Drivers prepare for the countdown, analyzing every hill and curve in the track. The room is filled with anticipation, the smell of rubber, the humming of engines and an anxious crowd.
Seven model-size NASCAR cars zoom around a 150-foot race track. If you blink, you might miss them.
Business owner Garner Houston took over Slot Car City in December 2012 and moved it to 1271 S. Decatur Blvd. The shop allows hobbyists to build, rent and race slot cars.
“I wanted to keep this retro vintage hobby alive,” Houston said. “It’s a great way to get disconnected from (technology) and build something.”
According to Houston, the cars are secured on the track using physics but can flip if they hit a corner too hard.
“There’s a technique to it,” Houston said. “You light up around the curves so you don’t flip, but you lay on it when there’s no bends.”
The shop hosts races at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and the winners receive ribbons. Trophies are handed out every couple of weeks during series races. According to Houston, the events can draw in crowds of up to 40 people.
“The races are car-specific because some car styles are faster than others,” Houston said. “We also have novice, advance and expert races, so everyone as a fair shot.
“We rotate the races so that boredom doesn’t really kick in. As soon as (participants) think they have the fastest car, we’ll give them a new style to work on. That’s the challenge.”
Former owner Mick Antonelli created Slot Car City in 1992. Houston met Antonelli when he brought his youngest son to the shop to start a new hobby.
“I was tired of watching my son play video games. I wanted him to do something with his hands,” Houston said. “Once he turned 16, he became more interested in girls, and I had all these toys lying around. So I started traveling and getting involved.”
When Antonelli was looking to sell the business, Houston jumped at the opportunity. He kept Antonelli on as a race organizer and “super mechanic adviser,” repairing and building custom cars.
“It was a way to still keep him involved because he loves it as much as anyone else,” Houston said. “I wanted it to be more like play and less like work.”
Paradise resident Lon Stokes said he has been racing slot cars since the mid-1980s.
“I started with (Antonelli) and been with him ever since,” Stokes said. “It’s a whole lot cheaper to build up these racing cars than the real things, and I’ve done both.”
Stokes comes to the shop Wednesdays and Saturdays, mostly for the races but sometimes just to get away.
“It’s the most fun you’ll have without a swimsuit,” Stokes said. “You don’t have to be in the sun, and the weather never ruins our good time.”
The sport attracts women interested in racing, although most come to support their family members, according to Houston.
“My wife now races,” Houston said. “She watched me race for three years and decided to race an 8-year-old one day. Once she beat him and the adrenaline kicked in, she was hooked.”
Though 70 percent of the participants are between 40 and 60, Houston said the track has more to offer children than speed and fun.
“It teaches a lot of subjects like physics and art,” Houston said. “It’s only limited by your imagination.”
The shop is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Customers who bring this article in can receive a two-for-one deal. Rentals are available.
For more information, visit slotcarcity.com or call 702-438-1760.
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.