SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – If you’ve been looking for a break from the constant election coverage, pandemic conversations, and the stress of life’s new normal, Upstate Speedway in Spartanburg could be the answer. The new Spartanburg business is an escape with a classic toy, the slot car.
Racing slot cars are a hobby that children of all ages will be racing to play. Slot cars are similar to Hot Wheels, in that, it’s miniature cars racing on a track. But slot car racers would argue that that’s where the similarities end.
Upstate Speedway Owner and Operator, Michael Cannon, said that’s because slot cars are really race cars that are 1/24 or 1/32 in size. Thus, racers have a lot of decisions to make before a race.
“Aerodynamics, cut of the body, choice of the body, gear ratios, tires, when do you change them, what type of tires do you want? soft or hard tires. brands even, they get particular about,” Cannon said. “All the decision they put into a car, including motor decisions, all those decisions go into a car they race here, they’re just not behind the wheel.”
The car is powered by 12 volts of electricity, propelled by the miniature engine that’s remote controlled. Upstate Speedway racers can drive on one of three huge race tracks or the drag track. Cannon noted the cars can go nearly 10 miles per hour, and though it initially doesn’t sound impressive, you’d be surprised.
“If you take that and convert it to 1/24th speed. If you want to know what it’d be like if it was a real sized car, it’s be about 110 to 120 miles an hour,” Cannons said. “They do move very fast. You gotta keep your eye on it as you get around this track pretty quickly. This track to my right, the yellow track, is 180 foot. 180 feet seems like a lot until you’re moving around it fast and then you’re running about a nine second lap at 180 feet.”
Slot cars give the thrill, without the extreme danger, of high-speed driving. Cannon argued that this makes racing something anyone can do.
“We have a family with a two year old. That two year old, with his father’s instruction of, ‘Okay, slow down and then press the gas.’ Races a car and loves it and cries if he doesn’t get to,” Cannon said. “They’ll race on another track with him, while the dad is racing. Then next time they come, the mom races and the dad plays on the track with the two year old. They just sort of make a day of it.”
From two year olds, to a slot car racer who started back in the early 1980’s, Dale Wilkerson said there’s some much to love about this hobby.
“It’s just the competitiveness. I did race go-karts a while. Never did race a car, wanted to. But just didn’t want to spend that money, you know? This is a little bit easier on the pocket and a lot more fun. You can go home without the bumps and bruises,” Wilkerson said.
While slot car racing’s popularity started to dwindle in the 1970 into the 1980s according to Cannon, Wilkerson noted that his passion did not. He explained that it’s not just competitions that make it great, simply put, it’s fun.
“I will say, so far, I’ve never seen anybody rent one and then leave and go ‘Yeah that’s just not for me.’ Everybody seems to enjoy it,” Cannon said.
“It’s easy to get caught up with the guy beside you. You have to remember that each groove on this track, you gotta run at different speeds. So, you got to race the track,” Wilkerson said. “You don’t want to get a stripe or come out of your slot. Race the track, keep your speed steady.”
Cannon explained that he opened up Upstate Speedway back in March. But, statewide closures due to the pandemic, really pushed back business for him until September.
“Guys who were young, come walking in and say ‘I can’t believe this! I used to do this with my grandpa. I used to do this with my dad,’ They get right back into it. Some of them-most of them still have their stuff.”
Wilkerson has loved slot cars since high school, adding that slot cars give you the freedom actual race cars don’t.
“You can pretend you’re Pearson, you can pretend you’re dale Earnhardt, you can pretend your Jeff Gordon. Whoever you’re favorite driver may be. You can do that and remember some of those childhood dreams,” Wilkerson said.