They’re kind of Brooklyn’s Romeo and Juliet. He was made of slot car stock, and she was, well, not. At least, that’s what she’ll tell you — but it’s clear that Dolores, who’s one-half of the legendary couple behind Buzz-a-Rama, is a slot car queen. “Oh this whole thing?” she jokes, a boot propped up on a chair like a better Captain Morgan, “I’m just here for him. This is his thing not mine, he loves it.”
‘He’ is Frank Perri, aka Buzz, the local legend behind the slot car mecca, which he founded in 1965 and is the last of its kind in the city. Never heard of the hobby? Well, “the ’60s and ’70 were the peak years” for racing, says Dolores, “People would come in [with their homemade cars] to hang out all day.” The lines were so long to get in, they’d often spill outside the door. “There were dozens all over the place,” says Buzz, “I didn’t know how long it’d last, but here we are.”
The slot cars can hit some pretty high speeds, all of which are controlled with the simple gesture of toggling a headless ‘pistol’ hooked up to the track with wires. It’s hard not to feel as if you’re fulfilling some kind of mad-scientist fantasy when you “plug in”:
The trickiest part? Keeping your car on the track when it can go upwards of 100 mph, around some pretty tight bends. Luckily, aside from being “the place to race!”Buzz-a-Rama is also the go-to hospital for racers in need of some TLC. “It’s just as much about the building of it all as it is the racing,” says Dolores, “It teaches kids patience.”
Quite a cast of characters comes through the metallic doors of Buzz-a-Rama: doe-eyed eight-year-olds with cars in need of repair (note: you will be kicked out for swearing!), old-timers who hang by the counter, and classic arcade machine addicts; unsurprisingly, Buzz has one of the most impressive collections around, and guards his most prized machines at a location we can’t even disclose.
“I’m dyin’ to get there, ya kiddin?” says a man named Nick, who will tell you he doesn’t really “work there” when asked why he reorganises the cases from time to time, “Work here? Nah. I been coming here since I was a kid. I’m just helping out.”
Also helping out, albeit not since the ’60s, were the Playboy Bunny-esque slot car ladies who’ve got down in legend:
These days, in their wonderful, methodically cluttered kingdom, you’re more likely to find crowds of children for birthday parties than pseudo-Playboy bunnies. “Racers!” Buzz says through a megaphone as a group prepares to compete, “on your mark, get set — go!”
When you need to take a breather from heat of the competition, head to the Refuelling Center for a Kit-Kat bar, or a drink; concerning the latter, your choices are between Coffee (Light), Coffee (Sugar), Coffee (Black), Tea and Chicken Soup, all of which will put you back .35 cents.
By the time we’re ready to leave, the joint is really starting to, well, buzz. Teenagers hone in on the Super Mario Brothers arcade machine, and a parade of dads, race car tool boxes in hand, starts to mount. “They’re killing the neighbourhood, and places like ours, with the [rising] taxes…” says Buzz about the future of his empire in a city with some of the world’s most expensive real estate, “Look. As long as someone needs a track [to race], we’ll be here.”
Buzz-a-Rama is open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 2:00pm-7pm and 2:oo pm-5pm (respectively), at 69 Church Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11218.