On a recent Tuesday night at Slots a Lot in Franklin Square, everyone's motor was running as slot car fans went hand-to-hand-with help from their handheld controllers-to race their miniature jalopies on electric tracks, hoping not to crash along the way.
Slots a Lot isn't the only indoor raceway on Long Island where life in the fast lane is taking on a new definition.
"Right now slot car racing is popular because there's an odd dynamic. With the bad economy, people are spending less money on the big things and spending more on their hobbies than in the past," says Joe Kelly, 50, a slot car fan and editor of The Car Room, a magazine based in Holbrook. "They don't have money for boats or the trip to Disneyland, so they have that money for the instant gratification they get out of their hobby."
Prices can range anywhere from about $1 for a Hot Wheels car to the tens of thousands for super-sophisticated replicas, he says.
Instant gratification is just a small part of what's driving slot car racing on Long Island.
The need for speed
For junior Jeff Gordons, slot car racing is all about the thrill of seeing how fast they can make their cars go.
And there's no fear of getting a speeding ticket, especially when racing high-speed wing cars that can go upwards of 100 miles per hour, says Mark Craven, a manager at Slots a Lot. "Going to the extreme, we have races where they travel 155 feet in less than two second," he says.
A good body
While most kids may want to feel that vroom, vroom, vroom, their parents may get a different kind of rush, Bauer says. "For adults, the fun is usually more about working on the cars, and customizing and painting them."
Which means trying to replicate the looks of actual NASCAR vehicles or classic cars to heighten the feeling of watching an actual car race. Just as the cars are meant to be the real thing, so are the tracks. At Slots a Lot, for example, the drag strip cars race on is a scale quarter mile, one that's been shrunk down to resemble a real quarter mile, Craven says.
Shifting into high-tech
Slot car racing has definitely caught up to the 21st century with more sophisticated technology that lets kids do things their fathers could never do with their Hot Wheels.
On the outside, the cars look more realistic, Kelly says, and on the inside, they've been given a digital makeover complete with built-in transceivers and sophisticated communication systems. Those enhancements allow racers to do things like change lanes and go up against more drivers.
"You can race up to six cars on a track now," Craven says. "You can pass somebody, you can cut someone off. It's more like real racing."
Where to go slot car racing
Want to get up to speed on slot car racing? Here's are some good places to start:
Port Jefferson Raceway
Hours: 1-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11-9 p.m. Saturday, 11-6 p.m. Sunday
Races: Cars hit the tracks Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights and every other Friday, usually between 7 and 7:30 p.m.
Slots a Lot
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Fridays, 12-9 p.m Saturdays, 12-6 p.m. Sundays.
Races: It's a different theme every night with 1940s and '50s replica jalopies on Tuesday. NASCAR Wednesdays, drag racing Fridays and kids racing Saturdays. Racing usually starts at 7 p.m.
Family Raceway and Hobby
155 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst, 631-592-8469
Hours: 1-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays
Races: None for the summer, but races start up again in the fall
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Races: None, except for kids birthday parties. There is a demo track where you can test cars before buying.