Slot cars are a classic, exciting hobby for anyone to get into. With an endless array of designs, tracks and builds, slot cars are the perfect pastime. Ever since the creation of slot cars in the early 1900s, enthusiasts have enjoyed modifying, crafting and displaying their collections for others to see. Let's explore slot car racing and learn more about the basics of slot cars.
What Is Slot Car Racing?
Slot car racing is a competitive racing hobby. Miniature powered vehicles race each other on tracks with slots or grooves that guide the cars along their paths. Users control the cars with handheld remotes to race on their own or against others in competitions. Typically, slot cars will look like replicas of actual vehicles, although modifying them to improve performance is popular. Racing slot cars is an exciting hobby that offers many opportunities for socialization and community support.
Slot Car History
The first commercial slot car was created in 1912 by Lionel Corporation, an American toy manufacturer. While they were initially model train set accessories, slot cars soon became an attraction of their own. The toy train rail provided slot cars with power and movement, and buyers could get independent speed control as an additional feature.
Unfortunately, World War I soon began, and slot car production halted. Though companies made slot cars sporadically over the following decades, they did not become popular until the 1950s when racers in Britain helped increase the popularity of electric cars. Prior to the emergence of electric vehicles, slot cars ran on diesel, wind-up clockwork mechanisms and rubber bands.
With the arrival of the 1960s, slot car racing exploded in popularity. The golden age for slot cars is considered to be 1961-1966, which people can experience by visiting the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. There were 3,000 racetracks across America and $500 million in equipment and cars sold to slot car fans. Kids would gather together to race their cars and try to win local fame and have fun.
As the 60s became the 70s, technological advances made slot cars seem obsolete, but a recent resurgence in the hobby is bringing it back in a way it hasn't in decades.
What Are the Main Parts of the Slot Car?
Slot cars have several components that work together to make these vehicles effective racing pieces and incredible display collectibles. Let's break down a slot car's main parts:
- Body/shell: The outside of the slot car mimics the appearance of a regular vehicle with nearly limitless choices in terms of art, style and design. While a real car's shape influences its driving, handling and overall performance, the same is not true for slot cars. The weight distribution and mass affect a slot car's performance instead.
- Motor: An electric motor powers slot cars. It can sit in the car's middle, front or back, where small gears transmit power from the motor to the car axles. Additionally, motor placement can be sideways, in-line or at an angle.
- Chassis: This is the bottom part of the car that attaches to all the other pieces. It's commonly one whole piece, but it can come with a motor pod section.
- Axel: The steel rod the slot car wheels attach to.
- Guide: A plastic fin that pivots. The guide sits on the track slot and holds the braids.
- Interior: While a complete interior isn't necessary, most slot cars have an interior that mimics real cars. They'll often have little drivers for an added touch of realism. To make room for the motor, slot car interiors will be smaller than real vehicle interiors.
- Magnet: Magnets on the car's rear and front provide the force that keeps the car on the track.
- Braids: Copper braids — also called copper metal contacts — give the car its power by contacting the track rails. They'll need adjustment to ensure optimal race performance.
- Chip: This is the name of the circuit board that interprets track signals and operates digital car motors.
What Types of Slot Car Racing Tracks Are There?
The different slot car scale sizes and your racing experience will influence the racing track you use. It's essential to have the right size car for the track since the groove will fit a particular car size. Without the right size, your car could struggle to stay on the track.
Most slot car tracks are loops — a continuous shape that allows cars to race multiple laps. The more turns and twists a track has, the harder it is to race.
There are two primary materials modern slot car tracks are made from:
- Plastic: Molded plastic tracks come in sections so that you can change the course shape easily. They're fairly inexpensive and convenient to use. However, the many joints and electrical connections in these tracks cause voltage drops and even electrical problems.
- Routed: Routed tracks are made of just one or a few sheets. The sheets are typically made of polymer, medium-density fiberboard or chipboard. Grooves are cut directly into the base material, making them smoother and more consistent. This build means the track can't be changed like plastic tracks, but the consistency makes them preferable for competitions.
Types of Slot Cars
Slot car types are divided into categories based on size. The slot car scale is around one slot car unit for every designated number of units on a real-life car. For example, a 1:32 slot car means that there is one inch of slot car for every 32 inches of real car. There are several different slot car sizes, but the most popular are:
- 1:64: Also called HO cars, these are the smallest slot cars. 1:64 was the standard size for slot cars in the early 1900s when they were accessories for toy trains.
- 1:32: This is the most common slot car size. It gives the car lots of room for design so that they look much more accurate and detailed.
- 1:24: These are some of the larger slot cars. They're a favorite for racing and fit comfortably on eight-lane racetracks.
Tips for Slot Car Racing Beginners
Slot car racing might seem like a lot at first — but it's a rewarding hobby once you dive in. Here are some quick tips to help get you started with slot car racing:
- Start with a simple oval track to get a feel for the handling and racing of slot cars. Starting with a simple track reduces the number of turns you need to handle and allows you to work on basic skills and driving first.
- Use racing barriers when you start. They'll help keep your car on the track, so you don't have to reset it if it goes flying off.
- Keep your car clean to boost performance and ensure everything is in working order.
- Carefully oil the car's motor and chassis. Oiling the slot car lubricates its components and keeps the car running smoothly.
- Stick to one or two cars when starting out. Instead of trying to handle several cars, only race one or two. Get a feel for the car and learn how to proficiently race your specific vehicle to improve your skills.
- Practice, practice, practice! Slot car racing takes time and skill. The more time you spend on a track and a car, the better you'll be.
Contact Auto World Store for Slot Car Racing Equipment
Slot car racing has a rich history and an active, thriving race community today. Whether you're interested in collecting or racing slot cars, Auto World Store carries all the high-quality stock you need to jump-start your stock car hobby. Explore our wide selection of slot car tracks, parts and cars online.
If you have any questions about our products, contact us!