8 November 2013

Owner story: Back in the 'Bird

Ron Colerick grew up in Rapid City, S.D., the son of a hobby store owner. His talent on the slot car track took him to New York City, where he won a 1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster on national TV after competing in a slot car race contest.

Bob Beers is an avid slot car hobbyist, specializing in Aurora HO cars. He collects anything and everything related to the hobby that he can get his hands on. His passion eventually led him to purchase the same T-Bird won by Colerick in 1963, who hadn't seen the car in more than 40 years.

In 2009, Beers reunited the car and former pint-sized racer.

In the early 1960s, the slot car hobby was sweeping the nation. To capitalize off the popularity, Ford and the Aurora Plastics Corporation, which manufactured the popular HO slot cars, sponsored a series of HO slot car races in hobby stores across the country, with thousands of boys and girls competing for the chance to win a grand prize on national TV.
It’s been 57 years since America first got a glimpse of the Corvette at the New York Waldorf-Astoria ballroom during the 1953 General Motors Motorama.

In 1963, the second year of the contest, 12-year-old Colerick was determined to win. "We had races every Friday night and all day Saturday," Colerick told the Rapid City Journal for a 2003 article. He moved through the regional contests, eventually landing a spot in the final race - televised on August 20, 1963, on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Colerick wound up with the most difficult lane slot, but his practice paid off and he won the 20-lap race by several laps. Stirling Moss, the famous race car driver, handed Colerick the keys to his prize: A brand-new '63 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster.

"Neat, man. I'll let my dad drive it sometimes," he allegedly told Moss when he got the keys, according to the book "Aurora Slot Cars," by Thomas Graham.

Colerick eventually sold his white Thunderbird to his father, who later traded it for another Thunderbird.
By the 1980s, the car had made its way to Seattle and it needed a serious restoration. A restorer in San Diego purchased the car to return it to its original glory, but he had no idea about its history.
It’s been 57 years since America first got a glimpse of the Corvette at the New York Waldorf-Astoria ballroom during the 1953 General Motors Motorama.

"By the time it was in Seattle, all of its history was buried," said Bob Beers, a.k.a. "Mr. Aurora."

The restorer sent the VIN to the Ford Thunderbird registry, and only then was the car's story unearthed after several decades. Intrigued by its history, the restorer wanted to purchase Colerick's contest trophies to go with the car. He contacted the former racer, still in South Dakota, and learned that the trophies had already been purchased by Beers.

The restorer wanted the trophies, but Beers wanted the car. Five years of back-and-forth ensued, with Beers eventually winning out.

"I called him last summer and caught him at Pebble Beach salivating over a Ferrari," said Beers. Catching him at the right time did the trick, and Beers was able to ship his new T-Bird back to Connecticut.

"I'm an Aurora slot car buff, and this is a unique part of the history," he said.

Beers called Colerick, and told him his old car was now in Beers' garage. He talked him into coming east for a slot car show last fall, and Beers had a chance to reunite the two.

"We had a great reunion of Ron Colerick and his car," Beers recalled. "He was able to drive it for the first time since 1966!"

But Beers is quick to note that there's no chance Colerick will take the car back to South Dakota with him.

"It's part of my collection now," he explained. "If I did sell it, I'd be looking to replace it. So what's the point!"
Beers is the author of "The Complete Color Guide to Aurora H.O. Slot Cars," which tells the story of the Ford/Aurora races of the early 1960s in greater detail.

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