Slot car racing
What is slot car racing?
Ever played Scaletrix? If so then you pretty much know what Slot car racing is. If not then allow me to explain: Slot car racing is a competitive hobby of racing model cars around a track, the cars are guided around this track by a groove in which the cars slot into.
Slot car racing has become increasingly popular and has advanced over the years, and serious competitions now exist. Some even build their own model cars from scratch using their own mechanisms, parts and materials.
History of Slot Car Racing
The first ever manufactured slot car was created by Lionel in the USA and was available from 1912.
The cars got their power from a toy train that was sunk in a rough and connected to a battery. Not much different from the modern slot cars we see today.
There were approximately 12,000 sets manufactured by 1915 when for unbeknown reasons Lionel discontinued the set.
Over the next 40 or so years there were even more slot car racing sets that came and went from companies like the Bachman Brothers and Marx. These were often clockwork powered.
Marx, in 1938, was manufacturing and selling the “Motorcycle Cop & Car Speedway” it was a single track and included 2 clockwork vehicles made from tin. There were 2 keys included and you powered the cars by winding them with keys.
Not only did Marx at this point in time manufacture this clockwork set they also had launched an electric speedway, this was much more expensive.
They returned 20 years later in the 1960’s and started to produce cheaper slot car toys for Sears department stores targeting the general public.
The 1960’s was the decade that slot car popularity soared and the USA was the very heart of the slot car universe.
Now fast forward 50 years on, Europe, especially Italy and Spain has largely taken over the slot car world.
To read a full history of Slot Car Racing check out this article.
An introduction to Slot Car Racing
In this guide, you will learn the basic fundamentals of Slot Car Racing as a hobby.
We are by no means experts in the fields and if you want to take slot car racing to a more serious level then we suggest the following reading materials.
How does a slot car work?
The slot cars are powered by a miniature electric motor. They are placed onto a track that has a thin groove, each lane has a groove. The cars each have a small blade that fits into the groove on the track. With this blade fitted into the groove, a small amount of electricity is collected, this is what powers the vehicles to be moved around the track.
There are 2 types of controllers that are used these are analogue and electric. The electric controllers are most recommended for beginners, due to the added control and ability to use with a vast array of cars. Analogue controllers work slightly differently and deliver the needed amount of voltage to the slot car.
Slot cars are made up of numerous components:
This is what powers your slot car in can be placed in many different positions including the front, middle and back and then sideways, angled or inline. Just like a full-sized car, it uses small gears which allow the motor to power the axle.
Again like a real car, the axle is the steel bar that the wheels are attached too.
The body of Slot cars are moulded to a scale of the real car it is based on. Contrary to popular belief the shape of the body of the car has no impact on how the slot car performs, unlike that of a real car. The factors that affect the performance of the slot car the most are the weight distribution and the mass.
As with a real car, a slot car has a chassis this is the bottom part of the slot car. The chassis connects and attaches all of the other car components. It usually is a single piece, however, it can be made with a separate motor pod component.
A small piece of plastic that pivots, this part sits in the slot of the track and holds the braids.
The braids are made up of copper metal and are what provides power to the car, this happens when the braids and the track contact. To increase the performance of the car you should learn how to adjust the braids correctly.
If you’ve played with slot cars before you will know that they can fly off the tracks, magnets are used at the front and back to help keep the car on the track. Stronger magnets are often used in beginners cars.
The interior of the car is often a replica of the real-life version, some cars will even have a little moulded plastic driver sat in the driving seat.
Types of Slot Car
Analog Slot Cars
Analog Slot Car types were the first ever type created over fifty years ago now, this is the traditional slot car setup.
Traditional analogue setups should be made up of 2 or more separate lates with the same amount of cars, controllers and players.
Each lane and car is controlled separately by the controller and player.
Generally speaking cars from most manufacturers made in analogue can be used on any tracks. So, for example, a car made by Carrera can still be used on a Scaletrix track.
Digital Slot Cars
The main difference between the digital slot car type and analogue is that the digital will allow multiple cars in the same lane, with some even having the ability and parts to be able to switch lanes.
Most digital systems won’t allow you to cross cars and tracks made by different manufacturers without modifications.
What do I need to get started Slot Car Racing?
Before you head off to slot car competitions and slot car meetings you’re going to want to build up your skills.
The only way you can do this is with good old fashioned practice.
The beauty is you can purchase your own slot car set online have it delivered to your door, set it up and away you go!
All you’re going to need to begin with is some patience and a good slot car racing set! Ever heard of Scaletrix? Then if you have you know exactly what the best manufacturer of slot car is.
As a beginner, you should look for a 1:32 slot car set.
In the set, you should get a car(s), the track, controllers and power supply.
You can even buy extra track eventually and build up the size and shape of your set.
