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Hot Wees 

These hot miniature cars make RadioShack seem cool. Really.

One more sign that apocalypse is nigh: Among a small but growing sector of the American populace, RadioShack has actually become cool. Blame it on the XMODS, the miniature radio-controlled cars that have succeeded where Howie & Teri failed, scoring some much-needed buzz for the retailer.

The Shack introduced the XMODS last fall, and it's aggressively created a national circuit of racing events featuring the wee vehicles. The cars replicate real, recognizable stock models, from the 2004 Nissan 350Z to the 1997 Toyota Supra, at 1/28 scale (about four inches long and two-and-a-half inches high), much smaller than standard radio-controlled cars. The twist is, XMOD racers are encouraged to trick out and soup up their pocket rockets.

For Thomas Reed, a 24-year-old XMODist from De Soto, that's where all the fun lies. "My [replica] Civic has real, working underbody lights," he says. "The engine came from an outfit in Japan. As far as I know, I'm the only one in the States who has one." The new engine cranks the top speed to about 28 miles per hour, Reed says. So how much time and money does it take to craft a tournament-ready XMOD? "Time-wise, about three hours a day," Reed says. And he's put about $400 into the car, which has a base price of $50.

Reed and other mini-gearheads will rev up their minuscule engines at the St. Louis County Fair & Air Show (Friday, September 3, through Monday, September 6) at the XMODS Racing League tournament. This is one of only ten stops on the national tour, so RadioShack anticipates XMOD enthusiasts from across the country. The fastest racer wins a trip to Atlanta for the 2004 XMODS Racing League national championship. The tournament runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport (Spirit of St. Louis Boulevard and Aviation Museum Road, off Chesterfield Airport Road). Challengers can enter online at www.xmodsrc.com or in person at the event; the races are $25 to enter and free to watch.

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