Slot Car Business History
Over 40 years ago the hobby of slot car racing came to the US from England and grew as wildly and fast as a field of kudzu or crabgrass. By the mid-1960s, home, club and finally commercial raceways opened by the thousands across the length and breadth of the country. There had never been a new hobby that grow so rapidly and consume the attention of so many dedicated individuals. Literally overnight huge fortunes were made due to this new radical sport of speed with miniature race cars. It didn't take people long to figure out that slot car racing was indeed, "The World's Fastest Motor Sport." Slot car racing rose commercially to become as big a pastime craze as the Hula Hoop.
FUN WHILE IT LASTED
The dedicated slot car industry that grew up sailed blissfully along, riding the wave of popularity from those halcyon days of the early 60's. American ingenuity reigned supreme and the "tinkerers" had a field day increasing a slot car's speed and performance. American parts manufacturers began putting out much better designed and engineered cars, controllers and related products. Several American manufacturers began building and selling huge commercial tracks and more and more racing emporiums opened their doors.
As long as demand exceeded supply the rising economic slot car tide lifted every commercial raceway boat, but prices of slot car products continued a relentless and upward spiral anyway. Suddenly in the late 1960's, it was like someone pulled the plug and almost as quickly as it had begun, slot car racing's appeal began to fade. Like the Hula Hoop, fads have a short shelf life.
Many in the industry literally cried as their favorite slot car raceways closed - first the really big, expensive places; then the smaller "mom and pop" operations. Cities that once boasted 50, 60 or even 70 raceways (Atlanta, Georgia for one) suddenly had no place where customers could go play with slot cars.
The incredible pace of technology in pursuit of even greater slot car speed has easily kept up with NASA and the computer fields. Unfortunately, so has the cost of doing slot car business in the marketplace. Never has slot car racing enjoyed so much technological innovation than during the past decade. Today's slot car equipment is beyond even comparison with the early 1950's imports. Every slot car part used from the smallest component to the most sophisticated has been improved and improved again over the years.
Yet all the improvements in performance, durability and customer value have come with ever-increasing price tags. One of the harsh realities the slot car industry has had to learn is that every customer's disposable income is limited, even when he/she has an acute "Need For Speed". And that the fixed operating cost of providing a large scale retail facility in rent and lease payments, all for a fickle consuming public, was one of the largest contributing factors in the eventual demise of thousands of commercial raceways in the late 60's to early 70's.
Within a span of less than four years there were fewer than fifty commercial raceways open in the US. It was almost as if the slot car industry and the hobby/sport it nurtured had never started.
WHO AND WHAT SAVED COMMERCIAL SLOT CAR RACING FROM EXTINCTION
There are a several individuals and a couple of products that have been key in keeping the hobby/sport of slot car racing alive. As raceways died off, so did many of the major manufacturer players. Cox, Monogram, Revell, MRRC, and many other large hobby related companies made millions during the short period from 1964 to 1968.
They shrewdly saw the handwriting on the wall and pulled out of the market, leaving it to a handful of smaller American companies who were primarily devoted to the industry. Companies like Champion, Mura, and Parma. Distributors likewise began pulling slot items from their shelves and inventory, dumping much of it for pennies on the dollar. Only a few remained, the largest being Bob Haines at REH in Cincinnati.
Representatives from Champion, Mura, Parma and REH got together in an attempt to stave off economic annihilation by starting the National Competition Committee (NCC) which was the forerunner of what is known today as Group (or limited spec) Racing. Unfortunately their collective efforts were too little, too late as an industry in free fall was also in disarray.
Later it was Ken MacDowell of Parma who had his research and development team come up with an inexpensive more "toy-like" slot car. Parma called it the "Womp Womp" and this car, along with the skills of Bob Haines and the people at REH Distributing who literally kept the inexpensive side, the very business foundation, of commercial slot car racing from dying altogether.
