Interview with Gary Cannell of MRE

Gary Cannell is not only the owner of the MRE online slot shop. He is also the editor of Slot Magazine.

I have owned and seen so many slot cars it isn’t possible to have a favourite any more.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Gary Cannell. I am the editor of SLOT magazine, and I am the owner of the MRE online slot shop since 1998. Previously I had a career as a high-speed train driver for 25 years but I was always involved with slot cars through that time.

How did you get involved in slot car racing?
I was taken to a slot car club when I was 12 years old and I immediately liked it. I raced in several clubs and also at raceways which were popular at that time in the 1960s. Apart from a short break in the years when everyone discovers pubs, girls, and other things, I have been active in slot cars ever since. I am still interested in pubs and girls…….

What is your favorite slot car brand and why?
I think I must say that Cox were so original and high quality with their cast magnesium parts that they have never been challenged, but maybe it is a quality that was of the time as technology has moved a long way since those days. The complexity of Ulrich trying to imitate real cars with suspension, steering, differentials etc back in the 1960s was fascinating although totally unusable. These days I like cars with good detail but not at the expense of quality. Fly set new standards for detail in the 1990s but the build quality was awful. Current cars by Racer and Le Mans Miniatures are desirable, but when I race I prefer cars that I can easily tune, and the cost is not so much when you crash ! I think I have driven all brands because of my business and appreciate the differences, which makes some preferable for different reasons.

Are you a collector of slot cars or stuff?
At one time I had a very big collection, over 3000 cars. All from Scalextric, SCX, Ninco, Fly, which kept growing. I also had all the cars from Cox and Revell, a collection that became complete. When companies moved their production to China too many more cars were produced each year to afford, the game went from maybe 70 or 80 cars to over 900 cars a year at the high point, so I decided to stop collecting as I could never continue with so many new models. The tactic of Limited Edition cars by many manufacturers also spoiled the game for many good collectors who knew they could not find them, they left the market completely instead of adding to sales. These days I have my small library with almost all the slot car books since the beginning, and I keep finding slot racing items stored in strange places around my house, for example I recently found a Scalextric Trophy Set in a box with a stopwatch and some darts.

What is your all-time favorite slot car?
I have owned and seen so many slot cars it isn’t possible to have a favourite any more. I can select cars that I like for their detail, colours, performance, accuracy, or if the real car is a famous racer, so many different favourites I could not choose one above the others.

What is the slot car you bought recently and what will be the next one?
These days the cars I have are bought or built to race in a particular class. As my interest is in classic slot racing I build most of them myself. I did buy a George Turner Models kit of the McLaren M1A, and now I need a 1950s Grand Prix car so I will probably choose from the Cartrix range and build a new chassis for it to be good on the track. I see every car that is produced and if I bought all the ones I like it would be impossible to manage. I look forward to some new models more than others, for example I could be tempted by many of the Scalextric Legends cars and I like the design and technology of Slot.It, but when I see the 50th release of something like an Audi R8 in a mythical livery I just turn away.

Do you race slot cars that are close to stock or do you improve them with better parts?
I always want to improve my cars so I often change the gears, motor, tyres, or other parts. Usually during practice at a race meeting so the car is as good as possible at that time on that track. I think that racing box-standard cars is just a starting point, because they mostly need some work just to be nice to drive. The biggest improvement manufacturers could make is with tyres, although I understand the economics and the desire to promote their own parts. An industry standard for wheels and tyres sizes and fittings would be excellent.

What is your favorite track system?
I mostly race on wooden tracks now, which is how I started many years ago. I also do a lot of testing of cars for magazine articles and this is usually done on Scalextric or Ninco track. I like the size of Ninco track as there is more room to race, the electric connections are reliable, there are 5 sizes of bends available, and the surface grip is much better. The rigid Carrera track is very good for a permanent layout but is far too complicated and takes too much time to put together properly and take apart for every race, and I cannot say anything about their barriers without being rude. The Scalextric Sport track is just too smooth and slippery if you don’t use magnets in the cars, and I am not sure the dimensions invented in the 1950s are good for modern cars.

Do you have a racetrack at home?
Unfortunately I do not have the space for a permanent track at home. Being a member of slot clubs for many years, and racing on club tracks and raceways, in some way makes the track that will fit in a room in your house seem inadequate to me. I think I have been spoiled. I do have tracks by Scalextric, Ninco, and SCX Digital which are used sometimes for fun.

