OLINVILLE — It's a sunny afternoon and Bronx resident Kareem Richards, 20, is getting ready to race. He checks the wheels on his car — which is about 12 inches in length, and has bright green rims — and makes sure there’s juice in its battery. When he's satisfied, he sets the car down in the dirt and it's off with a zoom, leaving a cloud of dust and scattered pebbles in its wake.
Richards is one of dozens of people who frequent a small park of dirt and grass along Bronx Boulevard, near the overpass where Gun Hill Road crosses over the Bronx River, known to those who tend to it as Fort Knox. Hobbyists from all over the Bronx and beyond come here to race remote control cars, tiny vehicles that buzz in a loop around a homemade earthen racetrack.
“Me, I’m a rookie,” said Richards, who has been racing his two remote control cars at Fort Knox for about four years, carting them around in a wheeled suitcase. Right now, he’s practicing. In a few weeks, he’ll enter his first real race at the track, when over one hundred participants are expected to compete.
Fort Knox is maintained by a group of volunteer remote control car enthusiasts who spend their weekends shaping the dirt track with shovels and rakes, and who donated their own money to install a fence and a portable toilet at the park. They say it's the only outdoor, off-road remote control car track in New York City.
“This is it,” said Tom Baffer, 66, who helps organize the races.
While most of the action takes place at Fort Knox, the group’s unofficial clubhouse is Bruckner Hobbies, a hobby shop that Baffer owns on East Tremont Avenue in Schuylerville, on the other side of the Bronx. The shop sells remote control cars, airplanes and helicopters, along with their spare parts. It’s where the Fort Knox crowd goes to talk shop, or to repair their cars if they damage them on a jump or accidentally drive them through a puddle.
Baffer opened Bruckner Hobbies over 20 years ago. Though a wine salesman by day, he was always into car racing. Then he became a father to three sons who fell in love with the sport, too.