Friday, July 19, 2013

Grand Prix of Bricksburgh

Growing up I used to watch Formula 1 races every chance I got.  Senna, Prost, Mansell...  those were the big names of the day.  I also had a rudimentary simulator on the computer that featured all of the race tracks on the F1 schedule.  My favorite-- by far--  was Monaco.  Something about the tightness of the circuit combined with the dense scenery to heighten the virtual sensation of speed.  Naturally, I would act out those races in my Legotown too (this was about 1986).  I'd transform all the sedans in town into "stock cars" and use the police car as a pace car.  A couple times I even stripped them down to chassis pieces with roof slope noses to look like F1 race cars!  Eventually Lego filled that void and began making ACTUAL race track/related sets.  Of all those, one is CLEARLY the best.... and we have two of them.
What to do....? what to do...?    Let me tell you.
Sadly, for me, by the time Lego really got into the business of making racing sets I'd already started to lose interest in my town.  After the "Dark Ages" (this is a real term in the Lego community-- here's a great explanation), I woke up to see that Lego had continued making superb sets for several years... before suddenly declining.  Many of those sets we've been collecting now to build up Bricksburgh-- the Space Shuttle is a great example of these.  So, naturally, the various race track sets were firmly in our plans.

After some prowling around eBay for months, we successfully won TWO of the Victory Lap Raceway sets.   I won't go into a full dissertation about the pros/cons of the various race-related town sets.  I think anyone casting their eyes across the last couple decades of  Lego's product line can pretty quickly see that this is the most complete set.  As it worked out, right after I won one auction, another one appeared that then attracted no attention from bidders... so I won that one too!  It took us a while, but we've finally combined them as efficiently as we could and we are proud to show you what we've done!  You can watch the associated YouTube video below-- and read on for more details.
Apologies all around for the audio on that video.  As I replied to one of the comments, the camera's microphone level was set manually low from a previous use and I forgot to check it.   I hope you enjoyed the peek at Catzilla making a special visit too.
Aspiring to do a Lego version of Monaco (and be efficient with the use of table space for our town), we decided to make the race complex part of the town's street grid.  This isn't as unusual as you might think, if you're not familiar with some of the great F1 circuits in Europe, let me assure you this is actually quite common.  Most of the time, then, the track is just a city street open to all normal traffic.  
Though it looks quite low, even the city buses can fit under the pedestrian bridge. 
We spent a lot of time tinkering with how to best combine the two sets into one.  In the end, we decided that 2 starting grid plates were a large enough commitment to the city grid and using all 4 would be WAY too disruptive.  After that decision, the rest was pretty easy.  Mostly we just super-sized the sets' original design.
Here's a great shot at a detail that Tyler thought of-- integrating the traffic light into the pedestrian bridge structure.  We need to dress up the backside of it still, but this idea eliminated the clutter of another post in an area of the complex that is already crowded-- even more so when the barricades are up.
Without the barricades you can see this becomes a pretty normal looking street, considering its dual purpose. 
The area where the pace car is positioned on race day becomes a repair area for the gas station (and an additional street parking space).
From selling souvenirs to selling gas!  The shop here is compact but always busy.  Note the track on the roof for the television camera to be set up on race days.
If you look closely, you can see the black pickup getting gas.  During the normal use, this is a full-service gas station.  There are pumps on one plate's extra lane and on the other is parking.
The grandstand section was greatly expanded in the merging of the two sets.  The stands went up higher, wider, and longer.  
Here's a good overhead view of the expanded grandstand area.  We're thinking of adding some concession stands to the corners of the spectator area.  
When not in use, the race course's barricades (and extra camera track) are stored behind and under the grandstands and press box.  
The safety car has its own garage under the grandstand.  
Other support vehicles (and even some race cars) are also parked under the grandstand-- there is a LOT of room under the expanded deck.
The safety car's garage is quite spacious-- other equipment can also be stored in there with it.
From here you can see how spacious the under-grandstand parking areas are.
Perhaps someday we'll again turn the sedans of Bricksburgh into stock cars-- but in the meantime, we have two complete fleets of race cars we can use.  I like to think of them as F1 cars and F3 cars (in Europe, Formula 3 is a feeder series for Formula 1, sort of like how we have minor/major league baseball teams).
The #4 car on the left is officially known as Slick Racer, set #6546.  As we've written about earlier, we have 6 more race cars made with that design from the "Race Track In a Box" set.  The larger oversize, engine area, and wide racing slick tires make this the F1 size car.
The #1 car is noticeably smaller and even looks more like a go-cart in comparison the the #4 car.  

