AVR microcontroller is always a good choice.
The timing would need to be fairly accurate and the motors need enough power to
You can use a atmega8 or atmega16 for this basic purpose and for motor controller, you need a motor driver, or a H-bridge.
SoR has nice tutorials and especially if you are using AVR, then this is a good place to learn.
Axon costs almost 100$ and Axon II more than 100$. But if you purchase one, then it is a good buy as it has almost all required features necessary for a DIY project.
Me and my friends have some experience programing in c and basic if that changes anything
Ofcourse C knowledge helps a lot.