I've learned a lot since I first started racing 1/32 size slot cars. Almost everything that applies to analog slot cars as far as performance goes also applies to digital slot cars, including Scalextric Sport Digital. This page is to serve as a concise tips page for all types of 1/32 scale model racing, whether it's analog or digital. This isn't meant to be a complete tuning guide, though. If you need more information than I provide, PLEASE join one of the forums on my Links page, or another I might not have listed, and seek out additional help there. A lot of home racers don't know these basic things, and find that the game becomes much more enjoyable when these suggestions have been taken. So, let's get started, eh?
- True the wheels (rims/hubs)
- True the tires
- Lubricate the moving parts
- Remove the magnets
- Keep the track and tires clean
- Crimp the rails
Your typical $30-50 slot car will usually have injection molded plastic parts, including the wheels. Injection molding is inexpensive, but has issues inherent with the process that can make a slot car run less smoothly than it could. The injection mold usually leaves ridges where the mold pieces come together, pieces are often molded in large numbers that are then cut off a "sprue" like in a model kit, and the hot plastic being pulled from the mold will sometimes become slightly warped in the cooling process. To resolve these issues for a smoother roll, you want to take care of them with a truing technique.
The hard-core slot heads will spend hundreds of dollars on fancy machines that precisely true wheels and tires. For the casual racer, that's not necessary. All you really need is your track and some sandpaper or an emery board (like for filing nails). Take the tires off the wheels first. With one hand, hold the controller in your palm with your index finger on the trigger, and the car with your remaining fingers. With the front of the car on the track but the rear raised up, give the throttle some power. As the wheels spin, apply light pressure to the flat surfaces using your sandpaper or emery board. Stop every few seconds and use different speeds. You want to remove any flashing, or ridges of plastic that look out of place, so that the tire seats properly on the wheel. Try to avoid excessive pressure because you don't want to heat up the plastic and ruin the wheel. Once you're sure the wheel is smooth and free of flaws, move to the tires.
Note that if your wheel(s) have a wobble, noticeable visually at low speeds or by a vibration at high speeds, this is due to warped plastic and cannot be fixed. Your only hope is to replace them, at which point you might as well get aluminum replacements. More expensive cars, and even some of the $50-60 cars will come with aluminum rear wheels. These don't need truing at all, and you'll notice that they're already free of any plastic molding type issues anyway. If you happen to pull tires off a car and find what appear to be perfect wheels, just leave them alone, because they probably are!
Truing the tires is as much or more important than truing the wheels. Even perfectly round wheels and tires will often have such a smooth surface, sometimes even with a little mold release agent present, that taking off that outer layer significantly increases traction. Some types of tires don't respond to truing or are prohibitively difficult for the casual racer to true that it's not worth doing. Silicone tires don't need any treatment at all, and some rubbers will react badly by melting and getting ruined. But, most stock tires are not these types. Most stock tires are plain rubber because it's cheapest. If you buy a high end car with nice tires, you probably won't need to true them anyway.
Truing tires is a lot like truing wheels. First, take the tires off if they're still on, and turn them inside out. Look for mold flaws inside the wheel, such as extra bits of rubber that got left behind. Pull off anything that doesn't belong. Once you're confident the inside of the tire is clean and smooth, put it back on the wheels. Now we glue the tires on. Yep! If we don't glue them on, then they could allow the wheels to spin within them, or flare out and actually come off at high speed. Those cases are rare, but we want to avoid them. We also want to make sure the tire stays put while we true it. To glue the tires on, get a tube of super glue, pull back the tire in a couple spots and put just a single little drop of glue between the flat surface of the wheel and tire. Don't glue around the edges or put too much on. Only a couple drops, one opposite from the other, are plenty. Wait for a few minutes to let the glue set, and then true them.
Just like with the wheels, hold the car and controller to the track, back wheels up. Using sandpaper or an emery board, apply light pressure to the tires as they spin around. You might need to use more power this time, and your sanding surface will get a bunch of rubber dust on it, so make sure it's washable or disposable. In other words, get your own emery board! Only do a few seconds at a time, and check the tires regularly. You want to avoid heating up the rubber and ruining the tire. As soon as you see a consistent sanding around the whole tire and across the whole width, you're almost done. Only thing left is to take off any hard edges. Angle the sanding surface and hold it to the edges to make a rolled edge, inside and outside edges if possible. A hard edge will cause the car to roll more often, but a soft rounded edge will enable a drift if you know how to control the car.
