Cars careen around the track, jockeying for position and trying to break free from the pack. Suddenly, a car hits the wall. The crash is followed by laughter and good-natured taunts.
With radio-controlled racing, it's fast-paced action minus explosions, injuries, and all those annoying corporate endorsements plastered on cars. Who needs NASCAR when there are mini-motorheads maneuvering their cars for fun and sport? Members of the Northeast Ohio Radio-Controlled Auto Racing (NORCAR) club will gather for both on Sunday, February 17, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bratenahl Community Center.
Twice a month throughout winter, dozens of amateur racers compete indoors on a 36-by-60-foot track. They stand on a nearby stage, clutching hand-held transmitters that send signals to their cars' receivers. Most weeks, the events draw between 50 to 60 racers and spectators, says Dan Medved, vice president of NORCAR. Racers typically take 30 to 40 laps and race for either five or eight minutes (depending upon their class) during each qualifier.
"Sometimes, the racing can be so intense, you don't blink," Medved says. "There have been times I've been out there, and I have to scratch my eyes and I just don't, because the racing is so intense. But the goal is to just have fun."
On any given Sunday, you may even catch one of the nation's top amateur racers. Who just happens to hail from Cleveland. Who also just happens to be a woman. And the fact that Vicky Blackstock is seven months pregnant is not about to slow her down on the radio-controlled racing circuit. She's one of the top 10 racers in her division, the 12-scale stock (the cars are either 1/10th, 1/12th, or 1/18th the size of real vehicles).
"It's a really competitive sport," Blackstock says. "It's something you see and you can't believe -- that these people actually drive them. The first thing most spectators say is 'I want to drive one!'"
That's what happened when Blackstock's dad, Tony Carrubba, took her to her first race when she was seven. She was immediately hooked. For her First Communion, Dad gave Vicky a radio-controlled car. "We stayed up many nights putting it together just to race it," she recalls.
In between races, Dad and Daughter can be found hanging out in "the pit," a dingy room behind the track that hums with mechanical energy. Here, racers swap stories while testing their cars' shocks and changing the oil and tires. Fathers share pit space with their sons, and friends who have been competing against each other for years exchange wisecracks as they fine-tune their cars.
"I love the competitiveness, along with the friendship," Blackstock says. "I feel like these people are my family."