Motor Racing, H:O Scale Slot Cars, Classic Cars, the building of my slot car circuit

Les courses automobiles francaises et voitures classiques

Sunday, 29 May 2016

64 Memories of H:O scale English National Slot Car Racing in the Nineties.

I was part of the English H:O slot car racing scene in the nineties, taking part in the weekend events. The smallest and cheapest of form of motor racing!   I have had a few requests to write something about it, so here are some memories. 

1. H:O scale cars are about 3 inches long and less than 1 1/2 inches wide.
Hand painted Tyco F1 cars on display at a Mortlake meeting.
The winning car (and the spare for the winning team) in the 1994 Derby le Mans 24 hours.  This Tomy AFX Group C Toyota was I think handpainted by Rick Burneson in the US for the UK Southern Comfort team.
Where we raced.

2. Chesterfield – The Chesterfield H.O. Racing Club (CHORC) recently celebrated its 25th birthday, having been founded by Doug Passell in 1991.   Back in the nineties as well as their weekday club nights, CHORC used to host Saturday events as part of the HOSRA and HORACE national championships.  My first ever H.O. meeting was in early 1992 when I took part in the first round of that year’s National Championship. I met a nice bunch of guys and got to the A Final so I was hooked!  Chesterfield was always popular with our wives as it was close to the town centre and its Saturday market.
Doug Passell manning the race control at one of his weekend Chsterfield meetings.
3. Derby – The Derby H.O. Racing Club (DHORC) was the second of the big H.O. clubs and is also about to celebrate its 25th birthday, having been set up by Nick Sismey in 1991/2 on Rolls Royces premises.  Derby of course contributed to H.O. racing not only by having an extremely popular club but by holding the alternative 24 Hours of Le Mans race.  The first of these was back in 1992 when it was held on the same day as the real Le Mans 24 hours.  That year I was in the team that finished second and we also raised money for the Child Line charity.  I seem to remember Rigby Allen helped Nick set up the timing and computers for that first event.  I also remember talking to Nick's Dad, John, who was a BRM mechanic in the sixties.
The first ever Derby Le Mans 24 hours in 1992.  Doug Passell, Phil Rees and myself can be seen amongst those racing. 
4. Stourbridge – One of the first events back in 1991 had been held near Coventry organised by a guy called Trevor Tennant who was always talked about but I never met.    Gordon Fowell kept up the tradition of racing in that area by organising weekend events in Stourbridge.  A small venue and not always as many participants but a welcome venue from 1992 onwards and event I always attended as I liked Gordon.
Gordon Fowell mans race control at Stourbridge with the Baldocks in the background.
5. Mortlake, London SW14 – I had dreams of hosting my event as soon as I went to Chesterfield for the first time.  Doug and Nick were very helpful in encouraging me and helping me host my first event in the Girl Guides hut in Mortlake in September 1992.  This was the first in the line of a number of annual Mortlake Grand Prix that were held from then until 1995 in the Mortlake Girl Guide and Scout huts.   I tried to innovate at Mortlake and the 1992 event was the first held without any of the clip on guard rails that gave a big advantage to the outside lane.  We also held modelling competitions and had fun races for old aurora cars as well as trying different formats such as the shoot out.   Our circuits were 1992 Bathurst, 1993 Watkins Glen, 1994 Riverside and 1995 Brands Hatch.
The final Mortlake GP in 1995 was held on a Brands Hatch GP circuit.  Jim Kelly, Phil Rees, Deane Walpole, Ian Grinham and others can be seen in this picture.
6.   York – in many ways this was the most popular event of the year.  Held in city centre York by Paul Howard it was the mot beautiful venue and because it was an away event for most of us it was very sociable and we had evening meals together in the local restaurants.   It was never a very lucky venue for me and it is one of the few places I didn't win a National.  However, I did pick up a fun race win in the Indy Lights MR1 cars.
York in 1993 with its Buenos Aires circuit.  Ian Holloway, Andy Abbott and Paul Howard can be seen racing.
7. Newbury – there was a small H.O. racing club in Newbury mainly for Junior racers and they used to host some of our National events at their venues.  David Vaughan was the organiser.  A welcome addition to the circuit from around 1993 as it was a bit closer for us Londoners.  Started off in the nice big Church Hall and ended up in the scout hut after a few years. 
Phil marshalls his own car at Newbury Church Hall.
Don Stanley enjoying himself whilst Peter Baldock and Jack Kelly concentrate in Newbury scout hall.
8. Exeter – the reason why H.O. racing exists in the UK is a chap called Dave Cutler who was a big time collector of H.O. slot cars and started up a fanzine that got us all involved.   He organised the first event in London in 1990 and set up H.O.S.R.A. (H.O. Slot Racing Association and the name of the fanzine).   After he moved to Exeter he organised at least one meeting there.  Funnily, enough after starting the whole feel off, he didn’t attend that many meetings.   
Peter Baldock racing Dave McPeake and the juniors at Exter in 1994.  Andy Whorton is sitting on the stage and still races today with THORL.  Tom Fowell, Dave Passel and some Newbury Junior are also in the picture.
9. Sutton  - This was a small club that Peter Baldock set up with my help and who organised weekend meetings during 1996 and 1997.  We had an ambitious calendar of organizing a Sunday afternoon event every month during those years.  The format of racing was a little different and proved popular with many.  We had six classes (F1, Indy Car, Touring Car, GT, Sports Racing cars and Trucks).  Everyone drove in four heats and thus could qualify for up to four of the class finals where the fastest four competed.  We also had an overall  final and a consolation Peugeot 205 race for anyone who didn’t compete in any of the Class finals.  Regulations meant we raced standard cars, lexan bodied cars plus rarer cars such as LifeLikes and MR1s.  The Trucks were allowed to race with almost unlimited modifications but had to have three axles.
Sutton with Deane Walpole, Peter Baldock, Ian Grinham and Don Stanley marshalling.
10. The USA team who came over to race in the Derby Le Mans 24 hours in 1995.
The USA team practising on the Derby Le Mans circuit in 1995.  They won.
What we raced in terms of chassis.

