"If it's not fun, it's just not working," says Ron Scott, the owner of Cactus RC & Hobbies
, explaining the point of the remote control and slot car races that take place at his shop every weekend.
This past Sunday, dozens of racing enthusiasts made their weekly voyage to his indoor tracks with their motorized miniature Mustangs, Mercurys, Studebakers, Dodge Chargers, and more. They were all lovingly custom painted -- and though Scott jokes that Sunday is "old, fat guy day" at the tracks, the men and women in the small crowd range in age from 7 to 70.
The sport/hobby was hugely popular in the '60s, with an estimated 3,000 slot car tracks around the U.S. It started losing popularity in the early '70s, but has remained a passion for many people, especially the group of hobbyists at Cactus RC & Hobbies. This is the only slot car race track left in the Valley.
In slot car racing, battery motorized vehicles ranging in scale from 1/24 to HO (meaning "half of" 1/87 scale, generally 1/64 to 1/76 scale) compete on an electrified track (anywhere from 12 to 14 volts), guided by grooves in the track.
Some of the regulars, like Casey ("just Casey," he says) and Jim Anderson, have been racing slot cars since the mid-'60s. The two help build and maintain slot cars, and each have a collection, including a florescent green 1970 Dodge Challenger, two Batmobiles (one original '60s model and one newer model), and a 1952 Studebaker (silver with teal blue accents) that once went 55 feet in 4.87 seconds, or about 70 mph.
Casey says the cars generally reach speeds of up to 50 mph, and a super high-octane slot car could go as fast as 100 mph ("But I don't have anything close to that," he says).
The slowest car on the tracks belongs to silver-haired twin brothers, Dave and Donald. One of their cars, a hunter green jeep-like car named K2, goes about 15 mph. They put it on the drag race track for giggles.
The military veteran brothers come to Cactus RC every weekend, and though they've been slot car enthusiasts for about 10 years, people here still have trouble telling them apart.
While the races are well-attended by older slot car lovers like Dave and Donald, there's a big crowd of younger kids, too, especially on the large, eight-lane wooden track. Most of the younger racers use the shop's rental cars, because owning one can be expensive (cars start at around $60 and go up from there, well into the hundreds).
"We're a beginner's forum," Ron says. "A lot of times, kids show up and don't know the protocol. We'll always be a beginner's club. We get people used to the racing format. We enjoy bringing kids in."
"There are no toys here," he continues, gesturing toward a remote controlled (RC) truck he's helping a family build. "No toys, only skill-based activities. Kids who work on the motors of RCs will have better mechanical skills. And then they can come and race, and make it a family activity. It keeps the guys out of tittie bars, and teaches kids to use both sides of the brain."
The younger group also shows up Saturday nights twice a month for remote control car races in the parking lot. A few even participate in the indoor drag races. The drag race track runs the entire length of the south wall. Here, cars with more souped-up motors (up to 16 volts) tear down a shiny, electrified track within seconds. "If you blink, it's done," one woman said. Photos can't even capture a blur of one of the cars.
And though the races are technically competitions -- and guys like Jim remove his cars' rear windshields and grills to make them more aerodynamic in races -- in the end, it's all about a good time. "Win or lose, it's still a lot of fun," Jim Anderson says. "It's just about having fun on the weekends with friends."
Slot car races take place every Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cactus RC & Hobbies, 12459 N. 35th Avenue, Suite 20. Call 602-843-7223 or visit www.cactusrc.com for more information.