Thursday, May 23, 2019
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Randy Rutger had a new driver for his race car and needed some time getting the driver and the car acquainted.

Being a former oval track and drag racing driver, the Kalamazoo native knew how important it was that the two have the perfect feel for one another; that the car was set up to not only the driver but to the track. Every driver, every car and every track is different, from the high banks of Daytona to the egg-shaped oval of Darlington.

The driver, however, in this case, was a new remote control he purchased just the night before. The car was his remote control race car, that he skillfully sped around the dirt oval track at Bit-O-Heaven RV Park for the first Bit-O-Heaven Winter Texan Showdown RC Races.

Rutger also has some experience in the RC world, flying model airplanes. He said the trick is just having the hand-eye coordination. He also may have a step up on the other competitors since he spent a career setting up cars for the different tracks and their specific makeups.

Eight Winter Texan parks were represented with 57 drivers competing either in the two-wheel or four-wheel drive races. The races were broken down into heats with five to seven cars in each heat. The winner would then advance to the finals.

Hundreds of spectators lined up around the track, many of them sitting back in their lawn chairs enjoying the food and drink that were available on what was near-perfect weather for race day, Friday, Jan. 25. Sun Racing, with its wide variety of R/C cars was present and drew a lot of interest. One of the managers at the R/C store said it's amazing how much interest there has been in R/C racing in the past three years.

Tracks are being built at many different Winter Texan parks throughout the Valley. While circle (also known as oval) tracks are the most common, there are some other types. Some parks have experimented with tracks made for jumping; others have worked on carpet tracks and some have created RC Crawler/Predator tracks. All have been a huge hit with the Winter Texans.

The head-to-head competition looks like it will be huge as well. Some of the spectators stood near where above them “drivers maneuvered” their vehicles, with speeds up to 30 miles per hour around the track and talked about who the best drivers were; it was just like listening to people in the 90s argue over who was better – NASCAR's Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt.

“Watch out for him,” one man said, gesturing toward Scott Campbell as he brought his car to the track. “He's a good one. He might win this.”

Campbell is also the park manager at Bit-O-Heaven. He and his wife Lisa were two of the organizers of the big production, which drew in more than 400 spectators – a little Daytona 500, South Texas style.

Lisa Campbell said they wanted to let racers know that the Bit-O-Heaven track is available to other Winter Texans. She also said that a long-term goal would be to turn the one-time event into a possible circuit, where other parks have a race similar. Teams can earn points based on where they finish and points would add up throughout the racing “schedule.”

Scott Campbell was actually leading his heat before he flipped the car and ended up taking fourth place.

“If you don't get first place, it doesn't mean anything after that,” Scott said “I won and the park and the competitors and spectators won by the success of the event.”

Norm Peterson, from Victoria Palms, won the two-wheel event, followed by David Leeper, Bit-O-Heaven, in second place and John Wallace, from Alamo Country Club, in third. In the four-wheel division Jerry Lewis, from the Gears Club, took first, followed by Peters and, in third, Cory Drachenbery, from RGV RC Raceway.

Scott Campbell said he heard someone recommend having another race in March. He said that the park definitely would want to do one but thought March may be a little too soon.

“This is a big production to put together and with several volunteers. And it got pretty nitty gritty out there with the cars bumping and sliding off the track,” he said. “I know when I got home I went straight to sleep. It was a long, but fun, day.”

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