Brits slot into Bathurst
One of the interesting things about the resurgence of the slot car hobby is the worldwide connections that people are able to make. Internet forums and digital retailing has enabled people at all levels of the hobby to trade ideas, techniques, cars and just sheer enjoyment.
British slot retailer Gary Cannell and his son Martin recently made a once in a lifetime trip to take in some Supercars events and catch- up with local slot car connections. AMC’s Brett Jurmann spoke to them at the Bathurst Motor Racing Museum during the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 weekend.
AMC: Tell us about your store?
Gary Cannell: We had two shops under the MRE banner and we sold all the ‘boys toys’ stuff: model railways, plastic kits, RC cars, and of course slot cars. I’d had a career as a high-speed train driver for 25 years, and decided to make a change, so I took up selling hobby stuff as an extension of my interests. That led to the shops, and then as trading changed we went online, closed the shops, and specialised in slot racing. That’s what I have been involved with the longest time, and I still build and race slot cars myself.
AMC: What came rst for you: going to races or slot cars at home?
GC: I can remember being taken to Silverstone by a family friend when I was about 10 or 11 years old. The journey was in a Ginetta G4, which was a sort of built-it-yourself Lotus Elan, very low, fast, and noisy, and very exciting for a 10-year-old to go to motor races in. We stood on top of the old-school Silverstone pits – the whole trip really made a big impression on me. I joined my rst slot car club when I was 13 and have never lost interest. Over the years I have raced at many clubs, and was lucky enough to race at two World Championships in the USA.
AMC: What brings you to Bathurst?
GC: It’s the best race in the world, who wouldn’t want to be here! This is something I have promised myself for many years, ever since I rst saw it on British TV in the early 1970s.
AMC: How did you become interested in Australian motorsport?
GC: On an otherwise dull sports day on TV, the Bathurst race popped up one day in the early 1970s. I was hooked immediately! I follow the V8 Supercars throughout the year, although I have also watched the Bathurst 12 Hours sports car race on TV. I subscribe to Superview, so I can watch all the V8 races in full, including qualifying. Really good coverage, they do an excellent job. The Australian commentary is worth the extra dollar for us as well.
AMC: Which of our drivers, if any, have a following in the UK?
GC: The big names like Whincup, Lowndes and Winterbottom are generally recognised because they have been regular championship winners. There are a lot of V8 fans here who can list the drivers down the eld. We have our favourites, mine are Chaz and Frosty (you can tell we are Ford fans), but being British we typically support the underdogs at each race. It’s nice to see somebody coming through the eld after a bad qualifying, it could be anyone, but we want to encourage them.
AMC: What were your impressions of the Bathurst weekend?
GC: Fabulous! We have never been to a race with so many unique characteristics. What goes on at Bathurst could never happen at any other track I have been to. The authorities at Silverstone, Goodwood, Le Mans, etc, would be dancing a purple t if people invaded the track during the night, or starting ripping the place to pieces as soon as the race ended. We were surprised, shocked even at rst but soon realised how passionate the fans are, and soon enjoyed getting ‘involved’ ourselves by walking the track at 2am before race day. We saw some interesting sights and met some interesting people – and the racing was massively exciting as usual.
AMC: Have you met up with any of your slot connections while you are here?
GC: Oh yes. We rst visited Jim and Cathy at Armchair Racer [ED: A track and store in
Artarmon, Sydney] again, who have been friends for many years. At Bathurst we met up with Dominic Grimes, president of the Australian Scalextric Club, who is also a long-time friend and we have always had a good time together in England and Australia. One of MRE’s nicest Australian customers is Ken Fryer who gave us a tour of the Bathurst TV broadcast centre. We camped at Bathurst with more slot friends who arranged for us to share their site (thanks Alistair, Peter, and especially Bryce). Meeting up with yourself at the museum was a treat as we are both slot journalists as well as being slot racers and collectors – I loved that TWR Jaguar! On the Monday after the race we visited Greg Booth who has a big slot track nearby and runs a regular slot club, and had a great days racing with him and Dominic. Very nice to meet so many slot racing friends while we were in Australia, including Jan Dijkman from South Africa whom we have met in many places around the world and have visited his home in Johannesburg.
AMC: How do your customers react to ‘Australian’ slot cars?
GC: They are very popular. Scalextric have done a good job with producing many versions over the years. Getting unusual cars with different and colourful liveries makes you feel you are one-up on the average punter. Both the Mad Max Interceptor issues were highly sought after, much more than other lm-related cars except for the James Bond Aston DB5. Otherwise, I reckon Peter Brock’s Marlboro Torana is right up there, de nitely a classic. Contemporary cars do OK, but only while they are reasonably current, as collectors like the new liveries when they are released which give some cars a short shelf life.
AMC: Is it difficult to obtain stock of our releases?
GC: I have a nice arrangement with an Australian dealer who is also a good friend. We supply or swap stock to help each other out – don’t forget that some cars are not available in Australia and I am happy to send them over and get the exclusive Australia releases in return. Some of my customers will buy every Aussie car released!
AMC: What about Australian cars in your collection?
GC: Of course, I have had them all. At one time I had a very big collection, over 3000 cars, but when the market increased from say 80 to 900 new cars per year, I couldn’t continue and sold it a few years ago. These days, the cars I have are bought or built to race in a particular club class. I have kept a couple of favourites though: Russell Ingall’s Havoline Falcon because I like the colour, Greg Murphy’s Supercheap Commodore, and Will Davison’s Red Rooster Commodore. I wish I could have Frosty’s Bottle ’O car but I had pick up the T-shirt instead.
AMC: What other international race events have you been to?
GC: These days mostly classic races. The Le Mans Classic which runs on alternate years is the only chance to see iconic cars racing through the night. We never miss the classic events at Goodwood and Silverstone. I went to several events in the USA when I lived there. Road America is a great place, the Milwaukee Mile is full of action with Indycars, and I have been to Kyalami and Zwartkops in South Africa a few times in recent years. We are going on from here to the V8 enduro on the Gold Coast, so looking forward to seeing the guys hustle these monsters through the streets.
AMC: What is in the garage at home?
GC: My daily driver is a Ford Focus 2.0 Ghia – it does everything I need it to do. My treat is my Toyota MR2 Turbo, the pretty Mk2 version from the 1990s. It is my summer drive and although getting old, is still a pocket rocket – scares quite a few Porsche and BMW drivers so great fun.
AMC: Are there any trends you see emerging in the hobby?
GC: Yes, 3D printing and resin moulding have really surged ahead in recent years, so different cars and more performance are available to those who want something different. Technically, digital racing has developed as well, but despite supposedly having greater ‘play value’ to encourage newcomers, it is still a small percentage of the market. Slot cars are still considered an ‘old school’ hobby like plastic kits, with a hardcore but aging following. As the baby-boomer group gets older, we are probably going to see the hobby shrink somewhat. I wish I knew what the answer was to raising the pro le again.