Here's how I came to slot racing and it's a much different story from the others that have been posted to this thread.
When I was ten, my father committed suicide and two years later my mother had a nervous breakdown and had to be placed in a psychiatric hospital for quite some time. We three kids avoided the orphanage only because our maternal grandparents took us in and moved us to Nashville, TN, in 1966.
Shortly thereafter I stumbled upon a large American Model Raceways franchise facility in a local mall and was completely mesmerized. This raceway had a 220-foot Sovereign (commonly termed a "Purple Mile" today) as well as two other AMR tracks (a Black and a Yellow IIRC; but I can't recall ever racing on either of the smaller tracks as we concentrated on the big one).
As far as I can recall, the first and only car kit I ever purchased was via mail order from AutoWorld: a 1/24 scale Hussein kit by Dynamic (I think). I became friends with another 12-year-old racer there, who was kind enough to teach me how to solder and scratchbuild and from then on, I made all of my own chassis and cars.
I raced in Nashville until my HS years, by which time the local commercial tracks had pretty much all disappeared.
When I came to Atlanta in 1972 to attend Ga Tech, I found to my delight that there was still a raceway in the area, in Decatur, GA, and I built up a few cars to race. Soon school began to take more time, and the Decatur Speedway crowd didn't take too well to an experienced scratchbuilder crashing their party, so I stopped racing after a few months.
About 1988, I was attending a train show in the Atlanta area when I came upon a display for Ga Hobby Center in Fayetteville, GA, showing his original AMR Purple Mile. I was so excited I left the train show and drove the 50 miles to the raceway. After spending a fair sum at the counter, I left with enough parts to build up a couple of cars and have raced pretty steadily ever since (with a few extended breaks from the hobby every few years).
Here in the States, the commercial tracks are pretty ephemeral, and as one closed, I'd move to another for my weekly racing fix. From the middle of the 90s, most of my racing has been as part of various traveling series, racing at a different track every month. This is a great way to improve ones skills, as it is imperative to become adept at quickly dialing-in one's cars to new or unfamiliar tracks.
Almost all of my racing has been in the 1/24 scale commercial arena and in fact, I believe I have owned only two 1/32 cars over the last 35 years, both of which I still have. For me, the appeal of slot racing is in the competition rather than the scale aspect. There is something uplifting and zen-like, even addictive, about the level of concentration necessary to drive a slot car at 10-10ths. I know a number of 1:1 racers who say that it is a far higher level on concentration than they need to race their full-sized vehicles.
As I approach the 50th anniversary of my natal event, it is clear that the faculties (primarily vision) have declined and that my driving skills are not what they once were. Much of the pleasure I get from the hobby now is from the building aspects: chassis and motors. Russell's comments regarding the death of scratchbuilding are exactly how I feel.
QUOTE When I was ten, my father committed suicide and two years later my mother had a nervous breakdown and had to be placed in a psychiatric hospital for quite some time. We three kids avoided the orphanage only because our maternal grandparents took us in and moved us to Nashville, TN, in 1966.
If anyone thinks he has problems, read the above twice and always think that as long as we have the opportunity to play with little cars, we have NO problems.
To answer some of the comments and questions:
I was indeed very fortunate to often be at the right place at the right time, and I was extremely lucky to live a very interesting, multi-faceted life. I could die today with a smile on my face and counting my blessings, even as I just got hit with this partial blindness that descended on me a couple of weeks ago, that will almost certainly end my full-size racing days, to the greatest relief of my wife.
I was hired by Heller, the kit maker, in 1965 after reading an ad in a newspaper. I was very enthusiastic and very opinionated already and pushed a program of 1/24 scale model cars for 6 months until I was given an OK. My first was an Alpine-Renault (never say Renault-Alpine please!) A210 long-tail 1966 Le Mans car with the Gordini twin-cam. For this I was sent to Dieppe and spent 4 days measuring the works cars and photographing them. The Heller kit had many new features that were later copied by top kit makers: sepatate plated rims and wheel centers (so that the polished rims benefit from a clearly defined line), real rubber safety belts and even a real windshield rubber moulding! But the best was that the shock absorbers really worked and one had to form coil springs around a piece of sprue and fit them over the shocks. Never before had any real metal springs been available in a model kit (AMT used to mould them as a glob of plastic), even in the intricate Japanese ones. Tamiya jumped on this and other details such as functioning U-joints from this Alpine in their ground-breaking 1/12-scale Honda F1 in 1968.
