AUGUSTA — In a corner room of the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday afternoon, a group of approximately 50 people gather around a miniature racetrack.

One by one, 31 different racers take turns driving an electronic race car around the track, setting up its position for a race later in the day. While waiting for a chance to qualify, drivers and crew members work on cars at side tables, sanding down paint, fixing a tire, preparing for the car’s next run.

Welcome to slot car racing. It’s a hobby, but it’s closer to real auto racing than you may think. The gathering was for the Pro Stock Invitational, which was part of the 33rd Northeast Motorsports Expo.

“(Slot car racing) is basically just like strapping into a regular race car, only you’re driving it with your hands instead of your foot,” said Jeff Martel of Biddeford, the promoter of the Pro Stock Invitational.

Slot car racing is a hobby that began in the 1960s. Slot cars are miniature race vehicles, powered by an electric motor, with a pin attached to the bottom of the car that keeps it in place along a grooved track. The cars are controlled by a remote trigger, plugged into the side of the track. Though a pin holds the car to the track, it is not difficult for a car to get out of control, disconnect from the groove and crash into a wall.

“It was really big in the ’60s,” said Martel, who first got into the racing of slot cars in 1990. “It was more commercial back then, you could run a spot for cheap money (for a race). Today, it’s unfathomable to even try to even think about renting a spot. I did it for five years, and it just kept getting expensive. Now, 100% of the (slot car) tracks in the state are in the garage.”

It’s also a hobby that can be enjoyed by all ages.

“I’ve been doing it for a year,” said Karson Hewins, 11, of Oxford. “My dad has been talking about it. We’ve been racing down at Minot (Mountain Raceway) and he got into it. One day, I asked him if I could try it. He got me (a slot car), and I just got addicted.”

For 8-year Jase Martel, Jeff’s son, it’s a hobby he’s seen since birth.

“He’s been doing it since I’ve been born,” Jase Martel said. “I’ve been racing for a year and a half, two years. I’m getting the rhythm of how to do it. You have to let off (the throttle) before the corners. … I’ve been trying to get better and trying to stay up with my dad, because he’s been doing it for 35 years. I’m just trying to keep up and get better.”

Participants of the Pro Stock Invitational traveled from all over New England, as far south as Rhode Island.

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years or so,” said Kevin Boucher, 51, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts. “A friend of mine took me to a (track). I got into the competition, the camaraderie, the friendships that you make over the years.”

Many of the participants are fans or drivers at local racetracks and use slot car racing to fight off the boredom of the offseason.

“I race at Oxford,” said Hewins, who made Oxford Plains Speedway history last season by being the youngest driver to win at the track in a full-sized car, picking up a victory July 24 in the Rookie series. “I’m just addicted to racing. In the winter, it’s a good (hobby).”

To the side of the racetrack, crews with wooden toolboxes fix any issues with their cars, not unlike a pit crew in a stock car race.

“The biggest thing is, when they crash, they bend,” said George Allen, owner of the Minot Mountain Speedway. “You’ve got to take (the car) all apart. You’ve got to make sure the chassis isn’t bent, make sure the axels aren’t bent, and you work from there. A lot of people don’t realize that. But these cars are fixable. I still have the first cars I started with. It’s exactly the same dynamics as running a real race car. You’ve got tire stagger, you’ve got weight to move around, front to back, left to right. It’s the same idea.”

Allen, 64, got into slot racing six years ago, but was quickly hooked.

“After (racing) for about a year, I had a chance to buy a track, brought it home and the rest is history,” said Allen, who estimates 20-25 drivers routinely race at his home track in Minot. “All these local racers, all the pit crews, they’re all friends that come to the house. We really enjoy it.”

There’s more than just pride on the line at the Pro Stock Invitational. There’s a $20 registration fee, with cash prizes for the winner, driver with the fastest lap, even to the participant who traveled the farthest to the race. The winner of the race also travels home with a 5-foot trophy.

More than anything, Jeff Martel said, the people involved have fun.

“This, for me, is my big-league racing,” he said. “I tried racing a real race car for one year and won some races. But this, for me, this is it. This is my Winston Cup, per se. I like the camaraderie; I like the people involved. It’s just a good time.”


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