Slot-car racers pursue a cleaner image: No swearing, please, as Britain plays host to world championships for 'Scalextric on steroids'

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The Independent Online
MOST PEOPLE see slot-car racing, a kind of Scalextric on steroids, merely as toys for big boys. Perhaps that is why the sport is anxious to present a wholesome image to the public.

Drivers at this week's world championships at the MetroCentre, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, face the toughest possible constraint: swearing is outlawed. A first offence earns a public warning, a second a five-lap penalty, and a third, disqualification.

It is the kind of condition that would probably keep Damon Hill and his Formula One colleagues permanently in the pits. But George Kimber, one of the organisers of the first world championships to take place in Britain, is unrepentant: 'We have to have a procedure which controls the guys. Some of them lose their marbles when things get tight, and obviously the public don't want to hear a load of bad language.'

Strange then that one driver was able to scream 'Aw shite, what ya doin' man?' yesterday as his car was sent spinning from the eight- lane track by a fellow competitor.

Nevertheless, it is a measure of how seriously the 109 drivers - 108 men and one woman - take the sport. Members of the virtually penniless Latvian team, which drove for four days to reach the championships, take it very seriously indeed. Atis Rudztis, former Baltic champion, and Soviet silver medallist, has little choice as he is employed by his government to teach the sport.

Andy Searle-Brown, 40, from Riding Mill, Northumberland, put his wooden-gift manufacturing business on hold last week as he prepared his car for this week's event. 'Pushing the wood through the saw was wrecking my throttle some,' he said. 'I was simply not race-fit and it was costing me vital split seconds.'

Many of the competitors appear to be frustrated racing car drivers. A Belgian millionaire-turned-MP, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem, who organised the last world championships in 1989, went into Formula One racing with the Onyx team but pulled out when he found he could not afford it.

His other claim to fame was that he was jailed for forgery and recently penned a Belgian best-seller, Van Rossem's Sex and Brothel Guide.

'It shows you can go a long way from slot-car racing,' said Mr Kimber, 44, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, who dreams up designs for cars in his barber's shop.

Asked to define the sport's attraction, he said: 'You get a real buzz from racing, a real rush of adrenalin. I wouldn't say it's orgasmic, but something along those lines.'

(Photograph omitted)