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Sultans of Slots - a Team Russkit report in LA Times 1966


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#1 ravajack

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Posted 12 June 2019 - 03:50 PM

"...a single manufacturer that is rapidly establishing itself

as the Ferrari of the miniature auto racing world."

 

That's the characterization of Team Russkit (Mike Morrissey, Ron Quintana, Len Vucci, and Rick Durkee, with team boss Jim "Enzo" Russell) on the then new and blooming american fad slot car racing in this article from the Los Angeles Times sunday magazine on October 30, 1966. Team Russkit was the very first truly "professional" team in slot car racing, "the creampuff of the industry" with a winning streak of more 75%.

 

Sultans of Slots 

by Paul Ditzel 

 

Lanky Mike Morrissey was the first - and everyone assumed the last - slot car racer to break the track record that night in Culver City. He sent his 1:24 scale McLaren-Elva car flying around the 247-foot road course in a 10:04-seconds qualification run at the 120-Iap Rod & Custom Magazine Championship. 
 
Envious murmurs from Southern California's fastest model car drivers subsided as Ron Quintana stepped up to the track and readied his own McLaren for a crack at 21-year-old Morrissey's fast time. Squeezing the trigger of his hand controller, Quintana shot his racer down the long straightaway and around the high-banked curve of the Classic Speedway track. Bolting down another straightway and through another curve, the tiny car picked up still more speed. Its front wheels lifted perilously off the track, then settled back as the racer flashed past the finish line. 
 
Stop watches clicked. The judges looked at each other in amazement Spidery Ron Quintana, 21, had shattered the course record with a run of 9.83 seconds. 
 
After that, the championship heat was almost an anti-climax. Morrissey, Quintana and elfin Rick Durkee, 18, whose qualifying time was only a whisper slower man Morrissey's, finished first, second and third, respectively.
 
But, the order of finish and the clockings were both less significant than the fact that all three of the top qualifiers represented a single manufacturer that is rapidly establishing itself as the Ferrari of the miniature auto racing world. 
 
The manufacturer is American Russkit, a Westchester (California) company that maintains a four-man entry to test its cars and accessories under the same kind of competitive pressure that Ferrari tests theirs: on the racetrack itself. However, Russkit doesn't always come in first; even with its own team. 
 
After the Culver City race, the other drivers crowded around the winning entry. Somebody noticed that the cars were not equipped with the firm's tires or gears. "We wont use Russkit gears because they don't mesh properly," explained team captain Morrissey, whose horn-rims give him the appearance of a bookworm instead of one of the nation's hottest slot-car drivers. 
 
"And Russkit's tires can't hold the track with the best of other manufacturers' tires," added Quintana. 
 
The president of American Russkit, James B. Russell, might be expected to disagree violently. He doesn't. "We make lousy gears," he says. "The Cox Company out in Santa Ana makes better ones. And our tires are inferior." 
 
In this age of public relations newspeak, comments like Russell's can sound suspiciously like a press agent's. In this case, however, self-criticism is not a stunt, but an almost weekly exercise by members of the company team who have a direct gripeline to their president and are encouraged to use it for complaints about Russkit products. 
 
The fourth member of the team, Len Vucci, 19, gripes along with the others, but the unofficial spokesman for the group is their captain, Morrissey. All four slot car drivers are students at California State College in Long Beach. They work for Russkit after school, nights and during summers. 
 
It is their job to find fault with the electrically-powered cars and equipment for home and raceway tracks before the company starts production on them. The cars are accelerated and braked by hand-held control units clipped to one of eight routed lanes of a racetrack. 
 
In a fiercely competitive industry like miniature race-car manufacturing, new products that make the cars go still faster appear almost as fast as the nation's 6 million enthusiasts can snap them up and use them at one of the nation's estimated 2,000 public raceways. 
 
Russkit, and more than 100 other manufacturers are competing in a market that may hit $250 million a year by this Christmas and each company, ranging from the big four of slot cars - Cox, Revell, Monogram and Classic - to one-man, backyard operations, wants a piece of that market, according to Model Car Raceways magazine, the business journal of the industry. 
 
Although firms like Cox, Riggen and BZ Industries regularly sponsor teams, Russkit' s agreement with its drivers is considered the creampuff of the industry. The firm pays the team a retainer, a fee for each race and gives them a blank check to purchase anything in another manufacturer's catalogue. Their only requirement is to win. 
 
"We insist on their winning," says Russell, "but only with good sportsmanship." Unlike most other factory teams, they are not required to use the company's products. "They must win with the best equipment, whether it's ours or not".
 
And win they usually do. Since the team was formed three years ago, it has won more than three out of four of its nearly 200 races at slot tracks around the country. Team captain Morrissey says no special skills are needed to race the cars around the high-banked tracks and long straightaways without spinning them out. "The trick is to keep it up for 15 or more consecutive fast laps." 
 
Russell encourages his team to prepare carefully for races, especially major events like the enduros that run as long as 28 hours. These competitions attract numerous spectators, many of them potential slot-car buyers. 
 
A 24-hour enduro at South San Francisco recently gave Russell some bad moments. He had suggested that Morrissey visit the track ahead of time and scout special problems, particularly track electric power. Variations in power can affect slot cars the same way variations in fuel affect full-size race cars. 
 
But Morrissey was confident. "Why go to all that trouble?" he asked Russell. "We have that race cooled." 
 
When the team showed up they were dismayed to find that track power drastically cut performance on their motors. The only solution was to rewind the armatures. Vucci, who doubles as chief mechanic, busied himself in a frenzy of winding copper wire around armatures as the race started. 
 
Then, in a driving exhibition which still has San Francisco race fans talking, the team managed to work its rewired cars up to second spot before the checkered flag fell. 
 
What has made model cars the fastest selling merchandise in the history of hobbies, eclipsing even model railroading in its heyday? Russell says it's the Walter Mitty in each of us. 
 
"In our daydreams we live the adventure we dare not or cannot try," he explains. "The political man says: 'If only I were President . . ."  The would-be speed demon says: "If it weren't for my wife, I'd be Stirling Moss . . ." 
 
Russell, whose wife offers no such barriers to his aspirations, drives the original Shelby-American Cobra Daytona Coupe that set 23 world speed records. He believes slot-car fans duplicate on miniature tracks many thrills drivers find at Riverside or Indianapolis. 
 
"The only thing missing," he says, "is the carnage." 
 
Morrissey denies that he and his teammates are playing out their own Mittyesque fantasies as miniature Graham Hills or Jimmy Clarks. "This is a sport unto itself for us," he says. Nevertheless, he looks forward to the day he can drive his own full-sized race car. 
 
Just as tomorrow's big-league baseball players come from today's sandlots, so may tomorrow's Riverside Grand Prix winners come out of today's slot racing centers.
 
Russkit 30 oct 1966 LATa (Medium).jpg

 

Russkit 30 oct 1966 LATb (Medium).jpg


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Bertil Berggren
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#2 Tom Eatherly

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Posted 12 June 2019 - 06:38 PM

Pretty neat stuff right there. I also like that Franchi shotgun in the ads. What a price!


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Tom Eatherly

#3 don.siegel

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Posted 13 June 2019 - 02:41 AM

Great find Bertil, thank you! 

 

Don 







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