When I was in third grade, our teacher, Mrs. Mouzakes, taught us the proper way to write a letter — the salutation, the body, the closing, all of that. One of the letters we had to write was to Santa Claus, telling him what we wanted for Christmas. I was eight years old and was starting to have my doubts about Santa’s existence, but I went ahead and wrote the letter, asking him for a slot car racing set that I wanted. I made sure my parents knew I wanted it too, just in case.
On Christmas Eve, for reasons I no longer remember, I started going down the steps to our basement. Maybe I had detected some suspicious activity, or maybe I just wanted to go down and play with some of my toys that I kept down there. In any case, my mom quickly grabbed me and steered back back upstairs — but not before I caught a glimpse of my father and my brother Henry assembling a slot car track.
That, alas, was the end of my last flickering belief in Santa. But it was the start of a fun period in which I had a slot car set in the basement (I’m about 95% sure it was the same set shown in the photo at the top of this entry). The brand was A/FX — short for Aurora Factory Experimentals, don’tcha know — which had launched a year earlier. Although I don’t specifically remember, I assume I wanted it because I had seen TV commercials for it, perhaps like this one:
It was a fun time. Friends would come over, sometimes with their own cars, and we’d race, time our laps with a stopwatch, keep a little log book of the fastest times, intentionally set up crashes like Gomez Addams. I’d take take my cars apart, clean them, reassemble them. Along the way, I learned cool-sounding driving-related terms, like, “Floor it!” (which doesn’t really make sense when your gas pedal is a handheld gizmo, but whatever — it was fun to say).
After a few years I got interested in other things and the race track fell into disuse. Another 40some years went by before I raced slot cars again. That was a few weeks ago, when the Tugboat Captain and I visited a place called Buzz-a-Rama.
Buzz-a-Rama is a slot car emporium in Brooklyn, about a half-hour walk from Uni Watch HQ. It’s been open since 1965, when there were dozens of similar places around New York City. Buzz-a-Rama is now the last one left. These days it’s open only on weekends, and not at all during the summer. It’s still run by the original owners: Frank “Buzz” Perri, who’s 85, and his wife, Delores (who definitely seems to be younger, although it’s not clear by how much). A lot of their business comes from families who rent the tracks for birthday parties, but they also do some walk-in business.
Buzz-a-Rama is exactly the kind of old-school place I tend to love, but for some reason it wasn’t on my radar until recently. Even when I did eventually hear about it, I mistakenly thought it was a new retro-hip place run by 26-year-olds or something like that. Happily, that’s not the case.
The cars and track are a much larger gauge than the old A/FX track I had as a kid (those steering wheels are just for show and are not operational):
There are three tracks, each of which can accommodate up to eight cars in eight colored slots: red, white, green, orange, blue yellow, purple, and black. The colors have faded a bit with age, and there are also wear marks from the cars zipping around the tracks, all of which combines to form a sort of post-industrial rainbow:
If you want to race at Buzz-a-Rama, you pick an available track and rent a car and handheld speed gun for 15, 30, or 60 minutes. They’ll assign you to the green slot, the red slot, or whatever. Then they’ll activate that slot for the appropriate time period by turning a color-coded dial on a console of timers. When the timer runs out, your slot loses power and then you can either pay for more time or call it a day. The colored timer dials were among my favorite things about the place:
We raced for a bit, which was fun and brought back a lot of memories. But I was more interested in walking around and admiring the tracks, which I found mesmerizing. One track, for example, has a simple layout but a wavy/zigzag stretch that I couldn’t stop looking at:
Another track — the one we raced on — has really nice banked curves that I found compelling:
Mostly, though, I couldn’t stop looking at those post-industrial rainbows and the patterns they made. So many parallel lines and concentric circles, so much geometry — it was all very, very satisfying:
Some of the tracks have lap counters, which are used when Buzz-a-Rama’s dues-paying members hold races:
By coincidence, the TV show Inside Edition did a nice little segment on Buzz-a-Rama shortly after our visit. It includes plenty of face time from Buzz and Delores, the owners, so you can get a better sense of them. Worth your five minutes:
1990s flashback: As we all know, purple and teal/turquoise were the trendy colors for uniforms (among other things) back in the 1990s.
Coverage of yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries provided a flashback to those days. First, look at The New York Times’s electoral map, which showed Bernie Sanders in teal and Joe Biden in purple:
The Washington Post also used those colors — but had Sanders in purple (okay, maybe more of a magenta) and Biden in teal:
Of all the colors to choose, so weird that both newspapers would choose those two!
