Slot car racing was a big thing when I was about 9 or 10 years old, much like video games are today. A few times a week after school, my mother’s parents, Little Grandma and Little Grandpa, would take my younger brother Joe and I to the local slot car track store.
Located in West Long Branch on Locust Avenue where Scarpetta’s Restaurant and Jack Frost's Ice Cream Parlor are today, it had three tracks – beginner, intermediate, and expert. They also sold the slot cars and the controls there, too. The cars were 1/32 scale models of full-sized vehicles. Little Grandpa sprung for my first one – a powder blue 1967 Chevrolet Corvette.
You paid by the half hour to race your slot car. You would tell the guy behind the counter which track you wanted to race on, and he would power up a track lane and let you know which one you were assigned to. The input for your car’s controller matched the color of the track lane you raced on.
My brother and I were regulars on the expert track. We got so good at racing there that we looked for other tracks to conquer.
One Saturday, Little Grandma and Little Grandpa surprised us and drove out to the Collingwood Auction on Route 34, where they had one of the last remaining slot car tracks in the county -- four tracks back then, with a slew of new cars and controllers to buy and keep us occupied.
After a while, it got to be a burden for my grandparents to keep taking Joe and I out to Collingwood for slot car racing. So what did they do? They brought the slot car track to us. Little Grandpa bought a medium-sized slot car loop track and installed it in the basement of his house. Every time we went over there, Joe and I would gravitate to the basement and stay down there practically the whole time our family visited with them.
Then the cousins would come over with their own slot cars and equipment, and the competition would heat up as to who was the better driver, who had the hottest car, etc. As we got older (around 15 or 16), the thrill of slot car racing had gone by the wayside for us. We were trying to save money for when we’d get real cars for ourselves a year or so down the road.
Today’s teens don’t even need a track or go anywhere special to enjoy the experience of racing. With so many video game systems out there, the experience of racing against someone (either the game itself or someone else through the Internet) is something that can happen anywhere and anytime.
Call it old school, but for me, there’s nothing better than squeezing the trigger on your controller and seeing your little brother eat dust.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri’s blog on his Facebook page, “Jersey Shore Retro” as well as on Twitter at @jsretro).