By Aaron Waldron
Many of my most memorable days at the track didn’t include racing, or even timed laps, but rather just burning laps at a track somewhere. Whether I was breaking in new gear, practicing for an upcoming event, or testing out new products before an article deadline, I always enjoyed driving RC cars and hanging out with a small group of friends without the pressure of performing to my own expectations. It was acceptable for things to go wrong on a practice day, because it was still a good chance to learn something new and still get a chance to mix it up with other drivers. (Cover photo: hamptonroads.com)
Of course, these off-days often morphed into impromptu grudge matches, sometimes in heads-up battles with one other person or a small group racing each other for nothing more than bragging rights. Outside the rigid confines of even a typical club race, it wasn’t a big deal to cut the track and catch up to the pack — or force the issue in a tight corner and add a scratch to a buddy’s rattle-canned practice lid. In fact, I think dicing it up with other people with a little extra aggression than one might use in a typical race was a good learning experience, knowing not only how hard to push someone else before there was contact, but also how to anticipate a pass attempt, gauge whether or not to concede the position, and try to arrange a counter-attack. Other times, though, it was cathartic just to bury someone in the next turn and know that neither your qualifying run, nor a main event position, nor general standing with the local RC community wasn’t at stake.
Photo: Motorsport.com, via Imgur
Sometimes, these careless overtaking maneuvers ended with an immediate need for a turn marshal, but they almost always elicited laughs from the drivers’ stand as well as anyone watching. Occasionally, the most belligerent of these efforts resulted in a broken suspension arm or other minor component.
My best one, though, broke a man’s spirit.
It was a sunny Sunday in early 2010 at Channel Islands RC Raceway in Santa Barbara, CA, though it was known then as Elings Park RC Raceway. I needed to run some fuel through the new, pre-assembled Mugen Seiki MBX-6T M-Spec truck for my review in Hi Torque’s R/C Car Magazine, so my boss and I drove out to the coastal oasis to burn a couple of quarts before hitting up Rusty’s Pizza Parlor. A couple of friends from up north made the trek down to meet us, and we had the track to ourselves.
This June 19, 2017 photo doesn’t show the original drivers’ stand, which was smaller and uncovered,
and gives a poor perspective on how far the terraced track area slopes off to the right of the platform
down to the parking lot. Still, a beautiful place for a beatdown. Photo: Channel Islands RC, via Facebook
Of the two that joined us that day, I had grudge-match history with one of them. He had received several brutal beatings on practice days before, both of the “I can pass you any time I want to” type as well as getting hot-lapped on the stopwatch, even with his own vehicle. That never stopped him from talking a big game, though, which only added to the enjoyment of my near-guaranteed victory — especially when reminding him of his shortcomings in front of the group over food and a beer afterward.
He brought his own 1/8-scale nitro truck that day, and made it a point to join me every time I hit the track. Despite my insistence that it was still new, the engine wasn’t totally broken-in, and that I might need to save the body for last-minute photos the following week, he insisted on wrecking me every chance he had. The crashes were just often enough to peg my aggravation meter without causing any actual harm, and the commentary from our two spectators was only making it worse.
I had enough. I put a stop to it.
I got a run on him coming onto the front straightaway, and I was confident that he wouldn’t lift early, so I moved to the inside. When we got to the left-hand turn at the end, neither of us hit the brakes (and I may or may not have turned a bit to the right). Our trucks locked wheels, and his went flying. It was then that I smashed the trigger forward, but I was so far into the corner that I still ended up sliding over the outside pipe — but the truck I hit tumbled out of the lane, over the end of the embankment, and down the hill to the fence - at least 20 feet by the best estimation of my memory, but it might as well have been the other side of the planet. I quietly resumed driving as everyone around me doubled-over laughing, except for my adversary, who just stood there awe-struck.
The pepperoni and garlic pizza that evening was extra delicious.