But What Exactly IS A Slot Car???
A slot car is a miniature replica of a full-size automobile or race car which is driven on race tracks or drag strips every weekend during the spring, summer and fall. With slot car racing there is never a time when play is halted because it is popular year-round. You do not have to be outdoors getting sunburned. Slot car racing doesnt stop when it rains, when the weather is scorchingly hot, or when its windy, cold, or if theres snow on the ground. The enthusiasts enjoy the comfort of nice, clean environments, heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. You can race your cars for a couple of hours cheaper than the purchase price of a theater ticket and have a lot more fun!
Slot cars are powered by small electric motors which are run by direct current (DC) power supplies and/or storage batteries, similar to what is in a full-size car. The car "follows" a groove (or slot) which has been cut into the track or table surface with a router. Slot car racing surfaces can be set up with as few as two or more "lanes" with the typical commercial track having up to eight lanes per track layout. On either side of the "slot" are "positive" and "negative" pick-up contacts which are made from either copper tape or stranded "braid" which is made from the copper shielding used in many electrical cables and glued into place.
Attached to the front of the car is a plastic "shoe" or guide "flag" on which are affixed two more strips of this same type of braid. This "flag" swivels in both directions and follows the slot in the track. Two small wires are soldered between the guide flag braid and the positive and negative terminals on the small motor. The car is "driven" by the participant with the use of a "hand control" which has been hooked to the drivers station panel. The "racer" actually "drives" the miniature car in much the same manner as driving a "real" car. By pulling on the "trigger" of the controller, current passes from the track power source through a set of relays, through the braid on the track and the car, to the motor, and through the resistor in the hand unit. The further the trigger is depressed, the quicker the car will run. Slot cars also have "brakes" but not in the sense of your big car.
Braking occurs by letting completely off the trigger of the controller, allowing it to go to the "off" position. Because the small electric DC motors have "north" and "south" pole magnets in which the armature spins, letting off the controller completely makes the motor act like a generator and try to (although it doesnt) "back up." This electrical action causes the car to stop very, very quickly. As with any hobby or sport, this, too requires practice to become good at it. Drive too fast into a corner and the car will "de slot" - or come out of your groove. Drive too slowly and everyone else on the track will be passing you.
The truly exciting part about slot car racing is that it is absolutely the worlds fastest motor sport! There has never been, nor will there ever be, a motor sport as fast as slot car racing! Imagine a full-size car capable of moving around a race track in excess of 2400 miles per hour! In slot racing, your "scale" speed can actually be that fast! No slot cars are NOT your run-of-the-mill "street" machine, and their scale speed is faster than Dale Earnhardts #3 ever thought of going at Darlington or Daytona.
1/24 scale Dragsters of today routinely travel a scale (55) quarter mile layout in less than ½ second - over 120 mph actual speed! Of course no one starts at this level unless they have more money than they know what to do with and no where else to spend it! But rest easy you can get started in this for less money than virtually any other hobby you can name. You can get virtually everything you need and be racing immediately for less than the cost of one pair of Nikes!
Visit any commercial raceway in the United States and many parts of the world today, including South America, Canada, the Caribbean, Japan, Australia, and dozens of European countries and youll find slot car tracks. Granted, these places are not nearly so plentiful as they were in the 1960s and 70s when rent was much more affordable than it is today. The good news is that the prices for equipment, track rental fees, racing, and assorted components is far less than the rise in prices of all other forms of entertainment since the time slot car racing was introduced to the United States in the 1940s.