11. Tyco 440X2 – This chassis was the mainstay of HOSRA Formula One racing and Indy Cars at Sutton.  They could also be competitive in the rights hands on fast circuits with the Pan Chassis and NASCAR bodies. 
12. Tomy Super G+ - The SG+ chassis was the most competitive chassis for our Group C and Sports car races. Weren’t allowed in the Formula One class in HOSRA races but we did use them in F1 at Sutton.
13. Tomy Turbo – These were the chassis used for the le Mans 24 hours and most other endurance races.  Occasionally a green engined version with a Tomy Lexan body could be competitive.  I remember in July 1992 a Chesterfield local beating all of our SG+ cars using one.
Tomy Turbo cars on the grid for the 1995 Derby Le Mans 24 hours.
14. Tyco 440 – A few races in early 1994 were held using these lower powered magnet chassis.  If I recall there was a Spa Francorchamps 6 hour race that my team won at Derby plus a fun race at Anderstorp held by CHORC which I also won.
15. Scalextric MR1 – These cars caused a bit of controversy when they came out because some wanted to race them or their Marchon predecessors.  We came to compromise by holding an Indy Lights series with them using F1 bodies a number of us had painted up.  I only won once using this chassis, at Chesterfield in February 1995.   
One of the HORACE Indy Lights cars
16. Aurora Magnasonic – My all time favourite chassis!  At meetings with not too many competitors I would add an extra race for these cars which made a loud quaking noise (sorry!, realistic engine sound).  Using Ford Escorts and Bre-Datsuns, the races were held in soot-out format.  The slowest four would go first in a 1 minute race and the last driver would be knocked out to be joined by the next fastest driver.  The same continued until it came down to a shot out between the final two drivers.  I remember Gordon Fowell doing particularly well in one of the Mortlake shoot outs and keeping in for a record number of rounds.  At Mortlake we also used the old G plus chassis for a historic F1 event.
Aurora G Plus Historic Racing F1 at Mortlake
17. Lifelike – Again these cars were not always allowed, or their Rokar predecessors.  However, we raced them at Sutton in our Touring Car events.
18. Anything that goes! – This was what we allowed for our truck racing at Sutton.  Any chassis, any magnets, any tyres but you had to have three axles and a truck body.  I seem to remember that Tony Baldock dominated this category.
19.  Collections.  At the events many of us displayed our collections, which was also a big point of interest.
Collection on display at the Mortlake GP with many Can-Am cars and the Indy cars practising their pit stops.

