While I’m lucky to have a backyard that’s ideal for rock crawling and, in the past, I have lived in towns with either RC clubs or hobby shops, for the most part, I currently travel to do RC–especially competitive RC. Sometimes I travel pretty far. For local racing, I’ll go 45 minutes to Waterbury, CT for either Wolcott Hobby or RCHR. That’s not too bad, but I often head up to RC Madness in Enfield, CT, which takes me a solid hour and a half. If my schedule allows, I make the trek to RC Excitement in Fitchburg, MA. My point is my “local” racing isn’t all that local. And, I’m willing to bet you are in a similar, or maybe worse, situation. So, when I heard rumors of a hobby shop and track opening in my hometown (literally only a few minutes from my house), I was pretty excited. Okay, that’s great for me, but if you don’t live near New Milford, CT, you’re probably wondering why I think you should care about this new place called The Hobby Hangout. Here’s the scoop:
Well, not only is this hobby shop big news to people in my area, but it’s not your average track/shop. At the risk of sounding too enamored, it’s way above average. A lot of thought went into this place. I can also tell from walking around that a lot of money went into this place. The Hobby Hangout is a huge investment.
There’s no missing that this facility is family friendly. I’m not referring to the birthday packages they offer. Dozens of tracks have gone there. I’m talking about the overall presentation. Most RC tracks are simply places most moms want to leave as soon as they walk in. They don’t want to stay and spend money and they certainly don’t want to return anytime soon. From the condition of the place to the overall atmosphere, most RC places are a little too rough around the edges for a good chunk of mainstream America. Who Cares? When I’m in race mode, I don’t. But, anyone with any real business sense does or should care. Will the big investment payoff? I don’t know for sure, but I can tell these guys have stacked the deck in their favor. This place looks just as good as any other business you (or a kid and his or her mom) might walk into.
The Hobby Hangout’s main track is a large turf off-road track that measures 120′ by 60′. And, as you might know, turf is all the rage right now. The green surface is a bit different than the turf I’ve seen typically used for RC tracks. It has a lower pile and is even more dense. I have yet to run on turf that doesn’t off a lot of traction and this should be no different. If you’re worried that no dirt means it’s not off-road, know that there are plenty of jumps, including some that will offer some really big air. The track will certainly challenge your vehicle. For you, the drivers’ stand is extreme spacious and completely handicap accessible. In fact, the owner, John Gallagher, is passionate about doing outreach work for disabled military veterans.
Attached to the main track, and measuring 58′ by 24′, is a small, flat oval covered with CRC carpet. It’s not tiny, but not quite big enough for 1/10-scale pan car racing. Well, unless you don’t mind a lot of fender banging action. It is, however, perfect for Legends racing, which has seen a bit of a resurgence. The Hobby Hangout only allows the use of orderless traction compounds. When a simple track is needed for beginners to practice on, turf will be placed over the carpet.
Looking to appeal to a wide audience, rock crawlers weren’t left out. Opposite the oval track is a multi-leveled, highly-detailed crawling course complete with water hazards. The course includes natural rocks as well as sculpted manmade rock. It won’t replace the great outdoors, and like the oval track, it’s not huge, but when weather has you indoors, it will keep you crawling.
Gallagher says future plans include a large high-speed oval track, an outdoor off-road track and an outdoor rock crawling area.
Taking a tour, one might get the idea that the Hobby Hangout was a surface RC only facility, but that’s not the case. The Hobby Hangout has smartly included drone racing among its offerings. That’s some pretty good timing considering the mainstream attention drones are getting. In fact, drone racing is coming to ESPN is August.
ALL THE BELLS AND WHISTLES
The Hobby Hangout’s points of difference go beyond being clean, big and coated with fresh paint. Gallagher and business partner, Greg Vogel, added in as many features as possible. For example, the crawling course has cameras hooked up to monitors to help you navigate the tunnels and caves. They also joined forces with the local HobbyTown USA to be able to have a well-stocked hobby shop on site. There are numerous TV monitors to help racers keep track of the action. Speaking of numerous, there is plenty of pit space. 105 pit spots with three being designed specifically for handicapped use.
WHAT’S ALL OF THIS MEAN?
If you live in California, not much. If you live in or near Connecticut, it means you have a really nice track to go check out. That said, when a facility like this opens up, it is, potentially, of some importance to the RC community as a whole. If the Hobby Hangout proves to be successful, it will be an example of a good business model. RC isn’t a tiny industry, but it also isn’t huge. The existing audience just isn’t big enough in most areas to make the typical track setup a sustainable model. The key is to attract not only new customers but people entirely new to RC. The Hobby Hangout is as well equipped to do that as any new track I have seen. Now, go check it out.
The Hobby Hangout