Where Did Everybody Go?
"It's not that I don't want to," Bob Woodbody said over the phone. "It's just that Gay's
Women's Auxilliary at the Legion has a social on Friday." There was a moment's silence. "Hey!
My new shuffleboard table is finished and I thought maybe I'd have a tournament next week.
You can make it, can't you?"
No mention of slot cars. I hadn't seen him at a club meeting in a month.
"Yeah. I guess," I said. "Hey, Bob.....?"
"Uh...hm, nothing. Never mind."
I didn't know how to say what was on my mind. The membership of the SVMRC, the South
Vancouver Model Racing Club, was dwindling. No, I guess I meant the attendees were
dwindling. There were members on the books, paid up til the end of the year. But ever since the
Richmond GP in January there had been a noticeable drop in attendance at the weekly meetings.
Last week only three of us had shown up. Nice not to have to fight over who gets stuck in the red
lane but that was the only good part.
I mentioned my concerns to Gordie Parch and he convinced me it was a seasonal thing, the
lack of interest.
"You'll see," he told me in that shy way of his whenever he talked to anyone. "When the kids
get back to school and it gets darker sooner and colder evenings......you'll see."
I wasn't so sure about it as he obviously was. This time last August we were all preparing for
the Pacific National Exhibition track to be set up. Every club in town was eager with
anticipation. That might have been it. There was no event at the PNE this year. Joe, our contact
in the Hobby Show Building, had told us there was no room and the track would not be set up.
"Next year for sure," he told me on the phone. "It's just this year we're short of space cause of
the quilting exhibition. Temporarily, you know?"
Entries for the Labour Day GP at Haida Circuit were way down, too, Ace Newsom told me.
"Might pick up in the two weeks just before," he said, but I could see he was concerned.
The SVMRC was going to have to start planning for the Fall Classic soon, too. It wasn't all
that far away. Last year's, 1968, had not been up to the previous ones but we told ourselves we
had to expect the odd off year. The racing had been good but a week before the event we'd had
to scramble to fill the invitational list after three people dropped out at the last minute. The
replacements were more lane fillers than top notch racers!
And the Richmond GP, that pinnacle of slot car racing in the B.C. lower Mainland? Good
racing again but a couple of guys were noticeably absent. In my own case I won the Formula I
class, the first winner's patch I'd taken home for a Richmond final. I guess I was feeling so good
about that I'd sort of let the signs go. Like the dearth of spectators. Suddenly, the Rod & Gun
Club hall seemed too large by half and there were echoes during moments of silence when
someone dropped a wrench or an axle over at the work tables.
There were lots of new products in the hobby shops and on the raceways' walls, but for some
reason most of them stayed there unsold. Bill Eisonsen still managed evenings but Rube, the day
man, was gone suddenly and a new kid was there who didn't seem to know anybody and his
interests lay in drag racing and the shiny formica-surfaced strip against the back wall with its 36
volt-power supply and layers of catch silk at the end.
It was just too difficult to understand what was happening.
Individually, none of these events meant much. Collectively, I don't think any of us wanted to think
about it. you know? The ostrich syndrome I think they call it.
Looking back, those days have a sepia tone to them as if they happened before the invention of
colour. We were most of us in our mid to late twenties. Our interest in slot car racing had
developed quite apart from each the other but for a few short years we had come together;
converged our passions for modelling and speed. Was it that we were now developing separate
interests which would lead us each down a different road? Was the sharing over? the
friendships? All to be slowly dissolved by time which would see us drift apart like the ripples
from a pebble dropped in a still pond.
The seventies were only a couple of months away. We had shared the best part of the sixties. It
wasn't all about slot cars but memory insists otherwise and what harm can it do to give such
memories their sway?
I've a small hand-written piece of paper taped to the tower of my computer. It reads, "Sometimes dreams and
memories become confused . . . and that is as it should be!"
There came a day when Gordie Parch and I were the only ones to show up for club night. It
was October and we had, reluctantly, just the two of us, cancelled the Fall Classic the month
before it was to run. Gordie and I raced each other in the centre two lanes and did our own
marshalling while the other stopped and waited. No more putting a guy half a lap down because
he overcooked it in a corner. It seemed to me we were trying not to offend each other for fear the
other would leave.
After a couple of hours we packed it in and went down to the Eldorado. There was no one
there we knew and we went our own ways after just one beer.
So what do I remember?
Bob mostly. Him and his damned rewound Varneys. I'd give anything to see that look on his
face again when he won that heat at the Fall Classic. Still, what was he thinking with those
Shanny, the kid with the magic thumb and a touch that had to be seen to be believed around a
slot car track. I only saw him run twice but my Gawd but that kid could fly. Think of him and of
course those marshmallow bananas.
I even think kindly of Dave Craster. He wasn't all bad; he just seemed that way in the heat of
battle. I'd sure like to see that '66 Ferrari Dino again, see if it's as good as memory tells me.
Yeah, it musta been cause I'll never get that car outa my mind. A real concours genius, old
Bill Eisonsen, too, of course. Every time I drive down Fraser past 41st I look over at the store
the raceways occupied. It hasn't changed at all, even after thirty-some years. There are no signs
to tell what occupies the building now so it looks like I could park out front and saunter in the
door and see Bill or Rube at the counter selling track time or helping some new kid with his car.
I always liked the smell of Fraser Raceways. A combination of burnt ozone from arcing brushes
and assorted tire stickum and freshly scrubbed floors.
Who could ever forget the corner marshal competition and the ballet-like movements of Tony
Lai? And the last Richmond GP I attended where I won the Formula I class going away. It was
the one time I knew what it was like to be the winner of a big one. Yep, the singular best event I
ever raced at or so memory tells me now . Close behind would have to be the Fall Classic of '67
or the 1/24th 24 Hour Enduro in Edmonton and the drive there and back in Bob and Gay's old
slant 6 Plymouth Valiant in the middle of a prairie winter.
And much, much more. The comradeship, the laughter, the innocent teasing (and sometimes it
wasn't so innocent, I have to admit), the silence just before the power switch was thrown to
begin a heat, the shouting at the track marshals and the boasting and bantering during a close one
as one driver attempted to psych the other.
And the last time I ran on the SVMRC track? It was a Thursday, a regular club night . . . or
rather it should have been. I was alone with the whole track to myself. I ran each of my cars a
few laps and then put them aside and walked around the perimeter of the track looking at it from
all directions, remembering the labour that had gone into the building of the best damned club
track in Vancouver. I opened the door under the control panel but Rusty the cat wasn't there.
I did a few more laps. I gave it an hour and decided no one else was going to show
up, gathered up my cars and controller one last time, stowed them snugly in my race case with
all the stickers on it, threw the track power switch on the console and walked to the door. I
turned one last time and drank it all in, then turned again, flipped off the lights and stepped
outside. The lock snicked behind me.
The wind was picking up and clouds were scudding in across a dark sky, turning the stars out
in droves. The trees were rustling and dropping their leaves as the night darkened. Somewhere
far off in the distance came the faint wail of a siren. The siren faded and suddenly, just for a
brief second I thought I could hear a sound coming from back inside the basement. Voices, I
thought and I stopped. It did sound something like a cacophony of voices I knew well, mingled
with the muffled zing of slot cars humming down the long straight. And was that a shout of
surprise? Laughter? I tried to remember the voice.
But it was only the rising wind playing tricks with my hearing and the next strong gust blew it
all away . . . forever.