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In 1959 or so, I was living in the rural southwest of the US. Dad was a career military guy which will explain a lot of my experiences. I was always working on things. Dad would build hot rods for people after dinner and Igrew up "wrenching" on flatheads. He had raced "modifieds" as a younger man and discovered that he like the machinery too much to abuse it. Anyway, I purchased a couple race car kits from Strombecker in 1/24, a Merc and aScarab which I found beautiful. The Merc had a "motorizing" kit and the papers indicated racing around a pylon, or using a rail. I aquired the Rail kit. I "borrowed" the pittman from my dad's locomotive and some of the Rail..he hadn't used it for years AND he did say it was mine! It was an interesting discussion when he came home one day to see me driving the Merc around a rail on a panel of plywood.
In 61, I had build up several cars, the Merc, the Scarab, the Lancia and a Aston Martin which I think was Revell. All with no one to talk to! We were transferred to the Philippines. On the way, I read about SLOT CARS in a magazine(Mechanix Illustrated), a club in New York. So, when we were settled in, I did a slot track, tired of tripping over the rail A single lane, I still didn't know anyone who did this.
In 63, transferred toNorth Carolina. When we landed in California, the first thing I did was hit a hobby shop and buy some slot cars! And the August 63 issue of Car Model, the first slot mag I ever saw. In North Carolina, I met other airforce "brats" who had been to england and had slot cars! YAAA, a club on base, I, unfortunately, lived off base and was still too young to make trips on my own. About once a month, I would get to visit. When my dad, an electronics expert(ELINT) realized I would be running with his peers, he insisted I LEARN the manuals. So I would not embarass him. And he bought me a strombecker track so I would have something to practice on. And a hand router.
In the spring of 64 a local guy opened a slot car track with 4 custom tracks in a tobacco wharehouse. I would go by after school and run on BIG tracks. This is when I turned "Pro". Simply, I was building my own stuff, a number of adults could not figure out the kits they bought and would pay me to build them up. When bagging groceries paid 10cents an hour plus tips, a guy paying me 5 bucks to build his $6 Revell was BIG. Paying me $30 for a copy of the car I owned the track record with was REALLY BIG.
This is when I discovered I was not a driver. Everyone I built for, went faster than I did. But all through this time, I also flew model airplanes, something else I am not good at. But I LOVE the machines.
In 65, My dad retired and we spent several weeks driving across the country. For the first time in our lives, we did not just GO, but visited. Went to Pennsylvania so my dad could drive on the Penn Turnpike, for instance. In 65, every town, big or small that we drove through had at least ONE slot car track. I got a real "snapshot" of the state of the art, it struck me that the magazines did not show ANY of what was really going on. I had been in correspondence with Midwest guys since 63 and built that style of car...and THEY wernt in the mags either.
Dad retired to Salt Lake City, UT. When I got there, it was a "target rich environment". SLC had 250,000 people and 8 racing centers. ALL of them were racing Pittmans and Kemtrons. For a glorious 2 months, My well dialed in 36d powered cars MOPPED UP! Until the locals figured it out. Sigh. I also won the "Strombecker 1/32 Nationals", well, the I was the regional winner, but my dad would not let me go to Las Vegas for the Finals! My brief approach to "glory".
I started working part time with a SCCA A-Prod. sponsored Vette. Working in a garage, I built my own "hot rod" during down times(a 57 plymouth with a Hemi). And raced when I could. Mostly I built slot cars for people. I was still in High School, but it came easy to get the grades so I could do the thing I love, which is machinery. I did some 1:1 racing for the next several years, but quickly discovered that I enjoyed Bench Time most of all. Helped a guy build a 57Vette for C prod out of Junkyards. Built my own TR4A for D. And went to school a lot.
In the late 60s it got tougher with Girls and College and all. But slots still paid better than any job I had. Still not showing driving talent.
Picked up the nickname "Prof.Fate" after the Movie "The Great Race" came out. The short version was I was at a track people were gushing about the movie and "the Great Leslie". I went on a rant about "pretty boys get the girls and guys who lose the girls still love them: what is so wonderful about Leslie besides his smile, at Least Prof.Fate built his own CAR". From then on, the racers would see me walk in, chuckle and say "Hi Professor".
Because it was a job, I would NEVER hit the big races. There was no Pay Out. I would visit small towns holding promotional races. In 1971, for instance, I hit one race where I built the 4 cars that beat me for $150ea, finished 5th which earned $350 and a color TV. That 350 paid my rent for 7 months. The summer of 71, visiting a track inOgden, I won a total of $3500 poaching on the "rubes".
By 74, all the tracks Within 600 miles were GONE. Luckily, there was a local 1/32 club that had started up in 66 and I had someone to race with.
Coincidence? 74 is when I got married.
77 moved to Denver, pro raced there. 81 moved to So.Texas and pro-raced there. Started writing for John Ford at SARN. 83, moved to Utah(again) where there was NO pro racing. But the club was still there.
Havent stopped racing since, race at commercial tracks when they are around, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to do it. No big deal. Still fly model airplanes. Still wargame(and write rules).

