GSL Origins

From the Introduction to THE GSL INTERNATIONAL MODEL CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, A Tradition of Auto Modeling Excellence:

To give needed perspective to this tale, some additional history must be told. During law school in the early seventies, I made the acquaintance of Jim Keeler, who had just moved to Salt Lake City following a stint as product manager at Aurora in New York. Jim was a boyhood hero of mine because of his building prowess and participation in the hobby: His work for Revell in the early Sixties, and his involvement (along with Bob Paeth) with the Revell-Pactra model car contests in 1963 and 1964, were the basis of my admiration for him. From Jim, I heard about the experiences of judging a contest the size of the Revell-Pactra event. As a result of that background knowledge, Jim and I drafted contest rules and judging criteria in 1978 for Utah Model Car Association contests, and that effort stimulated further serious thinking about the outlines of a national scale vehicle contest.

During the mid-seventies, I had also begun to write model car articles for International Modeler, (later retitled Special Effects Modeler when owner Brick Price began creating models for motion pictures). At that time, I made the acquaintance of Dennis Doty and later, through Dennis, Tim Boyd (who had just started his long association with Street Rodder), Al Cozby, Jeff Bednar, Andy Martin, Chuck Helppie, Rick Hanmore, John McCann and Wayne Saunders. By the time I had graduated from law school in 1976, I was corresponding regularly with those guys, and our discussions sometimes turned to the then-current MPC model car contest series. Other than the Salt Lake City’s MPC contests (where I won paint awards), my exposure to the contest series was limited; my knowledge came mostly from MPC veterans Tim Boyd and Chuck Helppie, who told me of the backroom political machinations and building-style bias of the MPC contest series.

My interest in creating a new contest was fueled by these stories about the MPC series. Though I never attended an MPC Finale, I was particularly disillusioned and appalled by the stories I heard about certain aspects of that contest series that occurred from time to time. For instance, I learned how contestants and their entries were treated with disrespect — judging once occurred in a former mens’ lavatory — and the outcome sometimes was affected by political considerations and the often intense wrangling between some contestants. Moreover, the fact that some styles of building appeared to be favored over others called into question the objectivity and fairness of the contest. In my mind, there was something inherently wrong about effectively forcing competitors into favored, narrow categories in order to win. It is unlikely, for instance, that a sophisticated, scratchbuilt ’57 Rambler American four door would have ever won any MPC award, regardless of the level of craftsmanship. Stunting creativity and artistic freedom seemed at odds with the goal of encouraging individual expression and technical achievement. That growing perspective and belief, combined with the tales from Tim and Chuck, persuaded me, in 1978, that it was time to pursue my dream of creating and hosting a national contest.

At about that same time, I unintentionally participated in a bit of shenanigans the results of which played out at the last MPC Finale in 1979. An acquaintance in the UMCA visited my house, one night in the summer of 1978, and asked me to paint his 1/16 scale Dodge Charger model which, he assured me, would only find its way into his display case. Well, I painted his model and he left, several hours later, with a freshly -painted body and instructions on how to rub out the lacquer. Later, when I saw the coverage on the last MPC contest, I discovered, to my great chagrin and embarrassment, that the same model that I painted was the national Best Paint winner and also placed Fourth ahead of other modelers! That event emphasized to me the realization that, for a contest to ultimately succeed in serving the modeling public, both judges and contestants had to possess and exhibit impeccable ethics and be vigilant for the possibility of inadvertent or intentional wrongdoing.

After considering all of this, I started to think seriously about creating a national model car championship that would have as its focus a dispassionate approach to subject matter and an absolute commitment to subject-matter neutrality and objective judging . Titled the “First Invitational Model Automobile ‘Battle of the Champions,’ ” I rough-drafted rules and classes and circulated that document to Tim Boyd and other interested modelers on July 18, 1978. After receiving their comments, I called Lee Lasky, then in charge of the car show company Promotions, Inc., to determine his level of interest and support; Lee was not particularly enthralled by a call from an upstart in Salt Lake City. As plans progressed, the name of the contest was changed to the First Invitational Model Car Championship, and was scheduled for April 11-13, 1980 in Omaha, Nebraska, nearly two years hence, to coincide with the Finale of the ISCA show series now that the MPC series was over. I believed it was time to move adult model car construction out from the shadows and into the bright light of public review and respect.

The first requirement of that new contest would be to avoid the MPC preference for certain kinds of models by openly welcoming builders of all scale automotive interests. The contest would have to explicitly provide a hospitable forum for model car builders of all building persuasions so their efforts would be recognized, encouraged and championed. Focusing on those goals would encourage the development of ever-increasing levels of craftsmanship and create a guild-like association of friends who, through mutual respect for one another instead of hostility, could come to enjoy and learn from the work of others, and share techniques and ideas with each other. Moreover, the contest had to champion the notion of individual craftsmanship in all aspects of model building as a goal in itself — no style of building would be favored over any other. These plans were ongoing at about the time that the local club — the Utah Model Car Association — was planning to present its annual contest. However, that club contest was never held, and that pushed me to privately sponsor a contest in Salt Lake City.

