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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Harry Hobbs was just closing his shop at the end of a brisk day's trade on a pleasant early summer day. He had every reason to be pleased with himself as he walked round the counter, straightening a few Scalextric display stands as he went, and lifted his hand to the chequered flag sign hanging on the door that said 'open' on one side, and 'closed' on the other. But a pair of steel grey eyes drilled into his through the glass. 'Sorry, I'm closed' Harry mouthed the words with exaggerated movements of tongue and teeth, pointing to the little sign. The man on the other side merely smiled, revealing an astonishing row of pearly whites, and held up a card in his hand. 'Bob Bub, Your Helpful Scalextric Agent'. Harry smacked his forehead with another theatrically exaggerated movement and pulled the door open. Strangely, a cold wind blew in and clutched Harry's innards with a momentary chill as the tall, grey suited man stepped into the small shop, immediately filling it with his stately presence. 'It's been a while, Harry, hasn't it?' He spoke in a deep, resonant voice. 'Certainly has, Bob. Here, let me take your hat'. 'No, I'll keep it on if you don't mind,' replied Bub, raising his left hand to his curiously dated snap-brim trilby, and offering his right to Harry. Harry seized it enthusiastically, and immediately felt a sharp jab of pain. He released his grip quickly and saw a bright bead of blood grow on his palm. 'Sorry about that- it's this rather gaudy signet ring of mine. Still, Mr Hobbs. It had to be done, it had to be done.'

Harry stepped back, confused. As he watched the red pearl on his palm he grew giddy, and his mind slipped back to the last time he'd encountered Bob Bub, what- '60, '61? More than five years ago anyway, it must be. The town had been going through a difficult period with it's youngsters. Tearaways roamed the streets, bored, indifferent and surly. Rationing had just ended, the war was fading into history, and the children expected, and deserved, a better life than the one this creaking provincial town could offer them. The Vicar, the Reverend Counter, and Mayor Snest, had called a meeting in the church hall to find a solution. And the solution had turned out to be Bob Bub, the Scalextric man. He turned up at the meeting unannounced, his sample case and contracts ready, and seized the imagination of the assembled townspeople with his vivid description of the new hobby of model car racing. The simple townsfolk were dazzled by his up-to-the-minute 'D'-type Jaguars, the glamorous Goodwood track buildings, and the huge possibilities of a Scalextric Club, not just for the dissipated youth, but for the bored and listless parents, too. The contracts were signed, eagerly, and a special Goodwood set was ordered for the village hall. But Bob was not finished. He singled out Harry from the crowd, and threw a sturdy arm round his duffle-coated shoulder. 'You are the proprietor of Harry Hobbs' Hobby Heaven, are you not? I think we can do business, sir'. Harry backed away at first. His specialities then were needlework, marquetry, and balsa wood. He didn't know about these new fangled electric cars. And Harry always had been afraid of the new. 'I don't know about these new fangled electric cars,' he said. 'Look, Harry my son-' Bob's arm tightened round Harry's itchy shoulders- 'don't you realise you've been part of the problem. No-one wants tapestry kits anymore. Think of the Festival of Britain! People want the future, the white heat of technology! Racing- that's what they want. Competition improves the breed, grips the imagination. Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorne, Tony Brooks- that's who the people look up to now, not the village Sewing Bee. No wonder this town's slipped down the pan. Now you can be part of the solution. I can offer you an exclusive contract on parts and accessories. You could be the official agent for the whole county. We can show you how to do maintenance, give you special terms on bulk purchase, special collectors items- there's even a sales bonus and cash awards for high turnover. I tell you, Harry my boy, this is the company of the future. Scalextric is aiming high. We have big, big plans for you in particular Harry. Sign here.'

Well, Bob Bub had been true to his word. He supplied the shop with an amazing range of stock, always brand spanking new from the factory, often well in advance of official release dates. The hobby took off like a rocket. The club soon outgrew the Church hall, and took over the disused vacuum-cleaner warehouse down the road. The kids, and their dads, were spellbound by it. The Scalextric club became the new social centre of the town, as even the wives began to see the possibilities of the hobby, decorating the club room, landscaping the track, populating it with little hand-painted figures and making the tea and sandwiches for the race meetings. They well knew that it was keeping their dozy husbands out of the pubs and under their watchful eyes. Money poured into Harry Hobbs' Hobby Heaven. It soon became a mecca for slot racers throughout the county and beyond. And Harry was happy. He had a brand new top of the range Bush T.V. in a handsome mahogany case in his back room, permanently tuned to the horse racing so he could keep an eye on things from behind the counter. His telephone kept him in touch with the book-makers in Fewsley Grimmock, and the delivery boy from Cyril Rosis' Off- Licence in Deepcup brought him his case of Johnny Walker every week. For Harry, who was at heart a lonely and anxious soul, the next five years were very happy.