Prof.Fate....who still builds
 

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Ya, in the US, the "Group 20s" were required, initially, to also cost $20.95! At the same time, 1969, a local pro car was $150.
For compaison, if you were a kid working minimum wage, THAT was .90 an hour. My apartment was $45 a month. So, ONE pro car represnented my monthly costs in rent, food, utilities, and social life. Plus.
Luckily, I was actually making more racing than I was with a "real" job.
But the prices had become fatal to the hobby.
That first Group 20 frame had 5 hinges and was brass rod, plated! ARRGH. Almost instantly, especially on tracks that were not as quick as a king(and in the day, outside of So.Cal, the vast majority of tracks tucked away in small centers were likely about 100 feet) unlimited frames with Group 20 motors became common and eventually became a class "Group 27".
By the time PdL was doing his championship run, the hobby was nearly dead in america. Very sad. And Group 15s and 20s and all had by necessity evolved away from the factory chassis. A group 15 became any brass and wire frame with a single hings, and 20 became any brass and wire chassis with only 2 hinges.
By 73, I dont think there were more than 125 surviving tracks in the US. If you raced, and you were not in either So.Cal. or upstate NY, you had to DRIVE.
For instance, in 73, living in Utah, there was a local 125' track, another 60 miles away(275foot MilliaMiglia), the next nearest track was 600 miles away in Denver. In Salt Lake, the races would have racers with the addiction driving 300 miles from various places in Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming.
The Wyoming racers were all working the oil shale deposits in central Wyo. Ironically, I sold them some frames which migrated to South Texas when their jobs ended. When I moved to Texas in 81, kept running into people who KNEW "Prof Fate Spl" frames. In that period from 73 through 83, there was so little stuff available at the commercial tracks that the overwhelming majority of the cars were either carefully preserved pro frames from the mid 70s, or the frames the local track owner MIGHT make if he had the skills.

Fate
 

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I am sure you are correct about Gp 20 frames, Philippe. One of the things I never ran or owned! I THINK I have had a couple frame migrate into my stuff by accident(sometimes you make a trade to get a bit and someone sends STUFF).

The sorts of thing in the "history" was how many people copied the stuff that they saw in the mags without understanding the "WHY" part of it.....and the vast numbers of people who produced some local weirdness that NEVER made the mags!

In 62-4, for instance, there was a fashion in the midwest US where these small "cottage"industries would rough cast a chassis out of brass or zinc, then machine to finish. In a day when minimum wage was 75cents, these frames rough cast were $20!
In 65, my family spent the summer moving from North Carolina to Utah. And I got to hit a huge number of tracks. So many odd tracks routed in plywood that, due to space, would wind up and up in a small space. Coming off ment crawling under the track to some access door in the middle somewhere, standing up in the MIDDLE to find and place your car!

When I got to Utah, I was amazed that the fashion there was running some very light frame with a full sidewinder Pittman DC85, Kemtron Wasp or Mustang, and then adding a LOT of weight. I had the only 36s in down and just mopped up for a while until all the monsters disappeared. I am just not sure why. In Denver, at the same time, the frames were similar, but the motor of choice was the Pittman DC65 which sort of makes a little more sense. I ran into a lot of racers who went to Denver from time to time(600 miles), but not to LA much(735miles).
These days with the internet, it can be difficult to realize how poor communications were in the US. If you saw something in a mag, of course, it was always about what they were doing in Los Angeles or Elmsford 3 months ago!
Again, as an example, my 1/32 friends in the chicago area were writing me about these "sidesaddle sidewinders"(Anglewinders) in 67, but they weren't in the magazines until Bob Schliecher wrote an article in a Mag, and Hustings ran one in LA.

