THEO Theodorou has a need for speed.
And the former spraypainter and panelbeater only has one way to quell it – radio-controlled cars.
RC cars have found a niche in Bendigo with a permanent track just off McIvor Road and a membership of about 50 people.
Each month Theo and his mates from the Bendigo On-road Radio Controlled Car Club get together and race.
The club itself has been going for about seven years and has made the transition from fuel-based cars to electric.
According to Theo, the cheaper, electric cars go faster than the old fuel-based ones and are more popular with RC drivers.
Theo has been with the club since he arrived in Bendigo about five years ago.
“I’ve been racing for about 25 years both on-road and off-road in Melbourne,” Theo said.
“If you like cars and always wanted to be a race car driver but could never afford it, these are the next best thing.
“You tinker with your cars; it’s setting up your own race car.”
So popular is the Bendigo track that RC car clubs from Melbourne, Geelong and Wodonga will arrive in Bendigo in October for the RAB Hobbies Bendigo Classic.
As vice president of the Bendigo RC Club, Theo and president David Bowen have been busy getting everything ready for the October meet.
Fleets of cars will turn up and fly down the back straight, weave through the twists and turn and cross the finish line, only to start a new lap in an effort to better their personal best time.
Holdens, Fords, Porsches, Mini Coopers, vintage models and many more body-types turn out for the event.
An air of professionalism will be apparent at the classic as drivers prepare for championship races.
“We have tyre warmers, things that check the heat of the motors, you can change all sorts of things,” Theo said.
“We get kids from six or seven aged to – well I’m 51, so older than me.
“People think they race for sheep-stations but the biggest thing we encourage is to enjoy yourself.
“It’s fun to win but don’t go and spend lots of money and crack it when you don’t win. Enjoy it.”
With his professional trades based around the motoring industry, Theo said he has always had an interest in cars.
When he first got started, it was because of doing some extra work for a mate.
“He said what do you want for it? And I said I always wanted an RC car,” Theo said.
“So he bought me the latest off-road car that cost $400.
“I opened the box and saw the pieces and thought this is all too hard, so I threw it in the cupboard for a couple of years.”
Eventually Theo built the car and developed a taste for the world of RC racing.
He now has 12 cars in his “garage”.
“Once I won my first race, then I was hooked in even more,” he said.
“It was an off-road race going off jumps and everything. As soon as it’s your own car that you drive properly, it’s so easy to be hooked.”
Theo has had some success with in his RC career.
He was off-road Australian champion in 1994 and has won a few Mini titles as well.
And while Theo enjoys his success in both on and off-road events, it is clear his passion is customising the cars he builds.
“We paint them ourselves, you get the kit that’s in a million pieces and you build the diffs and the shocks and put it all together yourself,” he said.
“It take a few days. Some guys spend weeks putting it together and fine tuning it.
“You change your shock angles, your springs, your pistons, your oils.
“You can get different tyres for different weather conditions.
“It’s amazing, you get into it. People see us at it and see we’re nuts about it.”
Motor sizes and class vary from a 21.5 motor, down to a more powerful 13 motor and on to the professional-sized, modified drivers that used four or five “winds”.
Theo said mastering the RC cars is easy but control is the most important thing to develop.
“After a few hits and bashes and crashes it is easy to master,” he said.
“The hardest part is when the car is going away from you, left is left and right is right but coming toward you, it’s the opposite.
"It takes a bit of getting used to.
“When people first start out the want to see how fast they go, everyone asks it.
“It doesn’t matter (how fast you can go), learn to set the car up and learn to drive the car. Then go fast.”
Bendigo is one of just five tracks in Victoria that are permanent.
Templestowe, Geelong, Boronia and Wodonga all have their own tracks.
A couple of years ago the Bendigo club spent money, time and effort painting the track properly for the Australian championships.
It has been a wise investment as the club prepares to host the Bendigo Classic in October.
“We’re hoping for 100-150 people in October,” Theo said.
“One my best mates in Melbourne owns RAB Hobbies and has come on board with money and prizes, and I have got the council on board as well.”
Aspects of the Bendigo Classic represent something people see in a Formula 1 racing schedule.
Thursday and Friday are practice days before official qualifying on Saturday and finals on Sunday.
Cars have minimum weight, width and height requirements.
“In each class everyone runs the same motor and has the same speed but it’s down to driver,” Theo said
In ideal track conditions, Theo said crowds would see some very fast laps.
“The average lap times range. With a 21.5 motor it’s about 18 seconds, with a 13.5 it’s about 13-14 second laps and modified even lower,” he said.
“We can get up 80 or 90km/h down the back of the track.”
The RAB Hobbies Bendigo Classic takes place on October 19 and 20.
For more information visit www.bendigorccarclub.com
If you like cars and always wanted to be a race car driver but could never afford it, these are the next best thing.