LAKE LEELANAU — Rugged rock trails, hand-made log bridges and gushing waterfalls stretch into the acres behind Ryan Brown’s auto repair shop — but they’re on a smaller scale than your typical racetrack.
Brown opened Leelanau Adventure R/C Car Park earlier this year to offer race and practice courses for racers of radio-controlled cars.
The park, at 7690 E. Otto Road south of Lake Leelanau, includes a network of outdoor courses and trails, which Brown crafted over the summer, and an intricate indoor, clay-crafted R/C course added this fall in time for winter fun.
“I’ve been into R/C cars since I was 12,” said Brown, who now has two children of his own. “It’s the most fun you can have indoors in the winter to keep your sanity, that’s for sure.”
The cars come in a variety of models, mostly battery-operated and some touting gasoline engines. Racers often heavily modify their cars, swapping out tires, wheels and aluminum body pieces. More competitive R/C models run a few hundred dollars, but simple, starting models are a bit more affordable.
“It’s pretty much like a real race car, just miniature,” Brown said.
Racers of all stripes flock to Leelanau Adventure, where competition classes range widely enough for more casual hobbyists to get in on the action.
Races cost $10 to enter, but non-competitors are welcome to hang out, watch and talk shop free of charge. Events run every other Sunday, give or take.
“It’s really cool, it’s a really fun thing — and once you start, you get hooked,” Brown said.
Ryan Miller and his 7-year-old son, Gage, have become regulars at the track.
The pair often race together.
“It’s something to do with the kids,” Miller said. “There’s always a good crowd there to compete against.”
Competitions, or “comps,” as Brown calls them, feature a variety of events. The most recent was a swap and crawl that had racers bring parts to trade. The race featured crawlers, a type of car that specializes in difficult terrain.
Leelanau Adventure got its start about a year ago, when other locals expressed interest.
“Me and my kids had made a little course out back for fun and everyone really liked the design and what I’m doing,” Brown said. “I thought if I got all this, I might as well open it up to people.”
The first race proved impressive, and Brown’s turnout now peaks at 40-50 racers for each bi-weekly event.
The park’s outdoor trails, which span about an acre, open to competition in the warmer months. Terrain includes a set-to-scale waterfall crafted by Brown and a meticulously made 50-foot “log” bridge crafted from sticks.
They’ve proven popular.
“It’s quite a bit of fun,” said Jim Ovaitt, owner of Ovaitt R/C Racing, a parts shop south of Traverse City.
Ovaitt often brings his grandson along to the course.
Brown uses stakes to mark off race tracks for different competitions, including races that count timed laps around a track and events that score based on precision, like staying within the stake-lined course. His indoor course is modeled after terrain of the Mojave Desert. His children often help with elements of the course.
“I’ve been working on it since the end of summer and I still work on it every week, changing it up, adding stuff,” Brown said. “I have dirt mounds, rocks, bridges, some things to climb on. It’s a pretty good variety of stuff.”
Test and tune days are also offered from time to time, and racers can always message Brown if interested in a trip to Leelanau Adventure.
The attitude and camaraderie make the hobby, Brown said — local racers embrace newcomers and young competitors.
“It’s a really good group of guys we have out here — everyone’s so inviting and so nice,” he said. “They don’t wanna see you break or not run or not finish the day.”
See the Leelanau Adventure RC Park Facebook page for more information.