What are Slot Cars and what’s the Appeal Behind these Big Boy’s Toys?
Slot cars are electrically powered miniature race cars, hot rods, or muscle cars. They are similar in some ways to RC or radio controlled models. These miniature cars, about 4 to 8 inches long, are also controlled by a hand-held controller that varies their speed but their course is guided by a guide pin or blade that extends downward from the bottom of the car. The guide follows a slot in the track, hence the name slot car racing.
The controller is simpler than those used for RC models because it only has to control the car’s speed and, for digital racing, tell the car when to change lanes. Most look like guns with triggers, while digital controllers also have a lane change button on top. Since the cars are guided by their guides in the slots, no directional controls are necessary. Slot cars run on 12 to 18 volt DC power which they pick up from metal strips in the track surface. The current is provided by a power supply that plugs into a wall outlet.
There are two kinds of slot car racing, conventional (commonly referred to as analog) in which each car runs in only one lane of the track and digital, in which an extra button on the controller allows the driver to change lanes at certain points on the track to overtake, pass, block, or just take the fastest line around the track. With a digital system any or all of the cars in the race can be in any of the lanes at the same time and as many as six cars can race on a 2-lane track, each under independent control.
The real challenge of slot car racing is driving through the curves. The object is to take each corner at the highest speed without de-slotting your car. Most of today’s slot cars have magnets on the bottom to increase the downforce and the cornering grip of the cars. This results in faster lap times and cars that are easier for beginners to drive. Some slot car hobbyists prefer to race without magnets on their cars, finding non-magnet racing more challenging. This is, however, very much a minority view, and magnet racers will tell you that either type of racing is a test of skill with differences in how the skill is applied. Either way, the principle is to get maximum performance from whatever technology is in play.
A slot car can be an exact miniature replica of a real car or a “phantom”, a completely original or customized car. The parts of the slot car racing track, the cars themselves, and the accessories that make up a complete slot car racing layout can be as simple or complex as your tastes and budget dictate. Slot car racers range all the way from children for whom slot cars are toys to adults who find the detailed construction of the cars and the race tracks intellectually stimulating and relaxing. Many slot car racers are would-be full-sized car racers who are able to fulfill their racing dreams and relive racing history in miniature
There are literally thousands of slot cars on the market today. They come in 1:24, 1:32, 1:64 (HO), and 1:43scale. The 1:64 and 1:43 slot cars at present are marketed primarily as children’s toys and are more affordable than the other scales but each has its following of serious hobbyists. HO is still the most widely sold scale with race sets and cars available from many big-box retailers and most hobby shops and toy stores. In recent years the biggest growth in the slot car hobby has been in 1:32 scale with manufacturers including Scalextric, Carrera, and Ninco offering complete product lines with race sets, cars, track, and accessories. Other manufacturers, such as Slot It, Pioneer, Revell-Monogram, NSR, and MRRC, offer cars but not sets and track. Carrera holds a prominent position in the 1:24 scale slot car market because its track system is the only one wide enough to race 1/24 scale cars successfully. Carrera also shares the 1/43 scale market with Spanish manufacturer SCX.