SlotForum banner
1 - 15 of 15 Posts

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Russell mentioned the idea for this thread, so I thought I'd kick it off. I know there are many of you who were far more active and/or successful in slot racing's boom years (circa 1967 - 1973 or so) than I was. So let's hear your story!

My local raceway opened around mid-1965, and I was instantly hooked on slots. I lived and breathed slot racing for the next 8 years. Most of that time was a blur, and some references below could be out by as much as a year, but I think the numbers are close - I'm surprised I remember as much as I do...


I don't remember all the cars I had in the early days - I bought anything I could afford with two part-time jobs, one at a smoke shop and one at... yup, the raceway! I had AMTs, Russkits, Cox, cars made from Dynamic's modular chassis parts, etc. Seemed like I had something new every other week.

My first serious attempt to break into racing with the big boys involved a car I had built myself - a pan car with Dynamic center section and a 36D inline motor. I couldn't win with it, but I never embarassed myself, and I almost always went to the main. Without enough money to buy the best stuff, I persevered for several months, scratchbuilding my own chassis (from necessity) and running motors and tires that were past their prime. It never bothered me though - I was just happy to be racing in the top classes - in fact, I was having a ball!

A couple of the top guys had started getting serious - marketing their own products, fielding "team" entries, and travelling to places like Parma for the really big pro events. One of them talked to me after a race (he had beaten me, but not by much) and asked me to try his car. I had never driven a state-of-the-art sidewinder before! Well, I managed to beat his fastest lap by a fair bit, enough that I thought he might be a bit miffed, but instead he offered to field a car for me at the next race. Although in shock, I retained enough sanity to say yes! I was still only 14 and I had a "factory ride"! I won my first slot car race the next week, driving a car that I had never even tightened a wheel on - it was a very, very strange feeling... and one that would eventually take me away from sponsored rides.

I drove Ron's cars for the end of '67 and part of '68. I racked up several wins, never finished off the podium, and took a series title. I even won two races with the Globe Screamer motor (SS-91?) before they were banned.

My first taste of politics hit in '68. The track owner, for whom I worked part-time, was also fielding team cars to promote his own line of products. You can probably see the direction this went! One of his own employees was winning races with a competing manufacturer's cars! At 15, I lacked the business smarts to cut a paid deal, and was only concerned about keeping my part-time job, so I reluctantly switched teams without realizing any gain at all. Ron was good about it, and we remained on friendly terms.

Through '68 and '69, I drove for the "house team", taking one of two local championships. I also travelled to Parma, Grell's, and Brighton in the US, running in pro and semi-pro events there. Unfortunately, the cars were not up to the task, and I only made an A main on a few occasions, finishing with a best of 8th at Parma (my best pro finish) and 2nd at Grell's (regional). In the back of my mind, I knew that Ron would have given me better equipment. Don't get me wrong - I knew I wasn't a Cukras or someone - but I also knew that the cars I had weren't nearly good enough to run with those guys.

For '70, I abandoned sponsorship. I was building chassis and motors that were faster than the ones being prepped for me. For the first time since '67, I was paying my own way and I was loving it! I enjoyed building the cars again. It meant so much more to take a win when you had done everything yourself. Right up to '73, when the entire commercial scene collapsed, I just raced for the fun of it.

So... no, I was never a big name... no, I am not a star... no, I never got big money (though I raced for free for quite a while!)... and yes, I got swept up with the "fad" like so many others!


Now... let's hear from the rest of you Golden Era dudes! Some of you have much better stories!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #29 ·
Bored? Hardly, Philippe!


Just thinking.... I was probably at that 1972 Nats race at Parma! Not fighting for the Pro win, mind you! More like battling to get to the Semi-Pro main.


I realize there was much more to your Steube motor fiasco, but for all the hype, their over-the-counter arms were also unreliable. I switched to other arms (Thorp and some others) and had far fewer blow-ups. Maybe they fed you "customer" stock...


Anyway... thanks for a great story!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Remembered that I still had a "shrine" to Steube armatures:



Yes, they etched the Steube name into them and also the wind identification - on the flip side it says '26-27'. In addition to this double wind, I had the same problem with a 24 single, a 25 single, and a 27-28 double. This was the last of their arms that I tried.

The problem is probably obvious!
Comms that literally exploded, usually taking the endbell setup with it.
I can count on one finger how many other new arms did the same thing - and it was one of my own winds...


I carried this arm with me as a reminder not to buy another Steube arm. They were great qualifying arms but I actually wanted to complete at least one race heat!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #37 ·
QUOTE Steube sold all his interests in the business in 1974 to "Big Jim" Greenaway, and the ensuing company used cheaper commutators that were not as reliable

That would certainly have explained it, Philippe, but I was out of the 1/24 scene at the end of 1973 (I can mark the year accurately because my '73 240Z led me to 1:1 motorsport in '74) and had already expired 4 of these arms during that year. All were dyed red and engraved. Maybe Bill and Greenaway were already transitioning the business during '73.


