|This race, that started as an afterthought in 1997, has grown into one of the renowned events in slot car lore, affecting everything from the manufacturing of accessories to the lexicon of the hobby. |
The race is always held on the first Saturday in February, in the Victorian town of Ferndale, California, about as far north as you want to be along the coast before pavement ends. It’s situated on the mouth of the Eel River, that meanders on the edge of this town and falls right off into the Pacific, not far from the birth home of this race. Hundreds of seals wait to greet you if you boat by. It’s a town of dairy and lumber men, with a savory Mid America flavor.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a fray as, “A scuffle; a brawl. A heated contest”. That says it all. Everyone that comes to The Fray, comes to win. And since it is a team race, as well as an individual race, it offers a double scoop combination of excitement. Most people know each other only through their contact with the HO Mailing List, and this is the one yearly event where they can all convene together in spirited competition.
The cars are Aurora Thunderjet chassis, with bodies from various manufacturers, including Aurora Model Motoring, Model Motoring Inc, HO Detroit, Playing Mantis, Road Race Replicas, and MEV Originals. The chassis are only allowed minimal alterations, including any wheel/tire combination up to 1 5/16” wide, and the bodies may be cut and lowered. Aftermarket parts such as wheels, tires, and commutator brushes are legal. (Wizzard, Hiester, and ThunderBrushes, respectively). There is a weight restriction
This is the fifth time for the annual event that has grown each year. The host and patron is Rick Phillis. Fifteen teams were entered this year; seven states were represented, including a team from as far as New Jersey. Unbelievably, Phillis has built seven tables for this Fray. Each is a six lane course on a 6’ X 14’ table. Five members from each team stage up for any race (teams may be comprised of any number of drivers). You never sit down for this marathon. Racing starts at 8:30 am, and continues through till 11 pm. There is only one short break for lunch, and another between the rounds.
The format starts with the team competition, which is the Qualifying Round. This determines who takes home the team trophy, but also sets up the individual seeds for the Elimination Round.
In most sanctioned slot car races, every driver races on every lane for a set number of minutes, and the total laps determine the winner. Not here. The setup at the Fray has each heat as a race to the finish. The length is ten laps for the Qualifying Round, and up to to twenty laps for the Elimination Round. Though the drivers do race on every lane, the fact that you have to race to the line each time is nerve-racking, because you can’t hide. Everyone knows where you, and your team, stand at any moment. This way each heat offers the opportunity for redemption.
|Special thanks to the following people for their tireless help with the Fray and this article: Ferndale and Eureka Team members, and Susie Kilgore.|
This is Where It Happens.
Where the Drivers Set Up
|In the four years the race has been held, the victors have all come from California, and last years winners, SoCal, were the prohibitive favorites. But this years field, at first glance, seemed to be very balanced, and nothing was certain, as some of the races would prove. Racing, due in large part to the addition of a TrakMate computer system designed specifically for this Fray, went smoothly through lunch. By that point, SoCal was still undefeated, and another team, KC, had only one loss. They were to meet at 3:40 for a showdown. The anticipation would soon wain. SoCal started with a 1,2,3 finish in the first heat, and never looked back. The lead grew steadily throughout the race, and was resolved by the 7th heat. SoCal would go on to finish undefeated for the second year, which is the trend in Frays, and take home the Team Trophy.|
Seven Tables With More Than 100 Drivers
|Team Name, State, and Final Standings: |
1. SoCal, Orange County, CA - 14-0
2. Kansas City, Missouri, 12-2
3. Eureka, California, 11-2-1
4. Carnage, WA, ID, CA, 9-5
5. Ferndale, California 8-4-2
6. South Bay, California, 8-6
6. Fremont, California, 8-6
6. East Coast, NJ, 8-6
9. Texas, Texas, 7-6-1
10. Petaluma, California 7-7
11. Seattle, Washington, 5-9
12. Carson City, Nevada, 3-11
13. Free Agents, 2-12
14. Yakima, Washington 1-13
15. Oakland, California, 0-14
Texas And Oakland Spar on Green
|Completing the team portion of a Fray is a bit like having gone through a hazing, and boot camp. When the final lap is completed it’s as if the burden is lifted. All the drivers, as they finish their last heats join together in a now common ritual of mutual respect and admiration for having successfully completed the run through the gauntlet. For now, no one thinks much about who won, but instead that “we made it”. |
After a break for dinner, everyone lines up for the Elimination Round. Based on your points from the first round, everyone is seeded. A low score will put you near the bottom, and means that you have to run more races to get to the final heat, a marked disadvantage. Each race brings on ever better drivers, so by the time you approach the end, the drivers are darned near infallible, so any mistake could be terminal. Only four drivers advance from each heat.
