Comparing Race Sets and Track Systems
We get a lot of requests from customers, especially those just starting out in slot car racing, asking us which brand of race set or track system to buy. Even some hobbyists who have been racing slot cars for some time still have not made a long-term decision about which track system to go with. At present, we carry the complete track systems of Scalextric Sport and Carrera as well as the SCX digital track system. We also carry Ninco race sets. Each of these track systems has its pluses and minuses, but all are good quality products, and your choice will depend on which has the features most important to you. This article is designed to give you some basic information that will help you make the best choice for your particular needs and preferences.
All the 1:32 and 1:24 scale race sets on the market today are designed so everything snaps and plugs together. All of them, except for a few Ninco sets, come with everything you need to begin racing – cars, track, power supply, controllers, and, in most cases, some accessory items that may include borders, guard rails, overpass supports, or even a lap counter, depending on the price of the set. A few of the Ninco sets come with everything except cars since some set buyers prefer to pick out their cars separately but appreciate getting everything else they need in a single package. You can buy a race set, open up the box, and begin racing in as little as half an hour. You can set up your race track permanently on a table or set it up on the living room floor and take it apart and store it between uses, using the box it came in as a handy storage container. You can start with even the most basic, least expensive race set and over time add more track and accessory items to build it up into a racing layout limited only by your imagination and the available space. Layouts of up to eight lanes are possible, though beyond four lanes the space requirements start to get out of hand for the rooms in most homes. Here is some information that will help you choose the race set or track system best suited to your needs and preferences.
Full straight track sections from four different track systems. L to R: SCX Digital, Scalextric Sport, Carrera, Ninco.
After several years on the market, following the 40-year run of Scalextric’s original (Classic) track system, Scalextric Sport remains the most versatile and space-efficient 1:32 scale track system as well as the most popular worldwide. The Sport track system offers a few more different kinds of track sections that let you be more creative in your layout design. Curves in four different radii (including banked turns in radii 2 and 3) and straight sections in four different lengths (5 if you use the C8295 elevated track sections as ordinary straight track pieces) give you an immense number of layout options. Scalextric also offers a complete selection of track borders in a choice of either tan with a red and white raised strip forming a gentle hump just off the track edge, or black, which are completely flat. The tan borders have the look of a gravel trap while the black ones look like an extension of the track surface, which is what all borders really are. Alas, Scalextric doesn’t yet offer borders for its banked turns and the flat ones do not work on the banks. All Scalextric borders come with press-in Armco-style guardrail.
Scalextric is the only track manufacturer that offers borders in two different colors.
Note: As of this writing some of the Sport black borders are not available and it is not known when they may be produced again.
For digital racing there are curved and straight lane change tracks, curved and straight single-lane sections, and “turnout” tracks, like a switch on a model railroad, in which one lane branches into two and you can choose which way to go.
In addition to its versatility Sport lets you get more layout into a given space than either Ninco or Carrera. You can get a 180-degree 4-lane turn (radii 2 and 3) with borders into a 4-foot wide table with room to spare. With Ninco track, you have to go with 4 1/2 or 5-foot-wide tables and Carrera is even larger. Scalextric track is also slightly more flexible than Ninco and has more ribs underneath to support the track surface. This can be important if your track is in someplace like a daylight basement where it may be subjected to direct sunlight or any place where it may encounter excessive heat. Because Scalextric track is made of a flexible, resilient material it is better suited to situations in which a layout must be set up temporarily and packed away for storage after each use. The track stands up well to frequent assembly and disassembly as well as the not-too-gentle handling it can get from young children. This, along with the ease of snapping the Sport track sections together and taking them apart, also makes it ideal for those who want to change layouts frequently or let their children play with the race set and change the layout unsupervised.
Scalextric uses the same Sport track system for both conventional (non-digital, sometimes referred to as analog) and digital racing. This means that if you start with a conventional set and want to change to digital, or vice-versa, you can still use most of the track sections you already have. There is a full selection of specialized track sections and accessories for digital racing.
Sport track has occasionally been criticized for electrical continuity problems on longer layouts. However, we have come up with a simple procedure that virtually eliminates such problems. It is described in our article, “Scalextric Sport Track: Better Continuity For Better Racing”, available for viewing and download on the Electric Dreams web site.
If you want to race 1:24 scale cars as well as 1:32 scale on a plastic sectional track system Carrera is your only choice. It is the widest of the track systems and the only one wide enough for 1:24 scale racing. The extra width also comes in handy when running outsized 1:32 cars such as those made by Racer, which measure out to more like 1:28 scale. It has the least textured track surface, giving maximum tire contact patch area. Carrera track has stainless steel conductor strips, as opposed to the plated steel of other systems. This means you never have to worry about the metal rusting, but stainless steel also is not as strongly attracted to the cars’ traction magnets as other steels so you will get less downforce from any given magnet installation.
