My Slot Story

by Tom Bowman

I've been fascinated by slot cars for along obsession goes back to the mid '60's, when a slot racing shop called Checkered Flag Raceways opened in Brookdale Mall in Moorhead, Minnesota. I would hang around as much as I was able to between school and the paper route. I had a Cox 1/32nd Ford GT-40 and an AMT Avanti, the larger and faster 1/24th cars were out of my reach. Of course, the usual story happened, when the raceway closed...there was no other place to race. Then I bought an Aurora ThunderJet 500 set, my brother and I spent many hours in the basement racing on that little track, I had a dune buggy and he had a Maserati.

In 1968 we moved to Richmond, Virginia for a year, my father was an exchange professor at Virgina Union University. We moved into a small apartment.

The under the bed trackHere is my racetrack of the time, it has just a standard layout on a sheet of cardboard. I loved to visit Bob's Hobby Shop on West Cary street, they always had the new stuff, like Lancer bodies, LaGanke pans and AJ's tires. Before our year was up, I read about Orv Banasik's HORA of Fargo club in Car Model Magazine. When I got back to Fargo-Moorhead, I found a new experience...H.O.R.A of Fargo club racing. It was a great time, and we really had a competitive club.

Right away we were racing fairly advanced cars for the time, with hot arms, silicone tires, handling pans and clear bodies. Pretty much the only hard bodies we ran, were on the Mini Tjet chassis and these were customized to match the current Grand Prix cars of '68 and '69. We loved the high wings of the period and had no structural failures, unlike the Lotus 49B! I loved to experiment, building a 4 wheel drive Tjet that had outstanding acceleration, especially on a dirty track. Other projects included a Tjet with a Faller arm and gear plate, Atlas and Bachmann cars. My efforts to make the Bachmann competitive lead to the development of the magnet car. We started having contacts with other clubs in the area, which lead to the formation of Northern HOPRA. We raced from Minot, North Dakota to Duluth and Minneapolis in Minnesota.

Fargo Buck's Race

The trophy winners from the biggest race we ever held, The Fargo Bucks Race. Orv Banasik was 1st, I was 2nd, Dave Stevens was 3rd and Concours winner, and Niles Short was 4th.

Pit action

Niles Short and Lynn Rice in the pits at the Bucks Race.

Lynn's track

Master modeler, J. Michael Sells, checks out the best track in the club, built by Orv Banasik and Lynn Rice, at Lynn's West Fargo home. It featured a bank turn and over a 20 foot straight...God, I miss basements!

I spent alot of time in '72 and '73 racing in California and Indiana, promoting the "Magnetic Way"...after initial exposure to the incredible handling of magnet cars, a lot of clubs simply banned them outright. This lead to the development of the MagnaTraction type of car with lowered motor magnets. I built a car called the "80ZAP" that featured, lowered motor magnets, split pan electrics and an iso-fulcrum perimeter pan. In order to get it as low as possible, to maximize the downforce from the Super II magnets, the car used Faller motor brushes that were half the thickness of stock. It had an annoying tendancy to blow these out the side of chassis on occasion. The brushes were a pain to make, so I put a small piece of scotch tape on the sides to prevent loss of the brushes. It was finicky, but quick, capable of lap times near the full blown brp MKIII Specialty magnet car. Other guys were working on this idea at the time, and Ron Esterline, is generally given credit for the MagnaTraction concept and showed it to Aurora engineers, leading to the production version. I believe the AFX MagnaTraction came out in '74 and the first ground up magnet car design the Aurora G-Plus came out in 1975. I went in the Navy in March, 1975 and saw my first G-Plus on boot camp leave in San Diego. HORA of Fargo, pretty much had broken up by that time, as we individually went in the service or moved away for college. It was a fantastic experience for me from 1969 to 1974 with that club.

The Navy took me to Washington D.C., where it didn't take long to get back into slot racing. I started into 1/24 slot racing at Joel's Raceplace in Greenbelt, Maryland. I would race the Wednesday night club races, for cars with no air control and then run Gp15 and Gp20 cars on Saturday. I decided I needed to be closer to the action, so I moved to a Greenbelt apartment, just two blocks from the track. Joel's was run by Team Camen's Joel Montague, who always had top racers from all over the world coming to race there. The Bicentennial Race of 1976 was held there, leading to the annual World events. I didn't do much in the race, but my Ferrari 512S did win concours. I was content to race at the club level, as the Pros were far too serious with money and equipment for me. I met Don Soltow at Joel's RacePlace, and he took pictures of my HO track. We raced as teammates in Group 15 with Tommy Flythe, carrying the team brp colors. In the Fall on 1977, I went on the first and only cruise of my Navy career. I was on the USS Davis DD-939, for a West African trip...we visited Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal, and then put in at Rota, Spain. My part of the cruise was over, but instead of flying home right away, I went on leave for a month to see Europe. I caught a Space-A flight to Mildenhall in England. While in England I went to Wonderland Raceways, in Southend-on-Sea. I ran my 1/24th Group 20 around the Blue King, and met some of the top English slot racers. They told me about a race happening the next weekend in Hamburg, Germany. Of course I just had to go! I made my way over there, and hooked up with the host club "Selection Hamburg's" President, Bernd Möbus...we had a great time cruising the "Reeperbahn" and Saint Pauli sections of Hamburg and doing a little slot racing, too! This was a huge race, with competitors from all over Europe. I did fantastic to make the semis, but then ran into motor problems, preventing a move up.