Finally, clean the dust off the car and the tires using a damp rag in place of the sandpaper as you spin the wheels, or run the wheels along some sticky tape, like a lint roller or something. With trued tires that are nice and clean, the car will have considerably more traction than it did out of the box in most cases, and take corners much faster before coming off.
Just like a real car, the moving parts in a slot car need lubrication for smooth running, good high speed performance, and long life. You can't just spray on some WD-40 or squirt in some 3-in-1 oil, though. Pick up some slot car bearing oil and some gear grease from a slot car supplier. There are a variety of products, so it's best to simply ask your favorite slot car supplier to suggest something that they carry.
Gear grease is for inline (motor is perpendicular to the axle) motors where the gears meet. Cars usually come with a little, but often need more, especially if they are used or older. You don't usually use grease on sidewinder (motor is parallel to axle) gears, or anglewinder (guess! ;-), but sometimes people will use substances on those gears when running them in (running in is basically running it to smooth it out). Just a little bit on the crown gear or pinion (the little one on the motor) is enough. Roll it back and forth a bit before putting the car back together and racing it.
Oil is for the bushings and bearings. Those are the things that the axles go through, and the ends of the motor casing. Most cars don't come with any lube in the bushings or bearings, so you'll find that most cars will run smoother and faster with a little lube in the bushings. Less is more, so only put one drop into each bushing. Spin the wheels to get it in and around a bit, and then take the car for a drive!
At first, it can be a lot of fun to see a car go flying around the track at high speed, sticking to the turns and only coming off in a spectacular crash worthy of the best YouTube videos and TV shows. We imagine them happening in slow motion as the car bounces off the walls and lands upside-down, spinning on its roof. It's a lot of fun. I know some people that have spent years making their cars go faster and stick better so that they never have to let go of the throttle, using extra magnets, faster motors, and glue on the tires to help keep them on the track. Those people predictably get bored of the game and move onto other hobbies. As strange as it may seem, while the goal is to go fast without coming off the track, slot cars are NOT meant to be stuck to the track and stay in the slot no matter what. If there's no challenge, then there's no fun for very long.
The quickest way to add challenge and fun, not to mention reducing the damage caused when the car does come off the track, is to go "magless". That is to say, remove the magnetic component from the car's traction equation. Open it up, and pop out the magnet. In some cases you don't even have to open the car up, the magnet's just unscrew or slide out. With the magnet removed, properly trued and round wheels, properly trued tires, tire traction, and weight distribution become vital to the performance of the car. Without those things, a car will wobble and hop out of the slot, or slip and slide all over the place going nowhere. Once the car is tuned, though, the pleasure of driving it around the track is hard to beat. It's no longer about the fastest car with the strongest magnets. Now it's about the best tuning and the best driving skills. To be able to control a drifting car around a corner without coming off or crashing into another car is sublime. You'll find that every car drives a little differently, and so your skill will be tested every time you put a different car on the track. Some people go so far as to eliminate the plastic track with metal rails altogether, building custom wood track with routed slots and copper tape for power delivery. Even the strongest magnets are nothing more than added weight on a wood track. You can still have tons of fun racing magless cars on plastic track, though. Just follow all the other tuning tips to make sure it's a smooth runner. Magnets cover up flaws that suddenly seem huge without them. I've also created a seperate page of tips on how to "go magless" with your slot racing.
With or without magnets, the ability of your car to stay on the track depends primarily on how much traction it has. Traction can be tuned by changing the type of tires in use, how much magnetic attraction is used, and how dirty the track and tires are. To ensure that dust and dirt does not reduce traction, it's a good idea to clean up the track prior to a race. Here are some common ways to clean a track and/or tires.
- Clean the TRACK:
- Dust cloth. My favorite is a "grab-it" type dust cloth, but anything that attracts and holds dust and dirt that is also lint and thread-free should work well. You want it to pick up as much visible and invisible debris as possible while not leaving behind any bits of it's own, especially as sectional track can easily snag some types of fabric.
