Track Owners Association, Inc. Featured Raceway
April 1999

Go Slot Car Racing !!

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George Russell's
Fastrax Raceway
3340 "D" San Pablo Dam Rd.
San Pablo, Ca.  94806
Phone: (510) 222-2012
Fax: (510) 222-2214
Email: FXGEORGE@aol.com
Click any image for a full screen view
"Roadmaster" track in foreground, "Kingleman" track in the background with a full scale 1/4 mile drag strip along the wall. A portion of the full line of products sold at Fastrax with the "Roadmaster" road course in the foreground.
Ultra smooth, clean racing surfaces and an impeccably clean raceway are hallmarks of Fastrax success. The Fastrax Greatest Birthday Party program in full swing keeps track utilization up and the cash register ringing.

How many smiles can you count at Fastrax?

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Back in the beginning of 1994, shortly after leaving my position in the sales department of an HMO, I found out from someone that commercial slot car raceways were still in existence. The first track I visited was Fastrax in Rodeo, California, and only a 20-minute drive from my house. My two daughters and I went there several times to rent cars, and eventually I bought a Champion Astro RTR with a Parma Turbo Controller.

I spent the next year racing at Slot Cars Unlimited in San Jose, and eventually worked for Spencer Allen at Hot Slots in Pleasant Hill, CA. My co-worker at Hot Slots was (now TOA board member) Downtown Don, now owner of Slot Car Warehouse in Concord, CA. It was Downtown Don who encouraged me to take the plunge and purchase Fastrax. And, it was Downtown Don who was my first store manager at Fastrax during my first year of ownership. I learned a lot about running a retail business from him, and owe him a debt of gratitude for what he taught me in that first year.

Now it is nearly four years that I have owned and operated Fastrax as a member of TOA. My focus as a raceway owner has primarily been to operate a successful small business. I want my business to be a great place for people to visit that happens to be a slot car raceway. I want them to come away feeling really good about their experience in the business I have created so they will return soon.My secondary focus has been on the specifics of running a slot car raceway. Over the years I have tried to craft my raceway into something that has the widest appeal to people in general. So, what have I done to build this raceway into what it is today? More than anything else, I wrote a business plan that clarified what my mission was in May 1995, and I continue to polish this plan as I watch the changes the slot car industry is going through here in Northern California - and to some degree in the USA.

The basis of my business plan is to recognize the two basic dimensions of slot cars. One dimension is as purely entertainment, and the other is as a hobby. The entertainment dimension is for the casual user: rental cars, birthday parties and corporate events. The hobby dimension is roughly divided into hobbyists who treat slot cars as fun (non-competitive), and those who treat it as a sport (competition). I have found that juggling all of these dimensions simultaneously is not exactly a piece of cake!

Today as a track owner, I do my best (and I am not always successful!) to promote new business by treating every single new person that walks through my door with the same enthusiasm I felt the first time I walked through the doors of Fastrax back in 1994. When I don't do well at this, I take note of it and have a talk with myself about my attitude. Then, I do better the next time. I have found that it is important to self-manage the ups and downs that I go through in dealing with the public, because it is not always the easiest thing for me!

I still learn a lot from my employee/former employer Spencer Allen who treats each and every customer with respect and enthusiasm, no matter what age they are or how much they know about slot cars. Also, I take note of my former store manager, Downtown Don, who is an incredible promoter. Downtown is such a good promoter; he could probably sell tickets to any kind of race!

On the hobby end of slot cars, you have the casual user who owns slot cars and comes in to run the cars purely for fun. It might be a father and daughter who own a couple of starter kits, and they come in once in awhile on a Sunday afternoon for track time. The other hobbyists are ones who are interested in racing in weekly and/or monthly race programs. These hobbyists are interested in the latest and fastest slot car parts, and they are usually the ones who support my parts sales. To deal with racers successfully, I race with them once in awhile in our Advanced /Expert weekly race. I stay on top of the latest parts, and do a lot of custom building and repairs to race cars. I think that this has been a good part of my success in working with racers and race programs.

I operated Fastrax from June 1995 through June 1998 in Rodeo, a small-unincorporated town off the beaten path. The location had 5000 sq. ft. for only $1300 a month. For the original owners, this location worked for a year or two at most - then went into decline because they only promoted racing and high end cobalt motored slot cars. I took over in 1995, built new tracks, developed new racing programs, and it worked for about 2 1/2 years. We hosted the 1997 USRA Scale NATS in March 1997, and also hosted the largest ever IMCA race in June 1996, which had 58 participants and 125 cars, entered.... in a one day event!

My last six months in Rodeo were rough indeed!. Racing programs declined, and no matter what kind of advertising I did, it didn’t bring in the much-needed new business. It didn’t help that a disgruntled ex-employee tried his best to convince everyone that I was going out of business. It was obvious that it was time to move to a new location. After looking at a lot of commercial space, I finally signed a new lease in a shopping center with constant foot traffic, and some good anchor stores to bring in new people. I’ve been in the new location for six months now, and it is really starting to pick up incredible momentum.

My move has been a big lesson in the importance of location. Also, since moving we have had a major increase in rental car business, and I have worked hard to develop different levels of rental cars. Probably our most popular cars are Pla-Fit motor wing cars. Usually we gear these cars with 15 tooth pinions so they get around our 120' Kingleman in about 4 seconds flat. Some cars get really stuck, and turn into full punch cars. I make a point to check in with my renters to see if they are enjoying the experience, and to see if they want to drive something else. We also offer Parma 16D Flexi(r) 2 stock cars, which we use for at least a month (these things hold up great!), then we recondition them and sell them for $25. The most difficult cars for the beginners to drive are the Parma rental cars with belt drive.

As track owner, I personally maintain my rental cars because I want to constantly remind myself that they are the most important equipment in my business besides my tracks (which I also personally clean and glue).In closing, after nearly four years as a track owner, I have to admit that at times I feel kind of burned out. I think we all feel this way at times. I’ve found that for myself, the trick to preventing burnout is to return to the original source of joy in slot cars. Sometimes I do this by treating myself to a day of only working on my own cars. (I think I will take a day soon to rebuild my Slick 7 Defender Eurosport!) Owning and running a slot car raceway is an unusual business that presents track owners unusual challenges. I’m glad we have an association and a yearly conference to get together to discuss our common challenges. I look forward to seeing many of you this year in Indianapolis.

My thanks to the TOA for allowing my raceway to be featured as the cover story for this month.

Yours truly,

George Russell
Fastrax Raceway

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