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Digital Myths BUSTED!

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  • Digital Myths BUSTED!

    I'd written most of this up a long time ago, but Deane has inspired me to post it. Cut to the chase, there are a LOT of myths and misinformation about digital slot racing, most of which perpetuated by those who've never even tried it, or who had tried it when it first came out on a layout that was not able to benefit from the last ten years of first and third party advancements and solutions.

    In my opinion, there is only one valid reason to dislike digital, and that's simply not liking the fundamental nature of digital slot racing, where one shares the lane with other cars, and must slow down to avoid rear-ending a slower car, and choose their path to get around them. There is nothing wrong with that, and I will never argue with someone who says that they don't like digital for that reason. I will never tell that person they are wrong, though I'll always encourage them to try it anyway.

    It is my claim that all other reasons for "disliking" digital are refutable, and so I welcome anyone to raise a point that they believe is grounds for digital slot racing to be unworthy of consideration by "true" slot racers. In other words, bring it! Hey, I've been wrong my whole life about things, maybe I'll be wrong about something new today.

    First, definitions:
    Slot racing in which a car remains in its own lane, and is controlled by power flowing from the power source, through a controller, and then into the car, is considered "analog" for the purposes of this discussion.

    Slot racing in which a car is able to change lanes, sharing it's lane/slot with one or more other cars, or is controlled by commands being sent from a controller to an electronic chip in the car, which in turn controls the speed and other functions of the car, is considered "digital" for the purposes of this discussion.

    The following are some VERY common misconceptions about digital slot racing to get the ball rolling. I'm happy to discuss any of these points, but would rather address any new ones that some people might have. Note that I'm being very GENERAL for a reason. I'm addressing the concept and current state of the art of digital, not any specific system. I use some examples with specific systems, and some points could be made that a specific system fails or excels in these areas. That's not the point of this post, though. If you come by and say "well, system X can't do Y", that might be true, but unless it's a point that applies to ALL digital systems, or the concept of digital racing itself, then your point is moot.

    "Digital is not very reliable."
    Digital tracks are just as reliable, or unreliable, as analog tracks are. If someone has an example of an unreliable digital track, then that same track would be unreliable as an analog one. Similarly, a reliable analog track would be just as reliable if converted into a digital one. It is up to the track owner to put in the work required to make a track, digital or analog, reliable to race on. All the things that are done to an analog track to increase reliability can be done to a digital one for the same ends. Certainly, there can be an unreliable digital track, but as this is a symptom of track owner neglect, not of the system itself, this is an invalid as an argument "against" digital.

    "You can't run any car you want."
    Sure you can! I can chip pretty much any car for SSD, if I want to. I've even chipped the Scalextric Moto GP bikes, and you can't even see the chip without looking for it. They're as hard to drive digitally as they are analog, but it can be done. I've not seen a car that can't be chipped. There are limitations, though, usually with the motor, not so much else. See below for an answer to that. Besides, there's no rule that says if you have a digital track, you can't run analog cars (one per lane, that is). Read on for how that works...

    "It's hard to get off-brand cars chipped for a certain track."
    "Chipping" an analog car to run digital varies greatly in difficulty between brands. Some are as simple as unscrewing a hatch and replacing it with one that has the digital bits already connected, and some are as complicated as modifying the front axle and guide system. It can NOT be said that all digital technologies are hard to add to all analog cars. Someone who is interested in digital racing should consider if they want to run off-brand cars, and then how difficult it is to "chip" those cars, but almost all cars CAN be chipped for any type of digital. The question is not "if" but "how".

    "Chipping a car can reduce its resale value"
    Taking a car out of its box reduces its value. Putting it on a track and running it reduces its value. Racing it reduces its value. Tuning it reduces its value. Replacing parts reduces its value. If you want a shelf queen that will become a high value collector's item, well... you're already too late, but in any case, it doesn't matter because anything other than leaving it in the wrapped box reduces its resale value. Even if you have to punch a hole in the chassis or take a little bit out of the interior to chip it, the whole point is to get it on the track and have fun with it. If you didn't buy the car to race it, this point is entirely moot. Also, in some cases, a chipped car will sell for more than the same car in used condition plus the chip. Worst case is you pull the chip and sell it separately from the car, which is usually VERY easy to return to original analog functionality.

