...with Weird Jack
The Leadmine Raceway
Over 50 years in one track design's history
by Jack K. Stinson
Photos (and track!) by Rich Kaczynski
In the early 50's, Sports Cars Illustrated magazine covered the opening of a new track just outside of Los Angeles. The Paramount Ranch raceway was described as a "well used figure 8", for it's design included an overpass combined with hairpins and tight curves. It was described in much more colorful terms by drivers who raced on it in the years that followed. A challenging course, it was a bit too tight for larger machines. Better suited for the Porsche RS cars, Triumph TR3's, Austin Healeys and other smaller sports cars of the period.
Closing in the late 50's, the track had a short life. Then in 1966, writer, modeler, racer and "scale guru" Robert Schleicher went looking for a 1:1 raceway design to use as a slot car "project track" for Car Model magazine. Thus the Paramount Ranch was reborn in a four lane 3/8 inch scale (1/32) masterpiece. Covering 12 articles in a little over a year, the entire project was documented and photographed for all to enjoy and use. These remain today some of the best track construction and scenery articles ever written.
The tale continues when, not so many years ago, slot car enthusiast Rich Kaczynski was also looking for a good design to build as his home track. He chose to model the model of the Paramount Raceway. Out came the back issues of Car Model and up went the track. Faithfully reproduced from the original articles, the track is simply beautiful.
The accompanying photos do not do it full justice, but will give you an idea of what is being done these days in terms of scale slot car track modeling. It isn't a dead art by a long shot!
I had the opportunity to interview Rich and asked him about the track he named the "Leadmine Raceway". Here is what he had to say;
<Q> Why did you choose the Paramount Ranch layout to build?
<Rich> I had built a 2 lane track to make mistakes on before I tackled a larger project. I had collected a lot of Car Model magazines from the 60's and saw Paramount Ranch in there. The track looked great and was the right size for the area I had. I wanted to have a fully landscaped track that was fun to race on, so I jumped in and started to build it.
<Q> Did you follow the plans in the original articles ? Were any changes made from the original design?
<Rich> I pretty much followed the plans except I changed the dog leg in the back. I made it a straight instead. I couldn't figure out how to corner marshal it. The funny thing is that heard Bob hated that part of the track himself. Everything else was followed faithfully or least in spirit.
<Q> You altered the track surface, how is it now?
<Rich> It started out being painted with gray polyurethane. This worked OK for the modern Womp type cars, but the older Strombecker, Eldon Revell etc. didn't run so well. After a short while I repainted it with an old sixties idea, chalk board paint. I masked off the copper tape and repainted by hand the entire track on a Saturday. It took 10 hours and my back was sore! But I tried it when dry and the results were dramatic. The moderns as well as the classics ran well and faster.
<Q> What sort of tires are working best for you on this?
<Rich> Most tires work well on the track now. Silicones work best, but they're hard to find. Sponge works best after that as long as they're clean. Vintage Monogram/Revell/Cox are next, even Scalextric, Ninco and SCX work pretty good.
<Q> Did you use Braid or Copper Tape for conductors?
<Rich> I used copper tape for the conductors. I put it down using a seam roller for wallpapering to flatten it. In 6 years I haven't had a problem with it. I just use copper cleaner on it once or twice a year.
<Q> You built your own power supply, right? What is it like?
<Rich> I used a 14 Amp 12 volt computer power supply for the heart of the system. I then feed that to four 1.5 Amp variable voltage regulators. I plan to upgrade to 5 Amp regulators and add a second supply for more power. Each lane has variable voltage and polarity. This is great for the kids who race on it (and some adults). It allows realistic speeds and you can match up dissimilar cars better. I also put two sets of control jacks on each side of the track. This way each racer can be near a corner to marshal it.
<Q> What kind of lap counter or timer system are you using?