SoCal And KC, For All The Marbles
These Six Lined Up For The
A Main Finals
|Sixty or so bodies huddled around the Yellow Table for this portion of the event. Kneeling, upright, and standing on chairs around the track, they formed a human Coliseum. The early rounds didn’t attract the largest crowds, but by the time the “F” Mains were being run, the entire hall was there, with clapping and cheering indicating the spectators appreciation of what they were witnessing. Awesome! |
How awesome was it? Well, by this time the cars were going so fast that they were going through the first corner off the major straight on two wheels, and they were all catching air off the bridge, landing with that unmistakable sound of car re-entering the slot with a slap. There wasn’t much spotting left to do.
After about an hour and a half, the field was whittled down to six. Rick Jocham and Mike Englage from SoCal, Shane Mitchell, Petaluma(CA), Rich Machado, Ferndale(CA), Walter McClurg, Eureka (CA), and Steve Ward, KC (MO).
The format changed a little. Each driver had to run fifteen laps on each lane. The crowd was exhibiting its joy with the sounds it was emanating, encouraging the drivers, and applauding their skills. These guys were the best in the nation at racing these cars, and it showed. Their cars were making swooshing noises as they zigged unimaginably fast through the S-curves, often times swapping paint, clumped tightly in groups of three and four.
After it was all over, a loud cheer erupted from the crowd, showing how much they apprecaited what they had witnessed. It was so close, in fact, the winner was determined by the second tie breaker. The nod went to Jocham over McClurg. SoCal had swept the competition, and once again kept the trophies in California.
|7-25 Finishers in the |
7. Jason Boye, Fremont
8. Paul Kassens, Seattle
9. Milt Surrett, SoCal
10. Aaron Shearman, Cranage
11. Rick Burneson, SoCal
12. Brad Bowman, Fremont
13. Ron Coaxum, South Bay
14. Matt Zenovitch, Seattle
15. Don Bourne, KC
16. Chad Trump, Eureka
17. Bill Lee, Petaluma
18. Mark St. Clair, Carnage
19. Ron Richardson, Ferndale
20. Jeff Hurley, Soouth Bay
21. Chris Wiley, SoCal
22. John Balson, East Coast
23. Jamie Jorgensen, Eureka
24. Steve Godinez, KC
25. David Spann, Texas
|Final Six in the Elimination Round (Pictured R-L): |
1. Rick, Jocham, SoCal
2. Walter McClurg, Eureka
3. Mike Englage, SoCal
4. Steve Ward, KC
5. Rick Machado, Ferndale
6. Shane Mitchell, Petaluma
|Bottom line, it was a great race, and we could talk endlessly about it, but we leave that to others. All we have left to do is talk about some of the surprises. First timers, Jeff Hurley, Ron Coaxum, Steve Godinez and Matt Zenovitch making it into the top 25, with Steve Ward reaching fourth. We must also mention team Carnage. Even with the loss of a linch pin, Joe Geigel, to injury, they managed a surprising fourth in the team Competition, and surprised quite a few teams. |
See you all next year for The Fray in Ferndale Two-oh, oh-Two!