HO Brass Wars, Recollections and Race Cars from a Pro
........... Gary Rider
Gary contacted me with a quick email in 2009....our dialogue began and we are fortunate now to be able to preserve his recollections from the era---as well as get fresh images of the progress made by pro-racers and builders during the era. Gary was most active during the crossover period from cans to pans...Here is the story in his words, with intersecting commentary from Doug Morris (a young racer at the time Gary was winning a bunch!).
I have tried to organize this in "timeline fashion" but there were overlaps in many develpments and in different geographies...corrections, expansions, additions to this info greatly appreciated~! Contact us at riggenho.com.
....in Gary's words:
"I began racing slot cars around 1960. Had an Auroura track and there
was a club in Delaware, Ohio. That was the Thunderjet era and the cars were
not impressive "out of the box" but did offer close racing with an
emphasis on driving skill. Pretty much stock racing with hardshell bodies back
then.... Around 1962 progressed into 1\24th scale because tracks were popping
up and a good variety of racing cars, parts, motors, and bodies were becoming
available. I raced regularly at Sealy's Hobby Haven in Delaware, Ohio and traveled
to other tracks in Ohio for some variety.
Moved to Muskegon, Michigan in 1965 and raced 1\24th regulary at Carl's Hobby Shop in Muskegon. Went into the Navy for a 4 year hitch in 1966. Was able to win 1\24th races in Washington DC, Norfolk, and Jacksonville while stationed at nearby bases. Raced all kinds of cars and gained a lot of building skills for brass pan cars and some aluminum pan cars. Did some armatures back then also. Always shared my ideas and answered any questions that came up.
After serving my 4 years in the Navy, joined Club MICRO in Muskegon and became a quick study of HO racing. There was very good local competition from former 1\24th racers John Ohs, Dan Nelson, Joe Kresnik, Al Dennie, to name a few. That made it critical to bring a fast, durable race car. We were racing modified AFX cars at the time and started to improve them with pans, light bodies, and custom armatures. We raced on a 6 lane Aurora Commercial Track referred commonly to as the "Bathtub Track". We spent a lot of hours smoothing out the track sections, jumping power around the track, making a custom heavy duty 18 volt transformer, and adding Dart Photocell timing and lap counters. It was "state of the art" for serious HO racing. I built extra cars and created "Team Flash" with John Ohs and Dan Nelson driving them. Then we went HOPRA racing. Used many of the 1\24th building strategies, (scaled down to HO size) to improve handling. For the AFX all you really needed was a good brass floater system attached to the body to minimize track vibration. Then mount a lightweight body and good rear tires for the track conditions. The next round of imporvements was to replace the pickup system with something better. We liked 1\24th style pickup holders and .003 bronze pickup shoes. That usually required a brass pan be built to replace the front end and continue along the sides of the motor to the front of the rear wheels. That also made it possible to add a custom guide pin (soldered to the pan) out of piano wire that would hold up better and improve cornering slightly. So the brass floater would sit nicely on top of the pan (with everything around it holding it in place.) I would finish off my cars with a brass pin tube front axle and cigarbox front wheels (that were always my favorite for being cheap and very true and lightweight). We experimented with modified armatures that were popping up from TCP, Bronzeman, Randy Kemp, and others. Also by using a pan under the AFX chassis made it necessary to use a motorbrush tube system and springs and custom route the power leads with copper wire or lead wire, along the center section up to the pickup holders. It was becoming a day long project to build a good car."
"I won a few Michigan HOPRA championships back then and traveled out of state to win races in Indiana, Ohio, & Pennsylvania. One of my best wins was the HOPRA\Minature Auto Racing Championships at Parma with a slightly modified Riggen on their routed track. (editors note...see this link for the race report from the Parma Nationals written by Carl Dreher in March 1972, Miniature Auto Racing....) The pursuit of developing HO racing cars using brass pans was indeed a very memorable era. After the magnet cars began appearing, I basically lost most of my interest...."
Click here for photos of some of the race results...
more on the link.....