But things did not bode well on this June night. Bob Bub was glowering at him from what seemed an ever increasing height. 'It's payback time, Harry', he said with a new voice that seemed to emerge from the bowels of the earth. 'Here. It's in the contract.' He thrust a yellowed sheet under Harry's twitching nose, and at that very moment there was a sharp crack and all the lights went out in West Hamley. Only a small lamp in Harry's shop remained, focussing an ethereal pale light on the contract laid out on the counter. 'Bottom line. Clear as you like. In red and white. You signed it, Harry.' 'I know that. This is our agreement that you should supply me exclusively with all my stock at specially reduced rates. But what are you talking about? Payback?' 'My dear Harry. What day is it today? What's the date?' 'Um..6th June.' 'Yessss. And the year?' '1966, of course'. 'So, my dear Mr Hobbs. It is 6.6.66. Now look at the last paragraph of the contract you signed five years ago!' 'Well, I don't remember this bit. It's too small for me to read.' 'Of course you fool. It's written in 1/32nd scale. Standard for all Scalextric legal documents. Now take this lens and read on.' Harry took the proffered magnifying glass with trembling hands, and read the sinister blood red words.

'I , the undersigned Harold H. Hobbs of Harry Hobbs' Hobby Heaven, High Street, West Hamley, do solemnly undertake the following. In return for the creation of a ready and willing market in the town for items of Slot racing equipment supplied exclusively to me at prices below production cost, I do henceforward turn over all legal rights to the above named business premises and all profits accrued to Mr. B.L.Z.Bub on the agreed date of 6.6.66. Should I fail to honour this, my immortal soul and those of all the children of West Hamley below the age of 18 on the said date shall be forfeited to the above mentioned Mr B.L.Z.Bub for his eternal pleasure'.

'Gad sir! You are the very devil himself, Mr Bub. I will not sign!' 'How very perspicacious of you Mr Hobbs. In that case, I will have to…What was that?'

The front door creaked open and sounded the small tinkling bell hung above it. The local curate, the Rev. Vell entered the shop, carrying his hymn book and a lighted candle. 'Hello Harry- glad you're still open. I was just leading choir practice at the church when all the lights went out. I saw yours was on and thought I might pop by to see if you'd got my new Alfa in yet. Oh. I see you're busy with someone else. Forgive me.' But Bob Bub had changed his demeanour. A look of horror had taken hold of his seamless face. He grasped his throat, and began to back away from the curate. 'The bell…the book…the candle…' his once unearthly voice had diminished to a coarse whisper as he stumbled backward, his outstretched hands groping wildly before him. 'Oh. Excuse me. I'm terribly sorry. Did I surprise you? I do beg your pardon. Here, is this what you were looking for?' the Rev. Vell snatched up a piece of Scalextric four way intersection track that was lying on the counter and held it up before him. 'No, no, nooo….' Bub staggered back further, then stumbled and crashed heavily against the glass-topped counter, his head striking the oak edging with a sickening crunch. He lay spreadeagled on the floor, his piercing eyes closed, and his red fountain pen tracing a gash across his double breasted grey suit. His trilby hat had rolled across the floor, revealing his high white forehead, from which extended two small but unmissable horns.

