Nestled in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn is an unlikely mom-and-pop establishment that seems like it has been transported there from another time. The store is Buzz-A-Rama, a model slot car racing shop, and it’s been entertaining fans of the hobby since 1965.
Back then, “Buzz” Perri was a 30-year-old entrepreneur and slot car enthusiast with dreams of owning his own racing shop. The store derives its name from his nickname, earned from his years as a high school track star when the audience “buzzed” over his performance on the field. In the late 1960s Buzz-A-Rama joined more than 40 other slot car establishments that ran throughout New York City’s many boroughs. There were 14 slot car shops in Brooklyn alone; all during the (mostly American) slot car craze of the mid 60’s through the early 70’s.
Time and new trends in entertainment took its toll on the slot car trade. The industry began to slow with competition first from arcade games and later from home video games and a host of other modern diversions. Slot cars, much like model trains, slowly began to lose their mass appeal and became more of a specialist pursuit with many slot hobbyists focusing on competitive racing. Now Buzz-A-Rama is the last slot car store standing in all of New York City. It’s apparently been that way for quite some time.
“I can’t even remember the last one that was in Brooklyn besides me - I know I must have put him out of business,” Buzz laughed. The store may have gone the way of the those others if it wasn’t for the Perris owning the building. Buzz and his wife Dolores live in Manhattan but commute down to the shop to run the show on weekends, still catering to the small but loyal clientele. For them, it’s a labor of love. “I’m not in it for the money” he says.
The small plastic frame cars that whiz around the shops tracks are deceptively speedy. The 1/24 and 1/32 scale cars use 12 volt DC motors to race along the tracks with speeds ranging from 20 to over 100 mph. Yes, a tiny little car you can hold in the palm of your hand can go over 100 mph! A fast car can average about 300 laps in around 40 minutes. All the finesse is in the movements of the hand-held controller whose owner needs to watch the speed on curves to avoid a wipe out.
This national hobby has a die-hard community that spends countless hours tweaking their cars to make them go faster. Some people buy kits, others build the whole model up from scratch, soldering gun in hand. A newbie who wants to buy into the hobby can buy a ready-to-race car for as little as $40 but it is not unheard of to spend up to $500 for a high end model.
The shop has five different tracks that range in difficulty but there is a track suitable for just about any age group that wants to give it a try. Most of the tracks use the hand controller while others have mock pedals and steering wheels for a more authentic racing feel. In addition to the large scale 1/32 tracks there’s also an HO scale (1:87 to 1:64 scale) track that fans of the smaller, classic, home racing kits can enjoy. Anyone who remembers the best-selling Tyco race tracks of the late 1970s will be quick to recognize these smaller cars.
Buzz-A-Rama is closed through the summer, June 15 - Sept 15, but open for business mid-Sept to mid June on weekends. Tracks can be reserved in advance for groups and parties but anyone can drop in and get on a track to race without needing to make a reservation.
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