During this time, Dennis Doty called and told me about a new national model car magazine, titled Scale Auto Enthusiast, soon to published by Gary Schmidt. My first call to Gary precipitated a working relationship and a friendship that lasts to this day. That early involvement with Gary and his fledgling magazine caused me, because of my already tight schedule, to cease writing for Special Effects Modeler and to focus my attention on his new publication, a decision made easier after gary-purchased SEM and terminated its publication. Of course, the fact that Gary purchased and “buried” SEM would have made it difficult for me to continue working for that publication! At that point, neither Gary nor I had any hint of the profound effect each of us would have upon the efforts of the other over the next decade and a half. But I quickly realized one thing: I now had access to a significant audience through Scale Auto Enthusiast, and it would be the perfect way to publicize a contest. I was on my way! But there was still a serious obstacle — and distressing failure — to endure before the goal of a national contest would be realized.

Many letters were written to Messrs. Boyd, Martin and Bednar during that time as I worked to define the philosophy of the contest. Vigorous correspondence generated my ill-informed belief that it might be possible to organize, manage and present (with the help of those friends) a contest centrally-located in the United States that could cater to a national model car audience. Model Car Journal carried an article by me on FIMCC in its March/April 1979 issue (“Confessions of a Builder – A National Professional Contest”) and Gary Schmidt picked up on the FIMCC event and approvingly mentioned the contest in his Editor’s column inside the front cover of the January-February 1980 issue of Scale Auto Enthusiast. Gary’s open endorsement of the event ultimately compounded the problems Boyd, Bednar, Martin and I encountered – punctuated my own acute embarrassment – when FIMCC was stillborn.

Remarkably, I believed such an event could be run by remote control from Salt Lake City, without on-site organization or a pre-existing base of national support. But FIMCC was doomed from the outset. A combination of benign neglect, blind enthusiasm and gross inexperience yielded appropriate results: It was a disaster! The contest was inadequately funded (actually, there was no money, and therefore no meaningful advertising, and only a skeleton announcement mailed to modelers across the country was sent out, too late to attract any meaningful attention). Obviously poorly organized, and despite Dennis’ and Gary’s early “endorsement” of the contest, FIMCC lacked hope of any media coverage because of our (really, my) inability to define, organize and publicize the event. An unfounded amount of self-confidence led me to confuse intent with result, leaving us totally unprepared to meet the demands of promoting, financing and administering any sort of contest, much less from a remote location. What was I thinking? Another bad decision made things worse: A key element in the demise of the show was that neither Tim nor I could attend and, we learned, nobody else would be there either. When it became clear that the FIMCC was not going to occur because it couldn’t, we canceled the show in late 1979, just after I had successfully presented a regional model car contest in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, the single FIMCC ad was still scheduled for the December/January 1980 issue of Model Car Journal and Gary Schmidt was already committed to his column in the January-February 1980 issue Scale Auto Enthusiast, so limited publicity for the (now nonexistent) contest appeared after we decided to cancel it!

My failure to grasp the realities of contest organization and promotion was due to a foolish misjudgment of the responsibilities and complexities necessary to present such an event. I was deeply embarrassed by my arrogance and the consequent debacle, but determined to do a better job next time. The lessons learned from the dismal failure of FIMCC served me well in developing what was to become the GSL Championship series.

But, at this point, I made another error. You see, I was angry about the failure of FIMCC though the reasons for the failure were well known to me. Nevertheless, undaunted by my own lack of judgment, I wrote a Putty Thrower column for the March-April 1980 issue of Scale Auto Enthusiast in January of 1980 that got me in a lot of trouble with many Midwest modelers. Unfairly, I was upset with modelers from the Midwest that I had never met! In essence, I publicly complained about the lack of support for FIMCC from those ” . . . national luminaries who shall remain nameless” because, at the time, I thought that the absence of interest in FIMCC by old-time MPC builders was inexplicable and xenophobic. When I calmed down and thought through things, it became apparent to me that the venerable MPC contestants either didn’t know about the contest or quite reasonably decided not to trust an upstart from Salt Lake City. I was not prepared, then in my youth, to admit — in public — that I was responsible for the FIMCC “nonevent.” Predictably, the Ohio group were greatly perturbed with me, and led Tom Woodruff to create the NNL in response to my diatribe . That first NNL (the acronym was for “National Nameless Luminaries — an artful rephrase of my outburst) was held in the Summer of 1980 at Tom’s home, and featured the now-famous presentation of models in a noncompetitive atmosphere. Since then, the NNL format has spread across North America principally through the efforts of Woodruff. Bob Bost, Chuck Helppie, John Strick, Jim Kampman, Tom Dillion II and many others.

The events of that period of time, though, still fed my desire to create a national contest, and prompted serious thoughts about establishing another national event. However, I then believed that the next effort at contest organization had to grow from a local to a national level: I was still smarting from the stinging defeat experienced with FIMCC and was determined to profit from the many mistakes I’d made earlier. These experiences provided the necessary impetus to again try to promote a contest.