A world's speed recrod was set at 1:56 p.m. last weekend by a dozen men standing around the middle of Wheaton Plaza.They were racing tiny slot cars on a 66:67-foot, eight-turn track. They smashed the existing 24-hour, non-stop mark with two hours to spare.
When the clock was stopped, team A had covered 178.26 miles, or 13,911 laps, averaging 7.4 miles per hour. This in spite of a 13-minute stop to repair damage after a serious flip and 27 later halts for tires and oil. Team B was seven miles behind but also bettered the 163.9-mile record set last April.
"I felt the old record was not entirely legitimate," explained Howard Trager whose Hobbies and Arts Shop sponsored the challenge. "It was set on a specially built track with specially built cars, but there were no photos, no specifications, no verfications. I wanted to bring the competition back to the amateur level using equipment right off the shelves."
Sixty-three drivers tried out for the team, with the fastest dozen divided into A and B squads. They raced thumb-sized sedans called AFX-Magna-Tractions whose electric motors are operated by hand-held controls feeding power through slots in the track. The cars cost $5.20 each; the power packs to drive them $30; the track $100.
"It's difficult to race a real car on an average man's budget," said Tom Abernathy of Olney, Md., a pharmaceutical firm representative and team A driver. "I enjoy model racing because I can afford it. I have an 80-foot at home for the family to use and 41 race cars."
Fourteen-year-old Marc Hinton of Columbia, Md., a team B racer, agreed. "I've got seven race cars myself and can race at home with friends. My older brother got me interested and I've been racing seven years." His mother drove him from home to the Wheaton practice track every night for a month as he prepared for the record attempt.
This was serious business. Chris Preston of Hyattsville carefully prepared the chassis of each record car while Jeff Ritz of Gaithersburg did the motor work. "I built them for speed," said Ritz. "I knew they had the endurance."
No Indianpolis car was more carefully set up. "I tested the engines on the scale-model dynamometer I built," explained Ritz. "I tested the cars for the pull of 'g' forces on a cirular track. Everything was proportioned out to the last milligram and 1/1000 of an inch."
The track was measured and leveled. An elaborate wiring system was hooked up to power the cars and the specially-built electronic lap counters. Marshals to replace cars on the slots were stationed around the track. grandstands behind each team's pits were set up and Trager and Carol Ritz recorded every lap and every pit stop.
"We started out covering a lap in four to five seconds" and team A driver Preston. "As the track cooled in the night, it got faster. Of course, toward the end we were all a little groggy and the pace slowed to about six seconds a lap."
According to Ritz, "Most accidents were due to driver error. These cars move at 15 feet per secnon. That scales out to 800 miles per hour.
While most drivers tried to follow their cars all the way around the track with their eyes. David Luzopone of Rockville stared at just one spot during his stints. "When the car passed that spot, I knew whether to accelerate or slow down. The others laughed at me, but in drag racing you concentrate on just one thing, the starting lights, and that works," he said.
The new record holders from the A team are Aberthany and Preston; Wayne Brickhouse and Avery Horton, both of Wheaton; Tom Stokes of Bladensburg and Carl Thompson of Silver Spring. The B team included Hinton, Luzopone, Ritz, Mike Baird of Wheaton, Tony Bates of Silver Spring and 12-year-old Tod McCoy of Tacoma Park.
"This record probably won't last long," said promoter Trager after the event. "There is supposed to be a challenge by the Polish-American Racing Drivers Team at Watkins Glen, N.Y., next month. But we set it fair and square and wer can prove it, too."