After the A210, we established a relationship with MATRA and did an incredibly detailed MS5 F2 with Cosworth SCA and Hewland box, and I got to have a brief drive in Joe Schlesser's car, and that was quite fantastic for me at the time. Then a Brabham BT15 F3 copied after my own car that I had just started racing in France (cost me 3000 Pounds then, on credit!), with a Cosworth engine fitted with a Novamotor intake system. I later lost it at Magny-Cours and could not afford the repairs, so I sold it and that was it. I had to work at the driving school there on weekends to pay the bank!
A Renault R8 Gordini ensued, then a Ferrari 412P4, then a 512M, then a Porsche 907LH, then a 917, and many more. I also helped in the airplane kit division and did a dozrn or so of the "Museum" series of French WWII planes. I also ended doing instruction illustrations for airplane and car kits. I left and became a consultant by 1969, being paid by the piece. I did a whole series of 1/8th motorcycles from the USA after emigrating there, then some F1, a Lotus 49B, McLaren MtA and Brabham BT27.
Many of the Heller kits were sold by other companies, first by BuzCo, then AMT, then the molds were leased by Japanese companies. Four of these kits were on the cover of a late Model Car & Science titled "AMT magnificent Machines, best kits in the world?" from late in 1970.
I still have many of the original drawings and am presently copying them for a new book on the story of the Heller company as they appear, as well as catalogue illustrations I retained, to be the sole surviving documents after years of throwing things away over there.
Coming back to the GP20 chassis, the NCC regulations in the USA only allowed the Champion chassis to be used, but it was available to other companies, so MURA, Riggen, Cobra and others marketed kits featuring the Champion chassis. That did not last long and by 1973, everybody had moved to GP27. I wrote some long illustrated stories for MAR on how to build a GP27 chassis for best results, and how to fit a body for lowest drag and highest grip on these.
As far as the blowing Steube arms, I do recall now that Bill DID get a bad batch of comms sometimes in 1973, and this is when they started the red dye and engraving. Bill always warrantied his arms, so it is too bad that the claim was not pursued as he was really good about this. As far as I am concerned, I used regular production arms, and I keptr a log of my races from January 1971 to August 1973 when I brutally left the sport: I drove in 270 races, 157 with Steube motors or arms, won 163, DNF'd in 29 for various reasons but NEVER a motor problem, and the rest is divided in finishes that range from 2nd to not making the main at all. Of these races, 19 were at the national USRA level, and I am especially fond of my two wins at the two largest races in USA in 1972 and 1973 because they were so hotly disputed with the best known racers of the "classic" era, John Cukras, Lee Gilbert, Joel Montague and Mike Steube. In spite of our intense rivalry then, these fellows are still my friends today.
In spite of my opposition to the "normalisation" of the wing-cars of today, I do admire thair technology and have a lot of respect for current and past wing-car builders and drivers, especially Mike Swiss of Koford Engineering despite all the critics against him, because I feel that he has the same kind of spirit as I retain today. I just had great fun!
I am now digging deep in documents, magazines and personal testimonies to establish a most accurate as possible history of pro-racing worldwide, to leave an image to enthusiasts of what happened in that magic era of the mid 1960's to mid 1970's. I plan to eventually produce a DVD that would allow a good picture of what was out there, not only from my own experience but from many other top and lower-level players, because they count too.
Philppe, I selected that paragraph at least three times with the intent of deleting it because I wasn't trying to go for the sympathy vote. My two younger sibs and I were very, very lucky in that we were quickly whisked away from a bad situation to an environment where we were loved and cared for at the highest possible levels. People who have heard me repeat my history often say, "How terrible!" but it didn't feel that way then and doesn't feel that way now, forty years later. I do have a lot of sadness about my father, but my grandfather was a wonderful surrogate. (As an aside, he's a Methodist minister who at nearly 95 is still preaching, still driving, and still living in his own home! I am rather pleased to have some of his genetic material.)
