See also: History of Aurora/AFX and History of Russkit
Racemasters was formed in 1998 but the means for its creation was the result of a 40-year journey by Jim Russell. In 1969 Jim sold his slot car company: Russkit, to Aurora Plastics Company and moved to West Hempstead, New York, to accept a position with Aurora Plastics Company to head the Hobbycrafts division. This segment of the business dealt with the hobby side of the HO scale slot cars that had become such a staple for the company. He hired a new team and proceeded to re-make the product line dramatically improving the design and performance of the cars. He also oversaw the renaming of the product range AFX in 1971. As a result of these changes, AFX grew dramatically over the next 5 years to about $45 million and became the clear market leader.
In 1975 Jim left Aurora to start his own company in the hobby and crafts market. In the meantime, AFX sales flattened in 1977 and the toy side of the business was very unprofitable. Aurora’s owner, Nabisco, sold the company to a British toy conglomerate in that year. The new owners struggled and the AFX brand ended up in the hands of Coleco, and finally Tomy. In each case, the new owners would hire Jim to help with product development and hobby sales would rise. So Jim was not only involved in the creation of the line but has been involved with its development nearly continuously. Indeed Jim has been a paid consultant to Tomy for the AFX line since shortly after they bought Aurora in 1980 until the creation of Racemasters in 1998.
At various points along the way, Jim did consulting and product development for other slot car companies like Tyco, Galoob, Ideal, and also formed two stand-alone companies in the industry. Today, Jim is considered to be one of the 5 most important figures in the history of the hobby and is a literal legend among slot car fans.
It was for this reason that Tomy chose Jim’s offer to take over AFX sales and product development in the USA after Tomy decided to cut back their American operations. Actually, the company had two much more attractive offers to buy the existing inventory and take over the sales in the US but Tomy’s opinion was that while the other suitors could sell off the stock – they couldn’t keep the line going. Jim Russell was the only person they felt could assure the survival of AFX.
At this point Jim’s son, Steve, proposed a business plan that had Jim partnering with Gary Beedle, a longtime friend and slot car entrepreneur. Jim carried out the product development and most of the sales. Jim’s wife, Mimi handled the finances, operations and customer support. Steve crafted the marketing strategy and helped out with the sales, operations and trade shows. He also got the company’s computer system functioning and set up its business tracking capability.
By 2003, Jim’s health was getting a little rocky. After all, 40 years of slot cars is tough on a fellow. So Steve began getting more involved and Pop started watching more TV. Today, Mimi still handles the finances and we still run all of the new stuff by D.O.D. (as he refers to himself). And the principles that have guided our involvement in the hobby for over 40 years remain unchanged: