Flat tracks are easier to build than those with "lifted" or "banked" turns. A flat track can be constructed directly on top of a pre-built table with the slots routed directly into the top surface. Another method (more costly, but sturdier) is to build the table with a ½" to ¾" plywood top, then cut out, screw down and rout a separate racing surface of MDF (medium-density fiberboard). This adds considerable overall strength to the layout. What determines your decision will be the amount of use the track will get during its lifetime. Commercial tracks need to be much sturdier and heavier because people lean against them and some unknowingly will try to get up and walk across the top surface. This should NEVER be permitted under ANY circumstances because such actions can lead to costly lawsuits should someone slip and fall.

Slot tracks built in the 1960’s by AlTech, American Model Raceways and Stan Engleman in the were extremely heavy-duty. The American tracks had ultra-smooth Formica sides in different colors, depending upon the design. The 150’ "Imperial" Red track had red Formica; the 100’ "Monarch" had orange sides, etc. That’s why you often hear the term "Blue King" to describe the very popular 155’ design preferred by most professional drivers in the world today. The American tracks also had ¾" solid plywood BOTTOMS to which the legs were fastened. The original American Model Raceways tracks had racing surfaces made from rather rough, porous particleboard. Each section was "braided" with thin, narrow (3/16") copper braid.

Once the track was assembled, the sections were hooked together with thin-gauge wire through a series of screw-type bussbars. The power was supplied to the lanes using old style transformers, which converted AC current to DC. Seldom was there sufficient power available for all eight lanes if the race consisted of a car on all eight lanes. What usually happened when a car deslotted was a "surge" effect which caused other cars - especially those in the curves - to get an extra "boost" of power, causing them to deslot as well.

A track that was priced around $10,000 in the 1960’s would cost four times that amount if the same construction methods were used today. Thankfully, modern tracks are a lot lighter, portable, and much smoother than the first commercial layouts in this country.

By the 1970’s, better track construction methods were developed by Hasse Nilsson and others. More and more places were replacing the old track wiring with heavy-duty wiring sometimes as large as 10 gauge. Track owners began to install large, mega-amperage storage batteries in order to supply the needed power as slot car motors became better and faster.

Modern slot car motors are assembled to much more rigid standards than the motors we used in those early days, most of which came from the Orient. There has been talk in some areas of the U.S. to do away with storage batteries. Due to the constant maintenance required, but batteries are known to give off fumes and should probably not be in a closed area within a building. We’re not advising anyone against the use of storage batteries. Just make certain they are always properly maintained on a regular basis.

The trend in many areas - especially those who specialize in the more affordable (often referred to as "low-end") classes - has been to install modern power supplies which supplies 13.2 to 13.8 volts of direct current at a constant 75 amps - more than sufficient for every class of racing below International 15, Group 27 and Open (Group 7). These classes are often referred to as "high-end" and raced by those for whom nothing but the ultimate in speed and handling will suffice. It IS possible to run high-end cars on power supplies, but because of the amperage draw requirements you would probably need a "bank" of these – perhaps even one per lane - in order for high-end cars to be driven without problems. At nearly $250 apiece, this can get expensive, so some raceways that specialize in high-end racing still prefer to use 1000 amp batteries.

Power supplies are available through EAGLE DISTRIBUTING in Enid, Oklahoma and ask for MARK WILLSON - 580-237-1699 or ERI DISTRIBUTING in Congers, New York and ask for MICHAEL DEL ROSARIO at 914-268-5090.

The modern commercial slot car track has three completely different sets of wires running under the track. If you’re going to "do it right," you will need a working knowledge of electrical wiring and be able to read a wiring diagram. The sets of wires are as follows:

  1. One set of nine wires (one ground and eight for each lane) have to be hooked up from the power source to each lane. In order to prevent any type of "surging" from occurring, power "taps" must also be run, connecting the layout so current "feeds" in both directions. The typical tap setup is every 50 feet - although for Group 27 and Opens, many places tap every 30 feet. If you have a track of, say, 100 feet (that’s the length of one lap per lane) you really need two, or even three taps. The best book ever produced on slot track wiring was written by PAUL PFEIFFER and his brother. It was produced and printed through the TOA in 1993. A copy can be purchased by sending a check or money order for $10 to ALPHA PRODUCTS and RACEWAY, 716 Northwest Way, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, 54935 or through the TOA Home Office.
  2. The second set of wires (again, nine in all) can be a much smaller gauge because they carry only minimal current. This set connects the eight lanes to a series of mechanical twist timers (or a computer with a program designed to "sell time") either of which is located behind the sales counter. The lanes on the track are turned on and off at this location. Each pair of wires (one common ground and the other color-coded) is connected to a separate relay under the track that turns that lane on and off. These wires should probably be the same as the lane colors - Red, White, Green, Orange, Blue, Yellow, Purple, and Black - although you can use 9-wire computer cable. Just be sure to mark them so they are connected from the same color timer on the one end to the same corresponding lane relay.
  3. The third set of wires must be connected from either the "dead" strip - a short section of track braid at least 8" in length - which is isolated from the other braid on the track. (See Illustration #12) Once a car crosses this "isolated" section, the laps are both counted and timed – most often by computer programs specifically made for slot car racing. There are several very excellent computerized race director programs on the market that can be inserted into used computers. Some will operate (somewhat slower) on a computer as small as a 286. Most in use today are 386, 486, or even 586 - considered better because they’re faster. The wires in this set hook up from the computer to the isolated section (or can be to a light bar). The computers used by most commercial raceways are also used with color monitors and a printer which prints race results after each event or heat within a race. You can call the TOA home office should you need information on the various race director programs that are available, or, you can also check with one of several slot car distributors around the country. They are more than happy to make recommendations to you based on your needs and budget.
  4. By now we’re sure you know that computers run the whole world! You don’t necessarily need a computer for the home or club set up. However, if you’re thinking about going commercial, it will be very important for you to have a good working knowledge of computers. I would never open ANY retail business without a computerized point-of-sale system to keep track of sales (through the use of bar-coding), inventory, placing orders, doing reports, and keeping everything on the up-and-up for your accountant and Uncle Sam’s tax man!
  5. The masses of wires - especially those which run from the track(s) to the sales counters should never be run across the floor or even under the carpet where people can walk or repeatedly step on them. Wiring should be run through PVC (plastic conduit), up from the sales area, across the ceiling and down through another PVC pipe to the track. Neatness counts!

On with more of the tasks involved in building a track… The first thing you’ll need to figure out is whether or not you’re going to build the track in the same place that it will ultimately be set up and played upon. If you do, be aware that you’re about to make one of the nastiest messes you’ve ever seen! (Ever been in a saw mill?) We heartily recommend you try to find someplace else to build and make the mess - such as an empty warehouse - then bring it to the new building where your raceway will be.

If that is impossible, do not - repeat DO NOT put ANYTHING else in the building until AFTER all the construction and mess making is complete! If you do, you’ll be cleaning up for an extra month, just wiping dust from everything.