An oval dirt track for Hot Rod Raceways behind Saugus Cafe. Photo by Eddie Rodriguez

The electric motor purr of an off-road remote controlled car zooming around the dirt oval track draws eyes to it like a cat tracking its prey. 

The Hot Rod Hobbies & Raceway has rooted its seat as a go-to hobby store in Saugus for more than 30 years. Providing cars like Baja-style trophy trucks and four-by-four Jeeps, to repair services like fixing a broken axle or replacing tires. 

“We shut down for a little while during the pandemic, but we still had practices,” manager Tim Cunningham said. “Racing was off-limits because of the large crowds.” 

As the state drops in restrictive-tier levels and rises in total vaccination population, the raceway has steadily accelerated towards returning to their usual competition schedule.

The track is open seven days a week and hosts local races twice a week and store owner Jimmy Babcock runs his own racing league. Drivers throughout the state can showcase their skills on tracks in different cities at hobby shops from Bakersfield to San Diego. 

“One of our employees has a race tonight in Bakersfield,” Cunningham said. “He travels throughout California and races usually every two to three weekends.”

The R/C community has participants from all ages and has provided some local drivers to represent Awesome Town in national races.

“Tyler Fenster just went to an event in Las Vegas with 830 entries and won both the electric intermediate buggy and nitro intermediate buggy race,” Cunningham said.

It can be a pricey hobby, but for some, like casual racer Erick Montoya, a budget can be found. The price tag might get in the way, but it’s helped him turn his life around. 

“I like wrenching on them, fixing them, keeping them as clean as possible. They always break and it’s an expensive hobby, it really is,” Montoya said. 

Montoya has overcome addiction and has turned his life around step-by-step, understanding the mistakes he’s made do not define who he is. It’s a second chance to get back to a healthy lifestyle.

“A buddy of mine told me to come out,” Montoya said. “I drove his car and it was fun. It keeps me out of trouble. You meet good people.”

He races every Tuesday and Saturday, eager to hit the track and get his mind off of the stresses of life. It keeps him grounded and occupied. Other hobbies like golfing have helped him make better decisions and stay away from that negative lifestyle. 

“It’s either golf for four hours or this,” Montoya said. “It’s relaxing to get away from the family for a bit and focus on this, you know?” 

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