The rapid and the miniature: Slot car club gets the good times rolling
Havasu resident Alan Kay maintains several display cases in his garage, featuring dozens of slot cars collected over the course of decades.
From left, Stan Elliott, Doug McDonald and Alan Kay race on Sunday, using Kay’s handmade slot car racetrack. The track took Kay about seven years to build, and now resides permanently in the garage of his Havasu residence.
Doug McDonald arrived just after sundown, and he brought some fresh wheels with him. Other racers were already waiting for him at the track, each anticipating the thrill of victory and the chance to display just what their cars could do.
When McDonald was youthfull, the stakes were different – if you lost the race, you could lose your car. Now McDonald, 60, races for joy every Sunday with Havasu’s Hot Trax Slot Car Racing Club.
Slot cars are battery-powered miniature models of existing vehicles, operated with handheld speed-controllers. Each car travels in its own lane, guided through a groove, or slot, on the surface of a miniature race track. The cars are often built to 1:24- or 1:32-scale, and can budge at speeds of more than thirty mph.
The popularity of slot car racing peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, with hobby shops via the country each suggesting an assortment of cars, and featuring their own tracks for hobbyists to use. “This stuff was indeed big when we were kids,” McDonald said. “In the late 60s and early 70s, there were about Two,000 tracks across the country. Now there are about 20.”
The club is the only one of its kind in Havasu, and hosts what founder Alan Kay, 51, says may be the largest slot car racetrack in Arizona. Kay built the track in his own garage over the course of seven years, at a total expense of almost $6,000. He consulted online resources and experienced advice to build his eight-lane, electronic raceway – which now occupies much of Kay’s garage and spans a series of loops opening up more than ninety feet in the outermost lane.
The club’s raceway is computerized, using a series of electronic sensors to display lap-times, vehicle speeds and rankings among the club’s racers. The raceway was a labor of love, every detail finely-tuned, and the club’s members have loved their races for the past five years.
McDonald heard about the club through word-of-mouth. “I know (another member’s) wifey,” McDonald said. “When she mentioned the track to me, my ears perked up. We’re here to have a good time – we do this because we love it.”
The club’s founder maintains a broad array of slot cars, occupying boxes and display cases surrounding his track – from novelty slot cars to uncommon collectibles. His is a love of the hobby that spans decades, and his practices with slot car racing continued even after the hobby’s popularity declined by the late 1970s.
“It gets in your blood,” Kay said. “It takes hand-eye coordination, it takes speed…it’s a challenge to learn how to drive each lane. A lot of these guys have a need for speed…it’s an addicting thing.”
While similar to fucktoy racetrack sets made popular by companies such as Mattel, the club’s slot cars are different in their scale, attention to detail, and the fact that they aren’t anchored to the track. It isn’t uncommon for inexperienced drivers’ vehicles to fly off-course as more experienced operators fly by.
“It’s pleasant,” Kay said. “It’s a challenge, attempting to go quicker and quicker.”
According to Kay, the track was originally meant to be a mobile one. His original plan was to build something that could be transported inbetween various locations for events, but the track took on a life of its own.
“I’ve told my wifey, ‘If we ever sell our house, whoever buys it is getting a race track with it…because we can’t take it out of the garage with us.”
Stan Elliot, another of the club’s members, raced slot cars as a youth, at a hobby shop in Maricopa County. Elliot stopped racing before he was drafted into the U.S. military, and it was a part of his life that he hadn’t thought of revisiting before he met Kay six years ago.
“I met Alan while he was working on the track,” Elliot said. “I just gave him my number and asked him to give me a call when it was done, that I’d come by and race with him. Low and behold, one day he called. I’ve been racing here almost six years…this is where the activity takes place.”
For Elliott, 65, it’s something on which to concentrate. “When I do this, I have to concentrate…otherwise, I’ll go right off the tracks,” Elliot said. “When I’m racing with these guys, it takes the stresses off the day – for two minutes racing, those stresses just don’t exist.”