Fate
 

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I remember the com problem and seeing some really spectacular blow ups. The fashion became to run a thread around the outside and inside with epoxy. It was a real bear to do this withough gucking up the com and getting the thing trued.

Sigh.

PdL talking about anglewinders reminded me of another odd memory. A lot of people went through this phase with very complex motor boxes with rods having a bunch of bends going all over. So, while a lot of us were using pianowire for our inline main rails, brass wire got used a lot more than it had. I thought I was being clever to use steel welding rod which is easy to bend but STEEL. Ha!
Lasted mere weeks before we started simplifying our lives with straighter rails and boxes.
Another "theory" was using clockwise and counterclock wise winds depending on the track with left and right handed motor boxes. THAT was too complex for me as well. So, one day realizing I had the wrong wind for the wrong box I got pissed and just threw the motor in CAN mount. It was so much simpler and stronger and easier! WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Why DID we ever endbell mount a motor?

Fate
 

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Don't let us ovewhelm you with the scratchbuilding stories. Really.

(Side Bar...so MY COOPER won, eh!! grinn).

I never stopped racing or building. Building is the fun part. I have a whole list of drivers I know who are better than I am. Including PdL. But the machine gives me the joy
But here is the REAL TRUTH. It takes more time and energy and effort to buy a rtr Flexi or something and FIX it, Prep it, than it does to just start with sheet and wire. When you build, you get the bits you want and you start off STRAIGHT.

An I-32, or a Flexi or something, first you must take it all apart and start fixing the production problems. Often, you get the main section on a piece of slate and discover that the whole thing is a little crooked. And you have to figure out HOW to get it straight. Sometimes a fold or something is just wrong and it cannot be fixed without wrecking its "Stock" legality.
I know I have told this story before:
In 1977 I moved to Denver where there was still "pro" racing. The track was a custom design 275' track in a building hidden in a little neighborhood in south east denver. It HAD been a commercial track during the fad, but had been moved and moved and moved, and I had lost track of the thing and the owners. Ironically, it was because the owner had become a wargaming wholesaler that I found the place, one of the companies I worked for mentioned that this guy ALSO did slot cars!
So, I dropped in and checked the track and talked to the people there. "Hi, I am a pro racer from out of town and just moved here and I would like to get into the local program. What are the Rules?"
Deadly Silence. While Ben Millspaugh was from Denver and had written for the magazines, none of the RACING had been covered like it was at Elmsford or L.A. So, the owners wife sniffed at me and said, "I don't care where you raced or what you think you are; Denver racing did not make the magazines, but our racers were as good as anyoneone in the world. You want to race EXPERT, you have to earn it." OK, how? "Well, we have 4 classes:Novice, Amatuer, Semi and Expert". you start as a novice, you drive THIS car, a Parma RTR and if you win 6 races in a season, we will let you move up to Amateur."
Sheesh!
OK, the car in question was called a "Group 18" and cost $18.95. It used a brass and wire frame built, reputedly, by little old ladies in Pennsylvania. Used a lot of old stamped Associated bits. And an unbalenced Mura 30s wind, now referred to as a "Wasp", but then was sold as a "Group 12 motor".
Went home, took the car apart, and spent HOURS fixing it. I could not find a decent joint in the frame. or a straight rail. I could have built one in half the time it took to pull the rails, re-bend them so that they fit right and SOLDER them. It had a DROP ARM!!! Ran a little solder into THAT joint. Blueprinted the motor.
Come Saturday, imagine my surprise that there were 32 racers just for the Novice race. They had a LIVELY program!
But then confusion reigned. ONE racer was practicing with a Champion Group 20! WhaAAA? I asked another racer; "Oh, don't worry. He is related to the owner's wife and runs that car about once a month. He will win go away happy, we race for second". So, like how do I get to run a group 20, I actually have a decent..... "look this is just the way it works, if you complain, the owners get upset."
Here is the deal. The 20 was also a RTR, and during the race, it was obvious that no one had a straight car. The 20 was top qualifier, I was second and got to set in the A, and cornermarshall the lower heats. By the time the A came, it was a late. Having a stright car ment a lot. I won. I won by so much against the group 20, that I could have set out the last heat entirely. Drove conservatively and did not come off.
The owners protested the CAR!
Pulled it apart right there at the track. And looked and looked but it LOOKED stock. I was "lucky" to have good solder joints.
"Ok", the owner said, "From now on you run EXPERT".

