The Long Island Crawlers RC Club meets in Long Island's parks to relax and race their remote-controlled vehicles. Although they may look like children's toys, the vehicles can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars — more than worth it to these grown-ups who haven't grown up. Newsday TV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

If you are walking through a Long Island park and happen upon a group of adults driving remote-control trucks over boulders, down hills and between tree roots, your first thought might be, “Where are the kids?”

Look harder — they’re there — inside of the grown-ups who are having a blast reliving their childhoods.

Christopher Rowley, 45, of Massapequa, co-runs a club called the Long Island Crawlers RC Club for fans of remote-control off-road vehicles. Their trucks are not children’s toys; these footlong trucks can be purchased for a couple hundred dollars from a hobby shop, either pre-assembled or as a kit. Kits allow buyers to build their own cars and trucks, invest in parts to control speed, steering and performance, and experience realistic details such as putting a driver behind the wheel. “It gives you more of a chance to customize it as you see fit,” says Rowley, who works in heating and air conditioning.

Daniel Michel, 42, of Deer Park, (center) travels to states...

Daniel Michel, 42, of Deer Park, (center) travels to states as far as California to race his remote-control car.  Credit: Daniel Michel

The Crawlers, who meet weekly at various Long Island parks, aren’t the only Long Island adults devoted to RC vehicles. Other groups focus on drag racing remote-control cars on indoor or outdoor tracks or straightaways with race cars that can go 60, 70, 100 or more miles per hour.

Daniel Michel, 42, of Deer Park, who works for the city of New York, travels to states as far as California to compete and says it’s a sport in addition to a hobby. Still, others like bashing, directing their remote-control vehicles over obstacles and doing flips or stunts that often result in the car breaking. “You build it, you run it, you break it, you fix it,” says Ari Kapoutsos, 42, an assistant principal from North Bellmore. Some fans collect vintage models.

Various Facebook groups cater to different facets of the RC vehicle hobby. And car and truck fans aren’t the only grown-ups operating remote-control vehicles — some clubs cater to owners of remote-control boats or planes. The interest in RC vehicles grew during the pandemic, when people were looking for activities they could enjoy outdoors, Rowley says. His Facebook group now has more than 900 members.


“The hobby is really so vast,” Kapoutsos says of RC cars and trucks. “For me, I prefer the vintage aspect. I’m an ‘80s kids. I got back into it 30 years later.” He’s now able to buy the kind of cars his parents couldn’t afford to buy him when he was a kid. “It’s very nostalgic and reminiscent for us.”

Joseph Graziano, 37, a paving foreman from Port Jefferson who is involved with the Long Island Street Eliminatorz and Long Island VXL Drag Racing groups, agrees. “It makes you feel like a kid again. I’m playing with toys. You get to hang out outside with your friends.” He races cars many Sundays with others in organized faceoffs in the parking lot of the Ronkonkoma LIRR train station.

A lot of people get reintroduced to remote control when they revisit playing with RC toys with their children. “I’ve always been intrigued by things with wheels and remote control when I was younger,” says Matthew Catrini, 34, of Farmingville, who installs burglar and fire alarms. A couple of years ago he got back into cars with his son, Matt, now 9, and Catrini’s brothers, who are 30 and 27. “We’ll race each other.”

Some members bring their children with them to club meets. But when their kids move on to other interests, the parents — mostly dads like Rowley, whose son is now 14 — stay involved. “Over time he got into other things, and I stuck with this. Myself, I like the scale aspect of it, just because of the detail you can put into it,” Rowley says. Rowley has about eight cars. “Some of the guys have 40 or 50,” he says.


Some people get into RC cars because they have an interest in racing. “It’s the closest to real racing anyone can get without being themselves in a real car,” says John Goode, 29, a manufacturing engineer from West Babylon who also runs a 3D printing business selling RC vehicle accessories.

Michel says that hard-core RC vehicle racers have to understand the science of how a car works. “It’s literally just like a real car, but it’s scaled down to a miniature size,” he says. “The car that I run might be $2,500 to $3,000.”

In addition to his interest in vintage cars, Kapoutsos also races. A friend of his made his backyard into a dirt track and Kapoutsos records their races of monster trucks and two- and four-wheel drive vehicles and posts them on his RC Retro YouTube channel. “It’s fun to build them and tune them to make it go faster,” he says of his cars. “Change the angle of the tires to better improve steering.”

Racers at the Long Island Street Eliminatorz event in Ronkonkoma.

Racers at the Long Island Street Eliminatorz event in Ronkonkoma. Credit: Linda Rosier

David Troccoli, 43, a union tin knocker from Medford, had 15 tons of rock delivered to his backyard so he and buddy Eddie Montenegro, 46, of East Moriches, who works at a lumber yard, could construct a crawler track and run monthly competitions that they let people know about on the Krawler Island RC Facebook Page.

"Every competition has trophies," Troccoli says, and vehicles are judged in various categories, including scaled details and getting through the course without hitting obstacles.

Most of the hobby participants tend to be men. Ashley Schober, 27, of Centereach, who works for a maintenance company, says she got interested remote-control cars because her boyfriend got her hooked. “I enjoy the racing and the competition,” she says. Other racers will often bring their girlfriends or their wives to watch races, she says.

Racers typically gather at indoor venues such as Traction Action RC Raceway and Hobbies in Plainview or outdoor tracks such at the Ronkonkoma train station. Crawlers rotate parks and might be at Trail View State Park in Woodbury, the Massapequa Preserve, Camp Hero State Park in Montauk, the Brickyard Mountain Bike Trail in Bethpage State Park or Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove. Sometimes people stop to ask what the club members are doing, and they might allow kids to take a turn driving the trucks, Rowley says.

“It’s really just a group of people getting together and having fun with something they have a passion for,” says Doron Schnitzer, 45, of Bellmore, who owns a body shop and co-runs the Long Island Crawlers. “We go into the woods with our tiny trucks, and we wander around.” Schnitzer says some people like yoga to relax; he likes tinkering with his trucks.

Says Jason Siegel, owner of Willis Hobbies in Mineola, which caters to the hobby: “It lets guys go out and be kids again for a couple of hours, then go back to normalcy.”

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