LAST CALL for the Vintage Brand raffle: Today is the last day to enter this month’s Vintage Brand raffle. The winner will get to choose any item from the VB site (including the groovy Bucks T-shirt shown above).
To enter, send an email to the raffle address by 8pm Eastern tonight. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow. My continued thanks to Vintage Brand for sponsoring these giveaways.
By Lloyd Alaban
Baseball News: Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke wore his team’s regular cap instead of the spring/BP cap yesterday against the Yankees (from Curtis Galvin). … New Mexico State INF Nick Gonzales wore Yankees OF Aaron Judge-themed socks while playing in a doubleheader, and hit five home runs! (From Joanna Zwiep.) … The Indians used an unofficial roundel logo on their lineup card yesterday (from Believeland1994). … Color vs. color for Alabama and South Alabama yesterday (from Griffin T. Smith). … Good-looking matchup for LSU and Southeastern Louisiana last night (from Chris Mycoskie). … A fan at yesterday’s Astros spring training game wore an “Asterisks” jersey (from Michael Barone). … Check out the new logo for the USS Cooperstown, a United States Navy ship commissioned in honor of WWII vets who played professional ball. The top of the logo features perhaps two of the most American things they could fit in a logo: a bald eagle hitting a line drive! More info here (from multiple readers). … New unis for Calvin University softball (from Timmy Donahue).
NFL News: Reader Glenn Chavez found a pair of Joe Flacco socks that were licensed by the NFL Players Association but not by the NFL, so they show Flacco in a blank uniform. … Former U.S. Steel exec William Smith died last week. The first few grafs of this obituary explain his role in the creation of the Steelers’ logo (from Jerry Wolper).
Hockey News: The NHL unveiled a new data-tracking puck to be used for the playoffs and beyond (from Mike Chamernik). … G Roberto Luongo will have his number retired by the Panthers this weekend. Panthers players will wear a commemorative decal on their helmets (from @34inXXIII). … The Florida Everblades, minor league affiliate of the Predators, will dress up as the Skunk Apes this weekend. … The FPHL has unveiled its playoffs logo (from John Cerone). … Fox Sports Midwest chose a very confusing score bug for Blues/Rangers last night (from @jerumees).
Basketball News: New Warriors G Chasson Randle will wear No. 25. … Throwbacks last night for UNC. Additional photos here (from James Gilbert). … Iowa used last year’s jerseys to present to graduating seniors on Senior Night (from Jake Cliek). … Evansville Bosse, an Indiana high school, didn’t pack the correct uniforms for their road trip, so they were forced to wear their opponent’s alternates (from Ryan Bowman).
Soccer News: A follow-up on yesterday’s lede: The traditional pre-match handshake line has apparently been banned at all levels of Scottish soccer until further notice because of the coronavirus (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Also from Jamie: The National Football Museum in Manchester, UK, has recovered a stolen Celtic shirt that has gone missing since February 1. … From Josh Hinton: Scotland’s Euro away kit has leaked. … For the latest kit-related news from around the world, be sure to follow Josh’s Twitter feed.
Grab Bag: New logo for Indiana State athletics. Many people have complained that the outlined shape of Indiana does not actually look that much like Indiana. … The Olympic Torch relay will continue despite the coronavirus. … New uniforms for the Australian rugby leage team Guyra Super Spuds (from E.P. Conrad). … With the new Aussie football season kicking off in two weeks, Here are a few items from Michael Robinson: In what appears to be a first, St Kilda FC will have a guernsey ad just below the collar. That spot is usually reserved for a maker’s mark. More details here. … Essendon FC will be the first AFL team outfitted by Under Armour. … After 22 seasons with Nike, Carlton FC will be outfitted by Puma this season. More details here.
For those who’ve been asking or wondering, the launch of this month’s Uni Watch Pin Club design has been slightly delayed due to coronavirus-related supply chain issues. I hope to have the pins ready to launch either tomorrow or Friday. Thanks for your patience! — Paul
What I don’t like about the ISU rebrand is that if you go to Chris Creamer’s sportslogos.net ( link ) ) and look at the Sycamores word mark, they’ve tried to make the S look like the state of Indiana and it just looks so good awful! Everything else was so good then you go and ruin it with that atrocity. *sigh*
Correction: USS Cooperstown is not a battleship, it is a “littoral combat ship,” essentially a frigate. Terrific ship’s logo/seal, though.
Changed to “ship.”
It’s littorally a combat ship!
Also I believe the correct name for the ship’s “logo” is actually “badge.”