'Reverend. Thank heavens you came. You have just saved us all from a dreadful fate. Quickly- we must incapacitate this fellow, and call Inspector Thumb.' 'Inspector Thumb of Scotland Yard? Inspector Thumb of the world-renowned Slot Car Division- Inspector Thumb, the Scalextric Detective? Why, what has happened?' 'I'll explain later. You call Thumb and get him here immediately. I'll tie this… this thing up so he can do no more harm.' The Rev. Vell, still somewhat confused, dialled 999 and asked to be put through to Slot Car Division, while Harry bound Bub hand and foot with packing tape. The telephone clicked several times, and the distorted but instantly recognisable voice of Inspector Thumb crackled through the shop. 'Yes. What is it? I'm very busy. This had better be important'. The sound of whizzing slot cars in the background betrayed the real reason for Thumb's irritation, but Harry reached for the receiver. 'Here, Reverend. Let me talk to him. Inspector? This is Harry Hobbs from West Hamley. You'd better get round here quick. This is your chance to place under arrest… the Devil himself!'. Harry slammed the receiver down, and stared at the Reverend. 'Have you taken leave of your senses, Harry? If this is the devil, we'd better call…. the Archbishop!' A groan in the background alerted the two men to the fact that Bub was coming round. 'Inspector Thumb's got a faster car than the Archbishop. Pick up your hymn book, and that cross-shaped track. We need to keep him subdued until he arrives,' replied Harry with finality.

Inspector Thumb was indeed the faster driver, especially when there was a race meeting on at the Yard, to which he had high hopes of returning before the end of the heats. Harry and rev.Vell both heard the screech of brakes and the grinding of the loose exhaust pipe of Inspector Thumb's Lotus 7 outside the shop just a few moments later. 'What's all this then, gents? You want me to arrest the Devil? A bit outside my usual line, I'm afraid, but… but by gum, What's this?' The partially conscious Bub had been manhandled into a sitting position in front of a cabinet full of Lister Jaguars. 'I've been trying to get hold of a green number 9 for months now. Not the best thing to come out of Margate, but there's a gap in my collection, you know. Excellent. Can you put it on my account- I havn't any cash on me just… but why's this chap all wrapped up in packing tape?'

'This, Inspector, is the devil. Place him under arrest, and under the guard of Her Royal Majesty. Lock him up in the Tower of London, and save the world!'

'Hmmm' said Thumb, unimpressed and craning forward to get a closer view of the row of Lister Jaguars. 'There's a blue number 4 just to the left here as well. Excuse me' He pushed Bub's head to one side to see better, and there was a faint pop as the rubber sucker holding the Hallowe'en devils horn to his brow parted and fell to the floor. Harry and the Curate started in surprise. 'Blast it' said Bub.

'I know that voice.' Thumb at last turned away from the display of cars to look at the tightly bound body of Bob Bub. 'Eddie Huckster as I live and breathe. Not been trying your old scam again have you naughty boy? Have you been upsetting these good people with your deal-with-the devil con?' Thumb straightened up and turned to Harry and the Curate. 'I'll send P.C. World and Sergeant Argent round to pick up Eddie here. He's only just come out of the Scrubs for taking down a model railway shop over in Pitmansworth a few years ago. I would have thought he'd learned his lesson. But never mind. Those two Listers will go well on the Yard's track. Wrap 'em up before Argent sees them, will you Harry?'
 

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Russell Sheldon
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Great story! Slot racing at commercial centres was at its pinnacle in 1966.... unfortunately, as early as 1967, the bubble began to burst. I wonder if history will repeat itself?

If one looks back to 1963/64, slot car racing had become so popular that it quickly turned into big business. You even had Jim Clark appearing in ads for Scalextric, while Jouef had Alain Delon and Aurora featured Stirling Moss. During this period, Aurora, for example, sold some 2 million slot racing sets and over 12 million cars!

The hobby side of the industry was booming too, with the first national association, tthe ECRA (Electric Car Racing Association), being formed in Britain in 1963. At the end of that year, Revell came out with the first mass-produced low-price, high-quality slot racing car kit, soon followed by Monogram, K&B, MPC, AMT, Cox, Atlas and others. The Japanese toy and hobby manufacturers were quick to follow suite, with companies such as Tamiya, Tokyo Plamo, Marusan, etc. producing cars and sets.

The popularity of the hobby was fuelled by the amazing growth in commercial raceways, especially in the USA. The first ones probably sprung up around 1961 (either in California, Texas or Chicago, depending on who's telling the story!). The race was on, and new owners soon opened up luxurious slot car racing emporiums, some of them featuring up to seven professionally-manufactured 8-lane tracks, some over 100 meters (300 ft) long, with 80-degree banks at the end of 17 meter (50 ft.) straights. By 1966, there were some 3,000 commercial raceways in the United States and over 200 in Europe. They sold the latest cars, controllers and parts to hordes of enthusiasts, resulting in the slot racing industry generating annual sales in excess of $500 million for three years in a row.