Carrera offers curves in four radii with banked turns in all four. Carrera’s banked turns are by far the most steeply banked of any track system on the market and therefore can be taken at the highest speeds. The steep bank angle, along with the largest curve radii in the industry, makes Carrera the best system for building high-speed superspeedway oval tracks. However, you will probably want to avoid Carrera’s banked curves in radius one, the tightest of the four, because many cars, especially those with long noses, will not go around them without the front of the chassis or body hitting the track and lifting the guide out of the slot. Also, a car going too slow can slide down to the inside. As you can imagine, either of these situations can lead to truly monumental crashes.
Carrera offers borders for all its curves, including the banks, as well as straight borders. They are the widest borders in the industry and have the same surface texture as the track.
Carrera track is made of a rigid styrene-type plastic rather than the vinyl-type compounds used in other track systems. This makes it more stable in shape than the others. In practice this means the track stays flatter over time, is less affected by heat, and has characteristics most like a routed wood track. It also has the deepest and widest slot available. These qualities endear Carrera track to the “serious” racer who considers a permanent routed wood track the ultimate racing venue but is unable to build one for some reason or another.
Carrera uses the same track system for conventional (non-digital) and digital racing in both 1:32 and 1:24 scale. Carrera digital components install readily into a conventional Carrera layout, making conversion to digital (and conversion back) a relatively simple process.
Carrera is the track system of choice for advanced racers who want the closest possible approximation of a routed wood track, but it has drawbacks that make it less suitable for some other groups of slot car hobbyists. The track sections, at least when new, require considerable strength to push them together into proper engagement with each other. Carrera track is also not a snap-fit system. The sections are held together by plastic clips that have to be inserted into the underside of the track after the sections are connected. These clips require the sections to be very tightly assembled before they can be inserted and often require a great deal of force to press them into place. They are also easy to break or lose. Children, as well as some adults, often find it difficult to apply enough force to get the job done. Many users find the clips awkward to work with. Carrera also has the least user-friendly guardrail system. As a result, Carrera is not the best choice for casual racers or for anyone who must set up his layout temporarily and take it apart and stow it between uses. It is not recommended for unsupervised use by children, especially if they like to change the layout. In addition, Carrera is the least versatile and space-efficient of currently available track systems. If you want to build a complex layout in limited space you will do better with other track systems.
Carrera track clips.
But if you have the space, can live with the negatives described above, want the most nearly “professional” track system, and want to race 1:24 scale cars then by all means go with Carrera track.
Ninco track, used for both conventional (non-digital) and digital layouts, is about ½ inch (12.7mm) wider than Scalextric and about the same amount narrower than Carrera. Its slot width and depth falls between those two systems, also. It has the coarsest surface texture of any plastic track system presently on the market. The reason for the coarse texture is that Ninco designed its track for the Spanish market, where slot car rallying is a very large part of the action. In rallying, the track is covered with powdered sugar to simulate snow or powdered chocolate to simulate dirt. For normal racing on a clean, dry track a smooth surface like that of Sport or Carrera and soft slick tires provide the largest possible contact patch for maximum grip but under rally conditions there is absolutely no traction. The coarse texture of the Ninco track sticks up through the powder and gives the cars’ tires something to grip. The texture allows ferocious grip with some kinds of tires but it’s abrasive enough to cause severe wear with many aftermarket tires, even resulting in very real-looking “marbles” accumulating off the racing line, just like on a 1:1 scale race track.
Like Scalextric, Ninco track is made of a flexible and resilient material that stands up well to repeated assembly and disassembly, rough handling by children, and use on the floor. However, it can be more difficult for children and some older adults to use because, at least when it’s new, it takes a considerable amount of finger strength to snap the sections together and get them apart. Ninco also offers four curve radii but only three straight section lengths.
Ninco’s extra width is both a plus and a minus depending on what you need from your track system. Because it’s wider than Scalextric it does give a little more racing room in the corners. Unfortunately, it’s not wide enough to race 1:24 scale cars. The extra width, combined with Ninco’s less comprehensive selection of track pieces, results in somewhat reduced space efficiency and versatility. Ninco, however, is introducing a new line of 1:28 scale cars for which the dimensions of their track should be ideal. These larger cars may offer more scope for both race tuning and realistic detail than 1:32 scale cars without going to the less space-efficient size of 1:24 scale cars and track.
