VERSAILLES — The dust is thick as the cars and trucks fly around the track through hills and hairpin turns.
The radio-controlled vehicles, while small, draw devoted hobbyists to the park. On this Thursday evening, about a dozen people — 11 men and one newly minted middle schooler, Cayden Hall of Leestown Middle — compete.
Cayden's dad, John, also competes. His mother, Amy, helps marshal cars that have gone astray. On weekends, Cayden's grandfather drives up from Campbellsville to complete the family competitive unit.
Lexington used to have three remote-controlled car tracks. All are now closed. The Kentucky Radio Controlled Racing Club started out at Masterson Station in Lexington before moving to Falling Springs Park in Woodford County, where it built a track.
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RC racing drove through its first wave of popularity in the 1970s and '80s, resurfaced in the '90s and is now apparently on another upswing. Battery life for the little cars has improved dramatically, and although simple RC races can be held in parking lots, building a track with obstacles makes the racing experience almost hypnotic: cars going airborne over hills, cars tumbling in the air and somehow landing upright, cars smashing into other cars and emerging unscathed.
On a Thursday night during the sport's slow season — spring is the biggest time, drawing the cabin-fever crowd to the track, and fall brings out racers before they retreat for the winter — the competition is nonetheless taken seriously. Heats are diligently timed, and a commentator keeps spectators — including a passerby and his 7-month-old black puppy — informed of who's doing well and who's taking a few stumbles.
The group is cooperative as well as competitive. There are timed runs and computer-generated sheets detailing standings, but all participants are there to help each other as well as stir up some dust.
Those who aren't running in the current race take to the track as marshals, where they chase and reset cars that have veered off the track, turned upside down or careened off the track. That sounds simple, but it's like herding cats while trying to run a sprint.
An elevated wooden stand allows competitors to see the full track — 150 feet long by 60 feet deep — as they maneuver their cars.
Nathan Powell, a union electrician in Lexington, helps oversee the club. He travels with a trailer that carries his RC equipment and administrative gear. The club is five years old; this is its third year at Falling Springs. Just across the way from the track is the Woodford County High School football field.
John Hall, Cayden's dad, described himself as "just a race fanatic — NASCAR, motocross. I like working on the trucks with my hands and being out here with the guys."
Mike Greenwell used to run radio-controlled cars during the '80s. Now, with the Falling Springs track, he's getting back into it.
"RC has exploded," he said, and there are indoor tracks in Louisville and Columbus. When the weather is bad, Powell said, some of the club members will drive to Louisville to race indoors.
Mike Clark of Richmond said he was introduced to RC racing by a friend in New York City.
His vehicle, a Losi 22 2.0, cost about $300. He figures that's about the cost of an XBox video gaming system, but with the benefit of being more active outdoors.
"I'm still learning, so I'm not very fast," Clark said. "But I get to be outside and hang out with good people."