Some circuits we raced on

20. Le Mans – the 200 foot eight lane Le Mans track in the sports hall at Rolls Royce was something else. I raced there three time back in the nineties and it was the only real international event as it had visitors from France, Ireland and the USA. Back in the nineties they used standard Tomy AFX track. Biggest memory apart from being part of as team who won was seeing Cliff Roythorne race the whole 24 hours on his own in 1994 - amazing.
A marshall puts a car back on the track on the 200 foot Le Mans eight lane circuit.
21. Monaco – DHORC held a race on a Monaco like circuit in 1993 and at Sutton we also set one up in 1996 complete with tunnel and swimming pool complex.  With the slow corners and visibility problems quite a challenge.
Part of Sutton's Monte Carlo circuit including the exit of the tunnel and some elevation changes.
22. Daytona – Over the years we raced on both the tri-oval and the combined oval and road circuit.  We used the Datona Tri-Oval twice at Sutton and Gordon Fowell set up a both the combined course and oval on the floor at Stourbridge in November 1995.
Doug Passell, Tony Stamper and Paul Howard racing on Stourbridge's Daytona Tri-Oval
Winning car at the Stourbridge Daytona Tri-Oval
23. Spa Franchorchamps – If I remember well, Derby did hold a National Championship race again in 1994 having boycotted the series in 1993.  Not many of their regulars turned up so it allowed me to win on their Spa Franchorchamps circuit in my Tyco 440X2 McLaren F1 car.
24. Bathurst – This was the first circuit I designed for the National Championship in 1992.  It had some elevation changed due to the different heights of the tables!   Nick Sismey won the F1 race and I took the Group C victory.  
25. Riverside – Perhaps, my favourite circuit ever with its testing esses.  This was our 1994 Mortlake circuit.
The awesome Riverside Esses that we had for the  Mortlake GP in 1994.
26. Susuka – One of the other Sutton regulars designed this for one of the final Sutton meetings.  I wasn’t able to attend but I hear it was a great circuit.
27. Pembrey – Not all of our crcuits were hugely famous circuits.  Pembrey, the little Welsh circuit was used as the plan for the January 1995 circuit at Newbury.
We used the Magnasonics on occasion at Newbury as well as Mortlake, including on their pembrey circuit.
28.  Watkins Glen
The second Mortlake Grand prix held in 1993 was held on the Watkins Glen circuit. As well as a F1 race we held a mini-Budweiser at the Glen for 1/64th scale NASCAR cars.  Peter Baldock, Keven Tombeur, Tony Baldock and Don Stanley can be seen practising.
Some of the guys we raced against

29. Tony Baldock – one of the fastest racers around and multiple champion after HOSRA became HORACE.  He also won the 24 hours on many occasions. Mustn't also forget Tony's friend Ian Grinham who also was a regular.
30. Andy Abbott – Another fast racer who hadn’t reached his peak in the early nineties when I was having my success but I remember many great dices against him and was fast at the end of a race.
Andy Abbott and Ian Grinham marshalling at Mortlake.
31. Nick Sismey – Was the first HOSRA Champion in 1992.   John Tague, another DHORC champion was another we raced against occassionally in the early nineties.  
Nick Sismey (back to camera) receives the prize on behalf of HOSRA 1 who won the first 24 hours in 1992.  Dave Cutler is centre of picture.
32. Kevin Tombeur – A 1/32nd racer he often turned up to races in the South.  Was very fast and I believe he went on to win the Scalextric British GP.  Often came along with Rachel who was undoubtedly our fastest female H:O racer.
Kevin Tombeur (centre0 flanked by Don Stanley and myself.
33. Peter Baldock – I encouraged Peter race after he turned up with his son Tony at one of our Mortlake meetings.  He became a very consistent driver and difficult to beat as he rarely left the track.  Encouraged a number of others to come along including Nigel Sykes who was a regular at Sutton but doesn't seem to appear in my pictures.
We had an IROC race using Tomy Turbo Ford Thunderbirds at Peter's first meeting at Mortlake in 1993.
34. Allan and A.J.McPeake – In 1994 Allan and his son AJ and nephew Dave turned up to many of our National rounds and really helped the series become competitive again.
Alan McPeake (second right on the podium) racing the 1995 24 hours.
35. Tom Fowell – Son of Gorndon Fowell, Tom was the fastest of the Juniors early on and I think he bit all the adults on one occassion.
36. Don Stanley – who can forget Don and his competitive spirit and biting humour!  We miss him!
Don marshalling during the 24 hour race in 1995.
37. The 1994 Le Mans Winning Team
John Etherton, Peter Baldock, Tony Baldock, Don Stanley and Kevin Tombeur.  Winners of the 1994 Derby 24 hours.
Some of the others who made the events worth going to