Do you frequently come together with other slot car racers?
I talk with or meet slot car racers and collectors almost every day, either with MRE or as the editor of SLOT magazine. My telephone and emails are probably 90% for slot racing. I race at some meetings every year, maybe 6 or 8, but not as much as I would like to do. I have been lucky to race in the USA, South Africa, Australia, and Belgium as well as all over the UK.

Are you a member of a slot car club?
Not at the moment, because the nearest club that races the cars I like is too far from home. I was a member of a nearer club for many years but my days of driving are for enjoyment now, not for outright speed, and I only go to clubs when I am racing.

What do you have in your slot car box?
Not as many cars as you would imagine, only 5 at the moment, and these are all cars I have built myself for classic racing. In the past I carried a huge box with maybe 20 cars but now I prefer to make the best of what I have with me. I have 3 controllers, an electronic controller that I cannot adjust to (it has so many variations it can take a whole practice session just to set up for a single car) so I prefer the way I learnt to race with a resistor controller. A simple brake adjuster and a resistance switch are all that is necessary for me. With 2 such controllers I can drive any car in my box.

What is your opinion about digital slot car racing?

Digital racing has a purpose that is necessary. It lets more people race in a smaller space, it has added ‘play’elements such as fuel useage and tyre wear, and gives the chance to find different ways around a racetrack. As time goes on the functions are increasing and this will appeal to more but different racers, especially those racing at home or enthusiasts of modern technology. As a traditional racer I ask myself, does this replace the thrill of outbraking your opponent into a corner, tuning your car to the track, or even the ‘bad’ race tactics of sliding wide on corners ? The biggest problem that digital racing has is non-compatibility. The model railways guys got it right by demanding an industry standard from all manufacturers and now they have a luxury digital world because everything works together. For slot racing 4 manufacturers were arrogant to think that they would make a system that was better than all others, and each of them failed. Each system has some good points, but also some bad points. By asking the consumer what they wanted (why would any manufacturer do that ?) we could have had a universal digital system and all customers and manufacturers would have been happy. I think that digital racing will continue and get better, but with a different driver to the ones that I race with (who are mostly older like me now !). Unfortunately those new drivers will not always be able to race against each other because they may have bought different brands.

What should be done to promote the hobby according to you?
Just getting people to try it always works. When we have been at events where a slot track is available to use it is always crowded, and many people go away intending to buy a set to race at home because they really enjoyed it. Having a track working in shops would help, and taking people along to a club to try for themselves usually gains some new racers. I have never seen a TV promotion that has brought anyone into slot racing, they may buy a set but it is a temporary thing as they do not get the experienced support to learn more about the cars. Advertising is not the way forward, to promote slot racing it must be a ‘hands on’ experience.

What is your favorite slot car memory?
Modifying my first car to make it faster, winning World Championships for 2 years, and counting among my friends many manufacturers, racers, collectors, and slot car fans all around the world.

Which web sites, blogs and fora do you frequently visit?
I can look at many but am not regular on any. I like to see what is happening around the world so I will sometimes dip into Australia, the USA, and SlotForum in the UK. I rarely make any contribution to them, I just prefer to see what others are saying. My business takes me to manufacturers sites, and I often converse with slot friends online.

Do you have a blog, website or social media site where readers can find you?
Of course MRE has a website at MRE and also sends out a Newsletter every week. SLOT magazine also has a website and a Facebook page where I must admit I do not contribute very often personally but can be contacted there.

Gary, you have a lot information to share about slot car racing. Can we contact you in the future for part two?
Yes, no problem. It sounds a lot but I have been involved with slot racing as a racer (clubs, 24 hours races, world championships), car builder (national champion and world champion), manufacturer of slot car bodyshells, writer and editor for 3 magazines, collector, exhibition organiser and exhibitor, track builder, business owner, specialist slot retailer, and I think every aspect of slot racing at some time. Many people ask me about things that happened in slot racing in the past, and many times I can say ‘I was there’. For example, how about racing with Jean-Pierre van Rossem in the USA and the litigation that followed the IMCA Worlds ? Or winning races on Scalextric track with magnets back in the 1960s and 1970s long before Scalextric thought they invented it ? Or controlling the world record race for the longest distance for a slot car in 24 Hours (a record that still stands) ? Or……..too many more !

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