Back in 2013, Kris Withers was set to collect a bonus check from his job, and the money was burning a hole in his pocket before he even had it.
While he was kicking around ideas for how to spend his windfall, Withers thought about his passion for remote-control car racing — one that he and some of his co-workers shared.
When most people think about remote-control cars, they think of the toy-grade vehicles kids can buy at local stores. But hobby-grade remote control cars are far more intricate and realistic — and, not surprisingly, more expensive. Withers and his friends would often drop hundreds of dollars in a weekend traveling to different remote control racetracks in the area, and those expenses can add up quickly over the course of a year.
Eventually, his mind turned toward the idea of setting up a track in Columbus.
“We were all getting that bonus check,” Withers recalled, “so I hit them all up — ‘Hey, what are you guys doing with your bonus check?’ ‘I don’t know.’ That’s what everybody pretty much said, and I was like, ‘Let’s build a racetrack somewhere. We ain’t got one here in town. Let’s build one.'”
Two of Withers’ co-workers jumped on board, followed by Joe Chambers — who was Withers’ boss at the time — and his brother Jon Chambers. The quintet settled on the name Fast 5, and by the fall of 2013 Withers had found what has become the group’s home at 1285 Indianapolis Road.
It took roughly two months, Joe Chambers estimates, to get the space ready to host races. The building features a computerized timing system and enough table space for more than 50 drivers to “pit” their cars.
The hardest part of getting the space ready, though, was bringing in the dirt for the track.
“The best way I could explain it to anybody is, we built an above-ground pool and filled it with dirt,” Withers said.
By early 2014, the Fast 5 track was up and running — and it has been gaining momentum ever since. Racers regularly travel from Ohio and Kentucky, some even from as far away as Wisconsin, to run on the Columbus track. And in the winter, when several real-life race drivers pick up remote control racing as an offseason hobby, forget it. The 50-plus pit stations sometimes aren’t enough.
One might not think that driving a remote-control car would be enough of a rush for someone who’s been driving on dirt tracks in real life, but several notable local racers and race team owners, including the likes of Matt Arrington, Keith Kunz and Jason Setser, have been known to frequent Fast 5 during their offseason.
How realistic can remote control racing get?
“It’s just basically a scaled-down version of your Outlaws and your Three-Quarter Midgets and your Late Models,” Joe Chambers said. “There’s been guys that will have videos on YouTube, and they’ll watch it, and not even realize they’re watching RC cars — until somebody reaches down there and picks it up.”
And it’s not just realistic on camera. Remote control racers do plenty of work on their cars to keep them in competitive shape, whether it be on the body, the motor, shocks, you name it.
As Withers put it, just about anything you can to improve on a regular race car, you can do on an remote control car.
Now almost three years in, the original Fast 5 quintet is down to three — two of the founding members have moved on to other interests, leaving Withers and the Chambers brothers to run the show.
So far, it’s worked out. Joe Chambers takes care of the finances, Withers takes care of supplying parts for the regular racers and Jon Chambers is primarily charged with keeping the track in shape — a tougher task than you might expect, given that it’s just a big chunk of dirt inside of a large building.
“Just like any dirt, it dries, it gets wet,” Joe Chambers said, “and cars drive around, they take dirt off of it.”
So periodically, part of the track wall is removed and a golf cart is brought in with a perforator trailing behind it. After the track is perforated, the crew waters the track, then goes over it with brooms, then waters it again.
The racers, after all, can be rather particular about track conditions.
“You want it to be clay, absolutely,” Joe Chambers said of the dirt. “If you’ve got loose dirt on the high side, what you call the marbles, they don’t like that very well.”
Though it hasn’t been without headaches, the three remaining members of the original Fast 5 crew are happy doing what they’re doing. They’re not going to get rich off of running the track — but as long as they’ve got a local outlet for something that they enjoy, they’ll call that a win.
If other people in town are deriving enjoyment from it as well, that’s even better.
“They have a blast out here,” Withers said.
Fast 5 RC Raceway
Where: 1285 Indianapolis Rd.
When: Practices on Friday; oval-track races on Saturdays; off-road course races on Sundays.
For more information, visit the Fast 5 RC Raceway page on Facebook.
Remote-control racing isn’t all that different from actual auto racing — it’s just done on a smaller scale. And as with real-life cars, there are different classes of RC racing.
A quick rundown of some of the different types of racing done at Fast 5:
Slash: The entry-level classes, which involve taking the inside of a ready-to-run hobby car or truck and putting a different body on it.
SCT: Though the SC stands for short course, the designation refers more to the vehicles than to the track. Courses are more of the off-road variety, including jumps and the like.
13.5 and 17.5: The next options for racers who feel like a stock motor just doesn’t provide enough speed. The fastest cars on the Fast 5 track can top out at more than 35 miles per hour — not bad for a vehicle not much bigger than a shoebox.