    "The digital "black box" (power and control unit, aka power base) pushes very low amps, so if you want a large track you will have power issues."
    This is true of analog track sets as well. What do analog slot racers do when they find their set doesn't have enough power for their cars? They upgrade the power. It is possible, also, to upgrade the power system of digital track. Sometimes this is as simple as purchasing a secondary power supply to plug into it. Sometimes this requires some skillful solder work or sending the unit to someone else to perform the upgrade. Either way, just as with analog, the track owner has a choice between doing it himself or paying someone else to do it for him. Just like analog, the track owner can stick with stock "toy" power, or move up to "hobby" power.

    "Chips are not real cheap." and "Car collection at 15-20 bucks a chip, it could be costly to chip all my cars."
    Chips are not free. Depending on brand and retailer, digital chips range from $15-25. This might seem like a lot if you are chipping 100 cars all at once, but in most cases not only is it not necessary to chip that many cars at once, but most people build their car collection slowly over time, chipping cars as necessary. Someone converting from analog to digital does NOT need to chip their entire collection right off the bat. Just chip a few cars for the head-to-head racing, and leave the other cars analog for running hot laps. I only chip cars in sets when I have enough to race against each other. 75% of my collection is unmatched cars I leave as analog.

    One of the best off the shelf solutions to this issue is the Advanced 6 Car Digital Power Base, C7042, from Scalextric. This power base can power and control up to 6 digital cars with lane changing and race management functions. It can also run two lane analog on the SAME TRACK. All that is needed is a second power supply and to change the settings in the menu, and it becomes a power base for ANALOG cars. With this, not only is there no need to chip an entire collection of analog cars, but also you can continue to run those cars head to head on your same track with no modifications necessary to the power base or cars. Plug and play with the best of both worlds, digital and analog, all with one affordable power and control system.

    For other systems, a simple wiring job to put a switch or plug between the digital output to the track and an analog one will solve that problem as well. This can be done with any digital system, and there are even a couple that are designed to work on essentially analog tracks.

    "Now you are stuck with racing cars on one brand of track."
    This depends on the brand of digital. While some brands will not function at all when placed on an analog track, some will work fine. This means that those digital cars can still be run on analog tracks. There are even digital systems that support OTHER systems. For example, an oXigen chipped car can work on an analog track, an oXigen track, a Scalextric Digital track, and a Carrera digital track, with no more than a simple reprogramming of the car/controller pairing, a 30 second job.

    "Can't run digital cars on wood tracks."
    Of course you can. There are many examples of routed wood digital tracks around the Internet. Anyone with the skill, tools, and time to build a routed wood track for analog racing can make a routed wood track for digital racing. Digital cars perform just as well as analog cars on wood tracks. Just look at some of the marvelous tracks using the BLST system for lane control. Also, anyone who can build an AC2Car track can easily build a digital one.

    "Not a lot of controller choices for digital and stock ones suck."
    Most experienced slot racers agree that stock/set controllers leave much to be desired as far as the level of control provided. This is true for digital AND analog tracks. Most analog slot racers eventually spend top dollar on fancy controllers to give them the edge in their racing. While the choices are not as plentiful for digital, there ARE choices. The well known SCP controller has an available digital cartridge. It offers the same level of control on a digital track as the same controller with an analog cartridge does on an analog track. It is compatible with 5 of the major brands of digital and comes with all the necessary connectors to be used with any of them interchangeably. There are other options as well, depending on the brand of digital. Some brands have more options than others at this time, but that continues to improve. At the very least, you're not stuck with a set controller, as many people still believe.