August 14, 1971 Race Report and photos....Pittsburgh HOPRA open
"I came onto the scene about the time Carl Dreher
was moving on to other things. Raced on his basement track once in Gary, Indiana.
Met him the first time at a HOPRA race at a Slot Racing facility in Indiana
and was winning that race with a scratchbuilt can powered brass chassis but
the pinion spun loose on the motor shaft and I was done. The Indiana racers
were all running modified Auroras and they could see the trouble on the horizon.
Carl was very interested in my car.
I was always looking for the next best thing so built different versions of the Aurora, with brass pans and lowering everything as much as possible... then gradually going lighter and dropping the motor magnets down for traction. We created a Rigafx here in Michigan which was a Riggen style pan around an AFX motor and drivetrain which was very fast and drvieable. The Modified Riggen I used for Parma was perfect for that track. Modified the pickup shoe with braid, ran a modified floater pan with small pin mounts for the body, handpicked a strong motor (out of a dynajet car), had cigarbox front wheels on straight aluminum tubing and Riggen gears and rear tires and added rear bronze bearings. I had made one prior trip to Parma to size up the track and plan a strategy..
Tony Porcelli was the biggest threat and brought the new Aurora Super 2
with mods. The car ran strong but was very punchy and hard to drive on the routed
track. Actually my personal race car was stolen after qualifying 1st. Later
I was allowed to drive another competitors car (Scott Hebron from Westland,
Michigan) that had been eliminated. It was similiar to mine and had a good motor.
I made a few adjustments on it (to improve handling) and went on to win the
At another HOPRA race in Pittsburg Pa., I won running a modified Riggen on Aurora track. We ran a brass pan from the motor forward with a soldered guide pin and brass tabs for a pin tube front axle with cigarbox front wheels. Had our perfected phospherous bronze pickup shoes attached to the plate. Tony Porcelli was a victim again. Will get you some pictures of that and more info. One of my favorite race cars for tearing up Aurora tracks.
The Riggen cars impressed me as the best to work with for using can powered cars. I was working on a version of it to market with Ken McDowell at Parma, but that project fell through."
Period Race Tracks.....Where they raced.....
from left to right: Muskegon Michigan "Club Micro Aurora Tubbie".....Cleveland Ohio Parma Raceway (routed).....Muskegon Track
left: Ionia Michigan; Marty (Bronzeman) Thalison.........right: Flint Michigan Al Militech--THE MONSTER
Rob Hayes (AKA "Bogus Bob Haze") remembers these tracks...
Great article by Bob Haze Miniature Auto racing May 1972----How the Rig/AFX competes with the Aurora "Gyros"
Doug Morris recalls.........
The first time I ever met Gary would have been at
a Muskegon HOPRA, I was a wide eyed amateur kid and he was in his prime, a bit
older than me, had actual money and building skills which I lacked at the time.
I was at a Parma race on the routed track, tape, no steels rails, was eliminated
early and my ride left before the A-Main, which I heard later that Gary won,
may have been the same race, I would have been racing amateur.
I remember Gary as a real nice guy, calm, didn't get real excited during a race, like Steve Brown, Brown was the benchmark. I was just a kid and most of the Pros wouldn't even acknowledge that we were there but I remember that Gary would always talk to me and answer any questions.
I was in the Flint club, that club was headed up by a guy named Al Miltich. His brothers had actually started the club and Al was the youngest. Their Dad was a doctor, a real grumpy guy, the track, the so called "Monster" was in the doctors office basement, it was a stand alone commercial type building in Downtown Flint. I found out about the club through a Car Model ad for an upcoming HOPRA hosted by the Flint club. I called the number, it was Al, was invited to a club race and 3 of us joined the club. That was in 1970, I was in 9th grade, Al in 11th, his brothers were all gone to college and Al was "Large and in Charge"! I rode to a lot of races with Al and was always helping with stuff around the track. You have to realize, I had a $5.00 a week allowance while Al was driving a year old Electra 225 provided by his Dad to high school. I can remember Al complaining that the Muskegon Club never came to our HOPRA races (Flint) even though we always went to their's, which was true. But things were a little different back then, people didn't travel as much. Anyway, speaking of Thayer, Bill Thayer made Thayer bodies, Al bought the business from him and I molded all of the Thayer bodies the last couple of years that they were available. I would be willing to bet he still has the molds.