The Ninco system offers curves in four radii, but no banked turns. Straights are available in three lengths – full, half, and quarter. Ninco does not, however, offer an odd-length straight, one that is not a multiple of its quarter straight (Scalextric has a “short” straight, about 1/5 of a full straight, and Carrera has a 1/3 straight.) This can be a serious omission for hobbyists who are trying to build complex layouts as space-efficiently as possible, as odd lengths are often necessary to make possible that last connection to complete the layout without undesirable design compromises elsewhere around the circuit.
Ninco offers two really neat accessory items that can be used with any track system on the market. One is the #10220 safety wall, which is a very credible likeness of the concrete barriers topped with catch fencing used at many race tracks. The other is the #10252 stone wall. It looks really good on rally tracks or on road courses modeled after classic circuits of earlier eras. Both snap onto the edge of either the track or the borders and can be used on straightaways and on curves of any radius. The top of the #10220 is almost 4” (about 100mm) above the track surface and actually does quite a good job of restraining errant cars from leaving the track and, perhaps, the table.
Ninco track accessories: 10220 crash wall and catch fence; 10252 stone wall.
Note: As this is being written Ninco has announced a radius 5 curve and a very short straight section which will increase layout options for the Ninco track system.
SCX actually has two track systems. Its conventional track system is really the old Scalextric Classic track with a coarser track surface (again aimed at the Spanish market). Because it is essentially an obsolete system we don’t stock it. However, if you already have some of the track or can find it for sale cheap somewhere you can combine it with either Sport or Ninco track by using the adapter track sections those two manufacturers offer. It has the narrowest and shallowest slot on the market but otherwise is perfectly usable.
SCX’s digital track system, however, is a whole different matter. It is a relatively new system designed specifically for digital racing. It is not compatible with or adaptable to SCX’s conventional (non-digital) system and SCX says it can’t be used for conventional racing. That’s too bad because it really is good track and if they developed a conventional version of it they would be able to make a big improvement to their conventional race sets. It has the Spanish-style coarse surface texture, though not as coarse as Ninco’s. It also is made of resilient material and has an excellent system of borders and barriers (which look a lot like Jersey barriers) as well as simple and effective joining of the track sections (though with a fair amount of finger strength required).
The system includes curves in three radii and straights in four lengths, as well as curved and straight single-lane sections, curved and straight lane-change sections, left and right-hand turnout sections, and a full assortment of digital racing accessories.
The most distinctive feature of the SCX digital system is that the lane changers are activated mechanically by a small pin that comes down out of the car’s guide rather than electrically as in all the other digital systems. The track power supply only has to power the cars, so the cars and lane changers do not fight each other for the available amperage. This is a real plus when you have six cars on the track running and changing lanes all at once. The drawback is that the SCX digital chip module is much larger and bulkier than the others and has to be placed in the front of the car, right behind the guide, so a lever can press on the top of the guide to activate the pin that works the lane changers, Because of this there are significantly fewer cars into which the module can be fitted. Cars with low or narrow noses may not have the space in the required location. In addition, the chip module sits right where the front axle would be. This requires all cars with the SCX digital module to use stub axles in the front. This is not always the best setup for good handling, and it adds to the work involved in converting cars to the SCX digital system.
SCX digital car chassis showing digital module between front wheels.
Price and availability
Scalextric and Carrera are roughly comparable in the prices of their race sets and track sections, depending on where you live and what may be on sale at any given time. The two companies are fierce competitors worldwide and this has helped to hold down prices. SCX and Ninco, however, are both focused primarily on their home market in Spain with the rest of the world clearly a secondary consideration, although SCX has begun aggressively pursuing the NASCAR enthusiast market in the US with both conventional and digital sets and cars. Generally speaking, SCX and Ninco are more expensive across the board than Scalextric and Carrera. All, however, are available in the US and we have not had any major problems keeping supplied with any of them.
It’s well known that none of the race sets on the market comes with a power supply that really delivers enough amperage to power two cars to their full performance potential. This is due to child safety regulations that govern the sale of electric toys in various countries of the world. Government regulators look at every possible way a child can misuse a toy, however bizarre or improbable, and force toy manufacturers to design their products accordingly. This means that with one pack for two lanes there just isn’t quite enough amperage to get the job done. As a result the two cars fight each other for the available current and when one stops or deslots the other gets more power, often causing it to crash at the next corner. This is problem enough with original equipment cars. It really gets annoying when you try to run cars with stronger motors or magnets.