Speaking of race cars.... let's take a look at the track on an actual race day.
I guess this would be the Goodyear Blimp angle! We didn't take the time to fill the grandstands completely-- otherwise, this is how the track looks on a race day with the starting grid ready to go.
Whoa.... what is that guy doing on the roof of the grand stand?
Is he a vandal or an artist?  I guess we do have a few too many yellow flags.
Above the starting grid you can see the super-sized press box for the media and track officials.  
Not sure where the trophy came from... but it made sense to keep it at the race track.
Installed and ready for the race, here are both of the 2 camera positions on the left side of the track-- neither of which are in the location Lego intended!  
The barricades are all installed trackside and line the entire start/finish area of the complex.  In other parts of the city we would like the track's route with solid barriers.  Incidentally, the complex is located in a part of the city grid that would allow for quite a few variations to the track's path through town, depending on how much area we wanted to block off to regular traffic.
The starter works out of this little area in the pits.  He has red and green paddle lights and controls to work the lights on the scoreboard (on the pedestrian bridge) as well as the pit lane indicators.
There are 3 hard-mounted camera positions.  Two are on camera tracks, one is on the corner of the grandstand (by the Press Box end), and the fourth is a handheld camera that wanders around the pit lane side.  Were this an actual race there would be additional camera positions around the city plus various production trucks and other equipment.
Tourists and special guests are always in attendance on race days.  Some come from a little farther away than others.
We're planning to add some permanent concession stands to either end of the grandstand's spectator deck.  In the meantime, there is an ice cream vendor to help you keep cool.
Some say the views from the grandstand are fabulous and better than watching the race on television.  All we know is that the best view comes from the pedestrian bridge as the race cars scream by underneath you.  
Photographers love this vantage point for the race's start.  Drivers watch the lights go from red, to yellow, and finally green to start the race.  Here's a closer look at the scoreboard too-- you'll note that the arrow pieces can swivel to point specific cars into the pits.
The safety car is tucked behind the barricades but still ready to speed out onto the track if needed.  I realized after we took these pictures that the pace car would probably just line up behind the race cars on a track with a standing start.  Oh well!

While we're on the subject of the safety car, let's go ahead and look at the support vehicles more closely.
The safety car actually started out as a Stock Car, set# 6634.  We added some more Shell markings to it and changed the windows around to give it some cargo room.
The back of the safety car is where most of the fancy lights are.  In the event of a crash, the safety car needs to be quickly spotted by the drivers so all those lights are for... well, safety!  The safety car is also the first responder to a crash so it has a medical kit and a fire extinguisher on board and the driver is trained in emergency medical care.
To help move all the barricades around-- and run other necessary errands for the gas station, this work truck is kept at the race track complex.
This truck has been heavily modified over the years.  It originally was a tow truck and came with the Service Station, set# 6371.
You can see some of the barricades are still in the back of the truck.  We are working on getting a trailer hitch for it too-- but are lacking the right colored receiver part.
Most of the support functions are handled by these two vans.  Each one has a trailer for moving race cars around (wrecked or otherwise) and specially trained drivers to speed up the recovery of wrecked cars.
The van on the left has a lot of special equipment on it.  It has exterior monitors, fire gear, and spare parts to try and keep the race cars in the race.  On the right you'll see a van with windows.  It is used for carrying people around, especially drivers who have wrecked their cars hard enough that they can't be driven.  It is also used for hauling cargo around, like the race barricades.
Here's a look into one of the vans' cargo box.  In this case it is holding a fire extinguisher.   You can also see the satellite TV receiver on the roof of the van.  It uses those signals for the monitors located on either side.  These are great for monitoring the progress of a race and also for advertising.
Eventually we'll be adding unit number stickers to each of the vehicles (like we have for the Fire Department and TV Station) but we haven't gotten around to it yet.  
They're hard to see in this picture, but the upper compartment is where some of the tools are stored.  Below that, you can see 4 tires for a F3 car.
A nearly destroyed race car is hopping a ride on the trailer.  The trailers are really only used on race days.  The rest of the time the vans are quite happy to zip around town without them.  Look carefully at the red/blue motorcycle truck-- that's basically what the Shell truck started out like.  It was a tow truck though, so it had a big hook on the back.
One last chance to encourage you to watch the associated YouTube video tour.  It will give you a better idea of how this complex sits in the street grid of the whole town (upper level, anyway).  You'll also be able to see Tyler standing in the "split" that.... well, splits the town.

Finally, here's a plug for one of our other race-related videos.  This is the "Race Track In a Box" set that Tyler had such a hard time pronouncing in the video tour!  It carries the F1 sized race cars and flips its sides open to expose a complete selection of spare parts and tools.

Thanks for visiting us here at and check out the videos on our YouTube channel at

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