July 26 2014 Latest news:
Kathryn Bradley, Reporter
Friday, June 8, 2012
It is a toy that has transformed millions of wide-eyed youngsters into racing drivers over half a century of track action on table tops and living room floors.
But, despite its original technology having been apparently overtaken by virtual reality console games, slot car racing is still in top gear.
And to prove the point a Norfolk club is reaching its 50th anniversary this weekend.
There will be no podium style spraying of champagne to mark the milestone, which might fuse the electrics at the group’s circuit at Pound Farm in Hevingham. Instead its members will be concentrating on beating opponents and lap times with their fine-tuned mini machines at the next club meeting, set in a miniature world of pit crews and glamour girls asweel as tiny grandstands full of spectators, news helicopters and hospitality marquees.
The club was founded above The Presto Bar in Norwich on June 9, 1962 and has moved several times over the last five decades. It’s 30 members, who are aged between 12 and 77 and travel from all over Norfolk, meet every Wednesday. Although the hobby is referred to as Scalextric racing, club members also use different brands of cars and accessories.
Mike Harvey, who owns and runs the club with his wife Averil, explained why the hobby still appealed to modern adults and teenagers. “It is more real for a start,” he said. “When you say you go slot racing people have this idea of a load of men sat on somebody’s living room floor with a plastic track. It is not like that. We have got a Grand Prix track and the technology is moving on as people come in to the hobby. We use suspension on cars and tyres with air in them. People set up their own cars and there is a skill in selecting the suspension and the tyres. We also have a laugh as well. When we have races everybody cheers and shouts. It is great fun.”
He said the hobby lost its appeal in the 1970s with the arrival of big radio controlled cars but this eventually became too expensive and people began returning to slot car racing.
He added: “With Lewis Hamilton coming in to Formula One it has resurrected the whole hobby. Youngsters can’t afford kart racing like Lewis did so this is the next best thing. The adrenaline kicks in and it has the feel of actual racing but doesn’t cos a lot of money.”
Presto Park eventually folded in the late 80s because of low membership.
Mr Harvey, a former police officer who now works as a lunchtime supervisor at Aylsham High School, resurrected the club with a new track in Aylsham in 2006. Since then, the club membership has continued to grow to the point that it had to relocate to larger premises in Stratton Strawless in 2011 and finally to its current home in Hevingham in April 2012.
The hobby attracts people from all walks of life and members include a Lotus research and development employee, a British Touring Car driver, a fireman and a former South African racing driver. Its president is Classic Team Lotus CEO Clive Chapman, who developed his passion for motor racing as a child when he attended the club with his father Colin in the early 1970s.
Mr Harvey funds the club himself and worked solidly for four months to prepare the new premises and build the new 100ft, four lane wooden track from scratch, He hand painted the 600 plastic characters, including a tiny Murray Walker, and created the Grand Prix setting around the track.
Mr Harvey has dedicated the track to his late father Roy, who first took him to Presto Park in the 1960s. Roy Harvey left his son the money to build the track in Hevingham but died before he saw it completed. A Goodwood Festival-themed race is also being held in his honour on October 10, when drivers will compete to win the Roy Harvey Memorial Trophy.
Although there are no plans to hold an anniversary celebration, the club is hosting a special two day meeting in October, sponsored by Fly Emirates with first prize of holiday in Dubai. Entrants are expected from as far afield as America, Dubai and Europe.
Mr Harvey also plans to launch a juniors club, for members aged eight to 12 years old, following requests from parents and children.
Visit www.prestopark.co.uk for details.