As for those early Group 20 chassis, they were so pathetic that, in my area, Group 27 quickly became the class for anyone who could build and it was cheaper in the long run. Eventually, we only had GP 12, GP 27, and GP 7 (unlimited) at the local tracks. Which wasn't really a bad mix, in terms of investment levels and talent requirements. There was a class for just about everyone, and many ran two classes (I ran 27 and 7, for example). Several of us were building and selling frames locally, and charging very reasonable prices, so motor budget and driving talent were the only real restrictions (guys didn't need to be able to build chassis). But despite having a workable class structure, the spiralling costs and rapid obsolescence of parts (motors, primarily), turned the whole thing sour. By the time I bailed from 1/24 at the end of '73, my own local raceway was already planning closure. By mid '74, we had no tracks left, though occasionally one would pop up for a year or two, then disappear. Ironically, when I left the sport at age 20, there was an up and coming young kid that some of us veterans befriended and helped because he was quite good - he went on to open a track of his own in the late 80's and is still open today! Modern Eurosport followers may know of him - Ernie Mossetti.
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #47 ·
QUOTE and one Brian Ferguson was fourth. Our Fergy, perhaps?

Guilty as charged.
That race was a total nightmare! They had added a really nice 1/32 track in O'Connor's basement and the owner didn't want another "goop" track to clean. He also hoped he would draw some of the club crowd. So, castor oil was the only thing he would allow. Unfortunately, our cars were all built for much stickier conditions and it was like racing on ice.

Mike Power was always my main rival in 1/24. Ed Costa was my 1/32 "tutor", and also a front-runner in 1/24. Bob Walton was a tough competitor in any scale and got me my first full-time job in 1972.

Mike was well established in 1/24 when I came along. By 69 or 70, we were fairly equal and, more often than not, finished 1-2, though Mike definitely took more wins. We became good friends, often building cars together and travelled to several major races in the US where Mike enjoyed more success than I did.

Russell, where do you come up with all this stuff?
You're a virtual wordwide library!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #49 ·
Philippe, a couple of recent hints about the eye, and being sidelined.... all is reasonably well, I hope!....


QUOTE Bill always warrantied his arms, so it is too bad that the claim was not pursued as he was really good about this.

No doubt, but unfortunately it wasn't quite as easy then as it is now to get assistance "across the border", especially for a product that was sold with a warranty that ended "upon purchase", a condition that made sense when the maker had no control over the usage of such items. Had I known then that there were suspected problems with a batch of bad comms, I might have tried to pursue it, but heck, we had enough trouble just getting stock in timely fashion back then.

I'm not whining about this, by the way, just stating that the reality here was likely different from the situation in most US centers.

As an aside, US-Canada shipments were a nightmare back then - no free trade, and every shipment from the US spent many days being inspected to have the appropriate duties assessed, and in-person pickup was the only way to ensure that a package arrived before the contents were obsolete. We also were faced with the reality that high-demand items were not always available to us - simply, the US distributors didn't ship to us if they couldn't fully satisfy the large US shops. I remember things like Arco DZ magnets first arriving - dozens of sets on order and 2 or 3 sets showing up... that sort of thing got very frustrating. Some of us used to drive to Buffalo to buy parts, and then spent longer at Canada Customs than the actual drive time! Grell's used to cringe when we showed up, because they knew we were going to virtually clear out their entire counter stock of current performance items. Parma was always a joy for us - it seemed that they had unlimited quantities of everything that was desirable - it was like being a kid in a candy shop. Ron McDowell was particularly good to us, taking our money at par on large orders - and our dollar was only worth about 75-85 cents! On top of that, a dollar or two was made upon return with a box packed full of the latest parts that couldn't be had locally.


We got along so well with the Parma group in the early '70s that Jan Limpach (lesser US pro) used to come and stay with us! They called us the "Crazy Canucks". We didn't win any US titles, but we definitely had some fun...
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #66 ·
Very interesting, Philippe, and a bit encouraging to know that the also-rans, such as myself, were considerably behind in terms of development. In late '73, I was probably building cars that were similar to your '72 car!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
I think one of the things that has always been missing, historically, or at least something I've never seen, is a chronology of the scratchbuilt chassis during those magic pro years with details of the evolution or innovation that took place. I'm sure that many of these frames look the same, or just plain confusing, to the untrained eye. The rationale behind each development, often searching for just hundredths of a second - is often intriguing and, more often than not, eluded those of us trying to keep up.

