It's Our Turn: Hot Wheels, cool memories
When I found out that the world's longest Hot Wheels track is being built for a special race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week, it took me back in time to those oh-so-long-ago days when I was a kid who couldn't get enough of those shiny, snazzy toy cars.
If I remember right, they were about a buck apiece in the early 1970s, not cheap, but affordable for a kid on a modest allowance or one who could cajole his parents into buying one every now and then, especially at Christmas.
I built up quite the collection. I must have had about a hundred, storing them in tire-shaped Hot Wheels carrying cases and another that resembled a small suitcase. The names of the cars were as cool as they looked: Barracuda, Eldorado, Fleetside, Beatnik Bandit, Chaparral, Indy Eagle, Splittin' Image, Turbofire and others that I can still instantly recall in my head.
I'd race them all the time, even building an incredibly long track that stretched from our upstairs kitchen all the way down the steps, around the corner and into the far reaches of our basement.
I'd love putting the track together, fitting together the red plastic joiners for the shiny orange sections of track, complete with banked curves, jumps, trestles, loop launchers and a checkered-flag mechanism at the finish line.
When I was playing with my Hot Wheels, the hours flew by faster than the cars speeding down the track. I'd hold elimination races, determining which of my cars was the fastest. I'd race the cars so much that after awhile, the track would lose its lightning-fast slipperiness so I'd wax it to increase the speed.
Throughout the years, Hot Wheels made the racing even more fun by adding a "Super Charger," a battery-powered chute housed inside a plastic gas station that would propel the cars around the track. It also made chargeable cars called Sizzlers that you'd fill up with "juice," actually electricity, so they'd zip along the track on their own power.
But around the time of the Sizzlers, my childhood connection to Hot Wheels just sort of fizzled. I was on to other hobbies like Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Mattel electronic football and Rubik's Cube.
Through the years, I'd think about my collection from time to time, sometimes wondering if they'd be worth anything these days. Trouble was, I didn't take very good care of my Hot Wheels. One game I invented, "Smash-Em-Up Derby," really took a toll. The object was to push your car as hard as you could into a row of other Hot Wheels to try to topple one over. I knew most of the cars were chipped up, or missing wheels, or just plain lost.
And then one very depressing day about three years ago, while my brother and sister and I were taking everything out of our childhood home after our parents died, I saw something at the very top of a shelf in a dusty, darkened corner of the basement where the canned goods had been stored. It was my all-time favorite Hot Wheels car: a gold Sand Crab dune buggy with a clear plastic roof.
How it got there I'll never know. Maybe my mom put it there as punishment for something dumb I did all those years ago. Maybe my brother hid it there as a trick. Maybe I hid it away myself for some long-forgotten reason.
But holding that car again brought back a flood of good memories. Just for fun, I looked up how much the car would be worth to a collector. It's still in pretty good shape, with the signature "red line" wheels all intact, the paint still shiny. I found out it's worth about $30, at most. But to me, it's priceless. It's not just a toy. It's a time machine.
"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.