38. Tony Stamper – it was great to meet Tony from Burton-on-Trent.  He was a great modeller and amazed us with his HO scale slot car models.  A nice guy as well.
A York meeting with David Passell, Tony Stamper, Any Abbott and Deane Walpole.
39. Doug Passel – Doug was also very welcoming and often used to invite us back to his house after the meetings for a tea or coffee before our long drive home.  Others from Doug's Chesterfield club that I remember include Steve Bryan, Steve DeVille and of course David Passell as well.
Racing on the USA Pay Circuit at Chesterfield in 1997.  I think this was the occasion of last win!  Steve DeVille, Ian Grinham, Peter Baldock, Doug Passell, Gordon Fowell and Andy Abbott can all be recognized in this photo.
40. Phil Rees – Phil was great at painting cars including Lexan bodies.  I bought a few painted Lexan bodies from him that I used to race at Sutton.  Came to the first Le Mans 24 hour race, as Nick had organised a team from the local Toyota dealer, and got hooked.  
41. Paul Howard – Paul was a great collector and brought any excess cars along to sell.  I built up quite a lot of my collection from him.  Super person as well.
42. John Todd and Phil Hector– our two London friends who I used to bring along to a number of events including Sutton.  Great sense of humour the both of them.
John Todd, Tony Baldock, Phil Hector and Peter Baldock racing at Sutton.
43. Deane Walpole – Deane was always a great supporter of our Sutton rules and coped well with being the brunt of some good humour.  Later set up EAHORC.
44. Graham and Julia.  They often used to come to events in the early nineties.  Nice couple.  Mustn’t forget Jim Kelly who was another regular and often bought along his son Jack.
45. Barry Johnson– Used to come along and race but also to sell us cars and spares.  Again a great guy.
Barry Johnson and Deane Walpole on the Mortlake Brands Hatch GP circuit.  
46.  For us Weekend Racers we were very greatful that CHORC held many weekend races at Chesterlield.  Always a nice venue, a nice welcome and nice crowd with some very competitive racing.
Doug Passell's Monza circuit at Chesterfield.  Steve Bryan standing on the bench and plenty of the other regulars marshalling.
My Most Memorable Wins

47. 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours – I remember being very emotional as I drove the last stint in the second running of Derby’s alternative Le Mans 24 hour race.  We were racing a Tomy Turbo chassisied Toyota Group C car and Peter Baldock had organised us “The Car in Front is a Toyota” T shirts.  It proved true and we won in record time (it even got in the Guinness Book of Records).  I was nominally the captain of the team which was rather strong as it included Tony and Peter Baldock, Keven Tombeur, Don Stanley and myself.
The 1994 24 hours.  Tony is far left for our team.  Mention must be made of Cliff Roythorne, third from left, who drove the whole 24 hour race solo!
48. 1993 Monaco DHORC Challenge – Probably my most satisfying win as I won in a standard HOSRA Tyco Williams F1 car against a strong field that included the slightly more modified cars of DHORC.  This victory in March 1993 came after the big schism when DHORC left the HOSRA championship at the beginning of the 1993 season because they wanted more liberal rules.  I didn’t qualify highly but won through from the B Final.  The A final also went my way as I kept on track as the faster cars went shooting off in their own private battles! 
49. 1992 Mexico City F1 Chesterfield – My first win came in July 1992 when I took my Tyco Ferrari F1 car to victory against a relatively small field because of the holiday season.  Gave me the confidence that led to a string of future wins.
50. 1997 Indianapolis A Final Sutton – I was always a big Graham Hill fan and by this time I had won the Le Mas 24 hours, won at Monaco, had two championships but not the Indianapolis win. Thus for the June 1997 Sutton meeting I set up an Indianapolis circuit.  Luckily, Tony Baldock didn’t come to this event and I walked off with the grand slam of 4 class wins and the big final on the Indianapolis circuit.   I had achieved in a very, very small way what my hero had and after that I began to lose interest before eventually hanging up my hand controller in 2001. 
51. 1993 Barcelona GrpC Stourbridge – this meeting stands out in my memory because I managed to win the Group C race driving an Aurora Ford Escort Rallye bodied SG+ car.  Not an ideal body as it is top heavy but it forced me to concentrate.  We had fun that day and also raced jeeps and trucks.
Very unusual Group C winner!
52. 1994 Donington Chesterfield – the 1994 Championship was very tight between me, Don Stanley and the McPeakes.  I didn’t win the big December race but I did enough to clinch the Championship.  I celebrated by winning the fun truck race at the end of the day.
53. 1992 Cadwell Park Grp C Derby – Derby was the big club at the time and had many of their fast racers contesting the HOSRA Championship that was eventually won by Nick Sismey.  By August I had got by Tomy Super G+ Jaguar Group C car running well by copying the Derby boys and grinding my tyres down.  I had a great race on their strange Cadwell Park circuit that included a cross over against Julian one of the local guys and recorded my second win and first in a sports car.
54. 1994 Riverside F1 Mortlake – The 1994 Mortlake GP was held on a tricky Riverside track that included an amazing esses series of bends.  The final proved to be a great battle between myself and Tony Baldock.  Probably one my last big wins against him.  The next month we were in Derby racng together to win the 24 hours.
55.  Big Circuits with long straights.  Home racing and club racing are totally different due to the size of the circuits.   Below is a fast circuit at York.  The format of racing we normally used was to have everyone race in four heats, once in each of the four lanes.  The laps you completed in your best three heats were used to determine the qualifying order.  The slowest completed in the first final and the either the winner or the first two moved up into the next final.  This continued until the fastest four fought it out for a win in the A final.  This took up nearly half a day so we usually held a F1 race and a Sports Car race at each meeting.
Doug on race control at York on a circuit with three long straights.  Jim Kelly, David Passell and Tony Stamper marshalling.  Deane Walpole, and the Baldocks racing.
Eight tactics used to win races

