By Aaron Waldron
Though many RC racers try to argue that RC racing is a “sport,” our hobby is hardly a physical activity. In fact, that’s one of the most charming aspects of racing RC cars - the elimination of any advantage due to most physical attributes that would prove a benefit in actual sports or even full-size racing. Standing on a platform and controlling a scaled-down racing vehicle remotely creates a rare competitive atmosphere that doesn’t discriminate against age, size, or physical disability.
Colorado racer Zeke Ballinger is a great example of that level playing field.
Name: Zeke Ballinger
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO
Years of racing experience: 5
Sponsors: Team Associated, Reedy, Pro-Line, Schelle, Stick It1 Racing, SCS Nissan
Proudest racing moment: Making both 2WD and 4WD A-Mains at the Rumble in the Rockies at MHOR R/C Raceway in Aurora, CO last month.
Zeke was born with no hands, but that never stopped him from accomplishing anything - including developing a competitive drive. He participated in youth sports, playing as a goaltender in hockey until he was 16 years old and as a defender on soccer teams before reaching high school. Shortly after graduating in 2006, he found the RC hobby and purchased an HPI Savage monster truck to play around.
Then a friend took him to Colorado Fast Track, an outdoor racing facility near his home. “I was hooked!” said Zeke, who purchased a Team Associated RC8 less than a week later.
He immediately made friends with local racers who provided assistance to get him on the track, especially from Kody and Larry Numedahl. In fact, it was Larry who changed the way that Zeke raced RC cars forever. “I used to drive right-handed and use my chin for the steering wheel,” said Zeke, who had to hold the antenna with his mouth to stop from dropping the radio. That was until Larry fashioned him a sling to hold the transmitter, and helped Zeke flip the steering wheel to be used left-handed.
Now equipped with his transmitter harness, Zeke hit the racing scene hard - racing pretty much 100% nitro. He went to The Dirt Nitro Challenge in 2008, and endured several days of rain. “I wasn’t ready for that,” said Zeke, who was overwhelmed by the long days and tough competition. He kept racing the local scene for two more years before hanging up his transmitter when he got married - and the state took away his disability insurance.
After getting the paperwork with the state figured out - and going through a divorce - Ballinger returned to the RC scene in 2014. Instead of firing up his nitro engines again, however, he bought equipment to go electric racing. “It’s better now, racing electric cars,” said Zeke, “because I only need a duffel bag to get to the track.” It took him a little bit of time to reconnect with the racing crowd he was used to - especially since Kody Numedahl had moved over to California. Luckily, Rocky Mountain RC Raceway had opened in Colorado Springs, and he met a bunch of new friends who had started racing during his time off.
Ballinger says that the most difficult part of racing RC cars has nothing to do with driving at all - it’s wrenching on his cars where he struggles sometimes. “It can be tough working on my stuff, especially with it comes to handling little washers and hardware,” he said. A local friend named Mike O’Connell helps him the most often when racing back home, but he’s got his Associated teammates here to help him at the Cactus Classic: Tommy Hinz and Jake Mayo have been helping him make setup changes, and Scott Spear glued up some tires. “Everyone just helps a little bit here and there,” said Zeke.
Ballinger has no problem practicing at home by himself, but tuning his vehicles can be tough. “If I want to make a setup change, it has to be something that I really can take apart and put back together,” he said.
When meeting other racers for the first time, Zeke said that most react very warmly - and are often surprised by what he can accomplish. “People are usually really curious about what I’m able to do and how I can do it,” said Ballinger, who continued, “It’s actually less stressful at big races because we have more than enough time to get stuff back together or make changes.”
Like any other racer, Zeke enjoys seeing how he stacks up against other racers at large events - and he resorted around mid-pack after seeding practice in the elite 2WD and 4WD Modified Buggy classes. “RC Racing is the one competition where it doesn’t matter that I don’t have hands,” said Zeke, who said that he doesn’t feel like he’s at any disadvantage as long as he’s able to get enough wheel time to have equal practice with everyone else. “It always comes down to skill, and the better driver is going to win - it’s not going to be because I don’t have hands.”