The sun never sets on the Shamrock Speedway.
Day and night, people crowd the grandstands to cheer on the racing action, while drivers and pit crews stand nearby and await their turn to hit the track.
Concession stands full of hot dogs, pizza and beer are always hopping, and there’s even a stage where spectators can take a break and listen to some music in between the races.
And while Shamrock Speedway may not be a real place, it’s very much home for Kokomo resident Alan Kaye — who named the speedway after his own Irish roots.
It all started in 2010, when Kaye got reacquainted with an old buddy who had his own slot car racing track.
Slot car racing is the racing of miniature automated vehicles that move because of a transformer and grooves or slots in a racing track. And though it’s been steadily popular through the years in Europe, Kaye said slot car racing seemed to diminish in the United States after the 1960s before making a comeback in recent years.
“So when I met up with him [friend], I had forgotten how much fun that was from back in the '60s. I remember one Christmas, my brother and I got a home slot car track, and it was a figure eight. We spent hours racing on that thing and thought it was the most amazing thing. But the hobby went away for me back in the '60s. So when I saw how beautifully detailed the tracks and cars are nowadays and was reintroduced to it, I said, ‘Wow, this is cool.’”
Kaye started off building his track from the main slot car maker Scalextric, but he said the track was too cumbersome, and he’d had to sit on his living room floor to race. He then built a table in a nearby bedroom and bought a Carrera [another model] track, laying down indoor/outdoor carpeting to look like grass.
And that’s when Kaye’s creativity really took off.
After all, he said, what’s a race without someone there to watch it?
Kaye doesn’t quite know how many miniature 1/24th or 1/32nd figures and scenery he has surrounding Shamrock Speedway, but each one has a purpose for being there. Some are even sentimental, he said.
“When I was a kid, I loved Mister Softee, so I bought a Borden Dairy truck bank with a slot in the top,” he said. “My son knew a guy that had a metal cutter, so I told him what I wanted, and I even found actual pictures of a Mister Softee truck on the Internet. My friend then painted the design and decal on the truck, and it really does look like an actual Mister Softee truck now.”
And though Kaye said he does buy some already finished products, he spends quite a bit of his own time putting his personal touches on the figures too.
“It depends how long it takes to finish each figure if I buy it unpainted,” he said. “And a lot of times, I will turn everyday items into figures and scenery when they were something completely different. I’m constantly either putting a 1/32 scale marker in my pocket while I’m out or taking a figure with me in case I see something in a store that I want to use. And just like in real life, these figures all come in different shapes and sizes.”
Take his band “Alan Kaye and the Toons” for instance, which Kaye is currently in the process of painting so that he can place them on the concert stage overlooking the speedway. He even bought a portable speaker for his iPod Nano so that the figures would be treated to an endless concert from his very own band.
There’s also a concession stand named after his son Jeremy and a miniature photo opportunity spot near the front entrance that pays homage to Kaye’s uncle. All along the track itself, there are even miniature wall decals that Kaye said also represent his favorite items, with everything from Pastarrific restaurant to Moody Cycle to White’s Meat Market.
Kaye said he thought of every detail when putting together Shamrock Speedway too, right down to the microphones used in the CBS press box and the lawn mowing crew placed strategically around the track.
“There’s nothing not to like about this place,” he said smiling. “It’s just pure fun. On the crummy days, there’s always something to do, and I’ve got projects I’m working on all the time.”
Slot car racing has become a family hobby as well, Kaye said, as his son also has his own speedway, and the two — along with other slot car enthusiasts — often get together to race.
And Shamrock Speedway is always in flux, as Kaye continues to add to his personal collection of figures and scenery. Describing himself as a proverbial Peter Pan, Kaye said he would have loved to have had such a speedway when he was growing up.
So that’s why it’s puzzling to Kaye that slot car racing sort of lost its allure over the years across the nation.
“It’s just amazing to me that it really didn’t last any longer than it did in America,” he said. “Americans are such motor heads. We have hot rod shows and car races and collectible automobile clubs, and America’s always just been into cars. I just don’t understand it really, but a lot of kids nowadays are racing virtual tracks. Personally, I’ve always liked this style better.
“My friends always freak out every time they see this track for the first time. I mean come on, if I had this thing as a kid, I would have never left the house,” he said laughing.