Slot car racing: A first-time buyer’s guide

Slot car racing track

Slot car racing is an exciting, interactive hobby for automobile fans and anyone who likes speed and competition. Slot cars make a great alternative to video games because they tap into similar skill sets—hand-eye coordination, risk-reward thinking, competition, manual dexterity—yet remain physical, i.e. hands-on, three-dimensional and face-to-face.

We carry two high quality slot car brands: Carrera, which tends to appeal to younger racers, and Scalextric Sport, which attracts an older audience and enthusiasts. In other words, Carrera is a little bit “toy,” while Scalextric is much more “hobby.” In this post, I’ll explain some of the features of each brand to help you make a better purchase.

Digital vs. analog

Both Carrera and Scalextric offer analog and digital formats. With an analog set—the sort that has been around for half a century—you can only race as many cars as you have lanes. Your controller adjusts the current sent to the track lane, which speeds up and slows down the car in that particular lane. With a digital setup, the controller is programmed to control the car itself.  Digital sets have crossover sections that allow you to switch from lane to lane for passing, blocking, and overtaking. These tracks also support more cars, so that three or four (with some sets, up to six) people can race at the same time.  I’ll come back to that a little later.

3 Questions to Help Decide What's Right for You

There are a few things to consider up front if you’re looking at a slot car set:

  1. How old are your racers? I do not recommend slot-car racing for very young children. Ideally, a child should be eight or older, and certainly no younger than six or seven. Eight might even be pushing it for the more technical demands of an advanced Scalextric set.

    You need a good deal of skill and finesse to navigate the track, especially around turns, and practice is absolutely necessary. You can’t simply haul back on the throttle and expect the cars to zoom around flawlessly. They will hop out of the slot and skitter away. Of course, that’s part of the fun. If there were no skill involved, you would get bored pretty quickly. For the most part, a child younger than 8 simply lacks the dexterity and coordination to grasp the finer points of adjusting speed to stay on track, and may not have the patience to put in the necessary practice.

  1. Where will you put your track? The three-dimensional, hands-on, physicality of slot racing is great, but this does mean that you need space to dedicate to your layout. Even the smallest tracks are several feet across. You don’t want it in the middle of the living room where it will get stepped over—or on!—bumped, full of cookie crumbs and pet hair. The track pieces are generally pretty flexible and robust, and are designed to withstand a trodding or two, but they aren’t indestructible.

  1. How often will you be racing? It's not a good idea to set up the track, race a few laps, and then pack it away again. The tracks are designed to be assembled and disassembled without too much effort, but only infrequently. Pulling track pieces apart is usually a little tougher than clipping them together, and can require a good deal of force. You want to make sure that you tug evenly so you don’t snap off the connector tabs that hold them together. Repeated assembly and disassembly will also eventually wear and loosen the connectors, when what you want is a snug fit.

    Your best option is to set up the track in a place where it can be left out, ideally on a table or platform of some sort. Take it apart only when you want to add to or modify the layout.

Carrera

Carrera slot car racing kit

Carrera has two product lines: GO!!! (analog) and Digital 143. Both are 1:43 scale, so a little on the smaller side. Carrera GO!!! is a perfect starter line. With fun themes like Mario Kart, and Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3, and exciting “action” features like loops, jumps, elevated banks that run up walls, the tracks are ideal for children around eight years old. Sets and accessories are modestly priced, too.

Digital 143

Digital 143 is more advanced, and pricier. Digital cars, for instance, are about double the cost of analog. However, if this is the first track, starting with a digital set can be a good investment, because upgrading from analog to digital requires a bunch of new equipment, including a new powerbase, new cars, and some lane-changing track. The good news is that standard track pieces are universal, so the majority of a GO!!! setup will be ready to go should you decide to upgrade to Digital 143.

The benefit of Carrera’s digital sets is that it supports up to three cars at once and allows for lane switching. Lane changes are done by holding a button on the controller before reaching a special crossover track.  For the Digital 143 line, Carrera makes crossover tracks red (or green on the MarioKart set) rather than black so you can identify them easily. Crossover tracks can be single (right-to-left, left-to-right), or double (“X”-shaped).

Carrera slot car digital 143 racing kit

Scalextric

Our Scalextric sets are the better choice for hobbyists. Scalextric sets have bigger, more detailed cars (1:32 scale), some of which sport cool features like working lights and, in the case of James Bond’s Aston Martin from Goldfinger, ejector seats. They let you build bigger and more technically challenging track layouts, and offer bigger and better opportunities for customization and modification, especially with Scalextric’s digital sets.