Note to Doug: I did race the Flint "monster" track at least a couple of times. Tried to always make any Michigan HOPRA races back then. That was a tough track for "out-of-towners". Have a picture of the track somewhere. Steve Brown, Al Miltech, and Russ Beal were very good racers from that area. I am real impressed with your photos of cars from that era and your thoughts are "right on." My cars were very similiar. Don't know who had what first. When I raced I tried to always check out anything that looked better and maybe incorporate in my cars. Cars progressed very fast in that era, with the good competition that was around. I don't think the magnetic effect was worth much on brass pan cars, but the idea was to get everything lower to the track and we soon found out we did not need the brass at all. Your car 7 link is the same as what we liked to race in the final "brass wars" era. To go one step further we cut out the brass under the magnets and went all the way down to the rails for some real traction.... : ) : ) The brass would still allow for some controlable drift in corners before losing it.....GR
"Looking over whats in my racing box.... we did one more version of the AFX after the Dennie car with a bronze pan and magnets dropped down through the pan. (SEE PIC 1 and 2). Then we went Ultrlalight (See PIC 3 and 4) and dropped the pan all together and used the best motor magnets we could to get to get the traction and cornering needed for racing. Still have a couple of those cars to photograph. Little did I know the direction we were heading. The Indiana HOPRA guys started adding an extra set of magnets at the front and rear of the car for "unreal" cornering and "unbeatable" performance. Our Michigan HOPRA guys did not like that at all ..... and started scratching our heads over what to do. It really took driving skill out of the equation, in our opinion. But I guess you can't stop progress and "it is what it is" prevailed. We did ban the extra magnets, but some racers found sources for exotic motor magnets that accomplished the same goal and a new era of HO racing was born. I'll shoot pictures of the AFX stuff for starters then we'll focus on the Riggen approach. All the best cars used lightweight bodies with pin mounts. (We were racing competitively yaknow) We did have some very good painters that focused on appearance and detail. (Ron Platt & Chauncy Reynolds come to mind.) I respected that approach but my priorities was performance. "
Pic 1, Brass pan with dropped magnets....The floater on top of the pan pivoted
at the front and allowed for adding some lead between the pin tubes.
Pic 3 "Ultralight".....The first AFX cars built after the "brass
wars" An ultralight concept using motor magnetism for traction and cornering.
The car was very simple in design but required a lot of work to remove material from the bottom of the AFX chassis.
Then install brush tubes and lead wire to the pickup shoe holders. Epoxy being used to hold everything together.
Used a simple aluminum tube through the chassis over the front magnet for mounting a lightweight body.
Acceleration and braking were key improvements over the brass car. Not as forgiving to drive. Required good
hand\eye coordination and reflexes from the driver to be consistant. The car would cling to a track section
when held upside down. I knew this was the future for HO speed racing as soon as it hit the track.
Made 3 of these over winter 1973.
(Doug Morris also built a similar style...check out his ultralights)
This car is from an article in June 1971 Miniature Auto racing....a scan of
Build your own 1971 Rider modified
Question and Answer...
Q: So clearly now the writing is on the wall....what I really like about these two cars are how "clean" they look....TCP fronts and rears?
A: I used Cigarbox fronts on most of my cars. They were cheap and simple...
seemed to run very true and had some softness to absorb vibrations.
I believe the TCP fronts were very similiar. I tried Riggen, TwinK, and TCP rears on threaded axles.
I liked the TwinK rubber but they would not hold up well to tire dressings...
Speaking of tire dressings, used Tiger's Milk for softening and cleaning tires and TCP for extra traction, when needed.
Q: If you had to assign percentages to the value of drving skill and car quality....what do you think the ratio would be?
