Brits slot into Bathurst

Australian Muscle Car - - Mail - with Brett Jur­mann

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.

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