    "I see slot cars as a social thing as much as a competitive thing."
    Absolutely! And? Slot car racing is a social activity. If there is no slot car racing locally, what difference does it make if it is digital or analog? One will still need to invite friends and family and spread the word to get the hobby moving in an area that lacks public tracks or clubs. Even if one is in an area that has a lot of tracks and/or clubs, there's no reason that having a digital track should prevent people from taking part in the social aspect of the hobby. Have a race day at your house and encourage friends who enjoy slot racing to set up their own tracks. It's easy to get something started if you want to, and there's nothing wrong with taking part in the local analog scene while racing digital at home and helping to encourage the growth of digital in the area. There are clubs around the world that support both analog and digital racing.

    "The power base (black box/control unit) is too expensive."
    The power and control unit is not free, this is true. Power and control (e.g. lap counting and timing, etc.) for any system, digital or analog, range in price from the low end with low power and imprecise timing to high power with precise timing and control, even computer interfacing. You spend as much or as little as you want to based on the level of performance and functionality you want from your system. These truths apply to both digital and analog tracks alike. Ironically, this misconception is often put forth by someone who has spent hundreds of dollars on high end analog track power supplies and race management systems, who could have spent LESS on an equivalent (or better) digital power and control system.

    "Digital cars can't have high power motors because the chips burn out."
    It is true that if one puts a high power motor into a car with a chip that is not designed to handle it, the chip will burn out. This doesn't have to happen, though. More than one digital set manufacturer has a new chip, or a third party chip, that can handle high power motors. For example, has designed a Scalextric Sport Digital compatible chip that fits easily into cars, and can handle the power requirements of the line of motors, many of which are chosen by analog slot racers as upgrades to their cars. These chips will not burn out when powering a high power motor because they were designed to handle it. It is up to the track/car owner to know if the motor they used is too much for the chip to handle, and this can be easily discovered by asking other racers that use that system. Also, there are guides online, or people who will do it for you, for upgrading the chips of various systems in order to handle hotter motors and/or more magnets if you like that kind of racing.

    That said, yes, there are some limitations. There has not been any demand for chips powerful enough to reliably run the motors in cars designed to run at high speeds on very large tracks, usually with metal chassis and lexan bodies. It's certainly not a bad idea to compare the power requirements (amps, usually) of a motor and the capability of the chip before attempting to install a chip and run a car. With little to no demand for such chips, no manufacturer has chosen to make them. If you have a group that genuinely wants to run such cars on a digital track, and are ready to invest in a digital system, be sure to contact your selected brand to let them know what you need. You might be responsible for opening up a new segment of digital slot racing.

    "You can't tune digital cars."
    Patently untrue. EVERYTHING that can be done to an analog car to "tune" it can also be done to a digital car. The inclusion of the digital control chip does not prevent all the wonderful tuning techniques from working. Digital cars can have their wheels and tires trued, have their gears and motors replaced, have their chassis trimmed and flattened, can have weight added or removed... there is no restriction on how a digital car can be tuned. It is worth noting that it is important to note the power of the motor and whether the chip can handle it, but in most cases a more robust chip can be used.

    "Digital cars need magnets (for traction)."
    Another falsity. Digital cars run without magnets just as well as analog cars run without magnets. Tuning the car becomes just as important here as with analog cars, where true wheels and tires are a necessity. Depending on the brand of digital in use, sometimes the placement of lane changers must be considered when running cars without magnets, but other than that there are no reasons not to have fun with magless racing on digital tracks!

    "Digital will be good "someday" but isn't good "now."
    Digital is good now. Admittedly there were some growing pains and teething pains, but most of the issues that plagued digital systems at their release a decade ago have been eliminated completely.

    "If I can't run my XYZ car on my friend's ZYX track, then I'm not interested."
    Ah, the old "incompatible systems" argument. OK, there's no arguing that some systems are incompatible with other systems. I've mentioned already that there are systems that support multiple other systems (Scorpius and oXigen, for example), and that some digital chips will allow a car to run on an analog track without any changes. This isn't enough for some people, though. I guess if your friend has the EXACT same kind of track as you, this would be a valid point. For example, if you both had Scalextric Sport track, then your cars would perform the same way on them. But, then you'd both have SSD, so there goes that issue. My point is, this argument very often comes from the same people that will tune identical cars in completely different ways in order to get the best performance from different types of track. They'll put on different tires, or different suspension, or even run a completely different kind of car depending on the track being raced on. Why is such tuning not acceptable for digital? Most of my friends run SSD, but I know a guy with SCXD and another with Carrera. If I go to those tracks to race, I'll bring a SCXD car or a Carrera digital car. Just like if I go to PSCR (commercial 1/24 race track), I'll bring a wing car or a womp, and if I go to 132slotcar I'll bring my Scaleauto or an NSR Mosler. We're racers, builders, and collectors, surely we don't mind a good reason to buy another car? Besides, it's easy enough to chip cars that you could run the same car at both tracks, and just spend maybe 30 minutes the day before putting in the chip appropriate for the track you'll be going to. In many cases, the fitment is quick and easy, and 100% reversible.