Fortunately, the manufacturers are well aware of the problem and all have made it easy and relatively inexpensive to upgrade to a separate power supply for each lane using stock power packs. This is enough of a power upgrade for a large majority of hobbyists. Some will eventually get to the point where they need even more power or want the voltage to be adjustable so they can slow down the cars for children, beginners, or non-magnet racing while maintaining stable power to all the cars. There are aftermarket power supplies available that will take care of their needs.
Speaking of safety, all the race sets, cars, and accessories we sell have been thoroughly tested and comply with all of the applicable regulations for product safety. Slot car racing is about as safe a pastime as you or your children can have. Since the voltage and amperage coming out of the wall-mount power supplies are quite low compared to standard house current there are no shock hazards to worry about.
When you buy your first race set you are, of course, choosing cars as well as a track system. It’s more important in the long run to choose the best track system for your needs, but at the beginning it’s crucial to have cars that are fast, good handling, and easy to drive as well as durable and easy to maintain, especially when you are buying the race set for your children. If their first experience with slot car racing isn’t fun and successful they won’t stay with it and will go back to their video games (which you probably bought the race set to get them away from to begin with). In addition, you want the cars to be as rugged and reliable as possible so your kids spend their time racing (and, inevitably, crashing, which is a big part of the fun for children, at least at first) and not watching you repair the cars. It also doesn’t hurt if replacement cars and parts are readily available and as inexpensive as possible. If your child does manage to do fatal damage to one you want the repair or replacement to be easy on your wallet.
You want cars that you or your child can learn to drive quickly to the point where you can keep them on the track consistently and begin to have real races. Nothing will frustrate or defeat a child (or even an adult) more thoroughly than cars that just can’t seem to get around the track for more than a lap or two without deslotting or feel like they have no grip. However, you don’t want the cars to be so stuck down with traction magnets that they essentially don’t have to be driven at all. That looks impressive when a race set is being demonstrated or your child tries one out in a hobby shop, but it gets boring really fast.
A few words about traction magnets are in order here. Virtually all race sets available today have cars that use a magnet mounted in the chassis to provide more downward force on the rear tires, increasing their grip. These traction magnets have helped to revitalize the hobby by making the cars much easier to drive, especially for beginners and children. In addition, magnets make it easier to equalize cars with diverse performance characteristics so they can be raced together. If your favorite car is a narrow-tired classic Jaguar and you son’s is a cutting edge tuner car with wide tires you can, within broad limits, equalize the two quite readily with simple (usually snap-in) changes in the cars’ magnet installations, sometimes along with changes in tires. These are snap-in, slip-on mods that are very easy and toolless except for a Phillips screwdriver to remove the body screws. It’s possible to pile on the magnets to the point where the car is so bogged down it actually goes slower unless you install a hotter motor and equip the track with a higher-amp power supply to feed it, and this can easily become self-defeating. On the other hand, some people find that as they progress in the hobby they prefer to race without magnets, enjoying the slower, more scale speeds and the challenge of tuning and driving their cars without them. The big majority of our customers, however, find that magnet racing with stock or mildly modified cars serves their purposes very well. We mention this because many Internet slot car forums tend to be dominated by militant non-magnet racers who are often highly critical and dismissive toward magnet car racers and can make them feel like second-class citizens in the slot car world. It’s important to understand that zealots on both sides of this issue are a small minority and you should not let their comments keep you from enjoying the hobby in whatever way you want to.
A typical slot car chassis with the magnet mounted just aft of the motor. An alternative
snap-in magnet mounting is provided just forward of the motor.
There are literally thousands of different 1:32 scale ready-to-run cars on the market, as well as a much smaller but growing selection of 1:24 scale cars. All the manufacturers’ conventional (non-digital) cars will run on all the different conventional track systems with no more than minor changes, usually involving trimming the guides on some to fit shallower slots on other manufacturers’ track systems. In some cases tire and magnet changes also help cars adapt from one track surface to another. In general, these changes are easy and inexpensive, allowing you to use a vast array of cars successfully with whatever track system you choose. In the same way, all the different brands of 1:24 scale RTR and kit cars will run on Carrera track and would run on the other track systems if they were wide enough.
One group of cars deserves special mention here. Scalextric’s “Super-resistant” or “High-impact” cars are the best thing that has happened to the slot car hobby in many years. They are simple, light, and very durable, with a one-piece body, no windows, and no interior. The windows are painted onto the body shell. They are simple, inexpensive, fast, very good handling, easy to drive, and extremely durable under the harshest conditions slot cars are subjected to. This makes them perfect cars for beginners and children, and since their introduction they have given more people a fun and successful introduction to slot car racing than any other cars on the market. If you are buying a first race set for yourself or your children you can’t do better than a Scalextric set equipped with these cars. Even if you decide on a different manufacturer’s track system you will do yourself a favor by picking up a couple of these cars to learn with.
