Not that they have anything to feel embarrassed about. One glorious day last February they made racing history by driving a modified Aurora "G-Plus" the astonishing total of 4,811 laps (100.27 miles) in 24 hours. Translated to normal scale this is 6,429 miles at an average scale speed of more than 267.89 mph, or more than 1� times the highest average speed ever recorded for an Indianapolis 500. Mike Zelinsky was contacted by the publishers of the Guinness Book of World Records, who wanted to confirm that Plye-Wood International was indeed the sanctioning body of slot car racing. Naturally, Zelinsky said it was.
But at this moment the world champions aren't a bit pleased. They have accepted the challenge of an upstart Berkeley team to a grueling 12-hour enduro race. They have lined up track marshals and stewards and a brace of timekeepers. They have even notified the press. At the appointed starting time, 9 a.m., the opposition hasn't arrived.
After an hour's grace, Zelinsky places a hasty phone call. The challenging team, it turns out, is a fellow named Rick who can't get the day off from a Berkeley hardware store. And so it goes. Although the H.O. (1/64th) scale has replaced the gargantuan 1/24th (the smaller gauge is cheaper and crams more track into basements and living rooms), there still isn't enough top-notch competition around to make the FIS sweat.
Lacking an opponent, the learn decides on intrasquad sprints of 30 laps. The best race of the day pits 21-year-old Peter Hope Jr. against Billy ("C") Farlow, a newcomer and lead singer for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Farlow, who hadn't expected to race this day, nervously opens the cigar box that holds his entire fleet and selects a hand-painted A.A.R. Indy Eagle.
At the starter's signal Hope's Ferrari Daytona GT grabs the lead, with the Eagle close behind. By the end of two laps each car has spun off the track several times. Don't let the diminutive look of the cars fool you. Slot car racing takes skill and moxie. Too much speed and the cars zing off the track like darts from a blowgun; too little and they tumble down on the banked turns.
After a few more laps Hope and Farlow get over the jitters and pretty soon their cars are chasing after each other like hopped-up water bugs. The rest of the company, 20 in all, are cheering as if they are at Indy. That is, all except Gil Munz, once a mechanic for Charlie Parsons, former U.S. Road Racing Champion. He sits on the side compulsively fixing wheels the size of aspirin tablets with an assortment of tools so small they might have been fashioned from the microscopic bones of the middle ear.
Meanwhile, Hope, the 1974 FIS champion, is getting all he can handle from Farlow until Billy suffers a fatal spinout on the last lap. Despite his loss, the others are impressed with the rookie's showing. He is clearly someone to reckon with in the future. Zelinsky raises a cheer for Farlow, and Billy, exhilarated by his near victory, shoots back, "I guess I ain't a rookie no more." Move over, Mario Andretti—just about 1/64th of an inch.