    "Digital is a toy for kids. Analog is for hobbyists/racers."
    Kids play with both, and hobbyists play with both. I find this myth humorous because it's said as though there are no longer analog sets sold to kids as toys, or something. This is the same flawed reasoning as the "digital needs magnets" or "digital can't be tuned" or several of the other myths up there. Really, it could be said this way, "Slot cars are toys for kids. Slot cars are for hobbyists/racers." And you know what? THAT'S ACTUALLY TRUE! They're for both! Both analog and digital slot cars are kids' toys as well as for hobbyists to race with! Isn't that great!?

    "Digital cars are more complicated to fix than analog cars."
    Good point. While this may seem to be objectively true, the issue is really more of a "how much" than "is it" question. Yes, if an analog car breaks down, it's usually mechanical in some way, such as a broken wire, bad braid, or even gears slipping or being worn down. All of those things happen in digital cars, PLUS sometimes the chip can fail. To me, it's really just another part of the car. If I have a digital car stop working, first I check all the normal analog failure points. Overwhelmingly, the problem is one of those same kind that cause analog cars to fail, and just as easy to fix. Rarely... so rare that I can't remember the last time it happened to me, a chip will fail. The solution? Replace the chip. Also, very easy. Just as easy as installing one in the first place, and usually easier because any work needed for the initial install has already been done. The chip is just another part, ONE more part, in the car. Rarely does a chip fail when used under manufacturer's specs, and those are usually replaced under warranty, so you don't even lose money on the repair. If you're running cars that are outside of the specs of the system, then you can get the chip repaired with better parts that will NOT fail, and are usually better overall, for less than the cost of replacing the chip with another one you might burn out.

    "MrFlippant (or other digital racers) hates analog, and is trying to convince everyone to switch to digital."
    I can see how my advocacy, and defense, of digital can often be misunderstood as some kind of vendetta against analog. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who know me very well, also know that I race analog. That's why there are two clubs linked at the bottom of all my posts. I enjoy both types of racing. I do enjoy digital more, but as it happens, analog is still considerably more popular, and so to enjoy the social aspect of the hobby, I got into analog. I enjoy it immensely. After a while, though, I got tired of my track being the only digital racing I knew about, and worked to find local racers and form a club. We don't meet every week, but we're meeting regularly. Some day I hope to have a dozen area members and 6 or more tracks to rotate through, and race weekly. At that point, I might stop analog racing as regularly. Once per week is enough for me, whichever kind of racing it is.

    "Why don't you just go race RC cars?"
    Why don't you? Seriously, that question is just plain silly. I like SLOT cars. Don't you? Digital racers like slot cars for all of the same reasons you do, size, cost, tuning, modeling, racing, power is supplied by the track, not a battery, the list goes on and on. If I wanted to race RC, I would. I don't. I like slot cars, but I like them most with a little extra such as the ability to choose which SLOT my car follows, and pulling into a pit lane rather than stopping under a light bridge to refuel.
    Last edited by MrFlippant; 02-26-2017, 08:50 AM. Reason: additional myths busted

  • #2
    Good article, more food for thought on converting my Scalextric Sport track to run 1/24th Oxigen


    • #3
      I'd get my passport renewed for that.


