By Aaron Waldron
When my dad cleaned out his tool shed a couple of months ago, he found more boxes of old RC stuff. We’ve been steadily trying to get rid of decades worth of old stuff before an upcoming move: a large chunk of it went to my local track, some of it was removed from my garage for me, and a few items have ended up on LiveRC. There was one particular find though, that has been sitting on my desk ever since.
A stack of small plaques from club races. I had totally forgotten about these things.
When I started racing, there was quite a variety of different venues in the San Diego area. A handful of hobby shops organized regular parking lot races, and there were separate indoor and outdoor off-road tracks. Soon, a second outdoor track opened, and turnouts at all places was pretty darn great from what I can remember. It didn’t stay that way, of course - within five or six years, every one of them was gone.
Dad bought my first RC truck from the indoor track, so that’s naturally the first place we went to practice. It was tiny - maybe 40’ by 80’ - and tucked into a small warehouse space behind the proportionally small hobby shop. A few months later, we started going to an outdoor track that we learned about as well (fun fact: the manager at the time was LiveRC broadcast announcer Gary Guest). Both tracks were made of loamy dirt where Step Pins were the hot setup - which made it easy to stock up on tires.
Though some tracks that were connected to hobby shops awarded “Track Bucks”, essentially gift certificates to redeem all or some of your entry fee at the store, one of the outdoor tracks handed out small plaques for podium finishers at its club races.
They’re actually plated metal, rather than acrylic and vinyl, and have three small adhesive strips on the back - racers often stuck them to their tool boxes to show off. They’re fractions of an inch shorter and wider than a credit card, with the track’s original logo, finishing position, and the track’s address and phone number printed, not engraved, on them - talk about great advertising! The stack contained a handful each gold, silver and bronze-plated plaques, even a couple for the B-Main. Based on what I could find online, they probably cost closer to $1 apiece than $2.
The fact that they have survived this long, through a handful of moves over the last twenty years, is probably just as much a testament to their small size as their sentimentality, but I think that’s part of the charm. I’ve long since recycled, donated, or simply junked nearly all of my 3-foot-tall trophies for winning some “Shootout” or “Champs” or “Classic,” and the acrylic 4th-10th place plaques from races that I was certainly proud of - but I still wouldn’t actually hang on a wall. For many of them, I felt the trophy didn’t really match the accomplishment - some of my nicest trophies were for races that weren’t particularly important, while some of the biggest races handed out some of the most bogus plaques (I wrote a whole column about that back in August of last year).
Even without the hardware, I still remembered the races themselves. And while the trophies definitely sparked the memories, it wasn’t something I needed to see everyday. These small plaques, though, fit years worth of racing memories into a space much smaller than even a shoebox and still provide an opportunity to reminisce. The older I get, the more I realize that it wasn't the podiums and recognition that really matter, it was the time I spent traveling around with my father, working together as a team - even if we were both on the drivers' stand at the same time.
Of course, keeping memories from the pre-smartphone era was completely different than it is now. Instead of determining whether or not to lug boxes of old plaques and trophies around for decades, you can neatly file away “trophies” chronologically in a cloud-based photo album - and share them with your entire social network rather than just the occasional visitor who sticks around long enough for you to dig through your garage. You don’t have to win or even finish on the podium to leave with a digital souvenir - and sometimes, that can make the memento even more special.