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Special Track Layouts For Specific Purposes

December 3, 2010 by  
Filed under For Beginners, Slot Car Tech News

Not everybody who sets out to build a slot car racing layout wants to duplicate a specific life-sized track in miniature.  Many layout builders have  limitations on the size or shape of the available space and want to maximize lap length within that space.  Others want to build a track with certain racing characteristics regardless of what the course ends up looking like.  Still others are looking for a track design suitable for public participation events, one that is easy to learn to drive and minimizes crashing and car damage.  In the course of advising people on building layouts of various kinds we have come up with a library of track designs adapted for various purposes and in this article we will publish the best of them.

Click on track drawings to see larger images with part numbers.

4×8 Maximizer

4x8Maximizer in Scalextric Sport track

The most basic layout configuration is one using a 4×8 sheet of plywood.  We are frequently asked for a track plan that gets the longest lap length into that space. This is the best 4×8 design we have developed over the years.    It uses all 4 of the curve radii available from Scalextric.   Its average lane length is  just over 30 feet.   This circuit makes an excellent starter layout for beginners of all ages and its track components can all be used in expanding to a larger configuration.

4x8 Maximizer showing possible scenery arrangement

The plan even allows room for some buildings and other scenery touches to increase play value for children and add a more realistic and visually appealing look to the overall layout.  This is a track you can have fun with even if you never expand it beyond this configuration.  Remember also that you can build this layout using the Scalextric Sport Digital system and run up to 6 cars on it, though we think 4 cars might be a more manageable maximum for a layout of this size.

5×9 Maximizers

5x9 Maximizer inScalextric Sport track

Upsizing from a 4×8 sheet of plywood to a 5×9 ping-pong table sheet adds just enough table area to let you get a lot more track into the plan.  This first 5×9 plan is simply the 4×8 Maximizer spread out a bit and lengthened slightly to give a more open design with more room for scenery.    The lap length increases slightly to just over 34 feet.

5x9 Maximizer 2 in Scalextric Sport track

This 5×9 plan takes full advantage of the extra foot of space in each dimension to increase the average lane length to  39 feet.  This would make a good digital track, also.

5x9 Maximizer with overpass in Scalextric Sport track

We’re not great fans of overpasses in slot car layouts due to the sight line and turn marshaling access problems they can cause, but to some hobbyists the equal lane lengths provided by an overpass are very important.  So, here is a 5×9 layout that uses an overpass to achieve equal lane lengths of 40.23 feet.  that’s only about a foot more lane length than the 5×9 Maximizer 2 without overpass above, but it does equalize the lane lengths.  One caveat:  This layout makes fairly extensive use of Radius 1 curves, which makes it more of a track for experts than beginners. We have found over time that beginners and children typically find Rad 1 curves difficult and frustrating, so we try to use them as sparingly as possible, preferably not at all on track plans we publish for the general public.

2010 Race Of Champions track

2010 Race of Champions track in Scalextric Sport track

One of the inherent drawbacks of slot car layouts is that none of them, or very few, ever reach the scale dimensions of a life-sized track.  Even a small road course like Lime Rock, at 1.5 miles, would be 247.5 feet long in 1/32 scale.  This track, however, may actually come pretty close to matching the scale dimensions of its life-sized prototype.

If you’re not familiar with the Race of Champions, it’ an annual event that brings together top-level drivers from major racing series, including Formula One, sports car racing, pro rallying, and even NASCAR to compete two at a time on a course laid out in an enclosed stadium.  The 2010 event was held in a stadium in Dusseldorf, Germany.  We don’t know the length of the course, but at 67 feet our Scalextric Sport model of it scales out to 2144 feet, a little less than half a mile.  That ought to be somewhere close to what can be laid out in a soccer stadium.

The ROC race procedure has the cars starting out from a start/finish line that spans both the inner and outer lops of the track, one on each loop, effectively placing them half a lap apart.  In completing one lap of the course each car will cross the extended start/finish line twice.  A 4-lane lap counter/ timer system will serve to time and count laps with this kind of arrangement, bearing in mind that each car will count twice per lap.  Or, you can have the timing and scoring system counting just on the outer loop and race on this course like any other 2-lane track.  This layout would make a good digital track with ample passing opportunities.  It probably would accommodate the full 6-car field possible with Scalextric’s digital system.  Its 7.5×14.5-foot size makes it fairly compact while leaving lots of room for scenery whether you approach it as a scale stadium-sized track or as a compressed version of a much larger road course.

16×5-foot 4-lane demo track

16x5-foot public demonstration layout in Scalextric Sport track

Another type of track we get inquiries about is one suitable for public participation events such as parties, trade shows, fairs, fund-raisers, school carnivals, church events, and public events of all kinds.  Such a track needs to be easy for a complete beginner to learn to drive and should be designed to be as easy as possible on the cars, minimizing as much as possible both the incidence and consequences of the very frequent crashes that occur at public events.

