FOCUS: Small cars bring big camaraderie in Cloverdale

The region's finest RC (radio control) racers made it look easy at the recent three-day ‘Conquer the Carpet’ event in Surrey

Syd Strange didn’t get serious about RC racing until a couple years ago – when he was a mere 61 years of age.

SURREY — Capturing action is one of photography’s most demanding tests.

Sure, anyone can grab a camera phone and get a general pic of just about anything, but the process gets infinitely tougher if you’re looking for a pro-level, close-up photo where the background is a blur and the speeding object is clean and clear.

Good gear helps, as does experience. In time, getting hot shots of swivel-hipped halfbacks and even sugar-infused toddlers does become easier.

But, as I recently discovered, nothing quite prepares you for the ultimate challenge.

I walked into the Cloverdale Fairgrounds Show Barn two Saturdays ago not quite knowing what to expect. Billed as “Conquer the Carpet,” the event was a three-day affair that would bring together the finest RC (radio-controlled) race car drivers and some of the slickest machines in the region.

But what did that mean? Just how fast were these cars? Just how talented were these drivers?

Two hours of solid racing later and I’d blasted off some 500 images of miniature cars and trucks zipping across the hilly, curvy track built on the Show Barn floor. If I’d been shooting football or hockey or real life race cars, chances are that 100 of those would have been “keepers.” But this… this was a whole different torturous game.

As ‘Now’ contributor Gord Goble discovered, capturing an RC race car on camera is not an easy task. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

It’s not just that high-end RC cars are fast. They are that, and shockingly so. But they’re also ridiculously nimble.

They accelerate in an instant. They stop in an instant. They crash and un-crash in an instant. They take corners like slot cars. They launch, fly through the air, and land again quicker than you can say Evel Knievel. It’s as if you’re watching high-speed footage the entire time.

Ultimately, I ended with less than a dozen keepers. And even most of those just barely made the grade.

Luckily, I also shot some of the drivers. They tend to move somewhat slower than their cars, and they don’t jump in the air every five seconds.

Arguably the most memorable is Syd Strange. Super friendly and ready to talk about his passion to anyone who wants to listen, Strange is a relative newcomer to racing. He’s owned RC cars for a couple of decades, noodling around here and there, but he didn’t get serious about it until a couple years ago – when he was a mere 61 years of age.

“I live just a couple of blocks from the track,” he said, motioning toward downtown Cloverdale.

“I started racing two years ago, when they had a (temporary) outdoor course around back.”

Strange, who works at nearby equipment rental outfit Star Rentals, explained that it “all started when they wanted to rent an excavator. They were going to do some work on a track, and I went ‘Wow.’ And that did it. I was hooked.

“I love it. It’s fun. The young girls and young guys, they kick my ass. Cause I’m not used to this sort of speed. I never played video games.

“But I don’t care. If I finish and don’t break my car, I’ve had a good day. And that’s what I’ve done this weekend. So far I’ve had five races and done really well on my times. My car’s running like a dream. I’m just having way too much fun.”

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and unicorns. On Nov. 26th of last year, Strange collapsed while racing. Twenty-eight days later, he’d have quadruple bypass heart surgery. Yet that’s not what he wants people to know.

“I actually collapsed here at the track. And the guys took over. I spent a lot of time at the hospital waiting for my operation, and the guys would come and visit me all the time. It’s like a family.”

“And,” he says, smiling, “I only missed one race.

“This hobby, it’s all about me. I went through the kids and the 4H and the baseball and everything, but this is all about me having fun. I sit at home and tinker, and I come out and hang out with the guys and race. And it’s good clean fun.”

Indeed, one couldn’t help but notice the sense of camaraderie. When a driver breaks something, others will help him out. When a race ends, competitors gather and chat and strive to learn rather than spew profanity-laced tirades. It’s a great atmosphere stocked by generally good people.

When it comes to RC racing, the community is a tight-knit one. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

Jody Corkum’s been involved since the official founding of Outlaw RC (the local enthusiast group responsible for the Show Barn setup) in 2013, and is now one of its directors. He was tweaking one of his cars when I spotted him, and was more than ready to educate a newcomer.

“Well, we’re the only indoor track in Western Canada,” he said.

“But really, we started small and now everything’s started taking off. We have over 200 entries now, whereas when we started we had 20, 30 entries. And there’s lots of interest from the United States.

“I know some people here today from Terrace… and California.

“I’ve been involved for three years. We’re all volunteers. Non-profit. Any profit we get goes back into the club. Into the carpet (the racing surface), the pipes (like curbing on a real race track), and the jumps. We’re becoming quite professional.”

A heavy equipment operator, Corkum was running three separate cars that day in three separate classes, and sat amidst nearly $5,000 worth of gear.

“But,” he said with a laugh, “here’s the fun part. I’m getting one of my 12-year-old friends involved. He’s gonna pay $50, and he’ll have a running machine. But that’s what the club is. We all volunteered our stuff to this young man so he can come and race.

“And that’s what it’s all about. Gathering interest… getting the young guys out. There’s so much you can learn here. So much technology you can learn.”

And, Corkum added, you don’t need to drop thousands to get in. In fact, he says, competent entry-level car/controller setups are available at the $300 mark.

Guildford’s Brittni Davis (pictured) was one of a handful of female drivers at the Show Barn. Davis, a rookie, was partaking in her seventh event of the season. She credits her husband Thomas for stirring her interest in the pastime.

“Thomas has had RCs for a while. He got involved here and I came out to watch him a couple of times and saw how much fun it was, and I decided to try it out. The people here are very friendly. I love it.”

Davis, who is expecting, says she leaves car maintenance to her husband.

And interestingly, she’s seemingly emotionless when she’s racing. No visible excitement, no visible worry, no visible anger. It served her well that Sunday (she finished second in one event) and is probably a good formula going forward. The last thing anyone needs when manipulating a sensitive controller and a twitchy car is a sudden adrenaline surge.

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