Off to the races

From your child’s first"Vroom! Vroom!” as he pushes a car, the fascination with cars and speed seems innate. But there’s much more to racing than just going fast. Children learn lessons in discipline, confidence and coordination, plus the thrill of competition and, potentially, victory.

From simple slot cars to build-your-own models and even getting behind the wheel, the sport of car racing offers boundless options.

Slot cars, so-named because the race car fits in a slot on the track, are a good introduction into racing. Two simple wires allow the speed to be controlled by remote. Dads Slot Cars owner Tom Pelletieri admits this is"a seriously low-tech hobby. No computers involved. But for 16 years, I’ve watched kids keep coming back, seeing how fast they can go until their car flips the track.” Located in Des Plaines, Dads has three tracks with eight lanes in each and rents cars and controllers by the half hour.

Part of the slot car allure is the fact that kids can invest at many levels. From places like Dads where they can spend half an hour and $10, to complete complex at-home tracks and specialty cars available at most hobby shops, this interest has no limits.

For younger kids just starting out, Oakridge Hobbies& Toys in Downers Grove recommends SCX Cars. The SCX track is made of a durable flexible plastic that stays snapped together when assembled. As kids pursue this hobby, different sets grow and expand to accommodate faster speeds and more complicated racing patterns.

Moving beyond the at-home capabilities, new stores where kids can build and race their own cars are popping up. More a custom-design shop than a raceway, Ridemakerz opens this April in Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Kids as young as age 6 can customize rides starting at $12 from a variety of sounds, wheels, treads and decals.For a combination of design, build and race,

Raceline Motorworks has a store in Westfield Shoppingtown in Vernon Hills. Kids create and build their own customized race car, earn a Raceline driver’s license and then top off the experience racing on the Speedway Track. Once kids build their cars, they can return to the track anytime to race.

Co-Founder Blake Harper launched Raceline Motorworks in 2005. Remembering the fun he had racing cars as a boy, he and his partners created Raceline as a cool activity for kids.

For youngsters who really want a taste of the speedway, Chicago Indoor Racing in Buffalo Grove offers Junior Programs, where kids as young as age 7 (at least 50 inches tall) can get behind the wheel and race. The two-day schools first teach safety, then how to drive and finally, how to race. After completing the school, racers can participate in competitive junior leagues.

Brian Dopp, enthusiast program manager, credits the junior leagues’ growing popularity on the fact that kids appreciate the skills needed to succeed."Racers need to be mentally strong, making smart decisions quickly and learn from mistakes.”

If all this is not enough, don’t miss the thrill of watching a live race. Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet hosts a variety of racing series including NASCAR Weekend July 12. Check its Web site at for a full schedule and ticket information.

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