Back in DC, Don and I started weekly racing at Chris Preston's track in Hyattsville, MD. Chris ran a hobby shop in Wheaton, and loved slot car racing.

Preston's track

We would race Magnatractions and G-Plus cars, with dremeled to the max bodies. Eventually I convinced him, Lexans were better for racing purposes. Wayne Brickhouse was one of Preston's top drivers, and he and Don remain rivals today in the MACT series!

In the Northern Virginia HO scene, a group of racers came up with idea of an annual 12 Hour Enduro, which they took very seriously. In 1978, Don and I teamed up to run this race. I painted a Martini and Rossi Porsche 935 body and Don went through a bunch of G-Plus's at his parents hobby shop, Executive Hobbies in Vienna Virginia, to find the best ever Gplus magnets.

Tom racing at the 12 Hour

I don't remember too much about the race, other than we dominated...

78 Nats Main Event 78 Nats Main Event 78 Nats Main Event

The huge event of 1978 for us, was the HOPRA HO Nationals in Buena Park, California. Don and I were out there to represent the East Coast. The cars of the time were Aurora G-Plus, with samarium cobalt magnets...mine had AJ's Black Cat silicones on AFX hubs, a dewound Matchbox arm, brp phosphorus bronze wipers and silver shunts to the silver brushes. Don had a clock wire wound motor, that ended up blowing up. Gary Beedle had lot's of trouble with the 6" radius corners. I made it to the Main event with Nick Toma and 14 year old eventual winner, Mark Jones. Mark had a killer Randy Kemp wound arm and the rest of us were racing for second. I had a good result going until the wipers started giving problems and faded back of Nick to get third. Ron Granlee of Speed and Sport was the sponsor and the trophies were awesome.

My next slot racing experiences were with the Electric Car Racing Association (now the The British Slot Car Racing Association after transferring to London. I moved to a little flat in Northolt, just a half mile from the Chequered Flag Slot Racing Club. That became my home club for the next three years on Saturday nights. I also raced with the North London Society of Model Engineers on Thursday nights. We raced brass and piano wire 1/32nd cars with realistically painted Lexan bodies of the then current 1979-1982 Formula 1, GT and saloon cars. Racing in Britain was a very special experience, the competition was intense but everyone was so friendly and helpful to this colonial. I was especially fond of the bench racing sessions at the local pubs after the races. At Chequered Flag we would always make sure to arrive a "The Plough" before "Last Call" so a couple pints of Fuller's London Pride or ESB would ensure a great evening. The NLSME crowd would go to "The Griffin" at Totteridge and Whetstone. There, Guinness was my preference. In '82, my last year in London, I want to every motor race I could: Isle of Man TT, Monaco GP, LeMans, and the British GP. Europe is a lovely place for a racing nut!

The Navy took me to Northern California, where I could race HO cars again. I raced on Saturday's at Talbot's Hobby Shop in San Mateo in the mid 80's. Nick Toma, a competitor at the 78 Nats and superb Concours builder, was a regular there too. I also ran with a couple crazy brothers in San Francisco for awhile. They had a huge routed track, as I recall it was 10 lanes, with about an 1/8" steel wire laid in an extruded plastic slot. These guys were involved in lot of things that I disagreed with (racism and drugs!), so I stopped going there. I was more into motorcycling at this point of life...running the canyons of Napa, Sonoma and roads around Lake Berryessa on my new 84 VF-500F Interceptor kept me busy. Also I was a member of the North Bay Trailriders, with monthly rides off road in beautiful mountains of Northern California. In 1985, I got married to a lovely T-Bird at Skaggs Island...we went on our honeymoon to Europe, spending a lot of time in London, visiting with my old slot racing mates. In '86 I was transferred to Okinawa, where we stayed for four great years. In 1988, our son, Joshua was born in Camp Lester hospital. No slot racing to speak of, I did build a table for my AFX track that got it's start in England. The other thing I did was a motorcycle (still the same Honda VF-500F) trip around the main islands of Japan. So after a 24 hour ferry ride as the only Gaigin onboard, I arrived in Kyushu. I proceed up the east coast of Honshu to Tokyo, which was a hard slog through the intense traffic. In Tokyo, I was only to glad to get off the bike for a few days, so I took up residence at the New Sanno military hotel. The reason I'm including this adventure at all in a slot car page, was that I found a hobby shop with a routed Puma track and all kinds of HO goodies unseen by my Western eyes! I stocked up on J-Spec Tomys and lexan bodies, like the Honda S800 and Datsun 2000 roadster from the 60's. In '90 it was time to pack up and transfer to Hawaii for three years. I had a lot of fun on the island and the big trip I made was to Australia for a month, but no slot racing to report on at all. I called the home of Bunny Wat, looking for some action...but apparently AHORA didn't exist at the time. In '93 I transferred to my last duty station in the Navy, COMSUBLANT in Norfolk, Virginia. We built a house and decided to stay for awhile. My first year and half on the East Coast, saw me complete the Alpen Rennen track but no other slot activity was happening. On the internet I found out about a commercial HO raceway near Gloucester.