Michigan Slot Car Racing in the 1960s
The 1960s…where a Michigan childhood consisted of rock ‘n roll, monster magazines, comic books, riding bikes, after-game dances, model cars, camping in the woods, kick the can, cartoons, cruisin', candy bars, the Three Stooges…..and slot cars.
Remember slot car racing?
Are you even old enough to remember?
Almost all the major Michigan cities and hundreds of Michigan small towns had a place where we could race our slot cars.
The “Golden Age of Slot Car Racing” was between 1961 and 1966. All throughout the United States, there were approximately 3,000 public slot car racetracks set up in hobby shops, toy stores, and backrooms of other stores. For two bucks an hour, a kid could come in, race his slot car, and compete against other neighborhood kids.
My hometown had its own slot car racing parlor, next to an old alleyway…it was always packed with kids. Beginning in 1963 and lasting until 1966, sales of slot cars, the accessories, and the admissions were raking in well over five hundred million dollars a year – the equivalent to about three-and-a-half BILLION dollars in today’s economy.
Where did they come from? In 1912, the Lionel Train Company introduced slot cars as accessories to their electric train sets. These cars had conductors underneath that stuck into the track slot, giving the car power and making sure it stayed on the track….well, sort of. Anyone who raced slot cars knows that it takes a fair amount of practice…otherwise, your cars would keep flying off the track when you rounded a curve….if it got damaged, there goes more cash to get another.
In the first half of the 1900s, the cars kept selling, but then with the advent of WW2, Lionel cut slot car production to concentrate on their electric trains.
In 1960, the Aurora company acquired the rights for England’s Playcraft slot cars and became the most successful slot car company in America, selling 25 million of ‘em by 1965.
Like most everything else, slot cars were a fad. By 1969, the fad had diminished and the 3,000 nationwide slot car tracks had dwindled down to less than 50.
Even though there is a renewed interest in slot car racing, it’ll never be the monster it was back in the mid 1960s. Check out some photos below!