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Racing at Sidewinder Raceway 9/2/15


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#1 rvec

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 11:16 AM

It is 3:30 A.M., Wednesday, September 02, 2015 and I sit here in a darkened travel trailer in Weed, California. I am pumped up on coffee from last evenings drive and simply cannot sleep anymore. As I wait for daylight, I am careful to tread lightly, not wanting to waken my wife until a reasonable hour.

I look forward to our visit to the Sacramento, California area for many reasons including some great music and dance, another chance to bike the beautiful American River Trail and last but not least, to again visit Sidewinder Raceway. I first visited Sidewinder Raceway in May of 2013. Summarized below are a few facts and impressions as well as some images snapped at the raceway.
  • The facility is owned and staffed by the Strange family. It is located in a strip mall in Rancho Cordova (a suburb of Sacramento). Although this is their first commercial venture, they are not at all new to the model car racing hobby.
  • The owners are friendly, knowledgeable and foster an environment of camaraderie. Races are seeded with participants of relatively equal ability. Competitive races make for more fun.
  • The 2,500 square foot store features two, custom built wooden tracks, well-stocked counters including a wide variety of RTR 1/32 and 1/24 cars and parts as well as static models, scenery, and home sets.
  • The tracks were built by the owners and can be characterized by changes in elevation and relatively tight corners. Track scenery includes trees, grass, buildings and figures. The shop is accented by custom wall hangings.
  • Focus is on 1/32 scale racing, however, 1/24 BRM cars are in the mix.
  • The cars, even in so called stock form, are fun to drive and handle well. In modified form they handle great and are quite fast. I was truly amazed that a plastic chassis 1/32 machine could be this good
Atlanta Raceway Park
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Florence Road Course
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Before proceeding I would like to thank the owners, Bill and Billy Strange for a great time. I would also like to thank Michael Wright for the loaner Mustang and to the rest of the racers who welcomed a visitor who didn't have a clue. Believe me, if I lived in the Sacramento area I would be a regular at Sidewinder Raceway. Below is an image of the loaner cars.

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As mentioned above, I have been visiting Sidewinder Raceway since early 2013. I have been involved in the hobby of slot racing for the better part of sixty years and have watched slot car shops come and go. Times have changed and with very few exceptions like Buena Park the old ways of doing business simply do not work. Sidewinders business model is quite different than the typical slot car facility. Does it represent a new paradigm? Only time will tell. Sidewinder has been in business since early 2013. According to the owners, the business is in the black and they have renewed their lease for another three years. Weekly races attract between 15 and 25 participants. A new track plan is being developed as a replacement to Atlanta Raceway Park and should be completed late in 2015 or early in 2016. All this looks promising. See the appendix for the contrasts between the typical business model and Sidewinders approach.

Ah but I digress, now for the action on race day. I arrived at Sidewinder Raceway around 3 P.M. and was warmly greeted by both owners, Bill and Billy Strange. I noticed that the facility was clean and well-stocked as usual. I also noticed that the larger of the two tracks, Atlanta Raceway Park looked a bit different. After further observation and a few questions, I learned that the lead-on turn and the hump in the main straight had been flattened and that the banking in some of the S turns had been modified.

Although the races were not scheduled to begin until about 7:30 P.M. several slot heads were either hunched over equipment and cars or on the track testing their latest attempts at improving speed. I recognized several of these participants and spent some time talking to them about our mutual hobby. Then it was time for some needed practice. Billy was kind enough to loan me an Audi for the Carrera GT contest and as mentioned above, Michael Wright was kind enough to lend me a Mustang for the Trans-Am race.
At about 7:15, Billy, the race director called a drivers meeting. Below are the highlights
  • Seventeen racers would participate in each of two class categories Carrera GT and Tran-Am
  • All races would be held on the Atlanta Raceway Park course
  • For each race, participants would be seeded into groups based upon their performance in previous contests in the given class.
  • The format would be 8 lap heats (about a minute of racing) with rotation. Points would be awarded for each heat using the following method. 4,3,2,1 for first through fourth respectively. The race winner in each seed would be the participant scoring the most points.
Race 1 featured the four top seeded racers running modified Trans-Am Machines. The grid is shown below. Drivers/cars are as follows - John Vina (Lucky Strike 70 Camaro), Billy Strange (Chaparral 70 Camaro), Michael Wright (Orange 70 Camaro), and John Roberts (Barracuda). Billy dominated the race amassing 16 total points. Mike Wright and John battled it out for second. In the end it was Mike with 10 points and John with 8 points for second and third respectively. Below are a few images of the contest.