As Jeff says... More, Mr P, more!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
As others have said, my love of building had nothing to do with my schooling. At the time, schools here were trying to dissuade students from any of the hands-on trades, and general metal and wood shop classes were promoted only to those students who the educators believed lacked the intelligence for arts and science courses - in effect, the schools were classifying the students into professional and tradesman categories, attempting to remove the choice from the students themselves and also discouraging any level of crossover. Indeed, separate trades schools were generally regarded as a dumping ground for the intellectually inept. In essence, you still had a choice but that choice had to be made very early on, you were discouraged from choosing a path different from that selected for you by educators, and altering it later was not a simple process. The system urged me to follow the arts and science path, and I did so - in subsequent years, too late to easily change course, I regretted the decision.

My first knowledge of "building" came from my father. Carpentry, woodworking, and metalworking skills were in his repertoire, and although I didn't realize it for many years, he gave me the fundamentals for each. I watched his work with great interest, he always answered my questions, and he instilled in me the desire for satisfaction that only comes from having done something yourself.

When I dove into slot racing, that NEED (as Fate so aptly describes it) quickly bubbled to the surface. Nothing my father had taught me directly applied to slot cars, except for one thing - the mindset. It never occured to me that I couldn't (or shouldn't) do something like scratchbuild a chassis. I just bought the materials and the tools and started straight into it. In the beginning, I couldn't really afford my slot racing addiction, so the financial need was a secondary impetus. After one or two RTR and kit cars, and a couple of semi-scratchbuilt cars using Dynamic center sections, I never ran another non-scratchbuilt frame until I went to HO in 1975. Sure, it took time to become a decent builder, but nothing that's worth doing is easy to master.

In later years, I became a good carpenter and woodworker, a good plumber, and a good electrician. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Likewise, I taught myself basic electronics so I could interface my slot tracks to my computers.

Now? I still have the NEED. As we speak, I am planning my next track. One of the things that will be required are numerous solenoid-operated switches for an active pit lane and for multi-course options. I could buy those if I wanted, but instead I am building them all from scratch - because I can, because it's cheaper, but most importantly, because I can build a better mousetrap and that gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I don't think the NEED ever goes away, once you have it.

My son is now the same age as I was (yes, I started late!) when my father passed on the NEED to me. And my son has acquired it from me. At age 12, he is the neighbourhood electrician, installing lighting fixtures and dimmers and ceiling fans for the neighbours, and can quote from the Ontario electrical code. He has his own set of tools, both hand and power. He can solder. He has built a working variable power supply. Last week, he built himself a work bench. His toy stores of choice are Home Depot, Home Hardware, and Radio Shack. He has ADHD, which means he will likely never excel in the school environment (we are thrilled that B's and C+'s are becoming the norm), but when faced with a task that truly interests him, he follows it through to perfection.

And... he is becoming insanely interested in slot cars... perhaps the best leisure outlet I can think of for the NEED!
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #114 ·
Nope, you're not the only one, Jeff! I raced HO from 1975 until 1995. Since then, I've mostly just toyed with them, but raced ORS for a while. It wasn't until two years ago or so that I decided to switch back to larger stuff. My wife raced slots back in the late 70's (long before we were married) but she couldn't care less about them now, though she happily allows me to indulge in the hobby myself - I'm hoping to get her involved in the next track... she's more artistic than I'll ever be.
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #122 ·
I don't recall the Betta shells ever appearing in the Toronto area back then. Too bad. The die-hard club racers were using fiberglass F1's but it wasn't something that appealed to most of us because of the effort involved. The Betta shells could have been the basis for some terrific F1 grids. We could all paint and detail vac shells very well, but the glass shells (pretty as they were) just required too much prep work - many of us were actively running several classes in both 1/24 and 1/32 and time was at a premium. Those F1's could have been a lot of fun.
 

· Brian Ferguson
Joined
·
4,318 Posts
Discussion Starter · #128 ·
QUOTE I remember seeing articles in Model Cars by a Canadian contributor called Brian MacDonald

John, Brian was one of the guys I raced with in 1/32 at the time. I crossed over between commercial and club activity, while he was predominantly a club racer. A good guy, he was partly responsible for my interest in 1/32 and introduction to the clubs. Back then, you didn't just show up at a club without an invite - they wanted people who reflected their belief that scale appearance was more important than raw speed. Forward thinkers, perhaps.


Grah, I never had any of the chassis you mention although I remember similar ones - if I recall, a square block of plexiglass was drilled to accept braid and a plastic guide pin. Many frames were just a large slab of brass, others had a separate motor pod or center section that offered a little movement, but none were especially effective on the track. My frames were all scaled down versions of then-current 1/24 chassis. Ed Costa (another 1/24 crossover racer) and myself shook up the veteran club racers more than a little because our cars were much faster. But we ensured that our vac bodies were exceptionally well painted and detailed, and they accepted us, if somewhat reluctantly.

Russell, that is an awesome pic! An entire grid!
 
1 - 15 of 15 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top