Border Wars: The Great DIY Remote Control Car Race

Minesh Bacrania was at a race track in White Rock, New Mexico last summer when he accidentally wandered into the path of a speeding car. Anywhere else, the impact might have killed him. But this was no ordinary race track. The car weighed just 10 pounds—and thanks to being remote-controlled, it barely nicked him.

Bacrania was at “Border Wars,” an annual event where participants steer miniature sports cars and trucks around a dirt track at speeds up to 40 miles per hour with all the focus and intensity of actual race car drivers. “I imagine if you went to a NASCAR race or something, you would find the same passion, just bigger cars,” Bacrania says.

Remote-control car racing has been around since the toy was invented in the 1960s. Enthusiasts buy a basic frame and DIY from there, adding suspension, a transponder, and a motor powered by batteries or gas. By the time they snazz up the plastic shell with orange flames or colorful wheels, drivers can spend hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars, but it’s still more affordable than the real deal. “A lot of us would race real cars if we could, but this is a lot cheaper,” says Tony Hinojosa, president of the Northern New Mexico Remote Control Car Club. “You can do it on a weekend warrior basis.”

Bacrania, who lives in Los Alamos, knew nothing about remote control cars until July 2016, when he stumbled on Hinojosa’s maze-like dirt track at Overlook Park. He started chatting with a few drivers testing out their cars for an upcoming regional tournament, and they invited him to come back in a few weeks for Border Wars. The race pits drivers from New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado against each other on a 1/8 scale track for state bragging rights. Bacrania couldn’t resist. “You could tell people were really passionate about what they were doing, and I like photographing people who are passionate,” he says.

About 100 people converged on the track over a three-day weekend in August for the race. They arrived as early as Thursday night, setting up RVs, trailers, and barbecue grills in the parking lot. On Friday morning, drivers tested and tweaked their cars, geeking out over engine temperatures, fuel necks, and tire tread. The parking lot transformed into a body shop. “People wash their cars, clean them, baby them,” Bacrania says. “It’s not a toy. It’s like a regular car.”

Races began early on Saturday, classified according to the type of car (buggy or truck) and the driver’s skill. Before the start of each race, the pit crew scurried out onto the track to position the cars and top off the tanks. Drivers controlled the cars from six feet up in a stand, trying to get more laps in a given amount of time than anyone else, a wire underground registering each pass. Marshalls stood out on the track during the race, ready to rescue any car that stalled out or flipped on a jump. The cars took a beating, but it was all worth it in the end for the prize: “Pride,” Bacrania says. And a $2 styrofoam plaque.

Bacrania’s sun-drenched photographs capture the quirky intensity of the event and the love these people have for their cars. He shot them with a couple of Canon DSLRs, braving heat and sun and often crawling through the mud, trying his best not to get hit by one. He failed. But hey, the thing only weighed 10 pounds.

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