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Information for First-time Race Set Shoppers

August 19, 2010
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Thank you for choosing Electric Dreams as the place to shop for your first slot car race set.  We want every newcomer to the hobby to have a fun, successful first experience with slot cars, especially children, who are the future of slot car racing, not to mention the world.

If you have no previous firsthand experience with slot cars you may be confused as to exactly what slot cars and race sets are, what to expect from them, and what it takes to use them successfully.    You may be familiar with Hot Wheels or other forms of toy car racing, and we want you to know how slot cars differ from them.
Race set

A basic race set like this is your first step toward lifelong racing fun.

A slot car is a miniature car powered by an electric motor that drives the rear wheels.  Every slot car has a guide of some kind that extends below the bottom of the car near the front.  The guide follows a slot in the track surface, and that is what steers the car around the track, hence the name slot car racing.  On each side of the slot there is a metal strip that carries electrical current from a transformer that plugs into a wall outlet.  Lengths of flat braided steel or copper wire on either side of the car’s guide pick up the current from the track’s metal strips to power the car’s motor and propel it around the track. The driver controls the car using a hand-held controller with a trigger allowing him to vary the car’s speed.    The basic electrical principles by which slot cars are powered and controlled are the same as those of electric trains, with which you may be familiar.

There are many kinds of toy racing sets that use either an external device to push an unpowered car around a track or use cars driven by internal batteries powering an electric motor.  These require no control of the car by the user.  The car goes around the racing course at its top speed, held onto the track by walls at the edge.  It doesn’t have to be driven.  If you are considering a slot car set for your child it is likely that he or she has played with this kind of toy and enjoys it.

Unlike these toys, slot cars can’t be driven around the entire track at top speed.  The cars will come off the track if driven too fast around a curve.   Your child can’t just pull the trigger all the way back and watch the car go around and around.  He has to drive it by using the controller to vary the car’s speed, slowing down on the curves.  The challenge of slot car racing, the thing that makes it fun, is to drive the car through the turns as fast as you can without the car going too fast and spinning out, rolling over, or plowing off the track.  The winner is the driver who can drive his or her car closest to its limits on every part of the track without exceeding them.  Later on, the challenge of modifying the cars to make them faster also enters into it, but for the beginner the object will be to drive the cars as fast as possible just as they are.

The important point is that the cars do have to be driven, and that means a learning curve for the driver.  Children and even adults just starting out often can’t keep the car on the track for very long without driving it out of the slot.  This can be frustrating, especially for children who have never encountered anything like this before, and it sometimes leads to tears or a premature judgment that slot cars are no fun or that the cars and track just don’t work.  That can be dismaying to a parent or even to an adult beginner and give the impression that the race set was not a good purchase.  However, if the beginner sticks with it he or she usually improves rapidly with experience and before long is racing around the track lap after lap and having a lot of fun.

Most children age 6 or over have the coordination, attention span, and general level of awareness needed to master the skills involved in a reasonable length of time.  Some younger children can handle it and some older children may not yet be quite ready.  If your child gets frustrated and clearly isn’t getting the hang of it, a time out from the slot cars followed by a little bit of gentle coaching often helps.  In some cases the parent may even need to put the race set away for a time until the child matures to the point where he is ready for it.
Keep in mind that for children (and even some adults) the crashing is often part of the fun.  If your child is crashing every lap and laughing, that’s okay, as long as you have chosen a set with cars made to stand up to it.  We can help you make a good choice in this regard.  After a while, the beginner usually gets his fill of crashing and then turns to the more serious pursuit of racing and winning.

The key is to give the child adult supervision until you are satisfied that he or she has reached the point of being able to play with the race set properly and has developed enough skill to enjoy it.  The best way to supervise is to race with your child, learning and enjoying together.  Many parents find themselves having as much fun as their children, and the time spent together is priceless.

As with any mass-produced product occasional component failures can occur.  This usually happens, if it’s going to, soon after you start using the race set.  Electric Dreams offers expert technical assistance that will enable you to resolve any problems and get back to racing as quickly as possible.  Tech help is just a phone call or e-mail away.

