Slot Racing History

ECRA / BSCRA Handbook

The First  Nationals
(British Rail Racing Driver’s Championship)

The first Nationals was held in 1961, the race report says Laurie Cranshaw was the prime mover of the Championship and of course he was the main man running ECRA.   However, the report  doesn’t mention ECRA by name.  Maybe that means that the event was financed by the Aintree club and sponsors MRRC paid for the meeting, and Laurie was thanked in person as they saw ECRA as little more than Laurie   
The  ECRA meeting in February 1963 talking about arrangements for that year’s championships at Aintree, that’s the only written confirmation of that so far found that ECRA were involved with the running of these rail racing championships.
The rail Nats were for just two classes - Grand Prix and Sports/GT which of course have been two of the main Nationals classes ever since.   For the first 3 years the Nationals were for rail guided cars, there were plenty of slot clubs about at the time, but rail took an early lead at National level.  Laurie Cranshaw was the 1963 National Sports/GT champion.   Laurie was less involved with ECRA from 1964 when it was concentrating on slot rather than rail, but returned as ECRA competitions secretary  in the late 1960s and held that post till 1970, well into its slot racing days.  Here’s some examples of Laurie’s rail and slot cars.  

The first Nationals were held in 1961 at Aintree. Alban Adams (Proprietor of event sponsor  (MRRC)  presents the trophy to the first  champion Roy Denholm (left). Alongside Alban is Laurie Cranshaw (with bow tie)

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National Associations

The earliest national model car racing association that has a part in our story is the Model Car Association (MCA).  This organised races for tethered (round the pole) and rail guided model cars powered by internal combustion (ic)  engines. These were not controlled by the driver, once set off they ran at a constant power setting - typically flat out. The MCA’s initial set of rules were produced in and membership was advertised in the May 1948 issue of “The Model Car News”. Race reports from 1950 show MCA national championships was established by then, although it is not clear if this was the first year they were run.  Here’s a 1950 film clip of rail cars at North London Society of Model Engineers.  The racing was run with a series of races in different regions of Britain to select qualifiers for a single National final meeting.  In 1954 a new organisation, the  Model Rail Car Association (MRCA) was set up, this organised classes foe There was racing 1/12 and 1/16 scale ic powered cars.  A prominent figure in both MRCA and MCA was Alban Adams, the proprietor of MRRC, and of course MRRC were prominent in establishing slot racing.  Here’s a film clip of Alban and these cars from 1956.  Amongst the  6  clubs who formed the MRCA was the North London SME, who of course have been a prominent slot racing club throughout the history or ECRA/BSCRA.  

Electric Rail Guided Racing

By 1955 there were electric model car racing clubs that we might recognise as similar to modern slot racing clubs with the key difference the cars were guided by a rail rather than a slot.   Southport is thought to be the first of the electric rail clubs in north west England,   Model Maker magazine tells us Southport’s first annual international GP meeting was held in 1955. Also in 1955 there was an electric rail club in Bournemouth built by Henri Baigent, this operated on its own sort of rail guidance which was different to the  “Southport standards” and the similar system MRRC  made (that was a bit of a surprise as Henri was one of the directors of MRRC).    The standard scale adopted was 1/32, half the scale of the smaller ic powered  cars.

Early 1950s IC powered rail guided cars and a track they raced on

MRRC rail guided car from 1957

Proposal to start the Electric Car Racing Association (ECRA)

Let’s step to 1960 when Laurie Cranshaw enters our story.   His articles in Model Maker magazine during 1960  propose an association for electric model car racing, and asked readers to tell him their preference.  The survey results showed  1/32 was the preferred scale and there was a large preference for slot over rail.    Laurie then produced a firm proposal that ECRA would have rules for 1/32 cars covering both rail and slot, the aim was to run a championship. The organisation worked along fairly similar lines to the MCA and MRCA. The official magazine of ECRA was Model Maker, which was superceded by Model Cars in early 1964.  Also Model Roads and Racing magazine has some useful information about ECRA.    Fortunately copies of these magazines survive, where as the ECRA archives don’t go back this early.  So for now the story of the first few years of ECRA can only be put together from memories of those around at the time and articles in these magazines .   More details of the proposals.  

ECRA is formed

The formation of ECRA was announced in Laurie’s article in the June 1961 issue of Model Maker.  Although we don’t have the exact date it was formed, the 1963 article tells us it was approximately early February 1961 .    Laurie is generous in his thanks to DJLD and VS (Dickie Lawdlaw Dickson publisher of MAP magazines including Model Maker and Vic Smeed editor of Model Maker magazine).  These 3 gentlemen deserve a share of the credit for setting up ECRA. The name Electric Car Racing Association made sense back then, it differentiated the association from model cars with ic engine, and  electric powered radio controlled cars were then some years in the future.  
The rules Laurie produced adopted existing track standards from the Southport club and the “Aintree” standards for slot.   At the time Aintree club had a rail track which hosted the 1961 and 1963 National rail racing championships, so it’s not obvious why the slot standards were called the “Aintree” standards.

