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One-track minds: trio working on epic Hot Wheels track

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TWO American daredevils recently made every die-cast car collector on the planet orange with envy after they successfully negotiated a life-size Hot Wheels track — yes, it was bright orange — that included a pair of 360-degree loops and a jumpramp at the finish line.

The stunt was staged during the 2012 X-Games, which were held in Los Angeles. Anybody near L.A.’s downtown area on the day in question couldn’t miss the six-storey-tall structure, Mattel’s vice-president of marketing said, referring to the event as "unmistakably Hot Wheels."

Closer to home, Winnipeggers Dan Huen, Craig Ward and Ryan Ash are hard at work, trying to piece together an awe-inspiring Hot Wheels course of their own. The housemates’ goal is to construct a serpentine route that will run throughout their entire Wolseley-area home, starting on the third floor and ending somewhere in the vicinity of their foosball table, located on the main level.

Ward came up with the idea after a long day on the set of The Week Thus Far, a satirical, late-night talk show that is currently in its fourth season on Shaw TV. Ward is WTF’s executive producer, a role he shares with Huen, the show’s host. Ash is one of the program’s writers.

"I got home and spotted some Hot Wheels cars that Dan had brought home from his dad’s store," Ward says. (Huen’s father is Mike Huen, the owner of Mike’s General Store and the writer of the Ask the Expert column, which is featured in the Weekend edition of the Winnipeg Free Press.) "I hadn’t seen any Hot Wheels cars in ages and they kind of got me inspired," Ward goes on. "I figured, ‘Hey, we have a big house. If we put our minds to it, we could probably get cars to go down all three storeys."

Ward approached Huen with his master plan. Huen was gung-ho — more so after he went online and spotted what other people had done in their own abodes. Last year, for example, someone in Texas set a Guinness World Record for a Hot Wheels track that measured more than 600 metres and ran through every room in his house before it headed outside and continued on around the family swimming pool.

But there was one glitch: although Huen, Ash and Ward all played with Hot Wheels when they were growing up, none of them had any track kicking around anymore.

"The funny thing is I used to have three giant garbage bags full," Huen says. "But when I was moving out of my parents’ house, I phoned my dad and asked him how much it was worth. He said maybe 10 cents a plank, so I threw it all out in the garbage."

Undaunted, the trio placed an ad on Kijiji, asking if anybody had Hot Wheels track collecting dust in their attics.

Response has been slow to gain speed.

"A number of people contacted me and even sent photographs of what they had, asking how much I wanted to pay," Huen says. "But every time I got back to them, that was the end of it. It’s almost as if the transaction itself scared them away and made them wonder, ‘What do these grown men want with Hot Wheels track?’" The more appropriate question might be ‘What don’t they want?’ according to Mike Zarnock, a Hot Wheels expert and the author of 12 books on the subject, including his latest, Hot Wheels Field Guide (Values & Identification), which was published in September.

"Old track and track sets are very collectible," Zarnock says, when reached at home in Deerfield, N.Y. "Collectors like myself will search out a certain piece to complete a set. Heck, I’ve even bought an empty box and built a set for it piece by piece."

Zarnock has been collecting Hot Wheels cars and their accompanying play sets for over 40 years. The father of two still enjoys building "really cool tracks" in his house, whenever time — and his wife — permits.

"Just like when I was a kid, we’d keep them set up until Mom told us to put them away," Zarnock says with a chuckle.

The most sought-after track is the early Redline series, which was manufactured from 1968 to 1977. "The box art and the cars are what regulate the price," Zarnock explains. "There are some cars that only came in one set and are very rare, so of course those ones are very expensive." He adds that the majority of Hot Wheels track is compatible, regardless of when it was produced. The chief difference between older and newer track is the height of the sides, he points out. But perhaps the most difficult task associated with the hobby is tracking down the plastic pieces that keep everything in place, he says.

"The connectors have always been a problem. At one time, Mattel sold them separately. I guess even they knew that they were hard to find."

The Week Thus Far gang isn’t sure how much track they require to complete their task. Ward says that they might even have to call on an engineer friend or two to help them with the logistics.

"It’d be a shame if we built the whole thing but it was so steep that the cars didn’t stay on the track," he says.

As to financing their venture, well, Ash has an idea about that.

"I think it would be great if we asked people to invest," Ash says, stating for the record that he’s less enthused about the project than his chums, given that the track’s proposed starting point lies at the foot of his bed.

"It could be like one of those highway improvement deals where everybody sponsors a mile or two. We could put up little signs by each piece of track, stating that so-and-so owns this stretch of the road."

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