By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Florida native Matthew Scott spent much of Thursday hunched over a table covered with tools and tiny car parts in the corner of the Cullman County Agricultural Center, trying to nail down the finer mechanics of his remote-controlled race contender.
He drove more than 11 hours to reach Cullman and participate in the fifth annual Alabama Manufacturer Shootout (AMS) 5.0 R/C tournament, along with 600 other racers. Participants range from part-time hobbyists like Scott, to full-time race professionals from as far off as California, who come complete with their own R/C sponsorship deals.
Many local hotels are booked for the event, which will draw a national and international crowd of approximately 1,000 people to the area for several days.
Taking his car apart to tweak some settings to better mesh with the consistency of the dirt track at the Ag Center, Scott said the sport of R/C racing can be just as exciting as its full-sized counterpart if you know what you’re doing.
“I bought a basic ‘ready to run’ kit 10 years ago and drove it around the yard, then heard about a track and checked it out,” he said of his first encounter. “It’s addicting and a lot of fun. Just like racing real cars, only without the injuries and extra money.”
Fellow amateur Travis Melton, of Macon, Ga., had a simpler description for the sport: “It’s a very expensive hobby, but worth it,” he laughed.
Though most people are familiar with the concept of an R/C car, the rigs on display this weekend are a far cry from the battery-powered pick-ups and cherry red race cars most kids find under the tree at Christmas.
These professional kits can cost several hundred dollars, and the typical race-ready car has at least $1,500 to $2,000 invested. Many are powered by nitroglycerin engines, piloted with high-tech $500 radio controllers and outfitted with specially-painted bodies. Cars typically top out at 40-50-miles-per-hour.
The AMS 5.0 tournament is organized by Chris Cassidy and several others. An Alabama native, Cassidy has been helping host the tournament for the past four years. Though racers can be hyper-competitive, Cassidy said the R/C racing circuit is largely a community of hobbyists who just love the sport — and one of his favorite things is to introduce new racers and show them the ropes.
“Everybody has a hobby, and if you have a competitive spirit this is a great one,” he said. “Most everyone is usually really welcoming, and they guys who are better are usually willing to help you out and show you some things when you’re getting started.”
This marks the fifth year the tournament has been hosted at Cullman, and Cassidy said it should be the biggest yet. Along with the racers, dozens of suppliers and distributors are on hand with booths to sell and promote everything from new R/C motors to custom paint jobs.
Cassidy said it took a professional track designer two weeks to construct the elaborate dirt track contestants will compete on, and it was designed and built specially for this weekend’s event.
Though many participants will place in the hobbyist-to-amateur range, there are also some professional racers on hand, such as Adam Drake with Team Losi Racing. When he’s not traveling the nation to complete, Drake works in the company’s research and development lab to develop new engines and car equipment.
“There’s just something about the intensity of racing,” he said.
Fellow pro Ryan Lutz, with Team Durango, also plans to compete in the AMS 5.0. He’s been racing for 22 years, nine of those as a professional.
“My dad had a hobby shop so I grew up around it,” he said. “Now, I get to travel around the world doing it.”
Qualifying will start at 8 a.m. today, with the tournament set to begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Races will last through much of the day. Admission is free to the public.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.