EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Slot car racing became synonymous with Americana in the 1960s—now, more than 60 years later, COVID-19 has brought families back to the tracks. The pandemic, said Frank Tiessen, President of North American operations for the slot car racing brand Carrera of America, has led to a spike in sales. Customers both young and old are breaking out old tracks and buying new ones, and a love for slot car racing has been born again. This East Brunswick business has negotiated the tight turns.
“We are quite confident that all people, kids to adults, who either discovered or re-discovered slot car racing will stay with it now,” Tiessen said. “They have been able to experience the fun of racing while at home.”
While slot car racing began in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the 60s that the craze peaked. Companies like Carrera sold millions in equipment. More than 3,000 public racetracks in the U.S. brought thousands of teenagers together across the nation. Among them was Tiessen.
“When I was just 10 years old, I got my first Carrera set for Christmas. This relatively modest set was extended over the years and an impressive car park was added. I have held on to this set well into my adult life,” he said.
Like many others who have gone back to the slots, for Tiessen, racing is filled with nostalgia—he was eager to take the job as head of Carrera when offered. After spending more than 14 years in Cranbury, the company then moved to East Brunswick in 2018. It was the perfect home, Tiessen said. With an easy commute for employees and a short drive to Newark airport, E.B. was the right place for the brand to prosper.
Though interest in slots has grown exponentially since March, said Tiessen, the slot car revival was well under way when the pandemic hit. As younger generations grow bored with electronics and older generations look for ways to bond with families, a rediscovered love for racing has been born. Carrera, Tiessen said, was more than ready for it.
With smaller, battery operated Carrera Go!! sets for younger kids and a starter Carrera Evolution Range for older ones, no one has to be an experienced collector to get involved. For Tiessen, racing is about making memories that will stay with everyone.
“We will probably never get back to the popularity of the 1960s, but slot car racing is very much alive and will stay that way with our existing and new fans that enjoy racing around their tracks at home together with friends and family,” Tiessen said.
With so many family businesses in need of support in the midst of the pandemic, Carrera, along with other specialty toy companies, has also shown customers the unparalleled rapport of those who are passionate about their industry. That individualized attention, Tiessen said, can truly make a difference. Explaining and recommending the right products can spark an excitement in anyone looking to get into a new hobby.
“For me, the customer is not just a faceless entity,” Tiessen said. “They’re someone who will be greeted with a smile and who will leave the store satisfied.”