“Drivers, start your engines!”

Those words told the assembled crowd that the race was about to begin.

But this race was not the Indianapolis 500, as in 500 miles.

This was the Evanston 500, as in maybe 500 feet.

And the cars in this race were radio-controlled miniatures, circling the garden and heading down other walkways at the Westminster Place retirement community Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s just for fun,” said Ed Welch, Westminster resident who came up with the idea of racing radio controlled cars in 2020, as something to safely do outside while COVID-19 was keeping many people inside.

Race director Ed Welch instructs the drivers.

“Everybody gets a turn,” Welch explained to his neighbors. And as for the rules, “we make it up as we go along.”

And so, half a dozen at a time, the drivers set out walking behind their cars, trying to keep the vehicles from crashing into each other, or from running off the course and into the bushes.

Off course.

Kim Rapp, whose car briefly ended up underneath a bench before getting back on course, agreed with race founder Welch.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Rapp said of the race, now in its third year.

Jill Greenman, activities specialist at Westminster, said “Ed brought this to us” as a way to liven things up for the 250 independent living residents in the community. Westminster Place also has assisted living and nursing care.

Welch, a retired teacher and attorney, made the Evanston 500 as close to the Indianapolis 500 as possible. Memorial Day weekend (well, almost), and the playing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

Rosemary Welch, the race director’s wife, said her husband has “more hobbies” than most people could ever imagine.

Back when Ed was thinking of turning one of those hobbies into a COVID-defying event, he and Rosemary were dining with another couple, when Ed asked “what about having a radio-controlled car race?”

A member of the other couple turned to Rosemary and said with a laugh, “you married a 12-year-old!”

That 12-year-old-going-on-slightly-older also has another hobby he shares with his Westminster neighbors.

“Come back at Christmas,” he stated. “That’s when we set up the trains.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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