Two years ago my family discovered slot cars. I ended up buying a couple of scaly MINI Coopers and started running them at Indy Slots for a couple of years, it was becoming evident that we needed a track at home. Since we live in an apartment space is at a minimum. About the only space we don't use is the space under my son's bunk bed. A quick measure reveled that we had 5'6" by 3'6". So to give us some working room, I cut that down to 5 feet by 3 feet. My oldest son, 5, was visiting his grand parents so it was time to start building his surprise.
After reading the Slot Car Illustrated forums and the Home Racing World forums, I decided it was better to go wooden than plastic. My main logic was that I could route a track for less than what it would cost to purchase one. Granted I would only have one controller and no new cars. But who doesn't like getting the most bang for your buck?
5 feet by 3 feet is not much space. A two lane was not totally out of the question, but a single lane auto cross with timing would be fun and allow for some competition. I already had a Dremel, and the local Wally Mart had a circle cutter accessory for under $15. I also have two working PC ATX power supplies lying around. A package of 3 high speed cutter bits was $5. My neighbor had a lead on copper tape, for $7. Lowe's had a 4' by 8' sheet of ¾ inch thick MDF for $20. I gave them an additional $1.50 to cut it twice to get it down to 5 foot by 3 foot. I sat down with graph paper and started drawling layouts. I posted some on line in the forums for advice.
I decided that since I had ZERO experience using the Dremel as a router I would do a proof of concept test on the 1 foot by 5 foot scrap.
I adjusted the circle cutter so that the slot would be 10 mm deep and marked the center of the MDF and cut half an 8 inch diameter circle at each end. Then I used the straight edge guide that came with the circle cutter to connect the half circles, then came the time for the copper tape. I used ¼ inch wide tape although the stained glass shop had all sizes, I figured that a little wider might work better when the car is sliding.. I then set one of the cars in the slot and applied power with a 9 volt battery. The car moved to the first turn and then stopped. 4 inch radius or 8 inch diameter is too narrow for a 1/32 car to ride. It will fit mechanically but the brushes lost contact. This also led to my first error, not soldering tape at the joints.
Well since I could cut a turn and straights, it was time to finalize the layout. My designs had been critiqued and I decided to do a simpler design rather than to go with a more free form design that can only come when you route a wooden track. Then I transferred the scale drawling to the full sized MDF. I asked on the forums again for sources for lap timing software and got a lead on a Radio Shack accessory for the Zip Zap RC cars. The timing system had been discontinued and was once priced at $50. I found one on close out for $2.50. I bought a Parma 45 ohm controller for $30 from Indy Slots.
The slots were finally laid out and I started cutting the turns. They were the easy part. I had 4 straights where I could use the straight edge guide and then 4 more that I would have to do another way as they were too far away from the edge to use the guide. This was solved by using the 1 by 5 foot scrap as a straight edge. Some of my cuts were not picture perfect. I had to redo some of them so I bought spackling compound to fill the errors and then when it dried I made the corrections.
It was at this time I bought flat latex paint. I went for a shade darker than normal. I wanted asphalt that was not brand new (black) but not old and in need of replacement (light gray). Tape went down and it was time to start the wiring. I went to Lowe's and bought 1 ½ inch long ¼ threaded bolts and two large fender washers per bolt. I got simple nuts rather than the lock nuts. I located them in the middle of the longest side. I then focused on the power taps. A 1/8 inch hole on each side of the board would help provide constant power all along the track. I placed he holes on opposite sides of the 5 foot side. Maybe I should have put them on opposite sides of the 3 foot side?
I drilled holes in the center of the copper tape to bring the wire through the MDF.
The wire was soldered to the tape for a good connection and then covered with more tape to make a smooth connection.
This produced a bump that would unsettle the cars as I pushed them over the junction. I then removed the tape and unsoldered the jumper.
I then laid the drill on its side and then slowly pivoted the bit downward. This creates a channel for the wire to lie in.
I then laid the copper tape so that it would start in the channel and then come out onto the racing surface.
A little solder to tin the tape and then pulled the wire down and soldered it permanently.
Next came hooking the wires from the power taps to the bolts. I had a great diagram but it was black and white, which confused me. I had the jumper for the red wire going to the black post. Thanks again to the guys on the forums I got this part figured out. I got impatient and decided to finish the track rather than throw the PC power supply into the mix. I went to Hobby Town USA for the power supply. So it was off to the hobby shop for a power supply. The guy showed me a scaly wall wart since I had a scaly car. I told him that it was for a wooden routed track. He spoke with a guy in the train department and handed me what he though would be the appropriate power supply. This lead to problems, I knew the sound that the cars would make when I applied a 9 volt battery to the pickup braid and the car was not making this noise when I touch the leads from the power supply to the car.
This was because Hornby/Scalextric converts the 110 volts AC to 19 volts AC and uses a rectifier to convert the AC to DC at the track. I had already cut the connector so I could not return the wall wart. Wally Mart to the rescue, they had an AC to DC converter that offered multiple output voltages for $15.99. I selected 12 volts and applied the power. Nothing happened.
This was because my power taps are on opposite sides of the board and the copper junctions were not soldered. It took me going around each lane of tape with a continuity checker to figure this out. So I sat down with the continuity checker on one side and a soldering iron and solder on the other side. I would check each section and solder any gaps that I would discover. I got all the way back to the connector posts and sat the car in the slot and still nothing. I realized that half way around the track I had jumped the slot. So it meant a second lap with the continuity checker and soldering gun.
I then cleared the track and set my red "The Italian Job" MINI Cooper S in the slot and pulled the trigger. The lights lit up and the car started to move! I spent an hour each with both cars discovering where the slot was a little jagged and with a pocket knife, I cleaned the edges. I played with the power settings at both 12 volts and at 7.4 volts. I have decided that 7.4 works best and it will help keep speeds down for my 5 year old. Sliding the cars meant that a lot of rubber got laid down. I am seeing quite a bit of wear on the right rears (mostly left hand turns). Thus I probably should put a switch in the circuit to reverse directions. The hard part was done, now to detail the track.
All in all, I spent around $75 for this track, including the controller. We always rented controllers when we went racing. I think it proves that even in an apartment, you can have a slot car track and if you have the tools, you can do it for less than what shops want for the most basic sets.
Dean (aka "DrDiff")
I want to thank the following people and boards for help with my track:
Slot Car Illustrated
Home Race World
The Old Weird Herald
Old Slot Racer