Slot car racing filled a very large hole in my life at that time and this may explain some part of my affection for the hobby.
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.
I am very interested in every bodies story as life has changed so much in the last 50 years since the start of rail racing. If you took a today's teen back to the mid 50's they would not know what hit them.
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?
QUOTE 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.
That's correct! In fact I traced and researched this and found that THE guy with the original idea was Roy Moody, a genius mechanical engineer and the fellow who reportedly invented the plastic tie-wrap.
I have no doubt that others tiddled with the idea but Roy was the first to apply it successfully. I actually had made one with a Russkit frame in mid 67, just to reach a smaller spur gear, but did not realise the full advantages then.
As far as the 1/24 scene, not a single doubt that Gene Husting pioneered it, and that is well documented.
Very fortunately, that very first angle-winder car has survived and I hope to convince Gene to let me have it for our museum. I also hope I don't have to kill him first.
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...
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.
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?
Philippe, have faith! In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!
Seriously, I wish you a speedy and full recovery.
I must confess to having thought that Ed Lewis' sidewinders were pretty cool too; Heaven knowns I built more sidewinders than I care to remember! The biggest "find" for me was Blue Tac -- ideal for getting rid of all the magnet filings that stuck to everything!
Philippe, you have been way too modest in your story --
From all accounts, Philippe totally dominated the Western States race, the equivalent of the USRA Nats, back in 1973. The "glue" conditions were heavily affected by a heat wave that California was experiencing at the time, with the track conditions continuously changing. Many of the well-known Pros were unable to handle the conditions; John Cukras, Lee Gilbert, Joel Montague, Monty Ohren, and many other top racers of the time didn't make the main. Philippe raced away from brothers Mike and Billy Steube to record a fine win, with this "diamond" chassis car.
This is an illustration of the car, which Philippe did for one of the magazines (I can't remember which):-
Here are pictures of Philippe's prototype controller that became the Parma Turbo. Pity they didn't retain the micro-switch in the final design, though!:-
Philippe mentioned the time when he headed up R&D at Cox, but failed to mention that, amongst other things, he was responsible for the design of the 1/40th Cox 'Superscale' cars. The chassis design has more than a passing resemblance to the TSRF32 and TSRF24 chassis:-
This is the box art of the Heller McLaren M7A that Philippe designed. Pity that the graphic artist couldn't spell!:-
Finally, congratulations to Philippe on his fantastic win at the recent Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. Philippe's immaculate Cooper T54, pictured in the foreground, won the Indy car class:-
And in case you think that the Cooper is only a show car, well you're wrong. It's even tackled Lord March's hill. Here's a picture of Philippe driving it in anger at Monterey:-
One of the most satisfying race meeting I won was the first Rail meeting in Abergavenny with a great final race against Chas Keeling. Who is much older than me but driving as well as ever. He won the Stock race at the Brooklands meeting as well.
The one queston I have always wondered which is the more satisfying to win if you have a better car that you have built or tuned or because you were the best driver on the day?
First, Russell is way too kind. I certainly am no genius. I was just having fun in any and all of what I was involved with and as I said, I was very fortunate, blessed and lucky. I also caused a lot of grief to a lot of people, most of the time unvoluntarily but nonetheless, I guess I have a "De Villepin-style" manner that many consider incredibly arrogant or even revolting.
But I also had very difficult times like everyone, and I remember my first weeks in the USA were very tough indeed. Again, luck was an important factor in my survival then. Later and as I established myself as a threat to the establishment, I remember that I was physically threatened at times by unhappy racers, it was that kind of atmosphere out there.
One thing for sure, I always loved those little electric cars and considered them as interesting as the full-size kind that I was also lucky to experience up to this day.
Fergy, I am sorry about the problems you had with the arms. Bill Steube was very arrogant and a bit of an gun-totting, right-wing wacko similar to the nutcake left-wing delusionists seen today in Vermont or North California...
