At the finish line: After 32 years, Dad’s Slot Cars in Des Plaines closes

After more than three decades of bringing families together to share a love of racing, the checkered flag fell Sunday on Dad’s Slot Cars in downtown Des Plaines.

Opened by the late Thomas Pelletiere and passed on to his daughter, Margaret Pelletiere, the business closed permanently after Sunday’s final race because the building it’s called home since 1992 is being sold.

“(Closing) was a decision I didn't take lightly and was really hard,” Margaret Pelletiere said. “It's just been here for so long and it was not an easy decision, but it was one that needed to be made.”

Dad’s features a pair of eight-lane slot tracks around which model cars zoom, “driven” by racers using pistol-grip controllers. And when racers needed a break, they headed to the back of the shop for a scoop of ice cream or malt from the old-fashioned parlor.

Pelletiere said she was four years old when her father, an engineer who customized cars in the family’s backyard, opened Dad’s.

“It was a place to connect with family,” she said. “My dad was cool. He was a great guy that had a vision for slot cars (and) just wanted families to be together.”

When Thomas Pelletiere died in 2018, Margaret took over. Throughout her run as manager, her priority has been providing a place where families could bond and have fun slot car racing.

  Genna Hoover, 10, of Morton Grove places cars on the track at Dad’s Slot Cars in Des Plaines. The business, which opened in 1992, closed permanently Sunday. Joe Lewnard/

“It’s something that any age loves,” she said. “I've done birthday parties here from year-old birthday parties to 99th birthday parties. There was a man who was turning 99 and brought all of his kids and grandkids and rented out the whole store and they just were a family. And that's what Dad’s Slot Cars is about.”

Sunday’s final day allowed families to enjoy free ice cream and racing without the usual $10-per-30-minutes fee. Serious racers had a chance to purchase cars, tracks and everything else in the business.

Pelletiere said she hopes someone will be able to use those items to keep slot car racing alive elsewhere.

  Margaret Almerigi made the tough decision to close her family’s business, Dad’s Slot Cars, after 32 years in downtown Des Plaines. “I wished it lived forever,” she said. Joe Lewnard/

“I’m feeling a wide range of emotions for sure. Anywhere from grief to sadness to anger. All of the above,” she said of the closing. “It’s like my heart was ripped out and someone is squeezing it like a stress ball.”

Nonetheless, Pelletiere said she is grateful to have continued her family’s legacy as long as she could.

“It ties up my parents being here, that's why I love it to the extent that I do,” she said. “(Dad’s) made them happy, it made them smile. Even after their passing they are here. Everything here makes me feel close to them again. I wish it lived forever.”

  Genna Hoover, 10, of Morton Grove and her brother, Gavin, 7, run cars while their dad, Len, offers suggestions at Dad’s Slot Cars. The business, which operated in Des Plaines since 1992, closed Sunday because its building is being sold. Joe Lewnard/
  After about 32 years in business, Dad’s Slot Cars in Des Plaines closed Sunday. Joe Lewnard/
  When racers needed a break at Dad’s Slot Cars in Des Plaines, they headed to the old-fashioned ice cream parlor in the back. Joe Lewnard/
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