Nitro-powered mini cars meet group’s ‘need for speed’

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Hillsboro Assistant Chief of Police Jessey Hiebert knows speed. It’s part of his job, whether it’s required to chase down a lawbreaker or rush to lend aid at an accident scene.

But when he’s off duty, Hiebert has found a way to drive at breakneck speeds without violating the laws he’s been entrusted to uphold.

Hiebert is among a growing number of Marion County residents who “drive” nitro-powered, remote-controlled 1/10-scale vehicles.

“I try to live my life by the law and be somewhat reserved,” Hiebert said. “Everyone in our department tries to set an example, and every now and then we have a need for speed. This is a way to do that without having another officer come talk to me.

“It’s a way for me to let loose without hurting myself and causing a public problem.”

The remote-controlled vehicles that Hiebert and his cohorts own are primarily cars and trucks, but some also own boats and airplanes.

These “toys” are hardly child’s play.

“When I was a kid, I had an electric-powered remote-controlled car, but its speed was measured in feet per minute,” he said. “These are a whole different ball game. It’s a lot more money, but these are an adult hobby.”

The difference, Hiebert said, is that “adult hobby cars” run on a mixture of nitromethane and alcohol fuel.

The trucks are capable of hitting speeds of 40 mph, while the sleeker cars can blaze across pavement at an astonishing 60 mph.

Hiebert said the trucks measure about 19 inches long with a height of 10 inches.

“They actually use the nitro/alcohol combination to lubricate the engine,” he said. “This mixture burns a lot hotter than standard gasoline.”

Standard engines run in the range of 260 degrees.

The fuel mix is similar to what professional drag-strip drivers use in funny cars, Hiebert said.

“This fuel has to lubricate the engines (in the remote cars) because there’s no oil in them-they’re similar to small Weed Eater engines.

“These little things run about 50,000 revolutions per minute,” he said.

About 10 Hillsboro and Marion residents congregate whenever time allows to socialize, race and generally improve their remote-control skills.

Depending on what vehicles the group is running on that particular day, the location of the gatherings vary.

“If we’re running our trucks, we basically run wherever there’s gravel, dirt or any type of hills or jumps,” Hiebert said. “In Marion we’ve been running on the Green Acres motocross track because the terrain and jumps are ideal.”

Cars, Hiebert said, are much more sensitive to the terrain.

“These have to be run on clean concrete because they only set about a half-inch off the ground and can travel in excess of 60 mph,” he said. “So a rock can flip the car over and turn it into a little missile.”

Locations of choice for cars are the Hillsboro United Methodist Church on East D Street or Marion’s Emmanuel Baptist Church on Walnut Street.

Hiebert said he, along with the majority of the other miniature-truck drivers, prefer to run the Traxxas Nitro T-Maxx four-wheel drive.

“Most of us buy our cars and trucks from Tower Hobbies off the Internet,” Hiebert said. “There are hobby stores in Wichita or Salina, but you pretty much pay their prices. On the Internet you can usually get a better deal.”

The price of these miniature racing machines varies, but Hiebert said a person will pay in the $300 range for a car while trucks hover around $365.

Whether a person is a beginner or has advanced skills, vehicle prices are fairly constant, Hiebert said.

“It’s really not so much the modification to the truck that makes it cost more,” he said. “People basically run the same vehicles, but the skill of the driver is what determines the level you run at. The more you drive, the better you can control it.

“Basically, there aren’t many modifications from the one you get out of a box at the hobby store to one that’s actually a racer.”

Hiebert, who purchased his first nitro-powered vehicle a little over a year ago, said the miniature versions have many of the features full-sized vehicles have.

The miniature vehicles feature high-volume air-intake systems, tuned exhaust systems, forward/ reverse two-speed transmissions, an adjustable slipper clutch, disc brakes, u-joint slider driveshafts, hardened-steel differentials and oil-filled ultra shocks.

