It’s underground racing at its most literal: a series of tracks — from a quarter-mile strip to the winding mountain run — all tucked into a basement of a house in St. Peters, Missouri.
That the tracks are designed to accommodate 1:64-scale toy cars helps. This isDie Cast Racing, one of a handful of leagues dedicated to running stock and custom die-cast cars (thinkHot WheelsandMatchbox) down elaborate custom tracks. Run by Tony Pratt and his father, Jim, DCR evolved from backyard family-and-friend downhill races revolving around larger, customized 1:18-scale cars.
This league, small in scale yet large in scope, started about 10 years ago. “At first we thought we’d get millions of viewers,” Pratt says of theDCR videos he shot and posted online. An ad revenue bonanza would follow, he figured. “And then we realized what the internet was like … that it wasn’t that easy.”
So, DCR isn’t exactly a huge moneymaker. But it’s building momentum, and we could see Pratt’s operation serving as an officiator of sorts for smack-talking car-modders worldwide. Think you’ve built a fast machine? DCR will race it, record the results and post the videos online for all to see. It costs $20 to enter two cars in DCR’s periodic matches — a bargain price for bragging rights—and there’s also a fantasy league for those who prefer not to field a car but want to get in on the action anyway.
Our Hudson Hornet shell, midway through its custom paint job.
First, we carefully drilled out the rivets holding the Hornet’s metal body to its plastic chassis and disassembled the car. Carving out the chassis opened up room to pack in lead tape, giving El Hornito, as we dubbed the car, a 27-gram advantage over a stock model. Paint stripper uncovered a skillfully sculpted Hornet body; delicate details muddled by the durable Hot Wheels-spec finish popped under our fresh matte-gray paint.
Strapped for time, we threw a miniature Mexican serape blanket over the Hornet’s tiny bench seat and shipped it off to DCR with a still-curing spray job. Seems just about right for a race car.
Then, racing. If you’re looking for an underdog success story, look elsewhere: El Hornito got smoked in a head-to-head with K & O Racing’s Hot Wheels 1970 Charger R/T on our first day of racing. It wasn’t even close: Out of a 19-car field, we managed 18th. But we looked killer doing it.
After the dust settled on the Fourth of July blowout, Pratt was gracious enough to run El Hornito against a stocker Hornet. We prevailed against the unmodified opposition in all but one of the courses—partial vindication of our rookie car-building skills.
Pratt doesn’t participate in sanctioned DCR races, citing the obvious conflict of interest, but he shared a few tips he’s gleaned from years of running tiny cars downhill. Think of weight as the gravity racing analog to horsepower: Heavier cars are usually faster, except on tight road courses where lighter cars sometimes eke out an edge. The ultra-smooth, nickel-plated axles of Hot Wheels’ discontinued “Faster Than Ever” line make them popular with racers (if there’s a market for aftermarket hop-up parts, Pratt notes, it’s probably in wheels and axles). As to what models stand out as consistent winners, Pratt says he sees a lot of Ferrari F40s.
Our little Hudson?
Not exactly a trophy-taker, but a cobbled-together Hornet can be the start of something great. Just ask Mario.