Although I was very young (7 years) when my parents first opened our raceway I have been involved in its operation in some way on a daily basis since day one. As I grew older I became more involved until I started full management in the early-eighties. In my experiance many of you are correct in your opinion about why slot racing declined.
When slot racing was new there was the "wow" factor. I remember opening on weekends at 8:00am to a full parking lot with some people waiting hours for one of our then 16 lanes. Our first couple of years we started taking reservations weeks in advance for groups as large as 30 racers. Many local businesses would bring their entire staff to race and many would purchase cars for everyone. We first noticed a decline when some of our casual racers became "hobbyists".
At first everyone was at the same skill level. When you showed up and ran your car it was anyone's chance to be the "champ". You had fun no matter how you matched up against others or how badly your car was wrecked during the day. Then some racers became more serious about going fast. They invested more time, effort, and money in their cars than many of the others. More often this smaller group were the ones winning the races now. And because of their added investment and effort they were less likely to laugh off the abuse their cars may endure at the hands of the casual racer. Many slot racers did not want to invest the time and money required to keep up with the "serious" group. And without making that investment they could no longer compete for the bragging rights of winning. It wasn't as much fun racing for third or fourth or whatever.
As the group of "serious" racers continued to fine tune their cars they required less and less product. They either had most everything they needed or made it themselves. Hence less sales for the raceway. At the same time some of the casual racers were moving on because, for some reason, it just wasn't as much fun anymore. This whole process was so subtle that it went almost unnoticed by anyone. If you look at most other competitive hobbies there are very similar scenarios being played out everyday. I have seen it first hand in R/C carpet indoor most recently in my area.
Obviously the cause wasn't helped when stores like Woolco, Woolworth, Sears, Western Auto (in my area), who had no investment at all in the square footage needed to house a race track, started selling cars and controllers for our commercial raceways. It was a case of short sightedness on the part of manufacturers. Short term profit but the hobby almost died.
I don't feel there was any one big reason that slots faded away. There were dozens of small ones. And they are not unique in any way to slot racing. Sometimes track owners, manufactures, and even racers were/are their own worst enemies. Mistakes have been made and opportunities lost. But hindsight is always 20/20. Slot racing has always been a cyclic business. I can go back through our 44 years of P&Ls and find, most often, six years cycles of feast to famine in slots.
Admittedly the current lull is deeper and has lasted longer than in the past. I am hoping the the D3 / Retro concept will breath some much needed interest into the hobby. At best it will bring some old racers back and introduce new ones to the hobby we all love. At worst it will help delay its demise. I am optimistic. The racers who lived through the glory days of slot now are in the period of their lives when the past becomes more precious and they have the money to revive their memories.
I am honored to be hosting the first IRRA Retro Reunion Race in March. Since finding out about D3/Retro racing I have thought about little else. I am a 51 year old man who is starting to feel like a teenager again. Who said you can't go traveling back in time ???
How about we set aside all the squabbles about motors and tires and rules etc and concentrate on the magic of reliving some of the best times of our lives.
For those of you attending our event I will be the guy with the huge, permanent grin on his face sometimes heard to giggle to himself as he tries to remember how to drive these things.