Slot cars and race sets differ from most of your child’s toys in needing a certain amount of routine maintenance to keep performing properly.  The track and cars have to be kept clean.  The cars need to be lubricated (though very sparingly and infrequently).  The pickup braids on the cars need to be cleaned, adjusted and eventually replaced.  None of this is difficult and replacement parts are readily available.  Teaching your child to maintain a race set can be a significant step in helping him or her learn responsibility.

Another thing to be aware of is that most race sets do not have to be set up exactly the way they are shown in the illustrations on the box or on our web site.  You can put the track sections together differently to create a layout that fits the size and shape of the space you have to work with, and you don’t have to use all the track sections.  You can change the layout from time to time to create new driving challenges, to make the layout larger or smaller and easier or more difficult, or to model your favorite full-sized race track.  The larger the set and the more track sections it has, the more layout options you will have.   You can buy additional track sections to expand the layout and many different cars to run on it.

If you have spent much time browsing through various slot car web sites you may have seen articles and posts on slot car forums that are highly critical of racing slot cars on plastic sectional track using traction magnets (rare-earth magnets placed on the bottom of the car) to increase cornering grip.  These articles and posts try to tell you that racing without magnets on a scratchbuilt wood tack is the only way to go and superior to any other kind of slot car racing.  The truth is that only 2 to 5 percent of all the slot car racers in the world run without magnets or on wood tracks.  This 2 to 5 percent, however, tend to dominate the popular slot car forums and this sometimes gives people the very mistaken impression that they will, at some point, have to go to the effort and expense of building a wood track, something most people lack the time, skill, equipment, or motivation to do. For a certain type of racer wood-tracks and non-magnet racing have their attractions, and you may want to try it at some point, but rest assured that the 95 to 98 percent who run on plastic tracks, with or without magnets as they may prefer, are having great fun.  For beginners, especially children, as well as for the vast majority of lifelong hobbyists plastic tracks and magnets are the preferred approach to the hobby.  You can be confident that the race set you buy to start out with will serve you well for many years to come and provide you with high-quality racing enjoyment.

As your skill and interests develop you can expand your first race set into a large, detailed racing layout like this.

Slot cars and tracks are much more than just toys.  They can be a lifelong constructive hobby that grows and changes along with the hobbyist.  A fun and successful first experience can lead to many years of enjoyment and satisfaction.  We want to make that possible for all our customers.
If you have questions, as most first-time purchasers do, you can e-mail us at support@electricdreams.com or call us at (310)676-7600.  We’ll be glad to give you all the information and advice you need.

Read more about getting started in slot car racing:

Comparing Race Sets and Track Systems

Conventional Or Digital – Which Is Best For You?

Comments

2 Responses to “Information for First-time Race Set Shoppers”
  1. Jack sherman says:

    Hello. My name is Jack and I am interested in purchasing a slot car race set for an adult senior citizen. Would you please recommend sets I should consider with limited space to set up. I am a beginner and I think I would be interested in HO or 1/32 sets. Also, which accessories do you recommend in order to enjoy this very enjoyable hobby. Thank you. Jack

  2. BARRY says:

    I AM 62 YEARS OLD AND HAVE A SON WHO IS 6 AND A HALF. HE IS VERY INTO MATCHBOX AND HOT WHHEL CARS AND PLAYS XBOX CAR RACING LIKE “CARS” BY DISNEY SO I THINK HE CAN HANDLE SLOT CARS. WHAT I REMEMBER FROM MY EARLY YEARS ARE TRACKS THAT DON’T MATCH WELL AND CATCH THE CARS PIN, AND CARS THAT MAKE PPOR CONTACT WITH THE TRACKA ND SO ARE JUMPY. I WANT TO BUY A MID LINE SET THAT IS NOT PRO BUT IS A BETTER QUALITY THAN A DEPARTMENT STORE BARGAIN. CAN YOU SUGEST BRAND NAMES THAT ARE BETTER SETS.

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