In the absence of a backdrop to betray their scale, the small, radio-controlled race cars and trucks appear like the real thing as they rip across a dirt track, clearing gaps and jumps and executing pirouetting spins that put the Dukes of Hazzard to shame.
Even so, the real-world surroundings do little to dwarf the pint-sized power as the Flathead RC Club’s weekly race gets underway at an outdoor track near Kalispell, where the din of revving engines mingles with the laughter and gear-head jargon of the participants.
Most of the radio-controlled (RC) vehicles are designed to one-tenth the scale of their real-world counterparts and bear the same precise details as the luxury cars and trucks boasting prohibitive price tags. On the dirt racetrack, however — and at the elaborate home workshops of RC enthusiasts throughout the valley — fantasies of Indy car racing, monster truck rallies and gravity-defying rock-crawling jaunts become a reality.
“They’re not just toys,” says Angus Matheson, who helped found the local RC club after rekindling his childhood interest in RC cars while rediscovering their intricacies. “You can do all these upgrades and tinker with them almost indefinitely. You get into soldering a lot and upgrading the electronics, the chassis, the tires, the ESC (electronic speed control). You can change the gearing and the motor. There’s just a whole array of things you can do to improve the performance.”
“It’s like a grown-up toy,” Matheson adds.
Growing up, Matheson recalls his dad’s interest in RC cars, as well as the care he took furnishing the vehicles with custom paint jobs and intricate decals.
“As kids we thought it was so awesome, but we were also kind of scared because they sounded like crazy weed whackers,” he said. “They were always kind of my dad’s toys and they were off limits to us.”
Those memories came back in technicolor one rainy Saturday while Matheson was kicking around Fastoys Racing in Kalispell, a one-stop shop for powersports and accessories that also carries an inventory of RC cars and trucks.
A monster truck that’s one-fifth scale of the real thing caught his eye, and pretty soon Matheson was descending down the rabbit hole.
While attending a monster truck rally at the Flathead County Fairgrounds, Matheson met other RC enthusiasts and realized there was a local appetite for the hobby, prompting him to begin formulating plans for a club.
“Some of these guys were really into it, and they were casually meeting up at an outdoor track,” he said. “I thought, ‘We have to start a race night.’ At first it was like two people at the track, and then it grew from two to four and from four to around six. Now we have an average of 15 people getting together to race every week and we’re still growing.”
Fastoys carries RC cars designed by Traxxas, which is one of the leading companies with plenty of options for an introductory kit. While RC beginners can outfit themselves for a few hundred bucks, Matheson warned that upgrades become addicting.
“You can definitely end up putting a lot of money into it,” he said.
With the help of other longtime RC hobbyists like Cory Hutchinson and Morgan Nice, who Matheson says possess greater technical knowledge and more experience in the RC universe, he’s looking to other clubs for counsel on how to grow.
In Libby, the Kootenai RC Racers are Northwest Montana’s premier RC racing club, and its founding member, Steve Scheer, has worked with local government officials to maintain and build a NCT-compliant (National Car Test) track.
“We would love to get a track on public land, make it community oriented, collect membership dues and award prices, and give people a place to race in a fun and safe environment,” Matheson said.
The Flathead RC Club has already adopted a set of bylaws, and is mounting an online presence on social media.
For more information, email Flatheadradiocontrol@gmail.com or follow the club on Facebook and Instagram.