around the corners."

Friendships result, too. "Pretty much the only people I get along with easily is people who do car stuff," Gordon said. "We have common interests and hobbies."

Racing appeals to automotive enthusiasts. Gordon's interest grew after a shoulder injury.

"I used to be really big into automobiles," he said. "I can't work on cars any more, so I just basically downsized it."

Gordon zipped one of his six remote-control cars, an $800 model, around the Competition Hobbies track. "This is a very good indoor, large track," he said.

Then there is local, national and two-time world champion Brian Kinwald, also known as The Legend, who hails from southern California. Kinwald has called Tucson home for the past year, and does a lot of his practicing and small-time racing at Competition Hobbies.

"You always want your home track to be indoors," Kinwald said. "There haven't been many facilities that have been built from the ground up to be an RC track."

On Friday and Sunday race nights, anywhere from 30 to 60 people can be found racing, talking trash and having a good time. For $10, an entrant gets a guaranteed spot in two qualifier races and one main event. First-, second- and third-place racers then win "racing dollars" that can be used on merchandise in the hobby shop.

During a race, about 10 competitors take to the driver's platform and move their remote-controlled vehicles across the starting line, logging their car into the race via a microchip. During the next dusty seven minutes, racers try to get as many laps in before time runs out. Spotters are staggered around the course to help flip over vehicles if they end upside down, as they sometimes do after a big jump attempt.

Everyone who races isn't lumped together in one group; there are novice races called Slash races, and there are amateur and professional circuits that range in varying degrees depending on what type of R/C vehicle they choose, and the driver's experience level.

When Competition Hobbies was built in 2002, it was designed with a hobby shop and indoor racetrack, rather than trying to conform the business around some other building plan.

Through the front door of the hobby shop, guests' eyes wander from train sets to model rockets, then to the remote-controlled planes hanging from the ceiling, and on to extensive walls filled with tiny gadgets and widgets that are sure to help any person needing a repair on their R/C vehicle. Through the back doors, the business opens up to the 6,500-square-foot dirt track surrounded by bleachers, an elevated driver's platform, and numerous stations where people can charge, clean and get their vehicles ready to run.

Vehicles range in prices from $300 to a few thousand.

For people looking to get into it, $300 plus a little extra for a battery and charger will get them a new race car and controller with one of the Ready to Run vehicles.

"When I got into it, it was a far cry more expensive," said Martin. "They didn't have these Ready to Run kits. You had the car, you had to buy the electronics and you had to buy the radio. You had to buy all this stuff just to be able to go out and race."

The hobby of racing vehicles attracts all walks of life, from families and father / son teams to senior citizens and professional drivers.

"There's everything from families of four that come down here and race together as a family to father and son teams like us," said Robinson. "We all welcome newcomers, alongside having heated rivalries between us racers who come out and race each week."

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Competition Hobbies

WHERE: 3930 W Costco Drive

WHEN: Practices are during business house Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Races are Friday and Sunday starting at 7 p.m.

HOURS: M-F 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sun. 11a.m. – 6 p.m.

PRICE: $7 to practice, $10 to race.

© 2014 Tucson Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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