Commentary: Sun staffer shares memories of life collecting toy cars

Published 11:39 am Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hi. My name is Fred and I’m a collector.

I really can’t help it. My dad is a collector. I guess it rubbed off.

It’s always been about cars. It started with a large metal truck at my first Christmas. My parents tell me I wasn’t interested in anything else from that point. Not much has changed in the four and a half decades since.

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Everyone knew I loved cars when I was a kid. It was all I talked about, and there were several people who were only too glad to further my interest. One of my uncles gave me my first issue of Hemmings Motor News in 1979, followed a few years later with a subscription to my first car magazine, Special Interest Autos.

My godfather gave me two DeSoto hubcaps. One of my dad’s friends would send his old trade journals about transporting bulk materials and trucks to me. An older kid at church gave me a stash of Car Craft magazines from the early 1980s.

When I was 5, I started collecting car brochures from local dealers about all the new cars. For many years, the first round of the car dealers was incumbent upon a successful first report card from the school year.

There were always toy cars, starting with Tonka and Tootsietoys before progressing to Matchbox and Hot Wheels. Any trip to a department store automatically included a trip to the toy aisle.

When I was 10, I discovered auto racing. Twice a year, I could watch the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. We got our first VCR in 1986, and I recorded my first race.

Through the years, my collections have grown to include, at various points, 15 years worth of car brochures (each year filling a copy paper box), hundreds of hubcaps, more than 2,000 Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, subscriptions to 25 different magazines, more than 2,800 races on VHS or DVD, a couple thousand NASCAR postcards, two large boxes of racing hats, two used NASCAR tires, one wheel and the proverbial partridge in a pear tree.

And that’s not counting the comic books, car or racing books, large-scale cars, license plates and other memorabilia.

I don’t know when I got serious about all this stuff. I think it starts when you make the first list to take account of what you have and what you don’t. That’s when the transition starts, when you start deliberately seeking things you missed. The thrill of the hunt gets introduced.

Now when you hit the toy aisle, you dig through all the packages of cars on the pegs, rather than just looking at what’s easily visible. You stand and dig through the big box of random cars in the store aisle in hopes of finding something new.

You go on eBay or craigslist looking for missing magazine issues to complete the set. You find online forums where other race recorders hang out and trade races.

Then you realize things have gotten out of hand. The collections have taken over, and you can’t, or don’t want to, keep it all.

Interests ebb and flow and priorities change through life. Sometimes maintaining the collection isn’t worth the effort anymore, or you refine your criteria.

The vast majority of my hubcap collection was left on the curb in advance of a family move when I was a teenager; the best, including the two DeSotos, were saved.

I would drop magazine subscriptions and eventually recycle the boxes of back issues.

The comic books were sold to contribute toward the adoption of my son.

The car brochures were sold to free up closet space.

I still buy Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. As someone who is still fascinated by cars and trucks, it’s the way I can have every cool car there is without the expense or hassles of storage, insurance or maintenance with the real things. I realized long ago I can’t buy every Hot Wheels or Matchbox, nor do I want them all. I buy the ones I like and open them as soon as I get home. I’m serious about my cars, but not so hard-core to buy every variation and leave them in the package.

My magazine subscription list is down to five titles, though I have my back issues for many others.

I stopped recording all the NASCAR races (more than 100 annually) in April 2009. It simply got to be too much when combined with a full-time job, spending time with my fiancee (now wife) and converting my old tapes to DVD. And so a 15-year streak of not missing a race ended.

But the collections live on, as does the joy that goes with them. With an almost 3-year-old boy in the house now, there is a new set of cars. He has his stash which we play with regularly. Daddy’s cars are in the basement, where we will play from time to time.

There are rules for playing with Daddy’s cars, namely “Don’t crash Daddy’s cars.” That’s been the rule from when I played with my friends back in the day, and why my cars are still in good condition and theirs often didn’t survive. I enjoy my cars and I take care of them.

Bigger cars are subject to the one finger rule, meaning Ashtin can only touch them with one finger. That was the rule when I was growing up with my dad’s plastic friction-powered cars from the 1950s, which are now part of my collection.

Maybe one day Ashtin will share my fascination. Maybe he’ll find something else. I’ll be glad to see where it goes.

Fred Petke is a staff writer for the Winchester Sun. He can be reached at

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email or call 859-759-0051.

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