The sweet satisfaction beamed off Trey McGovern’s face as he stood back and watched the shiny electric cars slide around the red clay corners and fly off the hills.
McGovern put together the business plan for the new Plex RC Raceway, a radio-controlled car race track at the Irmo location of Plex Indoor Sports. He convinced the Plex’s owners it could make money. He spent four weeks tearing out the old skate park and building the 5,400-square-foot track himself. And in June the tight turns and 18 jumps were ready for racing.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store out here watching people race,” McGovern said as he watched the first official race.
McGovern has been racing the scale-model cars for years, but he had no interest in driving on that first day at the new track. He wanted to watch others enjoy his creation.
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And they did.
Russ Fox of Cayce seemed more excited than McGovern, or at least more animated. Fox is a veteran RC racer. He even built a large outdoor track in his backyard. But when he read on an internet forum that an indoor facility was in the works in the Midlands, he volunteered to help with the construction.
“It’s a killer idea,” Fox said. “It’s a great way to get young people to come in and do something that’s good, clean fun.”
Various outdoor RC tracks have popped up through the years in the Midlands. Some don’t last long. It’s a chore to keep a track in good shape when the dirt surface is exposed to the elements. The main local outdoor tracks now in operation in the Midlands are the Hot Spot at 4651 Percival Road and The Pit in Lugoff. (For all things RC in the area, go to www. carolinasrcracers.com.)
Indoor facilities are rare. Fox said he doesn’t know of any others in South Carolina, though there are some in neighboring states.
McGovern had dreamed of opening an indoor track for years. He was a home builder before the recession hit and now runs a hobby shop. He and his wife also operate a business that sets up vending booths at lacrosse tournaments. When they worked a tournament at the Plex, he saw his potential RC track.
“He approached me about six months ago with this vision,” said Steve Scoma, general manager of the Plex locations in Irmo and Northeast Richland. “I said I don’t know. I didn’t even know what an RC was.”
But McGovern convinced him replacing the under-used skate park with an RC track could create new revenue streams for a building that already housed an indoor artificial turf field and a skating rink. The skate park had a small group of avid users, but it didn’t generate much revenue, Scoma said.
The RC track can draw veteran drivers, who pay $20 to run cars in several events on race days or $8 for practice sessions. And it can lure in novices, including the coveted birthday party crowd. It also should have a synergy with the other Plex alternatives. Kids in a large group can choose among ice skating, soccer or flag football on the turf field or 30 minutes of RC racing.
The track facility also features 15 worktables, sort of the pit shops for the drivers. Anyone who pays to use the track gets free use of the pit shops. Newcomers can rent a car from the shop for $20 an hour.
The car kits and parts also now share space with hockey sticks in the Plex pro shop. Beginners can put an electric car on the track for about $250. (Nitro fuel cars used on outdoor tracks are much more expensive.) To compete in the top races, most drivers put hundreds of dollars more into car upgrades.
McGovern and Scoma are still working out the details on which nights during the work week and which weekend days will be set aside for racing. For now, it’s Thursday nights and Sundays.