By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — Winter generally isn't conducive to car racing. But you can still feed your need for speed in an indoor setting during the dead season.
Ron and Barb Tomasik opened Fast Tracks Raceway here at the beginning of 2012. It features an oval race track that's 110 feet in length and a drag strip, both for miniature slot cars. Ron has been involved in racing in one way or another for most of his life. He even ran stock cars at one point.
"This has always been the thing I migrate back to," Ron said of slot cars.
They've been around since the 1960s, but their popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently Fast Tracks is the only commercial slot car facility in the area. There's one in Evansville, one in Richmond, and a couple in Fort Wayne.
Many of Fast Tracks' customers are unfamiliar with slot car racing their first time there.
"A lot of people have seen the home sets you can buy at places like Walmart," Ron said. "They've never seen one on a commercial scale."
At this point they have a lot of regular customers, but there are still new faces all the time.
"People stop in who've talked to other people and want to see what it's about," Barb said.
What they'll see are little plastic cars zipping around a track at 50 to 60 mph. And that's just the basic model. Another of Ron's cars, with a see-through body, appears to run twice as fast. In fact, he calculated it at 138 mph once, though he figures it's a little slower now.
"You should see it when there are eight of those together on a track," Barb said. "You have to pay attention to your lane, not your car."
Then there's the drag strip. The one at Fast Tracks has a "Christmas tree" just like what you'd see at O'Reilly Raceway Park. One car Ron runs finishes the strip in less than a second. That's about average. Others can do it in less than half a second.
Just like with real racing, the key is to let off the throttle on the turns and go full blast on the straight-aways. Also like in real racing, slot cars will wipe out and even leave the track.
"We've seen them bounce off the far wall before," Ron said.
But racing, and especially slot car racing, is something that all ages can enjoy.
"Little kids do great at this," Barb said. "I don't know if it's from video games, but they take right to it."
Even the professionals get heavily involved. There's a regular at Fast Tracks who's originally from Argentina and works on an Indy Car team.
"You wouldn't believe some of the cars these people have," Barb said. "A lot of guys who race actual cars do this during the winter."
That doesn't mean there isn't room for amateurs. Ron said a new slot car, which can be bought at Fast Tracks, costs about $55. It's like any hobby though. You can spend a lot more than that if you want. There isn't much you can do to modify a slot car's performance, though, other than adding weight for better handling. You can change their appearance however. One Fast Tracks regular has a slot car that looks like his real one.
"There are all levels of enthusiasts," Ron said. In Fast Tracks' history so far, that has been everything from a fundraiser for a Little League team to some friendly competition between members of the Indianapolis Mustang Car Club.
Chief Deputy Steven Wagner of the Hendricks County Sheriff's Department is a friend of the Tomasiks. He wasn't familiar with slot car racing when they invited him to Fast Tracks.
"Once you race on either of the slot car tracks they offer, you'll be hooked," Wagner said.
The Tomasiks got their slot car track from a fellow enthusiast on Indianapolis' southside. When they found their current location, which is just east of Andy Mohr Toyota on U.S. 36, it was being used for storage. Its owner told them they could use it rent-free, but they had to clean it out.
"When we opened that back door, there was no pathway," Ron said. "This place was full."
When he asked what to do with all the contents, the answer was "just make it go away." It took the Tomasiks nights and weekends for a year to clean the building out. That included stripping a floor that was covered in oil and grease and adding heating and air conditioning. They estimate that they spent $15,000 just on the inside. But it feels like a racing atmosphere, right down to the checkered-painted garage doors lining one side.
"We wanted to give it a racing look," Barb said.
They hope to soon have a road course complete with hills and 90-degree curves.
"We'll have to do some remodeling, but it'll be worth it to have the track in here," Ron said. "(Slot car racing is) a lot of fun. It's a good hobby, something other than playing video games or watching TV. It's also another way to socialize."
Fast Tracks Raceway is at 9145 E. U.S. 36. It's open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, and closed Monday.
For more information, call 374-7271 or visit the website at FastTracksRaceway.com.