Last weekend saw the largest gathering for an Xray Challenge to date with 94 entries, including a few multi-time national champions, in what would turn out to be 15 hours of non-stop action. Organized by Ed Bernard, Alex Valdes, and the volunteer crew at the Jackson R/C Racing venue in New Jersey, the event was attended by racers from the surrounding states upwards of 7 hours away. RC America, the exclusive distributor of Xray and Hudy products, sent in the one and only Paul Lemieux to help racers fine tune their racing programs and share stories of races past with the faithful gathering of electric and nitro disciples.
The anticipation before first practice was palpable as the facilities new euro-style layout was created in the weeks leading up to the Challenge, literally being finished the night prior. The sweeping changes were kept under wraps with just a select few spy shots leaked to the eager public. As raceday dawned, the paint was still wet while track preparations were finalized. Racers packed the sidelines with cars in hand awaiting the go-ahead to put the very first laps on the new layout, and more importantly, to put the first tires up onto the beveled curbs! In what would be a precursor to the intense action later in the day, race announcer extraordinaire Alex Valdes gave the “all clear” for practice to begin and eighteen (yes eighteen!) electric racers rushed the drivers stand in a mad dash to taste first blood on the new track.
As practice wound down, it became obvious that tight racing would be the theme of the day and passing for position in the A-mains would be relegated to those brave enough to put the entire car up onto the beveled curbs. With qualifying heats posted, the track was cleared for the first timed laps this virgin circuit had ever seen! In Vintage Trans-Am the expected door banging battle would go down to the wire between TQ Chris Palermo and 2nd qualifier Mike Larcher, but the race ending tone caught Larcher right at the line giving Palermo an uncontested final lap to relish his victory, with Angelo Koutras completing the podium in 3rd. World GT became a two car duel between pitmates and neighbors Rui Goncalves and Joe Stanio, with Goncalves edging out Stanio for the win in what sounded like a street brawl with all the cheering from the paddock.
In 200mm nitro touring car, Diatta Colymore from NYC laid down a first qualifyer time that would prove to be 9 seconds faster than his closest rival Vincent Jackson. Colymore spent the rest of qualifying diagnosing a worn crank bearing, while Ron Goetter begged, borrowed and hussled to replace a blown engine in time for his third qualifier hail mary that landed him 4th on the grid for the A-main. The last qualifying spot in the A-main was taken by local Jackson volunteer Al Sodano, a well deserved result after weeks of laboring on the new track layout. The nitro A-main got under way in the cooling night air with the track lights blazing down on the red and white curbs. Gunner got the inside line at the tone to lead the first lap across the timing line, but Colymore was hot on his tail entering the back straightaway, banged second gear for a clean pass and never looked back. Colymore eventually put 3 laps on the second place finisher of Steve Sohl after 20 minutes, taking his Xray NT1 to victory in convincing style, with Gunner grabbing the 3rd spot on the podium.
The 17.5 TC class provided the closest racing of the day. TQ Scooby Horton of New Jersey stepped up his qualifying time in every round, with 2nd qualifier Warren Weaver and 3rd qualifier Mike Hanulec pushing forward throughout the day as well. More impressive was the qualifying spread of just 15 seconds separating the entire A-main, on a track no one had ever seen prior to morning practice. The A-main proved to be a nail biter right down to the last lap between Horton and Weaver, the only two racers to finish on the lead lap. At the line it was once again Horton wheeling his Xray T2’009 taking the win by a scant 4 seconds, with Weaver in 2nd and Hanulec in 3rd. Going back into the rest of field, 3rd through 7th finished on the same lap, battling for position all the way to the line!
The headline attraction of the night was undoubtedly the 13.5 TC class where multi-time national champions were slated to duke it out over 6 minutes of curb dancing under the lights. The who’s who of 1/10 electric touring cars in the northeast U.S. did not disappoint, but the task of catching the “Wisconsin Wheel” would prove to be difficult as Xray’s Paul Lemieux laid claim to TQ a full 10 seconds out on his next closest competitor. The only drivers within striking distance of Lemieux were TOP’s Jason Schreffler, Schumacher’s Mike Haynes, and Xray’s Randy Bernard occupying 2nd through 4th on the grid. As the 13.5 A-main was brought to the grid, the bleachers on the back straightaway filled to capacity and the video cameras went live. Off the starting tone Lemieux settled his T2’009 in for 6 minutes of uncontested lapping as Schreffler managed to close the 10 second gap from qualifying ever so slightly, finishing on the same lap as Lemieux in 2nd place. Corally’s Jeff Cuffs gets the hard charging award for gaining 4 spots in the first 5 laps to clinch the 3rd spot on the podium. Beyond 3rd spot the action was heated seeing Haynes get the bad end of door to door contact sending him from 3rd to 9th on lap one, eventually working his way back up to 5th. Surprisingly the closest battle on the track was for 6th position, with just 0.1 second separating Sal Amato and Billy Spence at the line.
After all was said and done, the paint did finally dry and the racers went home with stories upon stories of close racing and paddock hilarity. In a time of economic hardship and dwindling tracks, the organizers would like to thank the racers for their support and the memories they helped created, memories that will endure until the next Xray Challenge comes to town!
Words by Greg Sharpe. Photos: John Lee / Videos: Ed Bernard