Top slot car Manufacturers
Scaletrix is one of the first slot car manufacturers and has been around for years, they are also perhaps the most well known of all brands.
They produce cars mainly in 1:32 scale in both analogue and now digital systems.
Scaletrix target mainly the “toy” market which leaves their cars with less performance than others.
In spite of this Scaletrix are still the preferred choice for beginners.
Their tracks and cars are very popular and although lacking in optimised performance they still dominate a large section of the slot car market.
Carrera is also one of the biggest manufacturers and brands in the hobby of slot car racing.
They produce cars, tracks an accessories in 3 different scales these are 1:24, 1:32 and 1:43 and are the only major manufacturer that have produced a track for 1:24 slot car systems.
A brand that is popular in the slot car world, they have created an impeccable name for themselves and have a great balance of performance and quality products.
A Spanish company that has been around for the last 25 years, Ninco create 1:32 slot cars in digital and analogue.
They have created a great reputation in the slot car racing world, producing high-quality cars and tracks for more serious slot car racers.
Ninco has their very own track system which is slightly wider than those of Scaletrix for the intention of accommodating wider cars.
It is possible to combine the use of Ninco track with Scaletrix using adapters.
Lately, Ninco has produced a fantastic digital system which caters for up to 8 cars on the track.
A quality brand name who create fantastic slot car systems, a brand you can trust and rely on.
Another Spanish company, SCX is confusingly known as Scaletrix in Spain whereas Scaletrix is known as Superslots.
Predominantly SCX creates tracks and systems in the 1:32 scale in both Analogue and digital.
All of the SCX tracks are fully compatible with Scaletrix tracks.
They are currently up and coming in the Slot Car hobby world and have so far produced a wide variety of quality products.
What are the best beginners slot cars?
As previously mentioned the best slot cars for beginners are the 1:32 type, these are the most popular sized in the hobby.
You’re going to want a car with pretty strong magnets to begin, the magnets help you stay on the track.
Remember though as you start to get better and your slot car skills increase you can remove your magnets or even start upgrading your slot car and track.
Try not to use the magnets for too long, this could have a negative impact on the progress of your racing skills.
As you start to feel more comfortable with your system remove your magnets to allow you to develop your slot car racing skills.
Types of Slot Car
There are many scales of slot car that are available.
1:24 slot cars are larger so aren’t usually found in the home, typically these are used at club tracks or in commercial promotions in a bigger building. This is due to the size of the slot cars.
1:24 slot cars are built on the scale of 1 unit of length on the slot car equates to 24 units on the actual life-size car.
The most popular for home slot car enthusiasts and perhaps the most popular worldwide.
1:32 slot cars are scaled as 1 unit of length is equal to 32 units of the full-size car it is based on.
1:43rd scale slot cars are becoming increasingly popular in the Slot car racing world, they are often sold as children’s toys but due to the moderate space requirements and cost they have become more popular with adults.
1:43rd cars are scaled as 1 unit is equal to 43 of the model of car the slot is based on.
What are the best beginners slot car race tracks?
To begin I think it’s better to choose a more simple track with an oval shape.
This will help when learning how to control the slot cars and keep them on the track.
There are a couple of different types of tracks available in the slot car hobby these are explained in the next section.
Types of Track
Plastic Slot Racing tracks
This type of track is created with moulded plastic. Often the plastic tracks are made in sections allowing the design and shape of the course to be extended and changed.
These sections are less expensive and fit easily together, that being said, where the track pieces join each other, it leaves a bump and can have a negative effect on performance. Due to the increased number of electrical connections the voltage can drop considerably.
Some people use the plastic tracks for permanent setups by filling in the cracks where sections are joined and then smoothing them over. The power rails can also be soldered.
Most home slot car setups and sets you buy from the shop are plastic racing tracks.
Routed Slot Racing tracks
For competitive slot car racing or for someone more serious about the hobby routed slot car racing tracks are usually a more popular choice. Using one or two pieces of chipboard/MDF the entire racecourse has the guide slots and grooves cut in it. They typically use a router machine or CNC, giving the track a smooth surface.
Beginners Slot Car Tips
Practice, Practice and more Practice
As with anything in this world if you want to get better at something you have to keep practising.
Ideally, you should spend a little time each day practising with your slot car setup, even the pros dedicate time to advancing their skills.
Be patient slot car racing can be at times very frustrating especially when you are flying off the track constantly.
Slow down take your time and keep persevering!
Slow down! It’s not all about maxing out the speed of the slot car, the objective is to get around the track and just like in real life you’ll need to slow down around the corners.
As you get used to taking corners you can gradually increase your speed a little each time until you find the maximum speed you can take it at without leaving the track.
Get to know your car better!
Add Grip To Tyres
Sometimes when you first purchase a slot car system the wheels of the car can be rather shiny this, of course, has a negative effect on handling.
