Radio-operated cars find home, family in Knoxville

An "E-buggy" goes airborne during a qualifying race as drivers operate in the background
An “E-buggy” goes airborne during a qualifying race as drivers operate in the background

Members of the Radio Operated Car Club of Knoxville Racing club spend their Saturdays racing cars on a homemade dirt track in Chilhowee Park.

Their cars tend to land upside down after some of the jumps they drive through. Luckily for the drivers, they are perched atop a 15-foot observation deck. And luckily for the track, the cars are one-eighth the size of the rally cars.

Cars are built with either electric or gas-powered motors and races feature one class of motor. The electric cars, or “E-buggies”, feature a flammable lithium battery that is kept in fireproof bags and ammo boxes. The gas-powered, or “Nitro”, cars use nitrous methane for fuel and run at 30,000 RPM, 10 times that of a street car. Other than that the cars are identical.

“I always tell people that the only difference is that an E-buggy is like turning on your favorite movie, making some popcorn and then hitting mute,” said driver John Brascum.

Brascum, like most other drivers, like the sound of the Nitro cars because they can hear that they are doing something. Each driver claims they can distinguish their engine from the other 7 on the track at any given time.

The club was formed two years ago as a way to make an expensive hobby more affordable. With cars that can cost $2500, the club members needed a reasonably priced track to race their machines. Each member pays a $40 monthly due to pay for leasing the land in Chilhowee Park and maintenance the track.

The track is built and maintained by club members. In between races, drivers not competing in the upcoming race can be seen raking and watering the track. And during the races, those not entered serve as “turn marshals”. Seven turn marshals stand around the winding track putting cars that have flipped over right side up and returning the ones who have jumped off course back on the track.

The drivers have a common hobby but participate in different ways. Rodney Dunn joined this year and is racing for the first time since high school. Alan Fundora works on his cars out of a trailer lined with tools, spare tires, and part diagrams. Fundora started racing in Miami and helped found the club after moving to East Tennessee. Corey McDaniel was rewarded a sponsorship deal with Entec and VP Pro USA in late July, helping out with the cost of maintaing multiple cars.

Electric buggies (left) are 1/10 scale models of an actual buggy and are 15 mph faster than their 1/8 scale Nitro counterparts
Electric buggies (left) are 1/10 scale models of an actual buggy and are 15 mph faster than their 1/8 scale Nitro counterparts

The members have formed friendships on this track. There are no arguments, complaints or curse words on a race day. A dozen Girl Scouts were on hand to watch their friend Livia Brascum, John’s daughter, compete in the Novice race.

After Livia’s car crossed the finish line in the 12-and-under competition, the scouts ran and skipped off to do other pre-teen girl activities. But LIvia stayed at the track with her dad, watching him check batteries and clean tires before his final race.

“I’ve been doing it about a month,” said Livia, “I really like it… I want to do it.”

Some drivers, such as Fundora, feel that just like any other hobby, racing can steal time they spend with their families. Fundora balances the time in his trailer with his cars with the time with his wife in his new boat, which he showed off with a proud smile in between races.

In the tent adjacent to Fundora’s trailer the Brascums have found a common hobby, a father and daughter united by four-inch tires and nitrous methane.