Slot racers play to stay in the groove. Read more about the evolution, downfall and the rise of slot cars.
There was a time when a slot car racing set was a prized part of any youngster’s toy collection and then along came Mario Kart.
Scalextric gradually morphed into PlayStation and most commercial slot car centres closed down, but the hobby hasn’t quite gone the way of high-tops, music cassettes and stonewash jeans.
From the late 1950s through to the 1970s, slot car racing was big business. Hugely popular in Europe, manufacturers such as Cox, K&B, Scalextric and Revell also distributed their cars and track throughout Australia, and there was no shortage of places to race them.
An enthusiast who runs Way2fast Model Car Racing in Fyshwick, Steve Winchester, said he remembered a time when there was a slot car track in every second suburb.
”Then along came computers and most of it died off,” he said.
The 55-year-old opened the business in 2009. Increased demand meant a move to bigger premises in January this year, but it remains Canberra’s only dedicated commercial slot car raceway.
A former printer, Mr Winchester initially started taking a portable track to Tuggeranong Market and various swap meets to gauge demand.
So a semi-retirement project turned into a business which is now ”doing quite well”, and Mr Winchester remains one of his own best customers.
Canberra has two slot car clubs, the Southside and Northside, and members of both regularly race at the Fyshwick track.
A civil engineer and owner of about 700 slot cars, Alvaro Amorim, belongs to the Southside club. He says there isn’t too much panel beating required after regular Wednesday night competition.
Amorim hopes to qualify in a three-person team for the Ninco World Cup to be held in Spain in September.
Slot cars do not have a magnet to help them stick to the track, and watching a novice race is akin to a miniature demolition derby. Marshals man the track to re-slot crashed cars as quickly as possible.
Cars can reach up to 70km/h and Mr Winchester says just because they are smaller that doesn’t deter their owners trying just about anything within the rules to make them go faster. ”You can tune your car, change the tyres, change from plastic gears to metal gears, change the plastic wheels to aluminum or magnesium wheels, move the weight around with plasticine, shave the chassis …” he said.
Amorim believed there were a few parallels to be drawn between slot car racing and becoming a good driver on the open road.
”It’s fantastic to see the kids coming down and developing their skills on the track.’