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The Ultimate Guide to Slot Car Racing

Slot cars were an incredibly popular toy in the 1960s, and for good reason — they bore a striking likeness to the vehicles they were based on, and their size allowed any user to participate in racing. While their popularity began tapering off in the late '60s, they have by no means faded away. This sport has made a triumphant comeback in recent years as older generations return to the pastime and younger generations discover it for the first time.
In this guide, we'll take you through the history of slot car drag racing, including its origins, golden age, and the recent resurgence in popularity.

What Is Slot Car Racing?

Slot cars are miniature scaled automobiles powered by small electric motors. They're raced on a track that typically consists of snap-together plastic and features a groove for each car lane. The slot car comes with a tiny blade or pin that extends out from under the car and fits into the groove. The contact brushes pick up electricity from the rails on the track and send it to the motor, which powers the car. The guide pin keeps the slot car on the track.
The racer controls the vehicle with a hand-held controller equipped with a plunger. The further down you press the plunger, the faster the slot car will travel. While slot cars are confined to a track and their direction is not controllable, they do require a certain degree of driving skills, which largely comes down to using your instinct and getting a good feel of the track.
One of the main challenges of slot car racing is keeping the car from coming out of the slot. You can't drive a slot car at top speed along the entire track, as doing so will cause it to fly off when going around the corners. Drivers must therefore slow down around the corners and accelerate within the straight sections.
Slot car track types vary widely and can be as simple or elaborate as you desire. They range from tiny homemade tracks in basements to complex replicas of actual speedways that even include faux buildings, greenery and attendees.

How does slot car work?

A slot car is a miniature scaled automobile that is powered by a small electric motor. Scales include: 1/28, 1/24, 1/32, 1/42 and 1/64 or HO. The cars are raced on a track that has a groove for each vehicle lane, and the slot car has a small pin or blade that extends from the bottom and into the groove.  The contacts for the electricity are picked up by the swiveling blade, or “guide flag” on the slot car, which provides the power to run around the track. The vehicle is controlled by a hand-held speed controller that filters in the voltage amount; the more that the trigger is pressed, the faster the car can go. The two types of controllers that are used are called analog and electric controllers. Analog slot car controllers allow the car to accelerate by distributing the desired amount of voltage to the car. Electronic controllers, unlike analog controllers, do not use the variable resistance method for power delivery, but instead use an electronic circuit to dispense the correct amount of voltage to the car. Because electric controllers offer improved control and the ability to command a wide array of cars, this type of controller is most recommended for a beginner.

The Early History Of Slot Car Racing

Slot car history goes back to 1912 when the Lionel Train Company introduced the first models as an accessory for model train sets. Their model cars were similar to their trains in that they ran on a pair of elevated platforms with an electrified track in a little trench down the center.
The two models were 1:24 scale cars and measured roughly 8 inches in length. The bottoms of the cars featured conductors that conformed to the slot and powered the tiny motor, guiding the cars on their journey around the track.
While these models sold fairly quickly, World War I caused European sales to decline dramatically, at which point the Lionel Train Company decided to halt production and focus on selling its more popular train sets.
Over the following decades, several companies and amateur model builders throughout the United States and Europe made toy cars that ran on diesel, wind-up clockwork mechanisms and rubber bands. When did slot car racing become popular? It wasn't until the 1950s that electric cars become common — when racers in Britain brought electric slot cars into popularity, thanks to their noiseless and sustainable propulsion method.
Once again, slot cars served as an accessory to toy trains. This means they conformed to OO scale, or 1:76, which was the most popular size for toy trains. This made these new cars roughly 2 inches in length and, like the 1912 Lionel models, they ran in slots. Racers could also adjust the cars' speed using a push-button hand-held controller.

The Golden Age

Due to Aurora capitalizing on the appeal of slot car racing, the years 1961 to 1966 are considered the golden age for slot cars. The Wall Street Journal estimated the worth of the slot car market in 1963 to be around $100 million. Across the U.S., there were approximately 3,000 commercial slot car tracks built in corner stores and hobby shops, with various slot car track types. There were also about 200 in Europe.
Children could visit a raceway in their area and, for about $2 an hour, race on tracks that featured fun turns, twists and up to eight lanes. The company American Model Car Raceways even made a business out of traveling around the country to construct tracks, with their longest track measuring 220 feet.

Competitive Slot Car Racing Today

Is slot racing back in style? Competitive slot car racing is still alive and well today, which is perhaps most evident by the 180 public raceways still existing in the United States and Canada. Other things that reflect the continued popularity of racing and collecting slot cars include:
Competitive organizations: Several organizations for competitive slot racing still exist today, including the International Slot Racing Association (ISRA) and the British Slot Car Racing Association (BSCRA).
Publications: Many slot car-themed magazines are still available online and in hard copy. Notable examples include Model Car Racingand Speedway Illustrated.
Kits: Numerous slot car kits are available for recreational use. Many feature pop culture references and beloved characters like the Mario Brothers, Lightning McQueen and the franchise characters detailed earlier.
Improvements in building materials: A lot of time has passed since the golden age of slot car racing and slot cars of the '70s, meaning there have been many advancements in building materials. These modifications enable the tracks to join and stay together more easily. This makes for a more consistent racing experience.
However, the above things represent just a small part of today's slot racing culture. Most slot racing activities take place in homes, clubs and, of course, online.
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