In addition to established hobby brands such as Revell, Monogram and Cox, more specialised companies like Russkit, Dynamic, Classic, Champion and Mura emerged to ride the crest of the wave and gave rise to professional slot car racing. In the United States, the American Model Car Racing Congress announced a contest with $100,000 in prizes, and Strombecker organised a nation-wide contest for young drivers, with the grand prize of a trip to Paris. In Paris, meanwhile, a major competition at the Palais Berlitz racing centre in 1966 attracted an incredible 10,240 drivers - all vying for the first prize of a real Matra Jet motor car! But, sadly, as mentioned, as early as 1967 the bubble began to burst.

Slot racing had become a veritable "arms race", with the cars becoming increasingly sophisticated - and expensive! Manufacturers formed their own factory teams, finding the best young drivers and sponsoring them in the big races. An over-the-counter car was no longer competitive, you now had to rewind the motor, design and build your own chassis using brass tube and piano wire, and spend hours tuning and testing. Because of the escalating cost and competition, it was becoming impossible to compete, and youngsters deserted the commercial raceways in droves. By 1969, there were only 50 commercial raceways left in the United States....

Food for thought?

Kind regards,

Russell
 

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Food for thought indeed, Russell

Unfortunately it reminds me of another one of these old stories which I might inflict on old Rail Racer one of these days. Keep watching this channel. Unless there's something better on SCI!

Happy Christmas, Howmet TX
 

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Russell wrote

QUOTE …as early as 1967, the bubble began to burst. I wonder if history will repeat itself?

Personally, I do not think we will see a boom...bust scenario in the same way as we did in the sixties.

The world today is a different place.

While I believe the club scene will flourish amidst the current slot revival, surely floor space is too expensive to see a significant proliferation of commercial pay tracks? Besides, the "hard-core" racer already has his/her big amps and wing cars. There is little need for a re-evolution of the "thingie" car.

The collector's market is also a consideration nowadays and commercial pressures for greater performance are surely matched by pressures for greater authenticity: not so much of a consideration in 1967.

Although I acknowledge "the signs", I truly hope slot racing does not burst it's over-wound armature this time around. More likely model car racing will simply evolve as the technology develops: digital, small scale r/c (mini-z's are great fun for example) and who knows, one day a fully scenic holographic mini Monaco in my living room. Wouldn't that be nice


Having said all that I would not be at all surprised to learn that "La Magnaracha" is on some slot car manufacturer or others drawing board right now!

Xlot wrote

QUOTE Another story ? WHEN ???

Good question! How's it coming along howmet?
 
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I am young really, it's just my face has had a hard life. send it to me ASAP please John,


Happy Christmas from Rich and I
 

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QUOTE it reminds me of another one of these old stories which I might inflict on old Rail Racer one of these days

You tell him RR


Could we have a bit less of the "old" please howmet. There are a few of us around here with birthdates frighteningly close to Jeff's
 
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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I am with John P on this, times have changed since the 60's and more people have more time than ever for their hobbies.

I think that there may be to many slot companies and not all of them will last but slot racing and collecting will stabilize around it's present size.

RR
 

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Sorry about the 'old', chaps. But the username's a bit of a giveaway isn't it, Rail? I mean, I'm assuming you're no pre-school Micro-Scalextric fan......

All the best,

Magic Lantern Operator (please note new username)
 
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
The only rail racing I have done is since it came back in 2000, I was too young the first time around, and I am younger that Russell. I really like all your stories tx

RR
 

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Russell Sheldon
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2,855 Posts
Speaking of emporiums, here are some pictures of a raceway that opened in Shanghai about 18 months ago:





Kind regards

Russell
 

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Beppe Giannini
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1,696 Posts
What with the season, it's easy to go down memory lane (buying my Scalextric set at Hamleys, no less, in '59 - my brother winning the Italian Championship a few years later, being flown to London and meeting Jim Clark...)