But he DID warranty his products and there was a clearly printed warranty on the back of the cards on which the arms or the motors were packaged. I still have some so I will scan it and print it for you. The general problem is that most users threw the card away the minute after they opened it, so the retailers were possibly just lying to save themselves some trouble. Of course the point is rather moot since Bill died in 1977.
Prof Fate mentions the fiberglass thread and of course this had been used for a long time already when the bad batch of comms arrived. In fact, the real solution to that problem was applied by Camen years later when they placed a comm-segment retaining ring at the end of the arm. End of the problems, beginning of others...
As far as winning, it is obviously much more satisfactory to do it with your own machine. I personally was not a driver of the caliber of a Mike Steube or John Cukras, or even John Anderson. I lacked concentration and coordination. So to win, I HAD to beat them on plain technology. And this is how I did it, by building much better (not especially faster) cars than they did, this through constant problem analysis. When I got my butt kicked at the 1972 Nats, I sat down and figured out why the conventional, Emott-Gilbert style chassis was getting bogged in glue while launching itself on straights. With the help of advice from Bob Liebeck, the All American Racers aerodynamicist (I was a part-time consultant for Dan Gurney at the time and had access to aero information), and after experimenting, we came up with a truly advanced machine for its time, that was basically going nearly 15% faster in lap time than everybody else, and more, was doing it consistently in about any track condition. What did we do: we eliminated the launching factor by suppressing most of the air-shovel spoiler area on the back of the car, opened large vent holes behind the front fenders to let the air come out, and "steered" the front wheels to help having less friction on the guide, increasing both cornering speed and predictability. We also made the drop arm solid, and THAT was a great progress. While it "had been done before" (what has not...) the pro-racing groups over the planet were still using this error in evolution, even in the so-called ISO frames. I think that I killed it for good.
The use of the most logical body available (the M.A.C. / Lancer "Porsche") was also paramount as it offered both the lowest drag and highest down force with virtually no need for side fences.
Various other pros (Tony Prybylowicz, or Tony P as he was known, being the most prominent) made visually identical copies but failed to understand the fine details and why it really worked so well, so they were still 1/2-second behind and still bogged in heavy glue. The most startling examples were the cars built by Lee Gilbert for 1973's big money race. His "Super Team", patterned after the Vel's Parnelli famous Indy racing team of the era, included John Cukras, Bruce Paschal (who financed the operation AND the race with a very generous donation) and Ted "Sundance" Coates. Gene Husting, boss of Associated slot and R/C car products made the special aero bodies for the team with their "Speed Secrets" line. The cars were kept a big secret indeed, and pre-race were highly touted by Gilbert as "a great leap forward in technology" but I was never able to have a look at the chassis design as Lee was hiding them well, so i never knew... That is until last year when Bruce Paschal, now 81 years old, retired from the presidency of Standard Fruit Co and getting ready for his golf game, donated his entire collection of pro-racing cars and parts accumulated since 1965 to our museum. There were two of those "Super Team" cars in there, nearly intact since they did not make the main of that eventful race, down to the vintage dirt picked from the track! I was quite amused to see that the car were virtual copies of my own, but missing the fine points described above... Lee had created a big leap for himself all right as the cars were launching themselves everywhere on the track.
As an example, his car had the split axle tube but did not have the third axle bearing I was using to reduce axle tramp, a critical feature of the car's design.
The bodies were exquisitely painted by Ted Coates and the cars finished 1-2-3 in Concours, but totally failed in the race, none making the main. John Cukras' car was the most frustrating as it was launching itself over the lap counter, failing to register a single lap in what many feel would have been enough to make the main...
So the Super Team members sat in complete frustration and, along with the cream of the top pros of the time, watched the main event filled with heavy-glue freaks from San Francisco and...me. I drove through their thick glue, never adding any, and just plain did a Michael on them. Gilbert was so upset that he packed his bags a couple of weeks later and went back to Seattle, for good.
Have no fear, we are now in friendly terms.
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