Members of the Electric Dream Team have done countless events of this kind, and the layout pictured above is one that has served very effectively for several years.  It sets up on four 8-foot by 2.5-foot office tables, a table type available almost anywhere either on-site or for rent. The average lane length is about 36.5 feet, enough to look impressive to non-hobbyists but compact enough for many types of venues.  Al the components to assemble and operate the layout can be carried in 4 or 5 plastic totes and with practice two people can set up the whole thing in not much more than half an hour and take it down in even less time.  This layout uses only Radius 2 and 3 curves, simplifying assembly.

The longest straight (really the only significant straight) has curves leading into and out of it which are configured to slow down the cars enough to mitigate end-of-straightaway crashes.  The rest of the circuit is technical enough to keep the speeds down.  When used with Scalextric super-resistant cars this track design keeps car attrition to a very manageable level.  We have found that most people, even children as young a six, can get the hang of driving this track with only a minute or two of practice, often by simply finding a constant speed at which the car will go around the entire track, yet it is challenging enough that when used by more skilled racers it is still lots of fun.  The layout works equally well in either direction.  Placing  the drivers’ positions along one side of the table and the start/finish line on the other makes directing the racing more efficient because the race director is always facing the drivers and is in the best location to direct their participation.

We will be adding more track layouts to this article as time goes on.  Check back frequently to see new track plans .

If you have questions or comments about anything in this article please send them to support@electricdreams.com.

Need more information about race sets and building track layouts?  Check these articles:

Information for First-Time Race Set Shoppers

Comparing Race Sets and Track Systems

Big Track, Low Cost

Track Power Basics

Scalextric Sport Track: Better Continuity For Better Racing

Famous North American Racing Circuits In Miniature

Conventional Or Digital – Which Is Best For You?

Slot car racing has been around sine the 1950s in its original form, the “conventional” or “analog”  version in which each car runs in its own lane.  Now, however, the new digital version, in which cars can change lanes to overtake and pass, is a rapidly growing part of the hobby.  As a result, there are more choices than ever for the beginning racer.  Which is best for you or for that person you are buying a race set as a gift for?  Here is some information that will help you decide.
In conventional slot car racing each car races in a single lane, and the number of cars that can be raced at one time equals the number of lanes. Most home racing layouts have 2 or 4 lanes, though up to 8 lanes are possible if you have the space. Each driver races in only one lane, but the race can be divided into heats with the drivers switching lanes between heats to give each driver equal time on each lane. This cancels out any differences between lanes for all the drivers.

4 conventional cars

Four conventional 1/32 scale slot cars line up to race on a 4-lane track.

Digital, the newest form of model car racing, allows as many as 6 cars, or in some cases 8, to race on a 2-lane track. Electronic circuitry in the cars and controllers allows each driver to have full control over his own car. Any or all of the cars can be racing in either lane at any given time, and lane change track sections placed at various locations around the circuit allow drivers to change lanes to overtake and pass or to take the fastest line for an entire lap.

Cars on digital track

Two SCX digital NASCARs race nose to tail while a third changes lanes to pass.
Which of the two you choose depends on a number of factors that will be different for each person. Here is a guide to help you sort them out:
Space is the first factor to take into account.  Because you can have multiple drivers on only a two-lane track a digital layout can be more compact for the same number of drivers. This can be very helpful if you have only a small space in which to build your layout.
Cost is another.  Digital race sets and cars are more expensive than conventional ones because of the cost of the electronics involved. If you adapt cars from various manufacturers to run on your digital track you have to install the required digital chip in each one.  This can cost up to $20 per car. However, because you only need a 2-lane track to accommodate 4 or 6 cars and drivers you don’t need to buy as much track as you would need to build a 4 or 6-lane conventional track. This issue can go either way depending on how big a layout and how many cars you want to have.  If you want a long, challenging layout but don’t need or want many different cars you may well come out ahead with a digital system.  If you want to own and race many different cars from many manufacturers the cost of the digital chips adds up and may make conventional racing more cost-effective.
Complexity also comes into play. Conventional racing is simpler, as the driver only needs to control the car’s speed and doesn’t have to concern himself with making lane changes. Most people can pick up digital driving fairly readily, but small children, who have a way to go in developing coordination and attention span, may find conventional racing easier to master and less frustrating, resulting in a more successful initial experience with the hobby. Conventional cars and controllers are also simpler and more maintainable with fewer things that can go wrong and no need for cars to be programmed before running them. In general, however, digital systems have proven to have quite adequate reliability.

There is no theoretical limit to the size and lap length of either a conventional or a digital layout. However, in either case you need additional wiring to ensure uniform distribution of power to all parts of a circuit once the lap length rises above 30 feet or so. You can add additional power taps to your layout with snap-on wiring sets made by the race set manufacturers, so dealing with this issue is not difficult. Most digital tracks have another problem to consider, however. As lap length increases you will usually add more lane change sections. Both the cars and the lane-change gates are powered by a single power supply. Once you get above 4 or 5 lane change sections there will be a need for a track power upgrade providing more amperage to keep the electrical needs of the lane change gates from affecting the performance of the cars. An alternative is to rewire the system to power the lane change gates separately from the cars. This takes some skill and equipment for soldering. Cost-wise this is probably not much different from adding a larger power supply or powering each lane separately on a multi-lane conventional layout, a very common practice.