But I can't help being bugged by the implications : when RR (sorry, definitely nothing personal, you are in fact representative of the consensus) says "I think slot racing will stabilize around its present size", he actually means "I WANT slot racing to remain at its present size"

Fact is, commercial tracks COULD make a comeback : floor space cost is an issue, but with digital 12 person get all the track they need on a 6 x 1.6 m area - still, new blood will not arrive until deslotting is eliminated

So, I would suggest that we are intellectually honest and at least admit it

Beppe
 
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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Xlot, you could not be more wrong.

In the last ten years I have done everything in my power to help slot racing grow. I have put on countless slot car events including The National H.O. Slot Racing Championships which I personally origanised and promoted. I have worked full time as a professional slot racer travelling round the UK including Northern Ireland, putting on numerous races and exhibitions.

I would really like to see slot racing growing in the UK and the rest of the world. I have written hundreds of articles to promote slot and rail racing, and have made a large number of television programmes about slot and rail racing for almost every British channel.

I have talked to the people who run some of the commmercail centres and all of this has led me to believe that a return to large number of commercail centres in Britain is not going to happen. I would love to see rail racing return on a large scale but I know however much effort I put into this, it's probably not going to happen.

RR
 

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Beppe Giannini
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RR,
looks like I should have picked out somebody else..!!

But indeed not, exactly because of all your efforts and apparent enthusiasm
The fact that you mix rail and slot racing is indicative : rail racing is charming (I've forgotten the title of the book I bought about it and the very early forms of slot racing) - but one cannot imagine it becoming a mainstream hobby today
And neither - despite all the good intentions in the world - can slot racing in its present, electromechanical, 40 year old form - it's plain obvious

My contention is that this can change drastically, provided the system is updated with today's technology - and we are fortunate (or maybe this just proves slot racing's core worth) in that these modifications are relatively minor - nothing compared to say developing Konami's 1/43 IR cars

But this is not accepted by the majority of our brethen - so, the obvious deduction is that Mr. Joe Slots (I'm not going to pick real names again!) does not want - consciously or subconsciously - a wider ambient

Beppe
 
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Xlot,
for our sport to grow we need systems like the one you are devolping to draw in the younger generation who have grown up with computers, as well as retaining the currant participants.

So in our different ways we are both working towards the same goal.

Jeff
 

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Brian Ferguson
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3,652 Posts
Xlot, I'm not sure it's fair to say that most don't WANT to see the hobby grow through new technologies. But any new system is going to have to prove itself over time. Existing home and club track owners are not going to embrace, en masse, a new technology that obsoletes both the cars (even if upgradeable) and track that they currently have, even if they LIKE the new system. Some will but most won't - they will watch the new system to see how it progresses and may hope it succeeds, but you can't realistically expect everyone to jump to it in short order. You will need to market this to new people, and succeed in attracting them before you will see much movement on the part of existing slot racers - and even then, it will take time to see current owners move to a radical new system.

I don't know the full details of your system, and imagine you don't want to release ALL the details anyway, but I assume that it will make it tough for people to rout their own tracks because of the power pickup method and slot design. Am I right?
 

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Beppe Giannini
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1,696 Posts
Fergy,
your comment is perfectly reasonable - up to a point
What I have problems accepting is the totally passive attitude from today's slot racers in at least wondering about the future and how things might change for the better, instead of simply accepting whatever the "toy" manufacturers deign to dish out

I'm certainly not saying that they should dump their yet unopened Carrera sets ! - but in my "Prospects for Digital" thread (which bombed miserably) I was pointing out that TODAY it is perfectly feasible to convert ANY 2 lane slot track to accept 6 cars of ANY brand, at a limited cost - provided you think you can live with the inevitable shunts. I was expecting at least a debate on that

As for my own Xlot track, it is admittedly a longer shot, but IMO with much greater potential. It's really a pity that the original SCI thread was erased, and I'm reluctant to inflict it again on those who read it. You may have seen the pictures in the "slot cars in Dubai" thread

Just a clarification : my aim is definitely not commercial, and I'll consider myself lucky if at the end of the day I'll recoup what I've spent on it (not that much anyway) - so all the details are out except how the anti-shunt protection works
And the track concept is aimed at making it easy to replicate it anywhere - you do need to go to a local CNC router for the surface, but other that that it's actually much simpler than a routed track

That said, I should feel guilty for hijacking yet another thread - but not really, after all I believe my comments reflect the true "spirit of '66"

Beppe
 
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