THE FAST GUYS WEREN'T ABOUT TO BE LEFT OUT EITHER
Although they were very few in number, they were not about to just pack up their boxes and quit slot car racing altogether either. Led by Joel Montague of Camen Racing Enterprises, enthusiast racers formed the United Slot Racers Association in 1968. From that beginning came the continuing development of what is today the fastest classes of 24th scale racing in the world - winged cars. Ultimately Joel was joined by other national and world champion racers who formed their own companies - Paul Pfeiffer of Alpha; Jan Limpach of Limpach Fresh Cuts; Dan DeBella of ProSlot, Ltd.; Stuart Koford of Koford Engineering, Inc.; Bob Emott of BIR Products; and several others. By 1971 the USRA was conducting their own national championships, hosted by raceways across the country.
Where were these people going to race their incredible technology? There were only a handful of tracks nationwide. A racer looking for a race often had to drive from one state to another in order to go from one raceway to another. There weren't many left...Elmsford in New York; Tom Thumb and The Slot Shop in Ohio; Hagginwood in California; GM and Grand Prix in Texas; and only a few dozen more. Amazingly, the aforementioned raceways are still in business today which proves that if the owner is smart, shrewd and done their homework (which these folks obviously have!) it is possible to be successful in this industry.
So...little by little...and one at a time, new raceways began to again open their doors. Champion Slot Racing Products was sold and moved to Williamstown, New Jersey. Mura was sold to new owners and moved to Livermore, California. Dozens of smaller new companies began producing a wider variety of slot car products, which stimulated the development and expansion of a formal distribution network with over a dozen full service slot car distributors across in the US.
WHERE CAN RACEWAYS GET GOOD BUSINESS INFORMATION?
Other than contacting the various distributors, there was precious little information available for anyone wanting to open a commercial raceway. Very few of the existing raceways who survived were willing to divulge the valuable business information that they had spent so much time, effort and money to accumulate. The slot car market was left with one publication - Scale Auto Racing News, published by John and Linda Ford of Ford Publishing in Aransas Pass, Texas. The Ford's did everything they could to help those interested in publicizing slot car racing with numerous publications. The Ford's also attempted to start a track owners association following the World Championships in Chicago back in 1988 only to be met with indifference. Thankfully, the Ford's have been extremely gracious and helpful to TOA with their support, as has Paul Meiers, the editor and publisher of the newest model car racing magazine on the market - Slotcar Bulletin.
TOA IS BORN
With the brain power and financial support of Floyd Guernsey of Eagle Distributing, TOA became reality in 1991. The first TOA track owner member was Mr. Paul Pfeiffer of Alpha Raceway in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He remains member number 001 today. Since March of 1992 TOA has produced, published and mailed a monthly newsletter to every TOA member in good standing.
Every year since 1993 TOA has hosted our annual Trade Show and Convention. TOA Trade Show and Convention sites have included Enid, Oklahoma (1993), Cleveland, Ohio (1994), St. Louis, Missouri (1995), Orlando, Florida (1996), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1997), Reno, Nevada (1998), Indianapolis, Indiana (1999). Sites selected for 1999-2000 will be voted on by TOA members in Reno on June 26-28, 1998.
The TOA Trade Show and Convention has been graciously showcased by many of the leading manufacturers, distributors and publishers who purchase and occupy very attractive display booths and areas. They proudly display and demonstrate for TOA members their various product lines and preview all that is new for the upcoming racing season. TOA also conducts special seminars and clinics each year to help educate and inform our members. There are special meetings where business topics of interest are discussed and voted upon by the members at large.
TOA is run according to a strict set of Bylaws which were adopted at the annual meeting during our first convention. We have three elected Officers who are all track owners. The Board Members represent a diverse and talented cross section of the industry - from track owners to manufacturer and distributor representatives. They are from all parts of the country and all serve on a strictly volunteer basis. They meet twice each year at the site of the annual convention to conduct business which is essential to TOA's continuing operation. The first meeting of the TOA Board is in the fall and they travel to the site of the upcoming convention to see first hand the location, amenities and design the layout of the display areas, meeting rooms, etc. and have meals in various restaurants in order to make recommendations for members when they arrive the next summer.
The TOA Convention and Trade Show is always held during the warmer summer months when TOA members typically can take the time away from their business in order to attend and take part in the business and activities.