KENOSHA — Kevin Metallo still remembers when he first discovered slot car racing when he was a kid in the 1970s.
His dad had a slot car race track in his basement, and it gave him and his brothers a chance to bond with their father after his third-shift job.
It was also the trips to his uncle’s house in Kenosha that propelled Metallo into a love of the hobby. He and his brothers would often ride their bikes over to their uncle’s house, just four blocks away, to race on Uncle Ron’s track.
“His whole basement was a track. … It was just incredible,” Metallo said.
It’s now 40 years later, and Metallo is carrying on the tradition that his dad and uncle first introduced to him as a kid through “Hank’s Slot Car Raceway” — Metallo’s very own race track in his basement. On a few nights out of the month, you can find around 20 adults and children in Metallo’s Kenosha basement racing their very own slot cars.
“It’s still a pretty big hobby, people just don’t hear about it as much,” he said.
Slot car racing is a hobby that gained popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s. Miniature model cars race along a track that has grooves in it, guiding the cars through narrow twists and turns.
Although many people buy a pre-assembled track, Metallo built his track 13 years ago — in just two weeks. His track is routed by wood and powered by copper tape. The total size is 10 feet wide by 23 feet long — each lane is just six inches apart from each other. His track has a fence so cars don’t fall off during turns, as well as a computerized scoring system that counts laps and speed.
He decided to name it “Hank’s Slot Car Raceway” after his childhood nickname. He built it all by hand after a friend challenged him to do it.
“He dared me, and I took it as a challenge and said, ‘Alright, let’s do it,’” Metallo said.
Metallo now hosts racing events in his Kenosha home. They generally run from around 5 to 10 p.m., but some nights can go until midnight. Racers come from all across southeastern Wisconsin.
People have heard about his track through a variety of ways — from word-of-mouth and Facebook, and even eBay, where Metallo sells slot cars on occasion. Metallo even has a friend from Australia who always makes sure to get a race in when he is visiting the country.
The races are generally 40 laps, which takes about two minutes to complete. Racers accumulate points every race. At the end of the winter, total points are counted, and Metallo hands out trophies. He doesn’t charge racers to compete.
“Since we’re there from five to midnight, I run out to Sam’s Club, and I pick up barbecue pork or pizza and everyone puts in five dollars each and that covers the food for the night,” Metallo said.
Craig Kreuser, a Kenosha resident, has been racing at Metallo’s for around five years. He owns more than 100 slot cars.
“This is a very fun and exciting hobby,” Kreuser said. “You build your own chassis and paint your own model bodies, and set up your cars for track conditions. It’s very competitive.”
Mike Gehrke, of Oak Creek, has been racing slot cars since the 1960s. He works at Model Empire in West Allis — a hobby shop that also hosts a weekly slot car racing series.
“It’s always a chance to hang out with a good bunch of guys and have some great racing,” he said. “Plus, Kevin and his wife are nice enough to provide good Kenosha pizza meatball bombers or other local delicacies.”
For the kids
Metallo said his goal is to get more kids into the hobby at a younger age. His track is open for anyone and everyone.
“When I get home from work, my 2-year-old son goes right to the basement door, and I know what he wants. … He wants to go run cars,” Metallo said. “To me, that’s cool. He wants to go hang out with dad. It gives a father and son a thing to do.”
Metallo is the head custodian at Whittier Elementary School in Kenosha. A few years ago, National NASCAR Day fell on the school’s sport’s day near the end of the year. So, of course, Metallo brought a slot car track for the kids to try out. You can learn more about Metallo’s raceway by emailing him at email@example.com.