- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

PINEVILLE, W.Va. (AP) - At 14, Joe Watson has an idea that could draw hundreds, if not thousands, of people to Wyoming County.

Cognizant of the county’s struggles - a prolonged downturn in the coal industry, population decline and a dwindling economic base - Watson believes a remote control race track will draw tourists, eventually adding employment opportunities and revenue to the county’s coffers.

He said the track would enhance Wyoming County’s tourism and recreational draw, which are expected to become major economic factors in the county. A professional-grade track, he said, would “give the county a little bit more” to entice visitors to Wyoming County.

Additionally, a remote control race track would provide an alternative recreation opportunity for the county’s young people, the eighth-grader at Mullens Middle School believes.

“The youth of the county have very little to do that is constructive, educational and enjoyable,” he wrote in a grant application to bring the project from paper to a reality.

Watson, who lives with his mother in the small community of Wyco, said a remote control race track will also positively impact the youth by increasing their knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, the heavily pushed STEM courses.

He is currently eyeing the county’s 4H Club near Glen Rogers as a possible temporary site for the track. Eventually, Watson envisions using land or a shell building to host the races. As popularity grows, so will the need for space, he said.

For the last few years, Watson has actively participated in remote control races. What started out as a routine trip to a Charleston hobby shop with his father to buy more model train equipment, ended in a passion for cars that can travel upward of 80 miles per hour. Now, for hours each week, Watson works and races his many remote control cars. “It’s addictive for all ages,” he said, after rattling off names, numbers, abbreviations and phrases only a remote control addict knows.

Until recently, he participated in races at a remote control car track in Beaver. But the track went out of business, leaving southern West Virginia and the state without a remote control racing facility.

He estimated between 400 to 500 remote control racing enthusiasts from all across West Virginia and neighboring states descended on Beaver during racing weekends to participate. If a track is built in Wyoming County, Watson predicts the same people would travel a few more miles to partake in weekend events.

“These individuals would fill our hotels and they would stay to spend money at our restaurants,” he wrote in a grant application. “As this track becomes established and develops name recognition within the sport, it is anticipated it will quickly become sustainable and income-producing.”

The estimated cost to build the track is nearly $18,000, a hefty amount for a middle schooler to raise. A breakdown of the cost includes purchasing 50 tons of red clay - estimated cost $8,000, $500 for liability insurance, $3,500 lap counter, $300 a month for utilities, another $300 for Port-a-john rentals and $1,000 to get the word out via advertising. He would like to utilize volunteers to get the project up and running, in an effort to reduce the cost.

Watson is applying for grants to offset the price tag. Recently he won a $1,000 Bucks of Bright Ideas Grant from The HUB of West Virginia. “I know it’s possible if we keep getting grants,” he said.

Currently, he is working with officials at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College to locate and apply for grants. He hopes to have his first racing event sometime in June.

“The time to do this project is now,” Watson said.

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Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com

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