'Awesome time for slot cars'
9-year-old boy a star in hobby's resurgence

Kevin Blocker
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 19, 2005 12:00 AM

When it comes to slot-car racing, 9-year-old Zachary Kleinhans is a boy among middle-aged men.

But with his finger mashing the speed trigger, guiding his car around the track, Zach is a man among boys.

"That little boy is better than everyone," said Sheila Leon, who watched her boyfriend, Steve Hill, try, unsuccessfully, to compete against Zachary in miniature racing. advertisement

Slot-car racing saw its heyday in the 1960s, but the hobby is again making a bit of resurgence with new enthusiasts.

These aren't the cheap tracks a generation of boys played with in the '70s, but a new style of cars that can cost hundreds of dollars. The racing takes place on tracks big enough to fill your living room.

"It's an awesome time for slot cars," said Bob Scott, owner of Cruzin' Hobbies in Chandler. His shop has only one of two full-scale slot car tracks in the East Valley. The other is Tuff Traxx in Mesa.

The term slot car comes from the tracks, which have slot grooves that guide the cars around the track.

One recent evening, more than 30 men and a few boys were taking in the racing action at Cruzin' Hobbies.

Scott, 53, said interest in slot cars came roaring back within the past three years. He suspects the popularity of NASCAR racing has helped contribute to a renewed interest in slot cars.

Scott believes slot-car racing's popularity will continue to grow if younger generations put down their video games and discover the hobby.

"We just can't compete with video games," Scott said. "That's where all their attention is centered."

But that's not the case with Zachary.

Like a carpenter with his tools, Zachary proudly displays his slot-car case, a large plastic toolbox in which he stores his cars and supplies.

Meanwhile, the outside of Zachary's box, every side of it, is covered with first-place decals, the spoils of previous competitions.

"He just took to it," said his father, Mark Kleinhans, who was repeatedly smoked by Zachary in that night's races. "I only introduced him to it last year."

At first glance it appears easy. Hold down on the control trigger and hope your car is faster.

Not so.

All eight tracks, crafted specifically by Scott, have their own little nuances that take time to figure out.

In the "Box Stock NASCAR" class, cars run an oval course. Mashing down on the trigger for maximum speed will launch a vehicle right off the track on hairpin turns.

Zachary said he has no secret formula, but Scott, who has been a slot-car enthusiast for 46 years, said the boy possesses "trigger control."

"It's just having good hand-eye coordination, and, typically, the younger you are, the better that skill is," Scott said. "I guarantee you, this video game generation has that. They would love slot cars."

Although Zachary didn't know much about his hand-eye skills, he said he enjoys slot cars because it gives him a chance to hang out with his father.

"My dad took me here, and we rented some cars one night," said Zachary, a third-grader at Frost Elementary School. "Then he bought me one and him one, and we've been doing it ever since."

Zachary already holds two course records at Cruzin' Hobbies, which Scott has owned for three years.

Right now, most of the drivers are men and boys. But Scott said the club is open to anyone with a need for speed.

Sheila Leon, however, is content to just watch her boyfriend try to win a race.

"I've tried it, and I can't get hooked," she said. "It's a guy speed thing. Personally, I'd rather do a couple of laps around Dillard's."

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