'Big boys' set up slots in Porirua
Recall the childhood thrill of racing slot cars at high speed around a toy raceway? It does not diminish with age.
''Whatever he tells you, it's just big boys playing with their toys,'' said Wellington Slot Car Club's Allan Tucker when Kapi-Mana News visited its recently-established Porirua clubrooms.
The ''he'' is club mate Chris Dillon, who had been contemplating a more considered response to what attracted men of middle and senior age to building, tinkering and racing small cars that go really, really fast.
''We're all interested in motorsport; a lot of us probably had slot cars as kids,'' said Chris, who, like Allan, has just returned from a slot racing event in Sweden.
Yes, it's that serious.
''People are drawn to the competition of racing and fine engineering skills. There's a reasonable level of complexity,'' said Chris.
These slot cars are 1:24 scale, larger than the 1:32 scale plastic sets kids may find under the Christmas tree and require a lot more space than a bedroom floor would provide.
The club found a new home in Lydney Place, upstairs from Work and Income, last December after its old clubrooms, a former bowling alley in Petone, was marked for demolition.
Several months were spent refitting the new premises. This included re-assembling a 55.3m wooden raceway - the only six-slot track in New Zealand - before club nights resumed in April.
This Saturday, August 4, the club will host the National Enduro Challenge, a 12-hour marathon involving six teams from throughout the country.
Muscle memory is a big factor for slot racers, said Chris, who must execute precision braking and acceleration and account for drift.
Crashes do occur, though the cars - made from steel and polycarbonate plastic - are fairly robust, he said.
Depending on their class, slot cars reach speeds of 30 to 50kph, and complete a lap in about seven seconds. The action is so frantic a computer is required to follow races and register positions and standings.
Members who aren't at the control booth triggering the action are put to good use, posted at the corners to re-align cars that pop their slots.
''We yell 'track!' when a car comes off in the tunnel and the controller cuts the power,'' said slot racer Keith Cheeseman, from Khandallah. ''Otherwise there's potential for all hell to break loose.''
The public is welcome to watch the Enduro from 8am this Saturday at the clubrooms. Part of the race will be in the dark, racers relying on their cars' headlights to light the track.
* A slot car is driven by a 12-volt electric motor, powered by pick-ups in the track surface. A guide under the front of the car keeps it on the track and the voltage is varied by a resistor in the hand controller - accounting for braking and acceleration.
* Wellington Slot Car Club was established in 1998. It has 15 members and meets each Thursday, 7.30pm. Website: www.zippitynz.com/WSCC.htm.
* A ready-to-race car will set you back about $100. Hand controllers are more expensive but clubs often provide basic models.