We can be confident that Laurie was the main man running ECRA from 1961 and DJLD/ Model Maker provided vitally important publicity, however we have no records of just who else was involved in running the organisation until the ECRA National Slot Racing Executive was formed in 1963.   Just what running ECRA consisted of  in its earliest days is unclear, what we do know is that it was a somewhat loose organisation until 1963/4.  Laurie was the main man running the first National championships (for rail) in 1961, but for whatever reason the race reports make no mention of ECRA.  It seems Laurie/ECRA was largely focused on rail and ECRA only got actively involved in organising slot racing in 1963

Initial in 1961 it was announced that  annual ECRA membership would be 5 shillings (25p). How many paid up to become members or indeed if paid up membership ever happened is unknown.  In 1963 Laurie says anyone who observes the charter provisions (the ECRA rules) is automatically member and can enter open or classic meetings.   A 1963 magazine article by Mac Kennaugh confirms there was no ECRA membership fee and implies there never was.    The lack of any income in this period surely means ECRA couldn’t have produced any newsletters or handbooks for its members, so we can look to the magazine articles as the only ECRA records of the time.  The Model Maker magazine editorial from January 1964 discussed the need for money to pay for organising race meetings and implies the association didn’t already have any income for membership fees .

Laurie updated ECRA rules in 1962, in his Model Maker article he thanks the large number of people who wrote in expressing views on the proposed new rules.  That tells us a “large number of people” were interested enough in ECRA to write in with their views, and it seems rather unlikely they’d have bothered if racing wasn’t being organised on some sort of club basis to at the time.  Of course we don’t know how many a “large number” was nor how many were ECRA members.
Laurie produced a full set of further updated ECRA rules  in 1963 and a further full set in 1964.
It’s interesting to see a rule interpretation from Laurie 1962.   As Competitions Secretaries ever since well know, sometimes rules need clarifying either because they weren’t clear enough in the first place or because somebody found a loophole that couldn’t reasonably have been foreseen!

ECRA goes slot racing

In 1963  the “ECRA National Slot Racing Executive” was formed, this is the start of national slot racing organised in Areas which it has been ever since.   It started with just 8 Areas (1 Scotland: 2 NW England: 3 NE England: 4 N Midlands: 5 S Midlands: 6 E Anglia: 7 SW England: 8 SE England) , this was increased to 10 then 12 areas later in the 1960s and changed to the 10 areas we have today in the early 1970s. I’m told Gordon Wrigley was the pivotal figure in bringing this together, and his diplomatic skills were essential in persuading the somewhat independent minded clubs to come together into the much more formal organisation ECRA was to become.   In 1964 ECRA the National Slot Racing Executive pretty much became ECRA, organising the first National slot racing championships, a monthly newsletter, a constitution defining democratic rule changes and an organised committee and introducing a membership fee (7/6 per year) to pay for it. This replaced the rather informal arrangement where Laurie was in charge without supporting officials, to  a normal association structure with a Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer.    Gordon Wrigley was the first chairman, a post he held till the end of 1968.  At the delegates meeting on 31st May 1964 membership was reported as  just under 500 members and about 80 clubs.

One of those present at this meeting was  Mac Kennaugh from Lemington Spa club, his article written in 1963 explains that ECRA in its original form was a somewhat loose organisation. It would not have been possible to organise a championship if clubs were still running to such different standards that cars would barely run on each others tracks,  and not possible to run it on anything approaching a fair basis unless the cars were built to a common set of rules.   Mac does give full credit to ECRA in its original form for playing a major part in shaping model car racing so that it was possible to build the more formal organisation ECRA was becoming.  

Magazines make brief references to a monthly duplicated ECRA newsletter in this period, we’ve not managed to find a copy of any of these newsletters or anybody who remembers ever seeing one  so unless an unexpected “attic find” appears it looks as whatever these might have told us in lost.  

Standardising on the 3 pin controller socket and requirement for dynamic braking that we still use to this day was agreed at the delegates meeting on 31st May 1964.

The Nationals becomes a slot racing event

By 1962 rail racing clubs were swapping over to slot and rail cars were being converted to slot to run on these tracks.   It became clear that the Nationals needed to change over to slot.   ECRA continued to publish both rail and slot standards for a short period after the switch over, but soon became slot only.

The 1964 Nationals was the first slot racing National Championship in the UK and as far as we know the first anywhere in the world.  This certainly had enthusiastic support from Model Cars magazine - it was held in their offices at Watford.  Something we’d now think very strange was a cigarette company sponsoring the F1 event!  Here a third class was added, the National Club Team Championship, a saloon class was added in 1966 and these have been run annually ever since.  

ECRA continued under that name until the 1980s.   By that time  radio controlled electric model cars about was very well established, so the “Electric Car...” part of ECRA’s name needed a change. In 1984 ECRA changed its name to the British Slot Car Racing Association (BSCRA)   

The track for the first slot racing Nationals under construction at the Watford offices of Model Cars magazine's publishers MAP  in 1964

The Origins of ECRA and BSCRA

The Electric Car Racing Association (ECRA) was first proposed in 1960 and formally started in 1961.  ECRA changed its name to the British Slot Car Racing Association (BSCRA) in the 1980s.    The central figures in setting up ECRA have long since passed away, this story has been compiled from written records and the memories of those who met them.   

There were slot racing systems well before ECRA, for example those built by Ken Wallis in the 1940s. and rail guided electric model racing such as the raceway  set up by Henry “Tim” Birkin and Patrick Kennedy  in the early 1930s.   There were probably many influences on the formation of ECRA, but it seems ECRA’s origins owes more to rail guided cars than slot racing pioneers.    So  let’s concentrate on how the Association grew from those rail guided roots.

The fastest cars at the first Nationals had open framed motors and steering.

More on the 1964 winner

Many years later a rail track was built and an event was run at Brooklands attended by slot racers just a few had raced rail back in its heyday   The quote that sticks with me is Charlie Fitzpatrick (Mr Betta and Classic) - now I’ve tried rail again I know why we swapped to slot.