Cooperstown hasn’t launched, but the shipyard does really cool side-saddle launches. Here’s video of an earlier LCS:
The large slotcar track brings back memories for me. The orange one specifically. There was a big bowling center near where I grew up with 24 lanes on either side of the center area. There was a large space on the south side that had been various business ventures including a golf shop of all things. When slot car racing was big, they put in a track like that orange one. I was there all the time since I would go bowling after school sometimes then slide over to the slotcar track. Used to love it. Had a small track at home like the AFX but I am not sure it was that brand. Thanks for the report!
The Grab Bag item on Indiana State is a good reminder never to take seriously online carping about a new logo. The state outline looks clearly like the state of Indiana. Any observer who even vaguely knows the shape of Indiana will recognize the outline as representing the state of Indiana. People just seem to think it’s fun to mock new logos, and we’ll invent patently ridiculous reasons to justify our mockery of new things.
Why is the loss of fine detail always a necessary component in newer logos?
Just looking at that old primary logo, the map-correct outline of Indiana, the peppy-looking script and cool star….why can’t we’ll-enough be left alone?
I agree 100%, Nestor. The new logo for Indiana State is lazy. Watch an Indiana University game, and try to visualize Indiana State’s new logo on IU’s court.
Disagree. I like the new logo much better. Cleaner, will be easier to make out from a distance. I saw ISU play Kansas in football this year, and from a distance the logo looked like a jagged blob. One might argue the old logo has more “character” but I disagree. The former was fugly.
This is a valid critique. Not one I find persuasive, but it’s reasonable. “The new logo doesn’t look like Indiana” is not. And I’m kind of jaded with the ubiquity of public online reactions to new logo designs falling into one of two categories: “It looks exactly like [noun that the new logo doesn’t even remotely resemble]!” or “It looks nothing like [noun that the new logo clearly resembles]!”
“Scotland’s Euro away kit has leaked.”
*Potential* Euro away kit. They have to win two more games before they’re qualified for the tournament.
Petty sure the Aurora A/FX were the top of the line as far as of the shelf toystore slotcar kits were concerned.
I had to settle for a Tyco kit. Tyco was more know for making train sets. Still fun, but I envied my friend’s A/FX rig.
*off the shelf
Doggone it, now I have Kanye West in my head — “She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyco with your money …”
What a trip down memory lane! I forgot about my own “slot car” track I had as a kid. It wasn’t a true slot car, but a slotless slot car track from Tyco. TCR Jam Car, which had a slow-moving car you would have to steer around while racing. I want to see if it’s still on the top shelf in the back room at my parents house now!
Thanks for jogging my memory, Paul! I love this site for so many reasons and I think your sense of nostalgia is a big part of it.
I had one like this too! I believe the jam car was powder/Carolina blue if not mistaken. Great memories playing on the floor with my brother and my dad.
I had the AFX figure eight slot car set. I would play for hours and after a while the cars would develop kind of a burning smell. As AFX got more popular they added the loops & went up the wall but they never worked properly.
My aunt and her then-husband opened a slot car racing shop in Broward County, FL in about 2001. It went out of business within two months. Glad this one is going strong!
I had an A/FX track that was a Roger Penske edition sold only by Sears (the box even had the Sears logo). I still remember the one thing that annoyed me, even as a kid, was that the cars shown on the box were painted in the Penske team”s livery, but the ones actually included were just regular A/FX cars. Still, I loved that track and played the heck out of it for years.
Sorry, didn’t intend that to be a Reply.
Great piece today, Paul. I had no idea about this place, even though I grew up in Brooklyn. I’ll have to pay a visit. The embedded video is a great watch. I’m amazed they’ve been able to keep everything in working order for so long!
Funny about the Iowa senior night jerseys. #4 Bakari Evelyn is a grad transfer so he never wore that jersey
1. Great piece on the slot car emporium. Love those off-the-beaten-path places from days gone by.
2. Why does there seem to be an aversion to using white backgrounds for score bugs? Barring color-on-color games, there is a team wearing white in most games. With so few teams truly having unique colors, it would seem like white is a reasonable choice so you don’t have royal-versus-royal, as in STL/NYR last night. The Rangers in red or the Blues in yellow wouldn’t have looked any worse, for sure. Better yet, eliminate the score bugs. Didn’t have them growing up and we knew the score by simply paying attention. (Get off my lawn, whippersnapper…)
I grew up nearby and fondly remember birthday parties at Buzz-a-Rama. Amazed the place is still open! They also had a back room with arcade games and a table for cake & presents. A landmark of the neighborhood, for sure.
