OTSEGO, Minn. — The COVID pandemic changed nearly every aspect of our lives.
While many businesses were forced to close their doors, many Minnesotans sought comfort in their hobbies. One of those hobbies gaining popularity because of the pandemic: remote-controlled cars.
“The hobby has just exploded,” Dan Magnuson said.
Magnuson owns OPFOR Airsoft and Hobby in Elk River.
His shop sells remote-controlled cars that can go just as fast as a real car.
“This one here can go up to 100 miles an hour,” Magnuson said while holding up a car.
There are few places where you can drive a car that fast in Minnesota, and very few tracks that are specifically designed with remote-controlled cars in mind.
“I had a customer one day who had the idea of getting a local track going,” Magnuson said. “I thought it was a great idea.”
Magnuson and his customers decided to get the word out to other racers in the community and they started to build a large following.
The group presented their idea to the Otsego Park and Recreation Department to see if the city would be interested in building a racetrack within the city limits.
“We thought it was a rather unique request,” Interim Otsego Parks and Recreation Director Nick Jacobs said.
The idea to build a racetrack as a city park and nestle it between the playgrounds and baseball fields at Prairie Park in Otsego seemed strange at first.
“It was a cheap, low-cost option for us to add a great pleasure to our community,” Jacobs said.
“It ended up being a fairly simple request and an affordable one as well.”
The department already had some extra dirt lying around from another project, and Jacobs says the more they looked into the idea, the more they realized how affordable it could be to build a racetrack in their park.
The city approved the idea and the Parks and Recreation Department got to work.
Workers moved the dirt over to Prairie Park and they started to spread it out, forming the hills and valleys of the track.
Workers then went to a local hardware store and purchased thick plastic tubing and large metal nails to build the barriers for the track.
“In the end, I’d say the track probably cost the city around $500 or $600 to build,” Jacobs said.
“We used videos on YouTube to guide us on how to design and build a track and that’s how we did it.”
The track only took a few hours to build.
When it was complete, Jacobs and his colleagues didn’t know what to expect in terms of interest and participation from the community.
“We posted it on Facebook to get people excited and to spread the word,” Jacobs said.
“These RC track groups got together and shared it and shared it and the engagement went up and up. I think we had close to 50,000 people reached by the end of it.”
When the racetrack officially opened after the height of the pandemic, racers from across Minnesota found a safe outdoor space to enjoy their hobby.
The track has now been open for more than a year and that interest hasn’t waned.
"This track is a real blast,” Joe Sundeen said.
Sundeen and his son, Jaydn, visit the racetrack several times a week.
“It’s just a great place to race and unwind,” Jaydn said.
The father-and-son team also have their own YouTube channel called “3X7 Outdoor” where they teach viewers about remote-controlled cars.
“We talk about fixing them, racing them, bashing them,” Jaydn said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Jaydn and Joe are also heavily involved in introducing new racers to the hobby.
Together with Magnuson, they host open houses and training sessions every few weeks at the track.
“It’s great for the kids, but it’s a hobby that is for people of all ages,” Magnuson said. “It’s something you can enjoy your entire life and carry with you long into adulthood.”
The track in Otsego is fairly unique in Minnesota.
Very few cities have free city parks where residents can race their remote-controlled cars.
The city of Eagan built a new track during the pandemic, while Magnuson says the city of Becker also has a smaller track residents can use. Other than those, the tracks are few and far between.
Magnuson and the Sundeens are hoping to encourage other cities to consider building tracks of their own because it’s a low-cost way to get more kids and their families outside.
“It’s just a great way to get outside in the fresh air and out in the community,” Magnuson said.
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