Scalextric's recent adoption of Bluetooth technology in its slot racing systems showed that the home sport still has some technological chops. It also proved that slot racing, which hit its popular peak under family Christmas trees more than a half-century ago, is alive and well.
We present photos depicting the history of slot racing and the gradual technical evolution of its products. From the clunky hobby cars of the early 1900s to the smartphone-enabled toys of today, we offer a brief look at the ultimate basement sport.
Click on the slot cars below to start the slideshow.
A slot car racing system from Scalextric pits a scale model of a 1995 Jaguar XJ220 against a Ferrari F40. (Source: Scalextric)
@Murray: Yes even though technology has come a long way there is no other best solution than this computer systems solution which we have right now. Maybe in the future there will be but not right now.
Thanks for the recollections, manikmekanik. It's amazing to hear about engineers who improved on the already-great sport of slot racing. Only an engineer could have found a way to use a bowling machine scoreboard as a lap counter! Hang in there.
I first discovered slot racing at Tom Thumb hobbies in 1966, I was 6 y/o and my dad was a grad student at Northwestern. My favorite car was the Batmobile, (yes, I still have it!), and a roll of quarters was the best gift for a slot racer. As an adult, (20 years later), I purchased, restored and updated an antique American Raceways Red Imperial 8-lane 1/24 scale Superspeedway, and opened my own slot car raceway business in Mchenry, IL. My dad donated his electronic expertise, creating lap counting and timing systems, our designs pioneered systems still in use today. I also built a 1/24 scale Dragaway, with LED/LSD timing system run by proprietary, wirewound 8-bit card installed in a Tandy 1000SX PC, (also from Dad), rivaling precision of any full scale dragstrip of the time. My fastest run was 108.23 MPH in 55ft. I hosted local, regional, and national races. My racers and I created a stock car racing class which morphed into a national racing class in the late 90's. My passion was for specialty cars, Rat Fink, Beer Wagon, Lil' Red Wagon, and Wheelie cars. Still have them, too!
I have kept the track in storage for 20 years, intending to re-open it as my retirement hobby/business. It's all wood layout size is 48' x 17' featuring 40' straightaway, high-bank 190 degree curve, flat & graded curves, (1-90, 2-160, 2-180), a bridge and D-shaped donut curve. The original lap counter is a re-purposed shuffle-bowling machine score display, an electro-mechanical wonder of it's day, with (8) lighted rotary 2" double-digit displays. The original lane timer/swtich panels sound like egg timers, dinging when the lane time runs out. It can be run from 12V batteries, or any DC source. Incorporating lane-change, pit stop and bluetooth would be the next-gen father-n-son project for the 21st century!
I'm glad my dad forwarded me this article, the track was our best father-n-son project ever, and we had some great ones! Last summer I was diagnosed with head/neck cancer, and I have decided I must sell the track, (depicted in my profile photo), in order for another to enjoy the thrill of victory, with his son(s).
Being from North Carolina, the birthplace of NASCAR, we did slot cars a little differently. Each model was a replica (Ford, Chevrolet, Plymouth) and painted to look like a real NASCAR race car. If memory serves me correctly, they were 1/24 scale.
The track had 16 lanes and shaped like Daytona Motor Speedway. Don't remember the scale but lengthwise it filled a room about 40' long and 20' wide. Passing could be done anywhere on the track, except the long backstretch where the groves were placed close together.
We had scheduled race times, usually every Saturday night, with each race being several hundred laps. Just like the 'big boys' we held qualifying time trials. Of course we could not 'take the green flag' in the typical two row style, but the fastest qualifier chose which of the 16 lanes which he/she wanted to use....and so on until the slowest qualifier had to take whatever was left!
Most slot car tracks were powered with a battery connected to a battery charger, so each car would get maximum voltage and current. Not ours. It used the charger only. Some cars were 'amp hogs' so our goal was to make our car go fast on less voltage and less amps.
When a wreck happened, the 'race promoter' would flip a switch that disconnected all power from the track, which allowed the cars, not involved in the wreck to coast to a stop and that would be their re-start position. Obviously, we did everything we could to reduce 'coasting' friction.
I was about 24 at that time. It's now 50 years later...but if the opportunity presented itself, I would do it again!
Slot Car racing never left! It just got less popular. Any resurgance is due to people like the commenters on this article remembering their youth. The good news is you can still do it, and not only re-live the "Good Times" but pass them on to your children and grand children. Slot car racing is alive and well at at SpeedZoneNJ.com. They do weekly racing, host regional events, and national events, like the USRA Div II nationals coming in April 2015.
It's a great lession in reallity as there is no re-set button! You come off you gotta put your car back on the track. Kids of all ages need to get out of the basement and get involved in real life activities. Slot car racing is a lot of fun and has plenty of life lessions that can be learned. Pass it on.
The slot car or slot racing hobby today is largely divided into home/club and commercial sections.
Club/home racing is primarily in the 1/32 and HO scales, while commercial slot racing is overwhelmingly 1/24 scale.
While the number of 1/24 scale commercial raceways is a fraction of what it was in the heyday of the '60s, they still exist, though almost exclusively in the US.
The newest genre of 1/24 slot cars is Retro racing, where cars and chassis are being scratchbuilt from kits and raw materials as was commonly done in the late '60s and the '70s, and where, unlike much of the 1/24 segment, a significant scale appearance is mandated. The explosion of interest in Retro slot racing has generate a resurgence in the craftsmanship aspect, something largely lacking in the 1/32 and HO scale arenas.
One excellent resource for information on the overall slot car hobby, but especially for the almost ten year old Retro segment, is the forum slotblog.net.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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