Slot Car Racing Is Back – My Conversation with Carrera’s CEO, Frank Tiessen

Frank Tiessen is the President and CEO of Carrera Revell of Americas, Inc. with more than 30 years of successful buying, selling, product development, brand building, marketing and management experience. Tiessen’s has a proven track record of identifying new opportunities and product launches, driving market share and brand recognition through strategic marketing initiatives and effective brand management across multiple countries around the world with deep knowledge of the Asian vendor base.

Frank Tiessen

You probably must be a Baby Boomer to remember when Slot Car Racing was a popular pass time. I lived in a comparatively small town, and I can recall our having a Slot Car Racing play center with multiple tracks. Can you tell us about the origin of Slot Car Racing, its rise, its decline, and its recent comeback?

The first commercial slot cars were made in the early 1910s and the technology was mostly based on what was available for model trains. The scale was fairly large, mostly about 1/18, and the cars were rather driving on rails.

Not a lot changed during the next 40 years or so until some hobbyists started to experiment with controllable electric cars. In a matter of years, the previous “rail system” was abandoned, and the slot-guided system was adopted.

In the late 50s and 60s, several manufacturers discovered the potential for slot car racing and started production in a variety of scales; in the beginning predominantly HO and 1/32.

Slot car racing never really went away, but it certainly isn’t as popular in the US as it was in the 60s when there were 1,000s of racecourses all over the US, and the national championship was broadcast on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The winner was a 12-year-old boy who won a real ’63 Ford T-Bird.

The following decades saw the rise of video games, which had a definite impact on slot car racing.

Today kids and also kids-at-heart are rediscovering slot car racing and are decoupling from on-screen activities. Older generations remember the fun they had as kids, and the younger ones are experiencing the thrill of real-world-scale racing, and the physicality of having a real replica car driving around a track. We will probably not see slot car racing going back to the level of
the popularity it had in the 1960s (one can wish), but it’s very clear that people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds are enjoying it again on an increasing level.

As I recall, Carrera was an early first mover with Slot Car Racing and is the leading producer. How did Carrera get involved initially, and what are they doing now to reinvigorate the hobby?

The Carrera brand saw the light of day in 1963, when Hermann Neuhierl out of the Franconian region in Germany took his father’s tin toy factory into a new direction. Hermann had a passion for car racing and new technology and production methods made it the perfect time to try something new. He had seen slot cars from other manufacturers and knew he could do it

The first range of products was shown at the 1963 Nuremberg Toy Show under the brand name Carrera Universal 132 because they were in a 1/32 scale.

In just a few short years, Carrera became synonymous with slot car racing, first in the German-speaking countries, and later the success continued around the globe.

Carrera is reinvigorating the hobby in various ways. Of course, we are always improving the product itself with the introduction of new technologies and new licenses from car manufacturers and entertainment properties. Also, we are staying in contact with our base of fans, listening to their wishes and suggestions. Lastly, we are “spreading the word” to all the people that maybe still think that slot car racing is a thing of the past, to check us out and to see
that it’s very much a thing of today.

How is your licensing with Disney and Mario changing how slot cars are enjoyed today?

Licensing allows us to reach a younger audience and introduce them to slot car racing.

Our Carrera 1st brand is 100% focused on entertainment licenses like Disney Cars, Paw Patrol, Nintendo Mario Kart, Peppa Pig, and some others, and is suited for kids as young as three years and designed especially for them.

Some of these licenses transfer into our “Carrera GO!!!” range for kids six and up so that they can still race their favorite characters when they are a bit older, but now also have all the traditional racing cars at their disposal, if they are ready to transition into these.

This way, we can create a fan base at a young age and hopefully create a passion for slot car racing that will never leave them again.

How do the current cars and tracks differ from those of the 1960s?

The cars today are obviously much more detailed, and the technology much more advanced. Carrera has always emphasized replicating the real-life cars our models were based upon, but of course, production today is lightyears ahead of what was possible 60 years ago.

The tracks on first look seem not too much different but in the early days, Carrera used a “3-Rail-System” to power the cars. This has changed over time to the more traditionally used “2-Rail-System”.

The biggest difference is the use of so-called digital technology.

While Carrera’s more toyetic ranges like “Carrera 1st,” “Carrera GO!!!” and “Carrera Evolution” use analog technology, i.e., running 2 cars on a 2-lane track, our “Carrera Dig132” and “Carrera Dig124” ranges use all the advantages new technology offers. So, it is possible to run up to 6 cars on a 2-lane track, a “ghost car” that runs interference can be programmed; the cars can be
programmed with different speed levels to make up for different driver skills, braking levels can be set, fuel levels can be programmed to require pit stops and many other features.

What is the difference between in-home Slot Car play and competitive play?

The in-home slot car play predominantly uses ready-made tracks, cars and accessories. There are definitely Carrera fans out there that have quite. impressive set-ups at home and host competitions, but for the most part, it’s about fun with friends and family.

Competitive play mostly happens at clubs or other venues where people meet to race their cars in various classes. These can be by manufacturer, scale or a class of cars. Sometimes modifications to the cars are allowed, sometimes not.

What are the major organizations that support Slot Car racin

On an international level, that would be the ISRA – International Slot Racing Association and for the US the USRA – United Slot Racers Association. The ISRA World Championship 2023 will be held in Atlantic City this October. But to be honest, what these organizations do and support doesn’t have to do a lot with what we and other “regular” slot car manufacturers are doing.

One final question, do you consider Slot Car racing a hobby or a sport?

This answer could probably get me into hot water, but I consider it generally a hobby. Of course, the people, which are doing it competitively, will disagree and I can 100% understand that. But for most people, it’s just their favorite pastime or what they enjoy doing occasionally.

No matter if it’s seen as a hobby and somebody invests significant time and effort into it, or if it’s seen “simply” as a toy that provides hours of fun to kids, we hope that we entertain our fans, young and old.

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