56. Have some great team mates – in team races you need need good team mates.  I had some of the best in Peter and Tony Baldock, Don Stanley and Kevin Tombeur when we won the 24 hours.  They managed to carry me to the win and the World Record.
Peter, Kevin, Don and Tony at the 1995 24 hour race.
57. Good tyre strategy – tyres are key in H:O racing.  You need to grind them down to get the maximum grip from the magnets.
58. Design a tough circuit – One of the benefits of organising races is that you can design circuits that match your talents. And have tricky sections that might catch people out.  My Indianapolis and Riverside circuits stand out for this.  The Riverside Esses had gradually increasing radious and stand you could accelerate through them.  The Indianapolis circuit was tricky as the although a simple rectangle the opposite corners were quite different and thus needed a special rythym.
59. Make a good start – the way I won most of my sixteen National Championship races was to make a very good start and storm off into a big lead in the first few laps.
60. Exhaustive testing – for a couple of seasons I used to practice for the races and select the best chassis and tyres to race on.  Soon got bored with this though!
61. Good lubricants – We used to use WD40 to lubricate the axles and gears to make the cars go faster.  Alan McPeake also had some secret solution that he used to great effect and used to sell to us.
62. Good body shape – for a fast HO slot racer you don’t want much body behind the rear wheels as it encourage a pendulum effect.  A low body with not too much weight is also very effective.
My favourite GT body shape, an Aurora Datsun.
63. Don’t make a mistake – if you want to win you don’t want to spend too much time off the track.  Peter Baldock was always a great exponent of this.
64.  The Concours events for modellers at Mortlake.  For the 1993, 1994 and 1995 events at Mortlake we held modelling competitions judged by everyone attending.  Biggest turnout was for the Volkswagen Beetle competition.
All of the VW Beetles on display at Mortlake as a car races by.
Hopefully, I haven’t made too many errors or missed too many people out of this article.   Leave some comments please if you have further good memories of this period of slot car racing.  Contrary to what you might think, despite the lack of cars and sets in the shops, HO slot car racing is still going strong in the UK in 2016.  I haven't raced for many years but many from the nineties still are.  I also hear that AFX cars will be marketed again in Europe soon.

Apologies if I have used anybody else's pictures without permission, I tried to just use my own.  Let me know and I'll make a change.

Here are some links to UK clubs if you want to go HO racing rather like I did in the nineties:

Chesterfield HO Racing Club on Facebook.

Derby HO Racing Club Web Site.

The HO Racing league web site.

The Worthing HO Club web site.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Barchetta Club France - Entre Terre et Mer 2016

Fiat Barchettas parked in St Seurin d'Uzet for a Sturgeon tasting. 
We were in the Charentes Maritimes near the Gironde over the weekend and got caught up in a small traffic jam of Fiat Barchettas who were on their "Entre Terre et Mer" three day road trip.  We decided to pull up with them and they went and did the same sturgeon tasting that we had done in the morning.   Being British I hadn't come across too many Fiat Barchettas before as they were only available in LHD.   They are a pretty little convertible sports car that was built between 1995 and 2005.
The pretty village of St Seurin d'Uzet.
Fiat Barchettas after 2000 had a third break light in the middle of the boot.
A few more Fiat Barchettas in St Seurin.

Fiat Barchetta in front of the pretty church in St Seurin.

The Barchetta had 4 cylinder 1.8 litre engines that powered them to over 120mph and a 0-60mph
time of under 9 seconds.  Barchetta mean boat and refers to the shape and is often used to describe open top Italian sports cars.

Barchetta with the top up.
A link to the French Fiat Barchetta's Club site.

Nearby in Port Maubert we came across some Storks nests.  Hope the Barchetta drivers got to see them.

A link to the Bartchetta Club France.