- Vacuum. If the track is in a location that is very dusty or dirty, or if you've been landscaping messily, sometimes you need to break out the big guns and actually vacuum up the stuff on the track.
- Damp and dry rags. First a damp rag to help remove any particulates. Make sure it's only damp, so as not to leave any water behind. Quickly follow this up with a dry rag to absorb any moisture left behind to avoid oxidation on the rails. If you clean the track/rails with any chemicals to remove stuff, be sure to follow it up with a fresh treatment of INOX MX3 when you're done.
- Run the cars! This is my favorite method because it's the most fun. By running cars, you're using the tires of the cars to pick up dust and dirt on the track surface where the cars drive, and that's where it matters. Of course, you'll need to clean the car's tires quite a bit as you do this, so keep reading.
- Clean the TIRES:
- The old lick and scrub. I learned this from the analog club guys. Just lick both thumbs and hold the car in both hands upside down, alternately turning and scrubbing the rear tires with your saliva covered thumbs. It's also helpful to have a rag or ratty pants to wipe dirty thumbs on. I've also seen people lick tires directly, but I don't recommend that method.
- Sticky Tape. I've seen many methods, but my personal favorite is a simple sticky tape lint roller. I actually have one accessible from each driver station on my track. Just hold the lint roller in one hand, steady the roller with a finger or thumb to keep it from spinning, then run the car's rear tires up and down the length of the roller one at a time until little to no dirt or color is left behind. Then you know the only thing touching the track is the pure clean rubber of the tire. Other methods include using double sided tape on an old piece of track, or tacking duct tape to a board with a slot, sticky side up. Whatever you want to do, just make sure to use a tape that does not leave glue on the tires.
- Powered slot and a sponge. I have this on each of my driver stations as well, for those who prefer a faster, water based cleaning. First, figure out some way to give power to the car. I created a slot in each station with a switch for power. I've also seen people make a little container with a slot in the top connected to a 9V battery. Next, put a damp sponge where the rear tires would be. I used cut pieces of a Sham-Wow chamois. It was cheap, and holds water for a long time. Before a race, I dampen all the pieces of sham-wow, and place them at each driver station. When someone wants to clean the tires on their car, they need only remove it from the track, hold it in the slot on their station such that the rear wheels spin on the sham-wow for a few seconds, and place the car back on the track. Magless cars will have a little wheel spin while the tires are still wet, but this never lasts more than a 1/4 lap, and goes away even faster if you pin the throttle for a realistic burnout. Magnet cars usually are fine right off the bat.
This applies to analog and digital alike, but mainly when using Scalextric Sport type track. The reason for crimping the rails is to ensure a sound connection and good electrical continuity from track piece to track piece. Good continuity is important for analog racing, but vital for digital racing. Fresh track right out of the box is already snug, but as soon as you put it together and take it apart a couple times, those connections loosen. Since most new SSD users are what we call "rug racers" who don't yet have a table to leave their track up on for months or years, putting up and taking down layouts regularly is quite common. It doesn't take long for those connections to get loose and cause frustrations with poor car performance. To fix this, before you assemble your next track, or if you notice a problem with your current one, Crimp the rails on every piece.
But how do you crimp the rails? It's easy. Take a single piece and flip it over so you're looking at the bottom. At each end there will be one rail (per slot) with a pin, and one with a socket. The one with the socket needs to be tightened. Get a pair of needle-nosed pliers and hold them nose-down on the little metal tab that holds the rail to the plastic just behind the connection point. Press down firmly so that you're pinching the rail down more snugly to the plastic that it hooks onto. You'll be able to see how loose the connection was as you make it tighter. It might take a while depending on how many pieces you have, but it's absolutely worth the effort when you finally begin racing on a layout with excellent continuity.
To take it a step further, you can add a small amount of a dielectric grease to the connection. You can buy dielectric grease in small tubes from hardware and car supply stores, but even vaseline will work. Put a small drop into the socket of each rail as you assemble the track. Don't put it on the pin because it will probably squeeze up and onto the track and cause traction problems. Be sure to wipe off any excess you see or feel. Why this works is hard to explain, but essentially it allows the metal to have a more reliable connection.