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Slot Cars at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles

July 23, 2010

Slot cars are rolling into the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on Saturday. The Farrout Slot Car Club and the museum are hosting an event from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis relief group MS Friends. The club is also hoping to put the popularity of slot cars in the U.S. back on track.

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Forty-five-year-old Stephen Farr-Jones owns a direct marketing firm. In the garage behind his home in Glendale, he’s built the Slot Car race track of his childhood dreams. A 12-foot by 10-foot platform that offers 60-plus feet of racing space. Four people can race cars at once past buildings inspired by great race tracks in Europe, and more than 350 trees.

“There’s about 200 small people running around on the table as well,” jokes Farr-Jones, referring to the motionless spectators and crews that populate the track. “There’s no actual irrigation for the trees, they’re all plastic unfortunately.”

On the walls surrounding this detailed little plastic world is Farr-Jones’ collection of more than 1,000 slot cars. The mini Ferraris, Chevies, Porsches are bigger than matchboxes… about 1/32 the size of a real set of wheels. And on the electric track, the cars accelerate with each racer’s press of a trigger on a controller gun.

“If you accelerate too early, the cars will slip out of the slot,” Farr-Jones says.

Farr-Jones’ FarrOut Slot Car Club has about 75 members who bring their cars every other Saturday to tracks like his from Santa Clarita to Santa Monica and beyond. Guys like 59-year-old Eddie Shorer.

“I started in about 1963 when I was ditching Hebrew School and was riding my bicycle and came across the 24-scale raceway. Went inside. My mouth just dropped, my jaw dropped and I was pretty much hooked from that point on. And I pretty much spent my junior high school years instead of studying, working on slot cars and racing at the commercial raceways,” Shorer says

Now, he teaches Junior High School — English and computers — and tries to interest his students at El Sereno Middle School in slot cars. It’s hard, though, because those commercial raceways that numbered in the thousands in his youth ran out of gas in the early 1970s.

“There’s one left in Southern Calfornia… in Buena Park,” says Shorer. “It’s a little difficult for a kid from East L.A. to get to.

So he’s encouraging his students to build their own tracks at home. Stephen Farr-Jones says the event at the Petersen Automotive Museum will feature 13 decorated tracks and cars from all eras.

“We have 1970s rally cars, current Le Mans prototypes from the 1990s and 2000s,” Farr-Jones boasts. “We are providing all the tracks, all the cars, all the controllers, and we’re providing all the marshals to put you back on the track when you crash. Because I guarantee you will crash, but you’ll have fun doing it.”

Farr-Jones grew up in Denmark and says slot cars have remained popular in Europe. He’s hoping some crashes and fun at the Petersen will get them back up to speed in the U.S.

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