I typed this column while staring out the window at the second storm in as many weeks to bring over a foot of snow to coastal Maine, providing a plowable reminder that it’s not the calendar that will decide when spring finally descends upon New England. As my second snowy season after moving here comes to a close, normally I’d be fired up to hit the first chair lift on Saturday morning to take advantage of the feet of fresh powder — but as those of you who noticed the brace I was wearing on my right hand at The Dirt Nitro Challenge last month may have wondered, a broken thumb will most likely keep me off the hill until next winter.
And that reality is driving me nuts, because I’d otherwise be snapping on my boots in a couple of days. It reminds me a lot of not being able to head to the racetrack when itching for some wheel time, which is often exacerbated by one or a combination of the five following reasons:
1. New track layout
Few parts of RC racing are as thrilling as the steep learning curve needed to master a new course design on the first race night. It’s the perfect way to level the field; you may not be the fastest driver after a month of practice, but the right amount of caution as the groove wears in and drivers learn the hard way that the triple should really be a double-single can give the underdog a shot at a win. Whether you had the last layout down pat, or won’t shed a tear over seeing that corner you struggled to navigate for weeks disappear, a new track gets an RC racer’s motor revving. Back when most of the racing I did was outdoors, there was nothing worse than finding out the first race night on a fresh track was rained out.
2. New equipment
Even if you’ve burned hundreds of laps on the same track over the last couple of months, a new item in your gear bag can make club race #473 feel like the first one all over again. In the same way that a new track layout injects a rush of excitement into the weekly routine, figuring out how to get the most of your latest investment or sponsor-provided product is an opportunity to feel the satisfaction of learning something new. There might be new tuning options to play with, new remarks from curious onlookers, and a new driving adjustments to be made. Sometimes, getting back to your old pace when you’ve made a major change can be a challenge — but this might also be the kit/ESC/motor/servo/radio/tire/body/turnbuckle that gives you the edge you need to win!
3. New facility
If a new layout or equipment provides the excitement of the unknown, visiting a new race place is adrenaline overload. Not only do you have to adapt to a track you’ve never seen, but a drivers’ stand you’ve never been on; a pit area where you don’t have your favorite table; and a field of drivers who probably have the advantage of familiarity. Like watching your favorite sports team notch a victory in an opponent’s stadium, there’s always something special about scoring a solid finish in foreign territory — even if it’s just across town.
4. New competition
One of the best parts of growing up in the SoCal racing scene was the constant influx of outside talent. Not only were there always new up-and-coming racers rocketing upward from the Novice and Sportsman ranks, but plenty of regional fast guys from other parts of the country either visiting the area for major races or moving to California to take a shot at making RC racing into a professional career. It can be tough to continually improve your skills when your biggest competition is a stopwatch, but it’s totally motivating to have a new rival line up next to you on the grid. When a new racer shows up, you either have someone new to catch or reason to keep him behind you.
5. The long, slow grind of personal improvement
If you’ve been racing RC cars for more than a year or two, you know that constantly chasing new experiences can get both exhausting and expensive. The RC track can certainly function as a social club, where you see the same friends a few times a month to chat over similar interests, but that’s not typically enough to satisfy a truly competitive driver’s desire for progress. It might take you weeks to learn the best way to navigate a difficult section without crashing, and years to become the fastest racer at your local track, and you may never make a ROAR Nationals A-Main or win a world championship, but each step you take toward goals of any size is enough to keep you coming back for more.
Do you agree or disagree with my list? What is your favorite motivation to go racing?