At the Hot Spot, slot car racers get big thrills from little cars

May 20, 1994|By Jody Roesler | Jody Roesler,Special to The Sun

Bell-bottoms, platform shoes and tie-dyed T-shirts are all the rage again. And now, yet another remnant of the late '60s and early '70s is back in style -- model slot car racing.

The Hot Spot slot car race track opened in November in the Lake Shore Commerce Center in the 4400 block of Mountain Road.

"It just took off a lot faster than we thought it would," said Heather Lucke, a member of the family that runs the store.

Ed Blake, who owns the place along with his wife, Diane, doesn't have anything against baseball diamonds, bowling alleys or pool halls. He just prefers slot car racing.

"It's just a really fun sport," said Mr. Blake, a NASCAR racing fan who decided to open a slot car track in Pasadena after seeing a successful one in Ocean City.

The 4-foot-wide tracks at Hot Spot aren't like the Tyco and Lionel tracks popular at Christmas time.

These tracks are for cars 4- to 8-inches long, cars that are much faster than their toy store counterparts.

Some cars are capable of a true 100 mph, said Mr. Blake. Ms. Lucke, who is Mr. Blake's daughter-in-law, said some have hit a scale speed of 700 mph.

"On nights we race, the average true speed is 33 to 37 miles per hour," said Ms. Lucke. "And when you figure that to scale . . . I don't even know how fast that is."

On race nights, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the cars zip around three separate tracks.

The children race their 1/32nd scale cars on a simple 160-foot oval track. The adults race their 1/24th scale cars on a tortuous 170-foot track modeled on European-style Grand Prix race courses, like the Le Mans course in France. Racers also test their engine-building skills on a 50-foot drag-racing track.

The cars are scale models of the sleek, aerodynamic Porsche Grand Prix cars and the modified stock cars that rule the NASCAR circuit and the Daytona Speedway.

Hot Spot has 12-week points series in different age and engine classes, and occasionally 500-lap races that are monitored by computer. Racers pay entry fees, winners get gift certificates.

This fall, Mr. Blake hopes to increase the competition in the adult class by offering a trip to the Bahamas as the top prize.

This should attract even more than the 100 to 150 people that crowded around the tracks when the store opened last fall.

"The reason most people came in was their kids," Ms. Lucke says. "But the dads said, 'Hey I was doing this 25 years ago, and it's still fun.' Then they'd still bring the kids in, but the dads were the ones who really wanted to come back."

Racing slows through the summer because of outdoor activities, but Ms. Lucke says race nights still attract 30 to 40 regulars.

"Now we have sort of a 'Cheers' atmosphere," she said, referring to the popular television program. "Some people come in every night and if they're running late they'll call."

The sport seems to be thriving now. It fizzled in the '70s because track owners couldn't make any money, said Mr. Blake. To be sure he stays is business, he also sells slot car parts. "I've become probably the biggest parts dealer on the East Coast," he says.

The parts showcase makes the store look like a regular auto shop, in miniature and without the grease monkeys.

There are frames, engines, gears, bodies, tires, wheels, oils, body stickers and paint available to soup-up a racer's car.

A starter kit comes with a complete car, oil, controller, and a spare clear body the driver can customize.

It costs $57 for a NASCAR type, $47 for a sturdier kid's model.

"Some people put $200 and hours in their basements into their cars," Ms. Lucke says.

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