Some would suggest you take some fine grit sandpaper and add a little grip by rubbing the surface of the wheels.
Recommended Beginners Slot Car Tracks
After taking in all the information so far about how the cars work, the scales, the tracks it’s probably going to seem quite daunting.
So I’ve done a little research and found the following to be the most popular sets to get you started in your hobby.
The sets will allow you to practice and get used to how to drive them effectively.
Very simple tracks in a 1:32 scale.
The following are recommended by experts from around the web for beginners.
Scalextric 1:32 Scale Mini Challenge Race Set
- 2 x 1:32 Mini Slot Cars
- Two-speed settings and Lap Counter
- Digital Plug Magnatraction System Ready
- Create 4 different track layouts
- Track total length 484cm this would require 191cm x 132cm space
A great beginners set, the Scalextric Mini Challenge is the perfect beginner’s slot car system receiving many positive reviews from around the globe.
Carrera Evolution Ferrari/Mercedes
- 1 x 1:32 Mercedes F1W05 Race Car & 1 x 1:32 Ferrari SF 15-T Slot Cars
- 5.3 Meter Racing Track With 2 Loops
- Space Required 200 x 80cm
- 2 x Controllers
- Based on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso
This rivalry Carrera set is great for beginners who want to take the hobby a little bit more seriously and jump in a little deeper. Great reviews and a good quality set with tough and robust pieces (ready for you crashing off the track a lot)
Scalextric Ultimate Rivals Race Set
- 1 x 1:32 BMW Z4 GT3 & 1 X 1:32 Mercedes AMG GT3
- Track Length 4.9 meters
- Space Required – 210 x 140cm
- ARC ONE System (App Race Control)
- 9 Possible Track Layouts
The ultimate rivals slot car set from Scaletrix is the revolutionary new ARC one system. In a nutshell, this allows you to download the app and customise your slot car racing. Choose the number of laps, Penalties for jump-starting, fuel consumption and much more! A great start for beginners entering the world of slot car.
Slot Car Set For Kids
A lot of the small children’s slot car sets are toys opposed to serious hobby tracks, so the reviews seem to be a little mixed from around the internet.
In my opinion though as long as your child has something that functions as a slot car racing track and is very basic then it’s a good start.
You should be looking for a slot car setup with a very basic layout in the scale of 1:32
I believe if you want to buy your small child a slot car set then it should be about fun first.
A great example of a kids slot car set:
Carrera CARS 3 Slot Car Set
Based on the highly successful Disney movie Cars, this slot set is sure to peak your child’s interest.
Manufactured by Carrera so you can be assured of quality.
Most importantly it won’t break the bank!
- 2.4 Meter Total Track Length
- Dimensions:93 x 45 cm
Slot Car Racing Summary
There’s only so much I can teach you as a beginner, to be honest with you slot car racing is something you can teach yourself completely! This guide is just to try and answer any questions you may have before you get started.
Most of the knowledge you will gain in your time slot car racing will be about modifications, upgrades and the equipment available, which is far beyond my expertise.
Expert slot car racers and people who have been enjoying the hobby for some time, built their very own tracks, supe up their very own cars, some even travel the world to compete professionally!
If after reading this guide you are still quite serious about starting the hobby then in the next section you will find further reading and lots of useful information.
You can comment below and add anything you think I may have missed and if you have more questions then ask away I will do my best to help you find answers 🙂
Slot Car References & Useful Websites
Slot Cars FAQ
What is slot car drag racing?
Slot car drag racing is a type of slot car racing based upon a drag race. The slot race takes place on a long straight length of track often scaled to a quarter-mile.
How fast can slot cars go?
The speed of slot cars are again based usually on a scale and this is known as “Scale MPH” so a 1:32 scale car would be measured over a distance of 1:32 of a mile. The fastest recorded slot car was a Honda F1 model by Scalextric and it reached a whopping speed of 983 “Scale MPH”
However, without scaling the speed this would be approximately 30 MPH which is still pretty impressive!
This was, of course, a tweaked and modded slot car so don’t expect yours to go as fast just yet. Still anywhere between 10 – 14 mph.
What are digital slot cars?
Digital slot cars a relatively new type of slot car. Each car is fitted with a chip relevant to the system. The rails found on the track are permanently live and all lanes have the same feed.
Each individual slot car is set to the controller of the driver who owns the car. Once the driver pulls the control trigger data is sent to the car in “data packets” down the slot track rails. The data chip which is fitted in the car then decodes the data in a way such as this – Car number 1, 75% power. The data then gives 75% power to the motor system in the car.
Other forms of digital slot car racing are infra-red systems. The track has sensors and they can read the data from the player’s car as it travels over them. This is used for cool things such as lap timing. Slot car racing is becoming more popular and more complex so it’s only natural that with tech advancing slot car racing does too.