“These trucks are just like a downsized Baha truck,” Hiebert said. “The shocks have to be able to absorb a 10- to 15-foot drop and not break upon impact.

“The T-Maxx has two forward gears and reverse, but (other models) don’t all have that,” he said.

“Reverse comes in handy if you put it into a wall or something so you don’t have to run down to it and turn it around to get it going.”

Drivers opt for various fuel blends, but Hiebert said he prefers a 20 percent nitromethane mix.

“The higher the percentage, the higher the lubricant in the fuel,” he said.

Fuel is available at Hobbytown USA in Wichita at a cost of about $20 per gallon.

“That sounds expensive, but these vehicles have a 75cc fuel tank on them and one gallon will fill our tank about 40 times and each tank full runs about 15 minutes,” he said. “So we get about 10 hours of racing on a single gallon.

“You might spend the cost of an Extra Value Meal in one day on fuel.”

On average, a well-maintained engine lasts about 100 hours, but they can last twice as long.

“When they’re shot, you can either overhaul them or send them to Traxxas and they’ll trade out another for about $100,” Hiebert said.

The remote-control signal is effective as far away as a quarter mile, Hiebert said. But the practical range is much less than that.

“If you run your vehicle over a hill, or you’re more than 100 yards away, you can’t see what you’re doing anyway,” he said.

Of the 10 area residents involved in the group, most have multiple vehicles, Hiebert said. The age of participants ranges from 13 to 35 years.

“With that range of ages, it’s sometimes difficult to find a common time when we can all run,” he said. “But we usually try to get together a couple times a week.”

All 10 of the participants are men, Hiebert said.

“Right now there aren’t any women, but there are quite a few wives who laugh when we tell them we’re going out,” he said with a smile.

Hobbyists who crave competition can participate in a state racing circuit.

“They run in Wichita, Salina and other places,” he said. “You can actually race against others.”

Preparation to run these vehicles includes checking for loose nuts and bolts, visually inspecting the engine and checking the remote-controlled “servo,” which is the device that controls the vehicle’s mechanical functions.

“We put in fuel, prime it and we’re off,” Hiebert said. “When we finish, we oil the piston head and the air filter, blow off the dust and get ready for the next time.”

Hiebert said the primary thing that attracts him to the hobby is his love of racing.

“At this point I don’t have the means to buy a real race car, so this gives me my speed fix, if you will,” he said.

“A $400 remote-controlled truck gives me the opportunity to still have fun and experience racing as a driver without being in the driver’s seat.”

Hiebert said the speed of the vehicles, and mastering the skills that control it, make the hobby a challenge. It’s also fun to push the limits of those skills.

“I can’t think of a time when someone doesn’t lose control and crash,” he said. “When those little things tip over doing 35 mph, they’ll roll and flip about 15 times-it’s an amazing sight to see.

“But to see $400 skimming across the concrete is the heart-pounder for me,” he added. “Then everyone runs over to see if it’s still in one piece-and nine times out of 10, you flip it over and drive off.

“That’s the thrill-wondering if you’re going to pile yours up or if your buddy will,” he said. “It’s just like watching racing on TV. People get excited twice during a race-on the last lap and when someone crashes.”

Finding out if the hobby is meant for you isn’t as expensive as one might think, Hiebert said.

“There are people who have used equipment for sale around here,” he said. “It’s hard to swallow that much expense (for a new one) just to find out if you like it. So we can help you see if it’s something for you.

“We want more people involved because we’d like to have enough to get a club started,” he added.

Driving nitro-powered vehicles generates a sensation that needs to be experienced to be believed, Hiebert said.

“I can tell you how fun it is, but until you see one work, you won’t understand,” he said. “It’s just like real-only it’s shrunk down.

“If you have a need for speed and don’t want to have to talk to a guy in a patrol car, this is the hobby for you.”

Anyone interested in buying used equipment or test driving one of these nitro-powered mini-vehicles can call Hiebert at 947-3220.

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