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How Slot Car Racing Works


Slot Car Components
Some slot cars have a significant level of detail.
Some slot cars have a significant level of detail.
©­iStockphoto.com/Christine Glade

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Slot cars come in a wide variety of sizes, but the most traditional and popular slot car size is the 1:32 scale. This scale means that for every 1-inch (2.54 centimeters) on the slot car there are 32 inches (81.28 centimeters) on a full size automobile. Other scale sizes include 1:24, 1:43, 1:64 and HO. The HO scale is a less-precise comparison measurement than the other scales, and is usually considered more of a toy for kids. The HO stands for half of the zero scale. The "0 scale" is the traditional size of model trains, which then became the comparison size for the HO scale slot cars.

Since the 1:32 scale is most commonly used as the scale of choice for hobbyists and slot car racers, let's take closer look at the breakdown of some basic elements of a 1:32 slot car:

The body (or shell) is a solid molded plastic piece that fits over the chassis of the car. As with real cars, the weight of the body and the distribution of that weight are a consideration in building a performance slot car. An interior section is usually attached to the body as well. Many cars even have a detailed driver figure, and most interiors tend to be only half the height of the body in order to leave room for the motor and other driveline components.

An electric motor can be placed in the middle, front or rear of the car. Motors are rated in revolutions per minute (RPM) or by their speed, which is determined by the amount of voltage the motor receives.

Copper or steel braids (or braided wires) provide power to the car by making contact with the rails on the track.

A guide (or guide flag) is the plastic piece under the chassis that guides the car along the slot in the track surface. The guide pivots in the slot and also holds the braids.

Gears (or gear sets) affect the slot car's speed and acceleration. Standard gears, such as the small gear attached to the motor (called the pinion) can be upgraded with aftermarket parts to increase performance.

Magnets are placed in the front and rear of the slot car to provide downforce on the vehicle to ensure that it doesn't come off of the track. Some slot car enthusiasts prefer to race without magnets and may choose to add lead weights to their car or simply race with no weights or magnets at all.

Some modern slot cars even have a microchip that allows them to operate on the same track as another car or to change to a different lane at pre-determined points on the track.

Almost all of the components of a slot car can be upgraded, refined, tweaked and improved, but without a track a slot car is nothing more than a somewhat realistic car model. Up next, we'll take a look at how slot car tracks are constructed and how they provide power to these miniature race cars.