Two pictures of Ed Baynes -- after the Nationals competition at Anderson, Ind., in 1956, and after the same event held in the same place 50 years later.

Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories

History of Tether Cars

Shortly after Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly his airplane over the Atlantic Ocean, model airplanes and cars quickly became a hobby in the United States. In the late 1930s, hobbyists started adapting their model airplane engines for use in model cars. One such hobbyist, Tom Dooling and his brothers, often referred to collectively as the Dooling Brothers, receive much of the credit for starting the tether car sensation. After building and flying model airplanes, the brothers decided that they could build a car using an airplane engine [source: Dooling].

It worked, and the Dooling Brothers began building their own tether cars immediately. The first unofficial tether car races were held in an abandoned lot in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1937 [source: Macropoulos]. In 1939, they held their first official miniature car race in Fresno, Calif., and one year after that they had built a car that reached a top speed of about 64 miles per hour (103 kilometers per hour). The brothers began building tether car engines and racers to be sold to the public in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They created a famous car design called the Frog, and also a popular engine called the Dooling 61.

During this time, tether car racing grew in popularity in the United States. By 1948, there were about 2,500 to 3,000 racers nationwide, with about 440 tracks throughout the country [source: Macropoulos]. However, during World War II, the demand for scrap metal contributions almost brought an end to the hobby. After the war, land development across the nation eliminated many of the tracks throughout the country.

Mainly because the hobby can be very time consuming, people began to lose interest during the 1980s, and by 2008 there were only 150 members remaining in the American Miniature Racing Car Association, or AMRCA [source: Macropoulos]. Although membership in the states is low, the hobby is still popular in many European countries and Australia. The AMRCA holds races in the United States and other countries under the World Organization for Model Car Racing, or WMCR, association. In 2009, an Italian driver, Gualtier Picco, set a new world record of 214 miles per hour (344.4 kilometers per hour) with his racer in Sydney, Australia [source: AMRCA].

Achieving that speed takes a significant amount of off-track tinkering and engine modifications. So let's go on to the next page to see what makes these cars so quick.