<Rich> I built the lap counter out of Radio Shack parts. They used to have an LCD digital counter module available (now discontinued). I designed an interface for it to the track (I'm an Electrical Engineer) and used a dead strip to trigger it. The dead strip is just before the Start/Finish line. It used to work without problems but now it's got some bugs in it. I may have to go to a redesign. I plan in the future to use and old PC to do the lap counter and timing. I've been doing Visual Basic programming for the past year and have some ideas for a program to do this.
<Q> The layout is a great road course, what type of cars work well on it?
<Rich> The cars that work best on this course are 1/32 AMT brass chassis with a Lancer vac body. My modified brass Riggen chassis NASCAR's with the silicone tires are next in line. Womp's run great also. The vintage stuff will run well if you add a brass pan to them for weight. The slot is made wide and deep enough for the Jet Flag. The Ninco DTM cars with the softer tires seem to run nicely on the track. I've modified the Scalextric Indy cars to run on my track. I've added a brass pan, cast a new guide flag and molded some RTV tires for them. The only problem is they are too wide! I plan to narrow the wheel track soon so I can run four at a time.
<Q> Is there anything you would do differently if you were to build another?
<Rich> I would use a better grade of particle board for the surface. I had to put five coats of polyurethane , sanding between coats on the track. This was the most tedious part of the building process. I would also make the lane spacing wider so I could run four 1/24 scale cars at a time. Right now you can only race two larger scale cars.
<Q> Have you shown the track to Robert Schleicher? What did he think?
<Rich> I sent some pictures to Bob through a mutual friend of ours. He couldn't believe someone would actually build that track. He was impressed that I copied the track down to the tree placement. He wrote that they only had 12 races on it, then started using portable Revell track to race on.
<Q> Why "Leadmine" for the name?
<Rich> The name "Leadmine Raceway" comes from the road I live on. There used to be a working lead mine down the street back in the old days.
<Q> What types of races are held on the Leadmine?
<Rich> I wish I could say that there is an organized schedule of races here, but such is not the case. I have "real" slot car racers over once or twice a year. There are not a lot of us scale racers in New England. The other races we have are when family and friends come over for a big gathering. We always end up downstairs racing on the track. This is pretty informal, but it's nice to race with enough corner marshals We usually run "crash and burn" which means if your car deslots, you're out of the race. Last one to stay on is the winner. The fastest car doesn't have an advantage. We run the same types of cars (CanAm, GT, F1, NASCAR) against each other. About once a week my son and I race.
<Q> The term "scale", what does it mean to you in your slot car hobby?
<Rich> Scale to me means building models of cars that were actual racing prototypes. I usually research the cars I'm going to build. I tend to build cars from the 1960's because that is when I first got interested in cars. Some of the best places I've found for information on vintage race cars are in Model Racing Replica News and Vintage Motorsport. I use mainly hard (plastic,resin) bodies for the cars, although there are some vacuform repros of Lancer and others that are very nice if you detail them. John Bacon from Australia makes a ton of fiberglass bodies that are good. To build a scale car, I go to the trouble of making my own decals if they are not available, casting resin replacement parts for vintage cars, molding tires out of black RTV. It's not easy, but I think the results are worth it. I am not a fan of the wing thingies that race at commercial tracks. Slot racing started in states as modelers motorizing their cars and racing. These first slot car racers were more interested in scale than speed. After the 60's boom was over, what was left was thingies that looked nothing like real cars. I think you can get more people interested in slots by presenting scale cars that they can race. Scalextric has lasted all these years by sticking to scale cars. I think "scale" is very much alive. - Rich K.
Well folks, I believe Rich pretty much sums it all up. Since I can't add anything to it; look at the pictures, try not to drool....and just maybe go get started on a scale project yourself. I know that after watching the videotape Rich sent me of the track in operation, I got enthused enough to sit down and paint 56 little people for my grandstands! Get busy!
BTW- Those of you who are interested in scale 1/32 cars, drop me an email and let me know.Jack
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