Virtual racing has been all the rage since the world went into lockdown over the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, for weeks all the major racing series have had their races and schedules suspended. In the meantime, many of those major racing series have taken to televised virtual racing with the actual star drivers manning their various gaming machines. But, before internet racing, there was slot car racing and a video just resurfaced of a historic track in England hosting a world-record-setting attempt to race slot cars 2.75 miles.
The event was coordinated and emceed by James May, a former host of the motoring show, Top Gear, and current host of The Grand Tour. He reached out to the community to put the track together and to train as a team of drivers. Many drivers were needed for each team as the slot car controllers are all limited in range. Including the drivers, there were 300 people from the community that volunteered to make the event happen.
In the 52-minute long video, Mr. May can be seen advising drivers to loosen up on the remote control triggers prior to the cars heading into a turn to prevent them from flying off the track. He explained the scientific reasoning behind the thought and then sent some of the team drivers to an actual performance driving school so they could learn the concept. You can see this part of the discussion at the 22-minute mark of the video.
When it came down to race day, the community had put the 2.75 mile track together beginning at the remains of the old Brooklands Racetrack in Weybridge, Surrey, UK. Brooklands was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world. However, the track has not hosted a race since 1939. So, parts of the track were actually sold off. Therefore, in order to recreate the racetrack, the slot track was laid down to match a map of the old site. This meant having to run the slot track from the racetrack, across an active roadway, through a drainage pipe, across a pond, over a fence, through a building, and back to the remains of the racetrack for the start/finish line.
When the track was set, the other team showed up. They were professional slot car racers from the company Scalextric. After a small delay, due to the track heating up and causing expansion concerns, the track was reset and the showdown between the community team and the professional team began. Turn by turn analysis was provided by James May and Tiff Needell during the event.
You can watch the whole video or skip forward to the race portion beginning at the 38:30 timestamp. It is actually very entertaining. The community team is in a maroon Aston Martin. The professionals are in a silver Mercedes.
The event was monitored by officials of the Guinness Book of World Records. When the race was completed, an official from the organization handed Mr. May a plaque in recognition for setting the record. A quick check of their website show the record to still be standing.
Mr. May opens the video by asking,
“So, you think computer games are more exciting than old fashioned toys? Maybe you should think again.”
Mr. May brought a whole town together to make this event happen. Even with a six-hour delay due to track issues, he proved through this event that people are still very much enamored with racing, even if it is scaled down in nature. Certainly, virtual racing has its place in a time when social distancing is necessary, but real racing or scaled slot car racing still draws a community together. Granted the online gaming community is large, but it can not match the giggles from small kids, the cheering adults, the cashiers practicing slot car driving on their tea break, and the community volunteerism to wade into a pond. Electronic games are fun, but old fashioned toys still have a place.