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Race 2 featured the second seeded group running modified Trans-Am cars. Since there were five participants in this race, I have shown two grid images below to include all five cars. Drivers/Cars are as follows: Bill Strange (Lipton 70 Camaro), David Helmer (#23 70 Camaro), Larry Stevens (#77 Challenger), Mike Davis (#25 Mustang) and Joe Hiner (#22 Mustang). Bills Camaro was the car to beat turning fast lap and finishing with 16 points. Larry was second scoring 13 points while Mike was a distant third scoring 9 points. Below are some images of that contest.

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Race 3 featured the balance of the racers (8 in all), running stock Trans-Am rides. A couple of the grids are shown below, including an image of my loaner Mustang in the far lane. The Mustang was a good runner, the driver, not so much. I managed one second place and two third place finishes in the four heats that I ran. Unfortunately, in my last heat, I finished last, making my point total only 8. Not a great performance I must admit but I did have a lot of fun. Ed Jones won the race with 16 points. Dan Solis was second with 14 points and Paul Hendricks finished third with 12 points.

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Race 4 featured the top four seeded drivers in the Carrera GT class. Mike and Billy Strange battled it out for the top step of the podium. Although Billy turned a better fast lap, Mike drove a more consistent race to finish on top with 14 points. Billy was second scoring 13 points. John Vina finished a distant third with 8 points. Below are a few images of this contest.

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Race 5 featured the balance of the field (a total of 13) racers running Carrera GTs. The race was closely contested with the top 9 finishers separated by only four points. My Audi was competitive and I finished eighth with 10 points. For me, it was not a bad performance. In the end it was David Helmer, Paul Hendricks and Larry Stevens for first through third respectively, all scoring 13 points. Below are a few images of the contest.

