Those of you familiar with the West Hamley Slot Car Club will know the picturesque river Ickx, which wends its lazy way through the village, flowing gently from Great Sheldon in the north to Pendle-on-the-Marsh in the south. Its proximity to the clubhouse, and the fact that it regularly freezes over in the winter, has led the members of the most famous ficticious slot club in the world to develop a unique and rather dangerous variant of their beloved sport. Ice slot racing is as exciting, and cold, as it sounds. For many years now, the Boxing Day meeting, held on the ice, has produced adventures beyond the imagination of most ordinary slot racers. The great freeze of '67 provided us with the first ice barbeque party, when sorbets, ice creams and fozen daiquiris were served to amazed spectators from a large cabinet freezer which stood, easily supported by the thickness of the ice in the middle of the river, while the race track itself wound its way between the banks. Then there was the invasion of asylum-seeking Inuit a couple of years later. Much of the sympathy for their just and humane cause evaporated amongst the local community when their sled-dogs relieved themselves on the pick-up braids, shorting the circuits and bringing that year's race to a premature end. When a missing Soviet nuclear sub raised its periscope through the infield during the 80s, many thought that the time had come to end the tradition altogether. Lives were being imperiled. One year, 'Lonely' Barry Organism had to be given mouth-to mouth rescusitation after a lengthy spell of marshalling at the 280 degree carousel turn. Continually twisting around on the same spot in order to rescue de-slotters coming from all directions caused him to inadvertently drill himself through the ice sheet, and it was only the astonishingly quick-witted intervention of a passing walrus that saved him from an icy demise.
But we at West Hamley are well-used to death- and violent death at that- in the pursuit of our beloved hobby. And tradition runs deep and strong amongst our membership, who still never fail to stand up when the national anthem is played at the West Hamley Gaumont. Well, you have to, actually. The manager, Lt-Colonel 'Buffy' Vampire, has wired the seats to produce a well-timed and painful electric shock at the end of the evening's programme.
So Ice-Slot Racing continues at West Hamley, a proud and unique event which will go on until Global Warming finally brings it to an inevitable end. But plans are already in hand for our slot Dune-Buggy course, so there is no fear of CFCs and leaded fuel for our noble lads.
Enough history already. You folks want technology, don't you? That's why you hook up to Slot Forum on a regular basis. Not this airy-fairy nonsense. So how does Ice Slot Racing work? Well- you start with a well-frozen river. A canal, lake lough or fjord will do, I suppose, but we in West Hamley only use the river. The ice thickness is determined by sending out the fattest member of the local community, prodded by long-handled pitchforks and lured from the opposite side by Mrs Howmet's hot Irish pasties, onto the river each morning until a dry bank-to bank passage is achieved. At that point, the track can be safely marked out and laid. Routing is done exactly as you would a wooden track, but it's much quicker. The routers can skid easily if not well restrained. But the channel is much wider than usual, since the slot itself is a pre-fabricated unit made from extruded plastic, with the contact braids embedded into side flanges. This provides a much more regular and drivable course than early attempts to lay the braids on the ice itself, and the slot, if cut directly in the ice, will quickly wear away from the rapid passage of guide shoes unless protected by the plastic liner. Traction technology has evolved and improved unbelieveably since the first tail-thrashing efforts of forty-odd years ago. And what odd years they were. Especially the psychedelic era...
Sorry. My mind was wandering. Anyway, today four-wheel drive is the accepted norm, no magnets (- Ice magnets? Duh! What were you thinking? Still reliving those 'odd' years, eh? Well pull yourself together). Traction is achieved by pushing panel pins through the tyres, from the inside. There is no limit to the number and length of pins you can use, but try to put too many in and the tyre tends to disintegrate. The length is directly related to the weight of the car, and this is a very fine balance, achieved only rarely by the most experienced and patient ice-racers.
Which brings us to marshalling. Most West Hamley members bear their scars with pride. The distinctive saddle-stitch lines up the inner arm are proof that they have served their time on the ice-course. When a flyer comes at you of the main straight, there is no time to duck. With four high-revving wheels radiating Boadicea-like needles, the pain is sharp, but quickly over.
But what a spectacle! When a full line up of eight cars spurts off the line, the wheels dig in and send up an ice-spray like an Arctic Storm. As each car slams around the winding course, quadruple plumes of frozen river-water follow like the fins of a 50s Caddy. At times the course becomes completely invisible, and the drivers, all equipped with goggles and oxygen equipment, drive entirely by feel and instinct. And none have better instincts than our irregular, but always welcome, winter guests.
Last year, anticipation was at an all-time high. The legendary man-mountain of the Yukon, the guy-glacier, the All-Canada unbeaten Polar Bear Wrestling Champion, inventor of the Absolute-Zero solid ice slot sled, the Jean-Paul Gautier of seal-skin fashions, one-man Mountie outpost and red-hot sex machine, Fergie of the North, was on his way.
And Sergeant Argent was spending every waking moment at West Hamley's 'Hairtrix' beauty salon.