Nick Coward would love to be behind the wheel of a racecar at the Indianapolis 500.
But that's something only the smallest fraction of gearheads are blessed enough to do.
But Coward, who is closing in on a decade in Whistler, will still be in control of a vehicle at a fairly significant race come January, though.
In October, the radio-controlled car racer discovered his name was one of 100 lucky lottery winners drawn by organizers of the Reedy International Offroad Race of Champions, slated for Jan. 21 to 24 in Huntington Beach, Calif.
"I could probably just walk when I got my first radio-controlled car. Cars and racing — I'm a gearhead — it's just part of my life," the owner of seven radio-controlled cars and numerous die-cast cars said over coffee last week. "I don't have the money to race the real thing, so this is the next best thing."
As part of the experience, Coward will share the pits with some of the planet's top competitors.
"I was lucky enough to get one of the tickets in the open class. The whole idea of the race is that they have another class that races, the professional class, called the invitational. It's one of the most prestigious races in the world for those guys," he said. "They have an open class so the average Joes can rub shoulders with the best guys in the world — the world champions.
"It's a very unique race in the hobby. No other race is like that."
Coward, who originates from Mildura, Australia, drew comparisons to the open categories at Crankworx, where amateur riders can test their mettle on the same courses the legends ride.
In terms of regular training, Coward gets his most significant racing in at the Cloverdale-based Outlaw RC club, which holds biweekly competitions that have been steadily growing in attendance in recent weeks, most recently approaching 70 entries. During the summer, he and a handful of other Whistler R/C Addiction racers throw down at an outdoor track in Function Junction — weather permitting, of course. Locally, there are three or four regulars, Coward said, but about 15 people in total have brought their cars at one point or another.
"We've put a lot of effort into the little track we've got in the woods down in Function Junction. That's our summer hangout. That's kind of off the radar. It's the illegitimate child we have," he said with a chuckle. "I don't know how many people know about that track down there.
"If we can get 10 guys together on a weekend, we're pretty stoked. We have a lot of fun... We're down there in the summer months twice a week, sometimes all weekend depending on what the weather's doing."
If the dirt track isn't an option, Coward and his cars can likely be found ripping around in the underground lots in Creekside, but he's hoping to connect with someone who may have an open space and would be willing to let him drive his cars there.
Though he'd been driving for years, Coward only recommitted in a serious way about 18 months ago when he first started going to Outlaw RC, which has a carpet-based track. He said officially settling in Whistler after getting married allowed him to create a home base and platform from which to build.
Since getting back into the hobby, Coward has focused in particular on improving his hand-eye coordination, especially in situations where a slight tick in the wrong direction could set him way back in the race.
"You get better every time you drive. I'm more used to the speed and making the cars behave and handle the way that you need them to for the track conditions. You can control them in the air," he said, noting he's been able to make the car whip like a mountain bike.
When selecting a car, Coward said there are a handful of practical factors to take into consideration such as parts availability. His preference is for California-based Team Associated, one of the most popular brands and owner of 28 World Championships.
Coward will compete in the two-wheel buggy and four-wheel buggy divisions. He noted lanes must be a minimum of 2.4 metres wide and usually are no wider than three metres. The overall dimensions are usually roughly 24 by 30 metres, he added.
Preliminary races tend to be five minutes with competitors seeking to complete the greatest number of laps possible rather than directly racing against the other vehicles on the track. Main events are six to eight minutes.
"You're not really racing the other guys on the track, you're racing the clock," he explained. "It's done that way to discourage guys from battling too hard and ruining each other's races."
Coward is seeking sponsorship to help cover travel and accommodation costs in Orange County, where he plans to spend a week in all.
"I'd like to finish in the top 50. I really think that if I can get track time, if I can get practice time, I can do anything, really," he said. "A lot of the guys will be locals who race there several times a week, so it's going to be tough.
"If I can be smooth and consistent, anything is possible, really."
For more information about Coward, visit www.area99rc.com.