Three brothers propose RC track in Berne

— photo from Henry Zelenack

RC racers: Brothers, from left, Luke, Henry, and Jack Zelenack, display their radio-control cars, which they hope to race at Switzkill Farm.

BERNE — The three founding members of the Washed Out Radio Control Club have a plan for Switzkill Farm in the town of Berne.

The Zelenak brothers — Henry, 16; Jack, 15; and Luke, 13 — will build a track for radio-control cars at the town-owned property known as Switzkill Farm. All are avid racers of the cars themselves, but have few places nearby to race their cars.

Henry is in 11th grade, Jack is in ninth grade, and Luke is in seventh grade. The three brothers are homeschooled.

On Nov. 7, the trio approached the Switzkill Farm Board in Berne about setting up a racetrack on the town-owned property, and gave a presentation of their proposed plans. The board approved, and the three can begin building a track and trail.

“It’s like any other club in town,” said Karen Schimmer, a Berne Town Board member and the Switzkill Farm Board liaison, comparing it to a Boy Scouts meeting. Town Supervisor Kevin Crosier agreed, saying that the track will use natural materials and make little impact on the park.

Although young, the brothers have been RC advocates for years.

When the brothers lived near Allentown, Pennsylvania, the three were being driven home from the library one day when they passed an open construction area where a group of teenagers were racing RC cars. The Zelenaks were hooked on the idea of owning their own.

After they had moved to Berne in 2009, they went to the now-closed Hobbytown USA in Colonie and bought their first RC vehicle that they took home to drive around their house.

“And we loved it,” said Henry.

The brothers now have five operating vehicles, as well as others currently not yet operating.

“We don’t just race,” said Henry.

The three buy new or gently used vehicles and disassemble them to modify their cars or make them faster. Jack explained that it is a simple process for them to change the gears to increase the speed or to switch out tires to make a car suitable for a track or a trail.

“You don’t even need a jack,” he quipped. “You just lift it with your hands.”

While the five cars are shared among them, each has his favorite. Jack prefers a short-circuit car that travels faster. His brother Luke prefers a hill-climber vehicle that doesn’t travel as fast as a short-circuit car and is best driven off-road.

“It’s more relaxing,” Luke said, of the slower pace.

Henry prefers a slightly smaller model of an RC car. While most are one-tenth the size of their larger counterparts, this one is one-15th the scale. Although he bought it himself, his brothers contributed to many of its modifications.

Unfortunately for the three brothers, there are not many places nearby to drive their cars. The closest one is a private track in Troy, in Rensselaer County, they said, which means a 45-minute drive each way.

Plans for Switzkill track

Mark Hohengasser, a member of the Switzkill Farm board and a designer of a proposed natural playground for Berne’s town park, has been interested in RC cars since he himself was young. He met the Zelenak brothers after giving a presentation on RC cars at the Berne Public Library, and offered to help them find a spot for a racing track.

Hohengasser said that he has never seen an RC track in a public setting. Instead, tracks are usually privatized and cost money to enter. The track at Switzkill Farm will offer free use to those interested, he said. It will also attract visitors to the park, he added.

“It’s just a learning experience at so many levels,” said Hohengasser, of the brothers’ presenting to the Switzkill Farm Board.

The group found a spot at Switzkill Farm they believe will be ideal for RC cars, a wide-open area as well as a shale pit. The six-tenths-of-an-acre area will consist of a viewing spot, a practice area, a racetrack, and a trail course.

The 170-foot track will accomodate faster vehicles such as buggies and short-course trucks. The brothers intend to make a bed of rotting leaf matter, underbrush, and small rocks, topped with clay.

“We have most of the materials,” said Henry.

The trail course will be for more rugged vehicles known as rock-crawlers, trail-and-scale vehicles, trail trucks, and hill-climbers. This will be a dirt trail cut into a hillside with obstacles made up rocks and logs.

A pathway will lead to the courses, so people using a wheelchair could access it.

The brothers are also working to make their club a not-for-profit and are welcoming new members; Hohengasser is acting as their mentor. The Washed Out Radio Control Club may be contacted at

They held a demonstration this fall at Berne’s Harvest Fest, and raced cars in the shale pit at Switzkill Farm.

“We noticed that there was great interest,” said Henry.

Corrected on Dec. 8, 2017: The track will us six-tenths of an acre, not six acres as originally reported.

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