The Slot Car Handbook
by Dave Chang (Crowood Press, 2007, $22.95)
review by Philip Hendrickson (SCI member DrumPhil)
Author Dave Chang makes his goal obvious on the back cover: “Half the fun of the hobby is taking apart, tuning, upgrading and reassembling the cars, but until now this has been a black art.” The book claims to be “suitable for beginners and advanced racers.” The subtitle boldly states, “The definitive guide to setting-up and running Scalextric-style 1/32 scale ready-to-race slot cars.” Does the book live up to these claims? Let’s see.
The Slot Car Handbook comprises six chapters and a number of appendices. Chapter titles are: Cars, Upgrades, Track, Digital, Racing, and Beyond 1/32 Scale RTR. Appendices cover troubleshooting, suppliers, web resources, essential tools, how to solder, a glossary and an index. That may sound like a lot, but this slim 96 page handbook could easily fit in a pit box. Also, don’t be fooled by the subtitle; this book applies to any brand of car, not just Scalextric.
The first chapter gives a basic overview of slot cars, starting with a detailed anatomy from an exploded view. Helpful pictures abound, and the editor did a good job of keeping photos near the text they illustrate. After describing cars, the author turns to preparing the car for racing – the check-up that should occur before a car ever touches a track. Even if I had read this book first, I don’t think I could have avoided the urge to quickly set up my first track, plug in the controllers and send those cars zooming around the room! But now I do basic prep to new cars right away – check the chassis, axles, motor, and guide, lube the gears, and so on.
Chang discusses running in the gears and truing the wheels and tyres. (The book comes from the U.K., so the U.S. reader will notice a few different spellings and terms. Let this be a gentle reminder that scale racing is far more popular outside the U.S. than here at home. Perhaps participating in this hobby can enlarge our global perspective!) As noted above, all of these processes are accompanied by close-up photos and a list of the necessary tools. The first chapter is the longest in the book, and contains the largest amount of how-to information. Final sections cover car repairs and maintenance. The pre-race checklist reminds the reader how to keep a good car from turning into a shelf queen.
Chapter two covers common upgrades racers use when moving beyond box stock. Topics include motors, gears, wheels, tyres, magnets, weights, and lights. The section comparing magnet and non-mag racing is particularly helpful. The author does not argue which is better, but instead gives performance tips for both classes. Throughout the book, the author takes the approach of demonstrating a good starting point from which the reader can experiment to discover what works best in any particular racing environment. As racers grow in experience, they will come back to this chapter for ideas to improve their cars’ performance.
The third chapter describes track options, including the major plastic (“plexi”) track systems and routed wood. The author discusses power taps, power supplies, controllers, layout design principles, and track maintenance. Some readers may disagree with the author’s contention that with solid connections between track pieces, power taps should almost never be necessary. However, we all agree on the importance of good track connections. The author demonstrates a foolproof (but labor-intensive) method of testing a track for dead spots. Readers will find several methods for cleaning tracks and rails, with the pros and cons of each. After reading the description of how analog controllers work, I now have a better understanding of why long-time SCI members consider a good aftermarket controller essential to successful racing.
The chapter on digital racing is short – seven pages with lots of pictures – and half of it simply describes the four major systems available when the book was written. This was before Carrera upgraded from Pro-X to Digital132, and long before Scalextric’s new powerbase arrived. Many specifics for the major systems have changed over the past few years; digital is still in a phase of rapid growth and development. New racers may appreciate the discussion of the advantages and drawbacks of digital racing, but avid SCI readers will not learn much new on this subject.
Like the chapter on upgrades, chapter five (racing) is another that might bring experienced racers back to the book, especially if they decide to start or join a racing club. The author describes several common formats for group racing: crash and burn; crash and go; crash and run; and red flag. There is a nice section on marshalling – good reading for any new marshals or club racers. The tips on driving are also helpful, especially to scale racers who have not previously competed in 1:1 racing. The sixth chapter offers short descriptions of other scales and vehicle types (karts, moto bikes) beyond typical 1/32 scale car racing.
The back of the book is again useful for future reference. A troubleshooting guide covers common problems such as over and under steer, lap counters missing laps, and poor acceleration. Some of the suppliers and web resources listed may be outdated, as this type of information changes frequently, but many are still accurate. The description of soldering techniques is a very thoughtful inclusion. And what newbie doesn’t need a glossary to decipher the jargon of this specialized hobby?
In summary, this book may not be “definitive”, but it offers quite a bit of value to both new and experienced racers. Someone just starting this hobby should read chapters one (cars) and three (track) to avoid problems that plague us all. Any slot club would do well to have this book in its pit area. My copy is conspicuously available when I invite friends over to experience scale racing. The photos help alleviate the sense of mystery and make the hobby more accessible. Long-time racers may not find much new information in this book, but anyone looking for ideas to improve the speed and handling of their cars just might find in these pages the tip that takes their performance to the next level.
The Slot Car Handbook was reprinted in 2009, and is readily available through online booksellers.