Ron Kuhn, a lifelong racing fan, and his son, Ryan, always had dreams of clouds of smoke and victory lane. Spurred by their love for racing, the Kuhns took an empty lot and a warehouse near Seven Oaks and turned it into a remote control racer’s paradise.
By: Zach Newcastle
April 2, 2015
You could easily drive by Bush River Raceway thinking the low-slung white metal building is nothing more than part of the storage center next door.
But when the weekend comes, Ronald and Ryan Kuhn can be heard manically organizing races and calling out lineups. Drivers, remote controls in hand, are as intent on the next curve as any NASCAR driver. The crowd cheers.
And whether it’s indoors on the carpeted track or outdoors on dirt, it all plays out over the unmistakable buzz of the scaled-down racers.
When the lights come on, the racetrack on Bush River Road on the way to the Lake Murray dam comes alive.
Ronald, 61, and Ryan, 30, have been running the show since opening Bush River Raceway in June 2013.
“I got into racing by watching NASCAR,” Ronald Kuhn says. “I used to go to a lot of races.”
His favorite racer was Alan Kulwicki “because he was one of the last owner-operators, always running on a shoestring budget.”
Kuhn said he and his son began going to remote-control car tracks in Charleston and Rock Hill, and Ryan says that when he turned 11 he started racing himself, often against his dad. “I would get his hand-me-downs and beat him with them.”
Ryan says moving from NASCAR fan to remote-control racer was easy, “a lot less expensive than getting into stock car or go-kart.”
“I loved the adrenaline rush you would get from a race,” he says. “It’s enough to make grown men’s knees shake.”
As they started to race regularly, the Kuhns’ passion for racing spread.
“We built a ‘man cave’ in the bedroom in our house, which was then moved to a trailer out back,” Ronald says. “We each had our own workbench and would work on our cars for hours.”
Ronald handles the bulk of things while Ryan also works at Waffle House. But when Ryan’s not at that job, he is at the track. And when he’s not handling the races on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll find him in Bush River’s indoor shop, talking with customers or working on his own car into the wee hours.
“These guys aren’t playing around,” he says, noting that some racers will invest more than $1,200 into a car. “When they come here, they come to win.”
A typical remote-control car costs $400 to $1,000. There are sedans, trucks, buggies and other styles, and the cars run on electricy or gas.
South Carolina has 15 remote-control racetracks, with the Grove in Rock Hill having held races since 1995. However, Bush River is the only one with both indoor and outdoor tracks.
Bill Cox, regional director of Remotely Operated Auto Racers, or ROAR, says family is strong at Southeast tracks, with father-son relationships playing a big role.
“Dads and sons are racing side by side,” Cox said. “The son can get the hand-me-downs of the father. RC racing allows fathers and sons to get some one-on-one interaction while having some fun.”
With the improving economy, “the sport is going pretty strong,” Cox said. “It’s becoming more of a hobby now that things are better and people have money.”
During the summer, you’ll find most of the action at Bush River’s outdoor track, with its hairpin turns. During colder months, the races move indoors to the carpet track.
Car owners huddle around their workbenches – their “pits” – prepping for the night’s races while the thump, buzz and hum of seemingly every tool known to man float onto the night air.
Outside, the parking lot fills with the crunch of gravel under work boots as people arrive and the sounds of children running and laughing.
Dale Morgan of Columbia and his 15-year-old son, Isaac, spend almost every weekend at Bush River, meticulously working on their car for the evening’s races. Isaac has raced at national qualifiers around the country and usually finds himself in the winner’s circle at Bush River, leaving grown men in the dust.
“I got into racing because I just wanted to drive fast,” Isaac says. His father could not be more proud.
“My son is my favorite racer,” he says.
Despite the intense competition, all the racers crack jokes and look out for each other.
“Everybody helps each other,” racer Mark Fuge says. “Their friends are here.”
Between races, they offer advice to each other and lend a needed tool. But on the spotlighted track, it’s all business.
Before each race, drivers assemble on the hand-painted stand set aside for them on one side.
The buzzer sounds and the track fills with the whining of the remote-control cars. As the cars skate along the carpet, grown men, shoulder to shoulder, strain to get to the best view of their car.
Races generally last 34 to 40 laps, or five to six minutes. With each lap, the the excitiment rises. Other racers gather around the track to scout the competition, ready to congratulate the eventual winner.
The final buzzer sounds, and the drivers descend slowly from the stand, joking and recounting the race’s highlights while the next race’s drivers wait their turn.
Around midnight, after all the results are official and the track has been cleaned for the final time, Ronald Kuhn smiles. To him, every night of racing is a small step in turning his and his son’s project into something special.