Scalextric high-impact (super-resistant) cars. L to R: Porsche Boxster, Ferrari F430, Audi TT, Porsche 997.
Digital car compatibility is more complex and expensive because none of the available digital systems are compatible with each other. Just about any car can be made to run on any digital track system, but it requires installing the digital chip for that system in each car you want to run on it. That can cost as much as $25 per car and usually requires soldering of wires and some degree of fabrication to mount the chip securely. Other than that, however, the only real constraint on adapting any car to any digital system is the availability of space for the chip module inside the car, and for most cars with most chips this is not a significant problem. One thing that helps is that some of the manufacturers have produced their respective chips in different shapes to fit differently shaped spaces. The one digital module that is less universally adaptable is SCX’s, as mentioned elsewhere in this article, but that is only because of its size and the necessity of locating it in a position in which many cars simply do not have enough space for it.
As we said earlier, the race sets, with a few exceptions, come with everything in the box that you need to begin racing and having fun. However, there are some items you may want to purchase along with your initial set, or soon after, that will make the racing more fun and competitive.
Borders for all the turns: The purpose of track borders is to give the car on the outside lane as much room as the one on the inside lane to hang the tail out In the corners without putting a wheel off the edge and deslotting. This allows both cars to race equally hard through the corners and helps equalize the lanes for closer racing. Many sets come with borders for some but not all of the turns. A few packages of borders, enough for all the turns on your layout, will be money well spent. You should also add straight borders for a section or two following the exit from each turn and inside borders on any turn immediately following a turn in the opposite direction.
An extra power supply: As mentioned above, one power pack for both lanes is just a little light on amperage for two cars. All the track systems make installing a second one to power each lane separately a simple plug-and-play operation, and the extra amperage makes the cars easier to drive and the racing closer, as well as allowing for some performance upgrades to the cars later on. Adding a second power pack also gives you a fallback capability for keeping your track running. If one power pack should happen to fail someday, you can still finish the race by switching back to single-pack operation with the remaining one.
Race set power packs; L to R: Carrera, Scalextric, SCX Digital.
Aftermarket controllers: The controllers that come in race sets generally have too much resistance for the cars. They have 60 to 70-ohm resistors, but you would have improved control with 45-ohm controllers. When you start hopping up your cars with stronger motors and magnets you may even want to go to a 25-ohm controller or to a solid-state electronic controller that provides optimum control over a range equal to 25 to 60 ohms. In addition, race set controllers are not repairable; you simply throw them away if they fail or get broken, though they are generally inexpensive to replace. Aftermarket controllers from Parma or Professor Motor are fully repairable with a complete selection of parts available if needed. These controllers are a good investment in long-term satisfaction with the hobby.
Aftermarket controllers from Parma (L) and Professor Motor.
Spare guides and braid: These are usually the only parts of your cars that will need to be replaced for quite some time. A package of each, in addition to the ones usually provided in the race set, will come in handy.
Light plastic-compatible oil: Before you run the cars you need to put a tiny drop of oil in each axle and motor shaft bushing. If you don’t already have one you should purchase a pinpoint oiler with your set.
Small Phillips screwdriver: For most repairs this is the only tool you will need, just to remove the screws that fasten the body to the chassis. Once the body is off everything is accessible and snaps on and off.
Sandpaper: Use a piece of ordinary sandpaper, about 150 grit, available almost anywhere, to sand the rear tires on your cars. This trues the tires and ensures that their entire width is making contact with the track. This is the most effective and inexpensive performance improvement you can do to your cars. To see how this is done go to: http://www.electricdreams.com/slotcar-news/tech-news/128/.
Aftermarket tires: If your cars don’t get the grip level you want with sanded stock tires you can increase traction with a pair of slip-on silicone or rubber tires in a grippier compound from Indy Grips, Maxxtrac, Ortmann, or Slot It. See these manufacturers’ listings on our web site to find the tires that fit your cars. Most aftermarket tires for 1:32 scale cars are about $5 per pair.
Your initial choice of race set and track system is vitally important because more than anything else it will shape your experience with the hobby for years to come. It’s worth taking all the time you need to compare the different systems and choose the one that best suits you. The information in this article is a good start toward making your choice, but you will almost certainly have additional questions. Our experts will be glad to give you all the information and advice you need. You can reach them by e-mailing our technical department at firstname.lastname@example.org