Forest County
4:00 am
Thu June 20, 2013

RC Racecars: Vehicles to Learning, Community

A new program in Forest County is kicking up dust at the racetrack.  Forest County UW Extension is hoping to prevent juvenile delinquency by teaching kids to build remote control, or “RC," race cars.  

Cars ready at the starting line at the RC Havok Raceway.
Cars ready at the starting line at the RC Havok Raceway.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

If you’ve never seen remote control car racing before…there’s a good chance you’re not prepared for how wild it is.

At the RC Havok Raceway in Crandon, a group of kids are test driving remote control trucks.  The miniature trucks leap off the starting line and start zooming around indoor dirt track.  You can hear them crashing into each other and flipping over. 

Soon the kids will be building their own remote control cars…during this three day camp hosted by the Forest County UW Extension and 4H.  Steve Nelson is an Agent with the extension program.

“These are grasshopper car kits.  They’re built from scratch.  They’re in about 500 pieces when they get them.  And also the controller and servo, the steering box are all separate.  They basically start from scratch with a kit.  They’re one tenth scale so they’re a pretty sizable car – and they’re nice beginner car kits.”

Assemble the kit and you get a dunebuggy.  

Kids spend three days assembling a remote control dunebuggy.
Kids spend three days assembling a remote control dunebuggy.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

It’s a little smaller than one of the trucks the kids were test racing - about the size of a breadbox.  Nelson says the kids will be dealing with motors, gears and electronics when they put the car together. 

“Well this really started out as a STEM camp – science, technology, engineering and math.  We looked at building robots and different things.  But a lot of youth when you mention we’re going to build a robot, their eyes kind of glaze over and it’s one of those things.  But when you mention RC racing their eyes really light up and it’s something they have a passion for.”

Which basically means…a lot of these kids think RC racing is really, really fun.

"I like to race the truck and crash em!  The best part is crashing em. I race Traxxas trucks at home."

13 year old Jordan is bent over her dunebuggy kit.  She and the other 13 kids are each scrutinizing a 20 page instruction manual in tiny print.

"We’re looking at…this is going to be like the motor.  And these are all our gears that we put in it."

Jordan says she’s raced a lot of RC trucks, but hasn’t built one before.  And though it might surprise you…Jordan isn’t the only young woman interested in racecar mechanics.  In fact…nine out of the 14 kids at this camp are girls.  Race track owner Craig Kirchner says customers at the raceway also range from young to old.

Traxxas trucks whiz by at the RC Havok Raceway.
Traxxas trucks whiz by at the RC Havok Raceway.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

"It’s just a thrill to be able to grab a controller and be able to drive something.  It’s like a video game but more hands on – you actually have a truck that’s slinging dirt and going over jumps.”

To sling dirt at another raceway like this one, you actually have to drive to Green Bay.  Richard Ackley is the 4H Coordinator for the Extension program.  He says it’s a pretty unique opportunity for the kids. 

“A lot of kids don’t get to do something of this magnitude, and we’re very excited and thrilled that we’ve had a lot of interest in this program.  We did purchase 20 race cars…each registrant will actually own their own race car, and they’ll be able to race it any time they want as a club. 

Ackley says this kind of program is important for getting kids engaged in activities…that could even help them build careers later in life. 

“Being a rural area I think we do operate with a disadvantage.  Because we don’t have a lot of the infrastructure that you’d find in a metropolitan area, a city for example.  So we have to really utilize the resources that we have.  And we’re going to combine not only the Sokaogon Mole Lake Band of Chippewa – but area residents as well.” 

Ackley explains that the though the camp was originally aimed at the native population, they decided to open up to other kids in the area.  Extension agent Steve Nelson says it’s not just about having something to do.  It’s about creating a sense of belonging. 

“Youth and individuals – everybody feels a strong need to belong to something.  And if we don’t belong to a positive thing, we find a group that you can belong to.  And sometimes sadly to say, that ends up being our gangs and that type of thing.  So we want to create that atmosphere that allows youth to feel wanted and need in their communities.” 

Nelson and Ackley have more programs planned for this summer...including organic gardening and powwow dancing.    They’re hoping more RC racing is in store for the future too.