Digital chips

The digital chip module in a Scalextric (L.) and in an SCX car. The type of lane change activation, electric or mechanical, dictates the size, configuration, and constraints on the location of the module.
One manufacturer, SCX, powers its lane changers mechanically rather than electrically. This takes the number of lane change tracks in your layout entirely out of the power equation. This is great, but it’s bought at a price. The mechanical lane changers require each car to have a bulky activator located immediately aft of the guide post, between the car’s front wheels. This makes it difficult, and in many cases impossible to convert other manufacturers’ cars to the SCX system simply because of the space requirements inside the car. You can adapt almost any slot car to any digital system with enough skill, equipment, cost, and effort, but as a practical matter many users will be restricted to running only SCX cars on their SCX digital layout.
Scalextric, Ninco, and Carrera use the same track system for both conventional and digital racing, so you can readily convert your layout from one kind of operation to the other by removing all the special track sections and other components related to digital operation and replacing them with those needed for conventional racing, or vice-versa. The digital cars will run on a conventional track, though they may not have dynamic braking. With Scalextric, especially, cars are easy to convert from conventional to digital by installing the necessary digital chip. In some cases this is an entirely plug-and-play operation. This allows you to start with a simpler, lower-cost conventional system and transition at relatively moderate cost to digital later on. You can also convert a digital track to conventional if you find that digital racing is unsuitable for any reason. SCX, however, uses two entirely different track systems. Its digital track system has many good features, but converting from SCX conventional to digital or vice-versa means starting over from scratch.
One major drawback to digital racing, at least at present, is that none of the available digital systems are compatible with each other. You can’t run one manufacturer’s digital car on another’s digital track without converting it to the other manufacturer’s system by swapping the chip modules. This will require electrical soldering and often requires modifications to the car’s chassis, also. If you want to own and race a large number of cars from a wide range of manufacturers on a digital track you will be faced with the need to install the appropriate digital chip in each car at about $20 per installation. By contrast, any 1:32 scale RTR car will run on any manufacturer’s conventional track and power system with, at most, some minor trimming of the guide flag to adapt to a shallower slot. Cars may not always achieve optimum performance with another manufacturer’s power supply and controllers but they will run reasonably well. And, of course, cars from the many manufacturers who don’t make sets and track will run on any of the conventional track systems.
Both conventional and digital cars can be equipped with different tires, traction magnets, and even motors to increase their performance. Motor and magnet hopups cause the car to draw more amperage from the track and often require the track to be equipped with a higher-amperage power supply or separate power to each lane as well as aftermarket controllers with resistance values (or their solid-state equivalent) better suited to the needs of the cars. With a conventional system power upgrades are easy, often plug-and-play. Connection tracks, or power bases, often come with sockets for plugging in a power supply for each lane. A variety of high-quality aftermarket controllers that plug directly into the various manufacturers’ connection tracks is readily available for conventional systems. So far, however, there are no aftermarket upgrade controllers for digital systems, though that will undoubtedly change before long.
With digital systems the power demands of modified cars run up against the power demands of multiple lane change gates to make power system upgrades, especially the separate powering of the lane changers, even more necessary. None of the stock power systems that come with digital race sets will go very far with either before needing to be upgraded. Modified cars require power upgrades on conventional tracks, too, but most people who are not engaged in all-out organized competition can add plenty of performance to their cars without needing to go beyond a simple plug-and-play installation of one standard power supply per lane. On this last point you’ll get vehement disagreement from some posters on slot car bulletin boards. However, our long-term experience demonstrates that for most slot car hobbyists it’s more important to equalize their cars at a performance (and cost) level and set of driving characteristics they enjoy than to take every car to the outer limits of the performance envelope. This great majority of home slot car racers simply doesn’t need extreme power upgrades.

These are the basic issues that affect your choice between conventional and digital slot car racing. Both are great fun and each has its advantages and disadvantages. You may very well want further advice or information after reading this, and we invite you to call us at 310-858-8540. We’ll be glad to have one of our technical experts give you all the help you need in making the best choice for you.

Article Clarification:

In our last newsletter we published an article which included this statement:  “Both conventional and digital cars can be equipped with different tires, traction magnets, and even motors to increase their performance.”   This is true but requires some clarification.  Digital chips are limited in their ability to handle the increased current requirements of cars with high-performance motors and very strong magnets.  At some point a digital car modified in these ways will pull enough current through the chip to cause its failure.  Other kinds of performance upgrades, such as a change of gear ratio or the use of aftermarket tires of the same diameter as the car’s original tires, do not significantly affect current draw and therefore can be done safely. In many cases there is room for some level of motor or magnet upgrade to a digital car before chip failure happens, but purchasers of digital systems should understand that modifying digital cars for increased performance voids all warranties and is, therefore, done entirely at their own risk.

If you have a question or comment on this article please send it to support@electricdreams.com.

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