SEFFNER — Move over NASCAR, let the little dogs in.
At Adrenaline Raceway, which sits in a grassy field next to Mango Dog Park, the stars are not 3,000-pound automobiles swathed in logos and driven by the likes of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. They are 22-inch radio-controlled or RC cars whose drivers clutch controls a few feet away from the track.
Since the raceway opened a year ago, weekend race days bring in at least 60 racers and gobs of spectators, curious to see just what exactly is going on.
Unlike traditional car racing, there is little noise from the vehicles as the track is for electric cars. But on any given day, the crowd roars.
Ron Harrison, who installs carpet and tile by day, owns the track. He bought it three years ago to save money.
"It's easier to just come here every week than to have to travel," said Harrison, 51.
The hobbyist said he used to spend $300 to $500 per weekend traveling to raceways, paying for hotels, food and car parts.
At Adrenaline, Harrison charges a small entry fee to help cover the cost of operating the raceway. But unlike many raceways, he doesn't have a membership fee or restrict drive times.
"I don't do it to try to make money," said Harrison, who developed an interest in racing as a teenager. "I do it because it's fun, and it's a way for me and my son to spend quality time together."
Harrison got full custody of his then-14-year-old son Austin in 2003 when his ex-wife died from brain cancer. Racing miniature cars has brought the father and son closer. Last year, Austin was the Florida State Champ in the pro-stock division for the TC-5R cars for the Florida State Electric Auto Racing Association.
By Harrison's edict, Adrenaline welcomes anybody and any kind of car (toy grade or hobby grade) to race as long as drivers find an opponent with the same type of car. The track opens every day to practice, and people of all ages come out to test the track with their cars.
Tator Melton, the Florida director for Remotely Operated Auto Races, the group that sets competition rules for radio controlled races in North America, said operating the cars requires skill.
"Slow is fast," said Melton, a hobbyist for more than 25 years. "It's not about speed. It's about keeping your car on the track."
Melton said that the car races generally have a family-friendly, fun and relaxed atmosphere. Even at the big races, most people aren't too serious. While competition is often intense, the tracks have strict rules against consuming alcohol and illegal drugs on the premises. They also prohibit any sort of abusive behavior, Melton said.
Robert McElheny and his 5-year-old grandson Keyton are frequent spectators at Adrenaline.
"It's good, clean fun, and it's a great way to give back to the community," said McElheny, a the vice president and general manager at Gator Ford/Lincoln Mercury in Brandon and a car racer himself.
Gator Ford plans to sponsor the annual Turkey Shootout state qualifying race on Thanksgiving weekend at Adrenaline. Organizers expect to draw participants from Florida and nearby states. There will be $1,500 worth of prices, Adrenaline's owner, Harrison said.
Some spectators at Adrenaline quickly develop what Melton calls the "hobby pox," or a near addiction to the sport. People new to the hobby can expect to pay between $150 and $275 to get started with race equipment, Melton said.
The dour economy has weighed on some race car hobbyists, Melton said. But die-hards like Addison Midoro, keep racing.
Midoro, 16, has two company sponsors that help offset his expenses.
He says he enjoys perfecting his craft at Adrenaline.
"It's quiet and clean, and people are very courteous," Midoro said. "There's always someone willing to help if you need something."