WAYNE — Slot car racing on Thursday nights has taken off at Professor Tinker’s Workshop.
Professor John T. Tinker, whose real name is Bryan Young, said people have driven from as far as South Carolina for the races, held every Thursday from 7-8 p.m. at the workshop, 102 S. Watson St.
The workshop is next to Young’s residence, but it accompanies his toy store, ProTinkerToys.com, located blocks away in a former bank building Young purchased downtown. Calling himself the “Tinker of Toys” the store is full of “toys for boys and gifts for girls.”
Slot car racing was popular when the Baby Boomer generation was in their childhood, but Young said it never really went away. Plus, it is not just for kids, slot cars appeal to adults too.
“Slot cars are really becoming popular, actually beyond popular,” said Young, who is 63.
“I’m trying to reach people who had it as a kid. See, slot cars peaked in the mid ’60s, then kind of peaked again in the mid ’70s, and then in the ‘80s they kind of had a run and then in ’99 they just died completely from mass merchants, but we’re trying to bring it back in a big way.”
Young remembers when slot car competitions were huge all over the country and were a big part of American and foreign pop culture.
“It was on Batman, the TV series, there was even slot car racing on a mock James Bond movie with David Niven, “Casino Royale,” in 1967. They had an all-electric track in this huge room.
“If you look at a lot of older movies, you’ll see a lot of slot cars because they were really popular. That’s what I wanted to do is create that but then also to create a good toy store where people can have fun.”
Young, a Bowling Green High School graduate, owned and operated Young’s Newsstand in BG, featuring games, toys, comic books and magazines, from 1987-96.
He first opened Professor Tinker’s Workshop at the Woodland Mall in 2001 as a place to not only purchase toys, but to have fun playing with them.
‘Walking along the beach’
Bryan brought in his son, Ryan, 34, who had the technical know-how to make the business reach beyond Wayne.
“I was kind of doing things on eBay, semi-retired, and I was doing trade shows for other gentleman that had other products, so I was going to Vegas, Atlanta, California and Florida to do trade shows and promote their product and then Covid hit.
“In January and February of 2020, I did four trade shows, and then the last one was Toy Fair in New York City on Feb. 22 and then two weeks after that the whole world shut down and all of a sudden, our website just took off. It was amazing.”
Every day the store has regular visitors from up to 75 miles away, and online purchases are from around the world.
The slot car races are televised live on YouTube, drawing a bigger audience, and their videos on how to repair toys, like slot cars, are appreciated, too.
“This is how I explain the internet,” Bryan said. “The internet is basically a beach. Imagine a beach, and all the little specks of sand on the beach — those are all the websites, OK?
“So, you’re walking along the beach and you’re picking up that little piece of sand, and that might be Arbor’s chicken nugget website, or Arbor’s some-weird widgets. Nobody is going to see you — you are just a little speck on the beach.
“I told Ryan, until we are a boulder on the beach or a large rock, we are not going to have the numbers. Well, he’s done a lot of research and a lot of hard work, and we are a boulder on the beach.”
It has gotten to the point where the Youngs want to expand the store. Wayne could use a little downtown development, and Bryan, who frequently visits The Country Farmhouse, a popular restaurant downtown, knows that, because he promotes the restaurant in his own videos and advertising.
A little bit of everything
Besides cars, the store has trinkets, like key chains with animals, science kits, stamp kids, Barbie dolls and a limited supply of Cabbage Patch dolls.
While he says Hobby Lobby is still a large mass merchant selling slot cars, he is cornering one market.
“I don’t carry what a traditional toy store has because I have toy guns,” Bryan said.
“People always tell me, ‘Well, toy guns are the past,’ and I go, ‘Well, they are not.’ My No. 1 customer for toy guns are mothers and the second place where I sell toy guns is California and New York. Next to slot cars, I sell more toy guns.”
Father and son have to deal with running a business that is non-stop.
“We try to have the right amount of product in the store. It is awfully small, but we did not expect to have the amount of traffic that we are having right now,” Bryan said. “It is kind of overwhelming us in a sense. Our Saturdays are just crazy. Between noon and three is ‘the zoo’ time.”
Bryan is also preparing for when this becomes Ryan’s business.
“I’m kind of going up the hill and he’s kind of coming up the hill. So, I’m just having fun, really. We’re trying to create a place where people can come and have fun.”