How good were they? Well, two of the Denver racers WERE national champions in the 80s.
A long story to say that scratchbuilding is usually easier than trying to make a "Silk purse out of a sow's ear".

Fate
 

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I NEVER did anything as light as the Russkit Team chassis PdL showed above. Wow!
In 66, my chassis looked more like the last, only usually piano wire. Fun. I need to post some of mine inorder as well. Which means LEARNING the system to post, doesnt it?

In school, I never had any technical classes in the U.S. either. My particular prejudice is that the only thing I learned in school was how to deal with adults who had POWER over you. With my own kids, they joke they were "home schooled". While we did send them to school, they felt that everything they actually leared was from their overeducated parents. But again, we felt that the"socialization" aspect of school was the point.
Anyway, my dad always had a workshop. Built hot rods in the 50s for people in his spare time. In 51, built the first television any of us saw because of a station doing testing 125 miles away(long story). I would like to say that my NEED to build was his influence. But college convinced me that there was a "technical" gene.
My first training in college was in archeology. When looking at the stone ages, you can identify individuals in the stone work. In all of Europe, in any generation, it is pretty clear that most of the stone was being worked by a very few individuals. Most, no matter what the schooling will never NEED to build. The biggest problem I have with my youngest son, is that he leaps into MY projects. The kids were over last week to watch a movie, and the youngest, 21, got bored and went down to my workshop and Built a dyno for my stock racing. I had put together the parts, mostly to test motors under load. He looked at the bits, realized what they were for and BUILT it while I was busy with his brothers.
He had the NEED.
PdL has the NEED. Russell, Fergy? Ya probably.
As for materials, when my life is not at issue, there are materials I use not because they are the best, but because they are fun. When I fly models, I use balsa, not CF for this reason. I enjoy wire and brass and steel and the song of my dremel. There is no racing available to me where this matters, but I still do it. Just plain FUN.
As for wing cars and driving slow to go fast. The technique is not unlike magnet cars. It is not the fast way to just ADD magnets and PUNCH. The fast way is to have ENOUGH magnet for the car. It may punch the whole track, but fast is keeping tying little blips here and there so that themagnetic field is centered over the rail as much as possible. Same with wing cars....you need to keep the airdams as played out as possible, and centered with maximum airflow for fast. SO< you LIFT a LITTLE a lot.

Fate
 

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In the early 80s I was corresponding regularly with a Canadian in the Toronto area whose name, I think, was Dave Harvey. I had been a "remote correspondant" with ECRA from the late 70s. (Hi Gary!) The ECRA in 79 or so was toying with an "entry level" catagory called "16D" they wanted 101 and those guys to do a simple anglewinder with a 16d that was between a womp chassis and a full pukka ECRA chassis. And I seemed to be the guy Ian and all knew who was actually racing anglewinder 16ds in 1/32.
Anyway, under the theory that Canadians were just another american, they decided to have Harvey contact me, not quite relating at the time to the idea that we were 3000 miles apart. I enjoyed the discussions because, as far as I knew, they were the only guys outside of ME doing serious 1/32 cars!
Part of the poor communications of the time, compared to now, I had NO IDEA that there was an international Scalextric organization...or that anyone had ever actually raced those POS. That knowledge came later when I hooked up with a Scalex collector in the US(Albaqurque a mere 700 miles!) named Malcom Warby who educated me in the mid-80s.
Malcom was a "grey market" importer. That is, he didnt exist as a company, really, had no real contact with Horsby or anything. But he travelled a lot and found himself doing a brisk business when in Singapore or Sydney buying cars, and reselling them to hungry car starved americans. Eventually, he became a "real" company called "A Day AT The Races". ADATR was sold to eventually to an ex-brit Alan Smith, who turned himself into Scaley USA.
It is difficult today, with the intenet and shops all over carrying cars to relate how difficult it was to even buy a gear in the 80s.

The DARK AGES.

Fate
 

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Sigh. I know. The good news is that, as Russell alluded to, the older bodies are scale. And you can do some nice things. My real weakness, these days, is that I am just not doing WINGS, even Scale Wings!

Fate
 
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