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Appendix
As one who spent the better part of my career analyzing the economics of multimillion dollar projects and billion dollar acquisition targets, I understand, from a financial viewpoint, what it takes to make a successful business. I also, had the opportunity to assist a well-known track builder and shop owner in developing a business plan and associated financials to pitch to a potential partner in the business. At the risk of stating the obvious, I will recount some of the issues.
  • A multi-track commercial facility that includes a Blue King or similar requires lots of space read high fixed costs for the lease and utilities. In addition, track builders are few and far between and large tracks cost big bucks!
  • Inventory of cars, controllers, tools and parts can tie up scores of thousands of dollars
  • Large tracks tend to require a focus on powerful and as a consequence expensive motors. I recall purchasing a score of armatures trying to find one that was superior to others. Also, motor building is an art form that requires a great deal of time and effort
  • Commercial tracks typically focus on non-scale lexan bodies, some of which resemble flying door stops.
  • Entry level classes are typically based upon production, stamped steel chassis which constantly need attention.
  • Some classes require scratch built chassis or very expensive production chassis to be competitive. Again, scratch building requires a great deal of time and effort to master.
In summary the problems with typical commercial operations are that fixed costs are relatively high and that potential revenue is based upon selling high margin products to relatively few customers. In addition, the widespread internet sale of high priced slot car components limits the pricing power of the commercial shop. All this is a recipe for disaster.
I believe that Sidewinder Raceway has turned the economics of traditional commercial facilities on its head. Below are my observations.
  • Customer service is exemplary. The owner and his family are very knowledgeable and more than willing to spend time with the customer, not only to sell the product but to assist the customer in set-up. I spent more than an hour talking to the owner about the business, the track, the cars etc. He was even kind enough to allow me to try out a few of his cars. This kind of attitude keeps customers coming back.
  • Both tracks are wood and custom built by the owners. Atlanta Raceway Park, the larger of the two tracks is an 84 foot road course characterized by changes in elevation and relatively tight corners. Lane spacing is a tight four inches. In order to keep costs down and to eliminate the variables associated with magnets, traditional wire braid was used. The smaller of the two tracks is dubbed the Florence Road Circuit. The owners goal was to provide for close competition and for an atmosphere of real racing for the participant and spectator as well. The scenery, undulating terrain and custom wall hangings all add to the ambiance of the facility and create excitement and enthusiasm. The nature of the layout with its tight corners emphasizes driving skill. Result realism, atmosphere and close competition achieved with a relatively small capital outlay.
  • Smaller tracks allow the footprint of the facility to be relatively small. Result relatively small lease and utility expenses.
  • The focus is on scale, ready to run (RTR) 1/32 racing (Although there is a BRM 1/24 class). Very few simple modifications are allowed. Races are held on Wednesday evenings after normal store hours. In order to keep it interesting, classes of cars rotate week to week.
  • The focus on RTR cars allows novice racers to get up to speed in a hurry and eliminates the frustrations, steep learning curves and time involved in scratch chassis and/or motor building.
  • The plastic chassis 1/32 cars are modestly priced. Result cost is not a barrier to entry into the hobby. In addition, the scale appearance of the cars appeals to a wider audience and the hobby can become a family oriented activity without breaking the bank. Although not an expert in pricing, it seems that the owner has chosen to price his inventory to be competitive with internet sales. The patron is much more likely to purchase a product he can see and feel from a local vendor than to buy over the internet if prices are competitive.
  • The shop carries a limited number of brands but a wide variety of cars in each brand. Result This limits the number of spare parts and associated inventory carrying costs
  •  Manufacturers of 1/32 cars are constantly releasing new models and paint schemes. Result There is an incentive for racers to keep on spending money on new rides. This leads to higher sales volumes and more potential profit for the store owner
  • Several years ago I tried out a passel of RTR 1/32 cars and was frankly disappointed in their performance. Great strides have been made since then. I was impressed with how well these cars handled. The owner allowed me to run a couple of his rides; a Ford Mark IV and a Trans Am Mustang. These were great fun to drive. Result much wider appeal and the potential for higher sales volumes
  • Unfortunately, many commercial facilities are frequented by a small core of speed freaks who are not interested in promoting the hobby, helping others or even acting in a civil manner. In my opinion, this alone drives more potential customers away from slot racing than anything else. I would guess that the Sidewinder Raceway format of RTR, scale 1/32 scale cars would not appeal to the hard core speed freaks. Result we may be entering a new era in slot racing, one that appeals to a much wider, family oriented audience and one that can be sustained by a more economic business model.

Rich Vecchio





#2 James Wendel

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 12:00 PM

Great post, Rich.  Thanks for taking the time and effort to produce such a polished and insightful look at Sidewinder.  :good:

 

I will definitely make a point of including a visit to their track the next time a make a road trip south to visit friends.  - JRW


You can't always get what you want...

#3 rvec

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 12:08 PM

Great post, Rich.  Thanks for taking the time and effort to produce such a polished and insightful look at Sidewinder.  :good:
 
I will definitely make a point of including a visit to their track the next time a make a road trip south to visit friends.  - JRW


Thanks James. The facility is first class and the owners are terrific! You would enjoy the experience

Rich Vecchio


#4 911GT3

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Posted 06 September 2015 - 06:00 AM

Great report, Rich.  Thanks for posting and sharing your experience. 


Eric Balicki

 


#5 rvec

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Posted 06 September 2015 - 08:24 AM

Great report, Rich.  Thanks for posting and sharing your experience.


Thank you Eric. I do post these from time to time. Did you read my report on the Slot Car Convention? Ancient history, I know but what an absolute blast. The story is located in the same sub-forum of Electron Raceway, Electron Roving Reporter. Here is the link. Just looking at the machines is worth your time. Here is the link http://slotblog.net/...onvention-2005/

Rich Vecchio






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