Dave Kennedy - Slot Car Evangelist: tBR Person of the Week
I’m Dave Kennedy and I’ve been given the moniker of “ slot car evangelist. “
In the 60’s and 70’s slot cars were a main stream hobby and toy. But as the culture in the US changed, as the buying habits and play patterns changed slot cars were marginalized here in the US and nearly died as a hobby. Gone are the days of tv broadcasts of slot races on the evening talk shows and a slot car track in every small town across North America.
I’d been into slot racing since I was about 5 years old (I’m 50 now) and as one of the few people doing slot car marketing since 2007 I can tell you it’s been a hard road to travel.
The near death of the hobby in the mid 70’s here in the US means that we’ve lost several generations of children. The job of exposing parents now to the hobby means doing lots of basic, very “retail marketing” events to get controllers in the hands of kids and parents to show them the fun of racing scale miniature cars around a plastic, electrified slot track.
I got into my first job with a Spanish slot company, SCX as North American Marketing Manager then moved to an Austrian slot company Carrera slot cars and from February of 2018 until March of 2020 I was US Brand Manager for Hornby Hobbies (Scalextric slot cars, Airfix models). I was fortunate to have a strong mentor in the business as Ed Gershowitz helped me learn the business at both Carrera and Hornby.
(Dave Kennedy and Ed Gershowitz in the Hornby booth at NYTF 2020)
As I’ve travelled across the US, Canada, raced with slotters in the UK, Germany and Spain I’ve found several truths to bridge cultures, people just want to have their wishes reflected in the products of the companies that devote themselves to in their hobbies. That’s especially true in slot cars today, where the vast majority of racers also consider themselves ambassadors of the hobby. With the hobby growing incrementally each year there’s the feeling in the hobby that we need to treat each new member of a message board preciously and help them get going in the right direction in the hobby. We don’t have the benefit in slot cars of having tons of marketing dollars devoted to getting new people in the hobby here in North America each year so each Christmas season we remind each other to be welcoming to new people, families… heck anyone that shows up on a message board and says hello.
Since losing my job I’ve devoted my time (aside from job hunting) to working on my YouTube channel where I do weekly videos about news in the hobby and basic videos about how new racers can get a good start slot racing. https://www.youtube.com/c/SlotCarNewsOfficial
The challenge is that the major competition for slot racing is a familiar nemesis of the rest of the toy business… video games. Toys have gotten smaller and less challenging for parents and kids to master… what has filled the void has been video games. Yes video games, the words that no one in the toy business wants to hear. I take a different view than most in the toy business about them though.
Don't blame the kids because they've been taken into the rich world of video games. Starting in the 80’s with the rise of higher quality TVs, video games at home became possible. Gradually until the present-day video games have tactile feedback, visual feedback, audio feedback. A wide range of themes and regular changes that slot cars and trains as a static toy cannot offer. Because of technical advances in sound, video, miniaturization of mechanical “thumpers” in controllers which give tactile feedback in controllers… video games are now the most immersive experience you can have in a game experience.
Video games are NOT a one-player only experience despite what many think. Many online gamers use headsets and voice over IP chat rooms to connect with friends and they game together as a community-based activity. It’s common that even children will participate with gamers of every age in online games.
Children should not be shamed/blamed for being excited about entering/living in the online world of video games. Over the past decades children have gone into the world of video games because that’s what was new and available to them. Especially as parent worked more outside the home children over the past generations grew to accept entering the video game world as the most richly fun/experiential world available to them.
We should make a special effort to not blame/shame video games in our corporate culture and messaging. The children/gamers aren’t to blame, we are to blame for not making engaging toys.
We want to capture the imagination. We want them to enter the world of play that we can make for them in slot cars.
A world that's full of online events and streamers on Twitch TV interacting with them. There's a whole world that caters to young people who love to play in worlds they create in online gaming. Fueled by online contests, gaming companies that interact with them and listen to them in product development.
Don’t tell me you can't get kids interested in slot cars, I'm not having it. The gaming industry has precious little tangible things they can make and yet there's a whole industry devoted to making the mundane exciting.
Computer fans... that's right, computer fans are cool. There are countless different types of neon lit fans of different sizes, different speeds, they can change colors or can stay one color. They can light up your computer and make it something to brag about with your gaming buddies... RAM sticks.. of all freaking things... RAM sticks with cool aluminum heat sinks on them are electro plated different colors just to make it that much more exciting to add RAM to your computer... and top it all off with a plexy glass cover for your gaming tower and you have a whole light show inside what by all rights should be the most boring thing in the house... a computer. Who could have thought that something that has nearly no moving parts could be a light show?
Friends and neighbors don't tell me with all the possibilities for toys, scenery, sound effects, track pieces, moving, crashing, music integration, light integration, little models of people... that it's not possible to make the world of slot cars even this much more appealing... I'm not having it.
We need to play to the strengths of our products in slot racing and stop trying to make them into something they’re not. They’re an analog, tangible, communal racing experience that’s accessible by all ages of people. Once you pick up a controller and try to smash and bash the person in the lane next to you off the track you WILL get it. That feeling of wanting to beat the person next to you or to build a little world that you can populate with little trees and people and buildings is a rich experience that you can grow with over time.
Every time I’ve done marketing events whether it’s at the Corvette Museum in Kentucky or at the Quebec Auto Show or a week-long series of races sponsored by a beer company at a Nascar track… the reaction is the same by everyone that picks up a controller and tries to beat the fastest time on the track, they want to win. Slot racing immediately brings out the competitor in everyone. I have high hopes it will return as not only a mainstream toy but as a family game as it is still in Europe.
About the author:
Dave Kennedy ‘s career started as a news and pro sports photographer in NYC and San Francisco as a Staff Photographer at the San Francisco Examiner. As a blogger he started sharing slot car news via his blog of the same name. While still shooting assignments daily in NYC covering pro sports he got the attention of the slot companies he was sharing news for. That blog lead to his first job in the toy business.
In 2008 he left photojournalism for a position at SCX Tecnitoys as North American Marketing Manager. 2010-2017 he worked for the Austrian company Stadlbauer’s Carrera slot cars and RC as North American Marketing Manager. In 2018 he was hired by his previous boss at Carrera to work for Hornby Hobbies UK as US Brand Manager for their Scalextric, Airfix, Corgi, Humbrol brands.
Working for relatively small companies here in the US has meant that Dave’s duties have included not only product research but managing dealer accounts, managing social media, producing photos and videos for social media and catalogs but also developing relationships with racing teams and major auto manufacturers to help with product licensing and marketing.
Over the decade working in the hobby business he’s continued to slot race competitively with his club and nationally in the US. Where he’s raced in 5 24-hour slot races and has won 2 national slot car championships.
Currently he lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife Karen and son Tyler.