Thanks for the unexpected turn into the slot car garage today! My daughter and I have a tradition of setting up ever-incresingly complex AFX track over Thanksviing week when school is out and ski conditions aren’t usually up to snuff yet. I wrote about it for my job a couple years ago Enjoy! link
WSJ using a similar cor scheme for some cartograms.
Oh, wow, what a great lede. As a kid in the 60s I spent many, many hours in the 60s at a slot car track in Nutley, NJ. The place had three or four different track layouts. My friends and I all had cars we lovingly built and customized. We’d carry them in tackle boxes along with tools, parts, extra wheels/tires, and controllers (anyone remember the spray that was used to cool the controlers?). I think I enjoyed maintaining and tinkering with my car as much as I did racing it.
Thanks for sparking some great memories, Paul.
Not sure what was confusing about the score bug. STL vs. NYR. The Blues vs. the Blueshirts. What colours should they have used?
Agreed. Do they really need to be differentiated by color? I think it woudl be pretty easy to tell which score belonged to StL and which belonged to NYR.
Slot cars… oh man, here I go… that Buzzarama appears to be a TRUE old-school track. In the late 60’s there were two slot car places on Long Island, one in the Roosevelt Field Mall in Hempstead and the other in West Hempstead. One was Strombecker and the other Aurora, can’t recall which was which. Had the same magical allure of the colored slots and dials. 5 bucks an hour which I’m sure was a lot of money for my dad and I’d beg him for a second hour… I had three cars which he built from kits. Absolute heaven! Each SC emporium had MULTIPLE tracks. But the fad ended as quickly as it began. Still had the home track though…
Flash forward to the 90’s and one opened in Amityville on L.I. Checked it out with my nephew. Only one track but it wasn’t the same. The track was the same but the cars… instead of attractive cars that looked like what you’d build from a model kit, that went at a reasonable speed, the cars now were these flexible plastic sleek low-slung rectangles that hugged the track and went at impossible speeds, to the point where it wasn’t fun or challenging! No creativity or customization to the cars, just get them flying around the track with an annoying whine so fast that you couldn’t follow it with your eyes! This place didn’t last long either…
“New unis for Calvin University softball” should read New unis for Calvin College softball”. They are arch-rivals of Hope College (daughter’s alma mater), and have one of the great rivalries in DIII sports: link
Though their branding is still in flux in some places, the school is in fact now Calvin UNIversity. That should be un-fixed.
I was hoping it would link to Calvin and Hobbes in new uniforms.
I had one of those Tyco sets as a kid (and I’d be sure that my parents still have it buried somewhere).
I fully admit that I loved just putting two cars on, getting them to go, then being hypnotized by the travel around the curves.
Those slot car tracks are giving me technicolor Elliott Smith album cover vibes.
Here’s what Nate’s referring to:
What an awesome lede!
Everyone I knew had AFX. This is the one I had. Look at the graphics on that box.
I didn’t know until today that there were places where you could go and race – I didn’t know it was anything but a basement hobby. Taking them apart and cleaning them, replacing the little carbon cylinders. Awesome.
My kids have sets – all Lightning McQueen themed. Total garbage quality.
Further to the item about Iowa’s senior night jerseys, one of the seniors, Bakari Evelyn, is a grad transfer, so he never wore the jersey he received.
Wait, what do you mean there’s no Santa?! My dad was really into race cars, but it wasn’t my thing. Still, we were going to go to one of these places for my 12th birthday in the late 1970s. When we went to check it out, my mom’s Impala died in the pouring rain, in traffic, right next to the slot car place near the County Center or Yonkers or wherever. My mom, my friend, and I waited for the tow truck inside the place for an hour. When my birthday came, we went to see Silver Streak at the cineplex and then to Friendly’s. Never went slot car racing or had another parent-sponsored birthday party again. It’s all rose-colored gold now, though!
As a kid in the late 60s going to the slot car place was awesome. The thought of using their cars and controllers was unheard of. We had our own cars and controllers. Not sure why it died off quickly.
I’ve no interest in slot car racing but I sure did appreciate the track layouts. Curvy, wavy lines of color. Not unlike a gasoline rainbow you might spot in a puddle. Ya never know where you’re gonna see beauty.
The one day I miss reading Uniwatch and it was a Buzz-A-Rama post!
My family loved Buzz-A-Rama when our boy was younger. He even had a birthday party there.
We have to get back there. It has been too long.
Thanks for bringing back memories.