There is even a dedicated community of Scalextric racing hobbyists, who conduct full-on tournament racing with rules and regulations. With this in mind, you’ll find that Scalextric tends toward more realism—you won’t find jumps and loops here—and more technical demands.

 A Note on Track

Scalextric makes a wide range of track pieces to customize your layout. Straight tracks come in a number of lengths and formats. Some of the unique pieces that are available include starter grids, crossovers for making figure-eights, side-swipes for bumping other racers, and single-lane tracks to run alongside pit lanes. There are borders and guardrails that clip along the side of just about any piece of track to help prevent you from jumping the track. Because the track is flexible, you can give some height to your layouts with elevation supports, banked curve supports, and elevated crossovers.

There are numerous options for curves, from lazy wide turns to harrowing hairpins, crossovers and side-swipes, letting you add a ton of variety and challenge to your set.

The track selector wheel demonstrates the range of curves available. You can find lots of support at scalextric.com/uk-en/, including a download for a Track Designer to help build your layout. It’s also very easy to find online forums and communities to get ideas for customizing your setup.

  

Scalextric Digital

One of the nice things about Scalextric is that the transition between analog and digital is pretty smooth. Upgrading an analog set will require a new power base, transformer, and some lane-changing track, but the cars are not hooked into one or the other exclusively. Analog cars will run on a digital set with a few button presses on the power base. Lane-changing will be disabled, obviously, but it’s nice to know that your old cars won’t be obsolete if you upgrade. You can do the opposite, too: a digital car will work on an analog set, should the need arise. Most of the analog cars we stock from Scalextric come “digital ready,” and can be upgraded to digital with the simple installation of a microchip. And yes, like Carrera, standard track is compatible between digital and analog; only lane-changing elements are exclusive to digital setups.  

Most digital sets from Scalextric come with a power base that supports up to four cars, and can do a few neat tricks like set the cars to run either clockwise or counterclockwise. Stepping up to the Advanced Six-Car Power Base brings a ton of features, like the ability to program various racing modes, set speed caps on individual cars, set cars to reduce speed or even pause in the event that one racer jumps the track, and so on. As far as I’m concerned, however, the coolest feature is the ability to run ghost cars, so you have some competition even when you’re racing by yourself.

 

ARC systems (App Race Control)

 

The ARC ONE, ARC AIR and ARC PRO (for digital sets) are the latest additions to Scalextric’s product lineup, which takes advantage of hand-held smart devices to add a whole new dimension to slot racing as a hobby. Set up a Bluetooth-enabled device opposite the power base and use the free iOS or Android application to create and control races, track your statistics, manage and share your collection, and more.

Before you start, you can choose from several different types of races, including Quick Race, Practice, Grand Prix, Endurance, Tournament, Drag Race, Arcade and Pace Car, although not every race is available in all ARC systems. As you play, the app monitors just about anything you can think of, from lap times and lap counts, to speed and penalties. There are several cool additions to mix things up. Turning on fuel consumption, tire wear, or car damage, means that you have to keep an eye on the condition of your car and make a stop in the pits when necessary—or risk disqualification. There are even random “incidents” like engine blow-outs and punctured tires that can bring another measure of unpredictability and realism to the race. After the race, you get analytic breakdowns of your speed, start reaction times, fuel use, and so on, which you can post to Twitter or Facebook.

Finally, there is a “Garage” mode, in which you can catalogue the cars in your collection, save track layouts, and post photos. You can also log your track pieces and accessories and use the app to explore possible layout designs.

The ARC Systems each have their own exciting features.

ARC ONE

 

ARC level ARC race control system

  • Hard-wired hand controllers
  • Core app functionality
  • Analogue system
  • 2-car racing

Key features:

  • Pit stops
  • Post-race statistics

 

 

ARC AIR

Mid-range ARC race control system

  • 2.4Ghz wireless hand controllers
  • Intermediate app functionality
  • Analogue system
  • 2-car racing

Key Features:

All of the features of ARC One plus:

  • Wireless controllers (plus rumble)
  • Variable race conditions
  • Braking button

 

ARC PRO

 

Premium ARC race control system

  • 2.4GHZ wireless hand controllers
  • advanced app funcitonality
  • Digital system
  • Multiple car racing (up to 6)

Key features:

All of the features of ARC AIR plus:

  • Lane changing
  • Multiple cars
  • KERS boost

 

On your mark, get set…race!

With our sale on slot car sets and accessories running from November 20 – 26 (and the holidays just around the corner), it’s the perfect time to think about getting into this exciting new hobby.

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