A: There always seemed to be a handful of good drivers around, but you absolutely needed a quality car to be competitive.
So I'd say it's 2/3rds car and 1/3rd driving skill. The better your car was the easier it was to go fast and be consistant.
Q: Do you remember the general time frame that the modified AFX took over as the weapon of choice?
I wrote about the AFX car being introduced in the June 1971 Miniature
Auto Racing Magazine.
I'll scan that report as it changed the game, virtually overnight, and ended the competitiveness of the T-Jet.
Q: Can you discuss the preferences between cans vs pans like modded riggens vs modded aurora and the super 2.... what key factor made a driver go one way or another? The motor-drivetrain? The chassis weight? Ease of build?
A: Ron, When I started racing HO, most of our racers were running Aurora cars with aftermarket brass pans that easily bolted to the chassis. I came up with some floppy side pans and a floppy brass front body mount that improved what they were using. The early commercial can cars were not working well. Joe Kresnick (club micro) built a simple solid brass pan scratchbuilt that showed promise and I could not resist building one of those. So then it became obvious that some 1\24th handling tricks would probably work in HO scale and I made some brass scratchbuilts with iso fulcrum front wheels and floater body mounting plates. Those ideas worked well, for that period of time. Then the AFX came out and there were lots of options for armatures along with the improved gear train, so with better power available, went back to making brass pans epoxied to the bottom of the AFX, along with the custom pickup shoe system and a floater pan for body mounting resting on top of the bottom pan. That made for a very competitive racing car. Since I had raced 1\24th for 10 years, I liked using ideas from that era to advance the can cars to a competitive level. The Riggen car provided a good platform to build from. I thought more weight over the guide pin and our pickup shoe system would improve the car, so made an extended brass pan front end with piano wire guide pin and pickup system that showed significant improvement. The can cars were smoother to drive, if that suited the driver's style. The Aurora could accelerate and brake better (more punchy) for driver's that liked that style. With more torque, you had to be more focused to be consistant, I thought. So there were tradeoffs on which was better. If you had both types available to race, you could make a decision based on the track you were racing on. Bigger, faster tracks, I'd pick the Riggen car. Tighter twisty, tracks the Aurora seemed better. They required about the same building time and difficulty to build. I stuck with modifications that anyone could duplicate and with a resonable budget. Was always eager to share ideas and reveal any new developements. Enjoyed having close competition, with the best driver on a given day, taking home the glory and hardware.
Q: Anyone have a rule book?
A: Our HOPRA rules in the early 70's were pretty open. There was wheelbase, width, and clearance requirements. No limits on motors. Only 1 guide pin could be used and no weight restrictions.
Doug Morris adds:
As far as rules, I remember there was a ground clearance rule, 1/32"?
No cars dragging like today. Width when I was first racing was 1 1/4",
later changed to 1 5/16". Body style was always called out, Can/Am was
Can/Am, not any body like today, also Can/Am had to have a driver. Sometime
after the Elwood race traction magnets (not named that yet) were outlawed, motor
magnets only, later on that was changed to 2 only motor magnets. I'm sure there
were height and length rules, other than that it was run what you brung.
We were racing Riggens in the club, once someone built an Afx pan car everyone in the club switched, like right away.
For the majority of the time I raced HOPRA the Afx pan car was the top choice, on steel rail tracks, which most were. I think it was because of the slight amount of magnet pull to the rails, once the magnets were dropped to the pan it became real clear. Another thing may have been the torque of the motor, on a can car the torque wants to lift one side of the car, on a pancake car the torque would twist the car but keep all 4 wheels on the track. That may have been a factor on poorly built cars, as in the Afx being more forgiving. The whole time I raced I just don't recall anyone winning a HOPRA on a rail track with a can motor car. AJ ran can motor cars forever and did good, just never won, I'm convinced that if he would have put forth the same amount of effort in an Afx pan car that he probably would have won some races. Just my 2 cents.
---Gary Rider article from Miniature Auto Racing Newsletter: Build the Dennie AFX Page 1, Page 2,