The slot car revival in the Plymouth Meeting Mall

August 22, 2012 8:00:41 AM PDT
Auto racing is among our most popular spectator sports, but if you wanted to be a participant, even a bad car at a local speedway would set you back thousands. But just about anyone can race a slot car, and the hobby is enjoying a real revival.

Born in the car-crazed 1960's, slot cars came in sizes from the tiny under-the-Christmas-tree HO gauge to the 1/24th scale popular with model builders. Slightly-smaller 1/32nd scale caught on in Europe. But today, 1/32nd scale cars are the thing at Main Line Hobbies, a multi-track racing center in the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

Owner Les Kushner built the tracks himself, and is in demand making tracks for competitors and home enthusiasts. That can get pricey, but it only costs a few bucks to rent time on one of his tracks at the mall.

He'll even rent you the car and electronic controller you need to race. Racers who remember the early days say today's cars are technologically superior, with better motors and tires. Bodies are also more durable.

Kushner can control the power at his tracks, slowing things down a bit for a children's birthday party but zipping things up when experienced adults are running. Since there's no athletic skill involved, parents and children can play together with no one enjoying an advantage. So Kushner touts slot cars as a great family activity.

If you want to buy a car, prices start around 40 dollars and go up to about $200...not a lot to spend if it's your hobby. Even throwing in a fairly sophisticated model of a controller, you'd still be out the door for far less than you're likely to spend on photography or a collecting hobby like coins or stamps.

Main Line Hobbies and a few other racing centers around the region stage meets from time to time. There are also private clubs which do most of their racing on tracks in members' homes.

Occasionally, those racers will gather at a center like Main Line Hobbies just to add dates and tracks for variety. Perhaps the greatest explosion of technology is in home racing sets, which add digital features. With digital chips in those cars, it becomes possible to run up to six cars on a two-lane track, and you can make your car pull out to pass. Main Line Hobbies maintains a website where you can check out their inventory of cars, parts and racing sets.

There's also a still image of a live camera and by refreshing the image you can watch whatever race is going on. The company does not offer shipping to Internet customers at this time. The site is Main Line Hobbies. You may phone them at 610-834-1600. Present hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00am - 9:00pm, and Sunday 10:00a, - 6:00pm.

These are likely to change some time in September. There are a handful of tracks around the region but in our research, finding them proved hit-or-miss. Many are privately-owned and not open to the public.

Kushner told us of some as far away as Maryland, and noted that each has its own car size and preferred accessories.

If you want to give slot cars a try, contact a center near you or reach out to Main Line Hobbies and see if they know a facility nearby. If you want to get an idea how fast these cars can go, Main Line Hobbies sent us this video of track-level action.


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