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Monday, June 26 Front Page >> Mixelania >> MiniZ Racing >> Get into MiniZ

How I Got Into Mini Z Racing
October 2002

Click for larger image
Canned Heat Car - CocaCola 57 Chevy
After I first got into 'Canned Heat' cars, I found out that Toys.com, before they imploded, was blowing out their stock, including this rare model. I bought a dozen, and gave most away (kept this one and a sister car with black roof). Click to enlarge, 70kb.

Blame it on Canned Heat.

Tyco (the toy company, not the embattled public trading company) made these really nifty $30 R/C cars that I happened to see during the Christmas 1999 season while walking by a Radio Shack. These cars were 1/32 scale, 7 function radio controlled toys that were so tiny but so cool. They came in a clear plastic "can", hence the name. I bought a couple of them, on the 33 and 47 Khz bands, to race.

And for a while, I was sated. These were nifty and cool and small, and I could turn left and right with them, and even go in reverse. My girlfriend (fiancÚ now) Jeanette and I would race them in the kitchen. It was cool. I even bought about fourteen of them, in total - Remember Toys.com, a famous dot-com implosion? When they were blowing out their stock at 75% off, I ordered a dozen Canned Heat cars from them, including some rare Coca Cola ones. I'm going to hold on to those, and sell them in 30 years. I gave away most of the others as gifts.

After racing (heh heh) these cars for some time, a buddy of mine who was over for an evening checked them out and said, wow, they're pretty slow, ain't they? He then pointed me to a website called Martini Racing that had photos and videos of these really cool micro racers called Mini Z. Once I saw the video, I knew I had to get some.

At the time, the only sources I could find for the mini R/C cars was Tower Hobbies in the US and a couple of Japanese and Hong Kong Sources. So I ordered my first Canned Heat car - a red BMW Z8. After charging the batteries (they take 4 AAA batteries, and NiMH are the best), I started racing them. And I was hooked.

Then comes a second car

Bimmer, new body.
New Body for the Bimmer
I had long since trashed the original red Bimmer Z8 body. Here's a pristine-new body on the chasis, not yet raced. Beat up yellow Porsche in the background.

Racing by yourself is not very fun, I soon discovered. The Mini Z could run circles (literally) around the Canned Heat cars - the speed difference made the Tyco cars seem like they were standing still. In my office, no one was willing to drop about $250 on a kit to race me. So I bought a second Mini Z - a yellow Porsche 911 model. Then the fun times began.

The red BMW Z8 was my learning curve with the car - I sure as heck beat the hell out of it. The yellow Porsche lost its whale-tail stabilizer more times than I can count (it's so heavy with crazy glue these days, you can barely make out the original base shape). It was fast - very fast. Until one of the guys who worked for our company bought a Mini Z car... and also bought some hop ups - something I resisted till that point. His hop ups were a faster motor, differential gear, and damper piston, along with better tires. And he kicked everyone's butt.

I'm the boss, of sorts, in the office. It doesn't do well for morale if the boss always loses a race (well, my morale, at least). So I went shopping.

Better tires = $18. Faster engine = $30. Pro-grade front suspension = $65. Rear carbon fibre suspension = $35. Differential Gear system = $50. Beating snotty employees who try to one up me = priceless.

Actually, the hop ups put me more on even terms with Barry, an old employee who got into Mini Z cars as much as I did. But I was a better driver :). Plus I think my Bimmer handled better overall than his choice of car - the Audi TT. One thing about the Bimmer - it was fairly easy to roll, but at least it (almost) always landed on its wheels. Barry's TT couldn't enjoy the same thrills.

Once we had three cars in the office, two other employees bought a car (Wayne, my lead programmer, almost never came to Richmond, and thus missed out on all the fun). For a while things were great - the hop up wars kind of ceased, and at lunch breaks or stress breaks, 4 or 5 little cars would be racing around the room on a mock-up track - the Mini Z cars ran great on our office carpet (think mini putt carpeting).

Then a couple of bad things happened. First up was a very, very bad thing - September 11, 2001, and the fallout. Most of our staff was laid off because we had no work at all. One by one, the Mini Z league diminished and eventually died.

The other bad thing was a particularly bad crash I made with my Bimmer - I hit the wall so hard, I shattered parts of the car and broke several key parts, including the servo gears. I put the thing into retirement. I thought it would be short, but it was almost a full year.

Fast forward to fall, 2002.

For a long time I was bummed about my Mini Z cars being out of commission. It wasn't just the crash or the loss of employees either - it was my dog Mitzy. See, I used to have fun with Mitzy and the Mini Z. She absolutely loved chasing it around the kitchen. I could get her running after it for hours, literally. But in the fall of 2001, Mitzy went blind over a period of 3 months. Just weeks before my final crash of the car, Mitzy was almost completely blind, and I was very depressed about this. Not depressed I couldn't have fun with the car any longer: depressed about her blindness. Everytime I raced the car after that time, I felt depressed about Mitzy's condition.

So when I crashed the car and obliterated it, I didn't rush to get it fixed. And I kind of forgot about it. But this past summer, Jeanette took me to one of the Asian strip malls that are very, very common in Richmond. She took me there to get some bubble tea, but as I was parking the car, I saw a sign that said "Mini Z" on the window. I was intrigued, but the shop was closed.

Click for larger image
Latest Cars
Here's my most recent car setups - the Mungen Honda Castrol road rally car, and a replica of a 1970s Alitalia rally car. Click to enlarge.

I meant to get back to the shop, but didn't until a week or two ago (as of this writing). I decided to drop in and get both my cars serviced and overhauled. And some $250 later, I had one kick ass, ground hugging, super fast, super tuned car, and an 'okay' car that was almost as fast but lacked some control.

And that's where I stand today on Mini Z. I'm getting back into racing them, and now I've found a shop with a track, which is cool. I feel a bit weird in there because I'm usually the only "gweilo" in there (white boy in an Asian mall and shop), but the owner, Ken, is a great guy and friendly, and really enthusiastic in Mini Z racing. I see myself spending a lot more dough there soon.

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