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Push the speed limit, but on a smaller scale

February 24, 2007

On a Saturday afternoon in a quiet beige office park on Oregon 212, a handful of people are racing the fastest cars in the world.

At least that’s how Scott Jacobson, 53, assistant manager of Race USA, describes them. “They’ll get up to 120 miles per hour in less than half a second,” he says as a group of tiny motors hum in the background.

He’s talking about slot cars, those 1/24 scale toy-size racers. Two of Race USA’s three custom-made tracks buzz with activity as kids and adults guide their cars around hairpin turns and down breakneck straightaways.

“This place rocks,” says Jeff Springston, a slot car buff visiting Race USA for the first time with his son, Grant. “We’ll definitely be back.”

Manager Craig Prier runs the front counter, ringing up sales and making repairs to bent car frames and off-center axles. He was expecting a nine- to 12-member bachelor party to show up that evening.

He breaks down the formula for slot car racing success:

“Racing skill is probably 50 percent of it. If you’ve got the fastest car out there and you don’t know how to drive it, you wouldn’t win,” says Prier, 51. “I’d say 40 percent of it is your car, and the other 10 percent is luck.”

Prier says Terry Emmert, a slot car fan and the founder of transport and rigging company Emmert International, based in Clackamas, owns Race USA. The next big step for the business is construction of a drag strip. Prier says he has perfected a technique for stabilizing slot car dragsters using servo parts from gas-powered airplanes.

A standard slot car might cost about $50, but a top-of-the-line dragster, complete with themed paint job, could run you $500, Jacobson says.

But for beginners just trying out the hobby, Race USA makes things easy and inexpensive. An hour on the track, including car and controller rental, costs $8. And for the timid, Prier says he’ll even rent by the half-hour.

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