      • #4
        I'm sure someone will be in to start bashing your statements soon, as per usual. I never needed convincing, after playing with racing h o cars on a 65' track my neighbor threw together in my basement. I knew that bigger would probably be more fun so I took a look at 1/32 and heard about the capabilities of changing lanes and dove right in. I have spent a lot of cash and don't care because that's what happens with most hobbies. I may have even bought into the underdog of systems ,but I can always adapt as I go. There have been so many nights of competitive racing even with only three cars on track. In 30 laps and 2 1/2 pit stops (approx. 8 minutes)I can run a range of emotions HAPPY (leading)MAD(because I gave said lead away)SAD(because now I'm a lap down in third)ADRENILINE PUMP(reacquired lead due to both first&second crashing while battling it out)PROUD(that I held it together for the last few laps and pit stops)GLAD THAT I FOUND THIS FANTASTIC AND GROWING HOBBY.DIGITAL RACING IS NOTHING SHORT OF AWSOME!!

        Sorry for shouting
        I get a little excited
        about slot car racing.


        • #5
          "I'm sure someone will be in to start bashing your statements soon, as per usual."--Thumpa

          lol--here I am...NOT!

          Actually, as with most all of Flip's posts, it seems reasoned and logical.

          "In my opinion, there is only one valid reason to dislike digital, and that's simply not liking the fundamental nature of digital slot racing, where one shares the lane with other cars... "--Mr Flippant

          As you know, Mr Flippant, I am an individual slot guy. Been in fixed slots since before driving a 1/1 car.
          Am old school in general, and perhaps set in my ways, except once in my 20's an old timer said "If they were just moving from horses to cars, you would want to keep the horse!"

          Anyway, have always raced traditional slot cars, and have a general dislike of complexity...outside of digital slot cars.
          Why? Because plenty of the simple stuff is broken (in general in my life), and the complicated (read--typically has mo' wires) is far worse (for me).

          So, am confirming your initial premise, listed above, sir.

          "...[one] must slow down to avoid rear-ending a slower car, and choose their path to get around them."--Flip

          Probably just as well I don't race with you guys, I might have a little trouble with that part...
          Last edited by Slotbob; 01-22-2014, 07:56 AM.


          • #6
            digital slots are great

            Nice write up Mr. Flippant. I love digital slot racing. Several years ago when I got back into slot racing I started with HO racing with a couple of local clubs on different home tracks. While the guys were great to race with I just did not get into it and my son lost interest quickly. My background was racing nitro RC cars so the lack of variation and traffic just didn't make analog racing interesting enough.

            Once I took the plunge into digital slot racing that changed. My son actually enjoys it (getting him away from the video games is a challenge), my wife and daughters and other family members even like to race on occasion with the pit stops and the banging around they have a good time with it. I have found that with other skilled racers you can race without constantly crashing each other.

            I appreciate all those that love analog racing, but I believe the future of slot racing lies with the continued development of digital slot racing.



            • #7
              It is a well known fact that digital slot racing interferes with the playback of digitally recorded music. If there is a digital slot track in the same room where digital music is being played, it makes it impossible to hum along with the tune.



              • #8
                LOL! That's definitely a new one, Michael.
                I'd actually try it out if I didn't know you were kidding.

                It's nice to see so much support from the digital guys. Heck, even Jay supports my theory so far. I'm just surprised none of the naysayers have chimed in yet. I know my logic is flawless, but I figured someone would try to poke a hole in it somewhere.


                • #9
                  "Heck, even Jay supports my theory so far." --Flip

                  Thanks. I think.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by MrFlippant View Post
                    I'd get my passport renewed for that.
                    You need a passport to get into Canada? Something we should know?


                    • #11
                      I don't have a special ID/DL, and I lost my birth certificate. Since I have an expired passport, that's the easiest solution for me.


                      • #12
                        And trust me, those fellers at the Canadian border are rather particular.


                        • #13
                          When I was redoing my Ninco digital I set it up without the lane changers in place Just to see where I would like the changers to be . When my nephews came over , 8 & 11
                          the track was first place they headed to . After about 5 minutes they were
                          "Hey uncle this is BORING wheres' the pit stop and lane changers ? "
                          They are the future of slot cars
                          Long live digital
                          Needless to say the track was changed right then and there .Kids spent the rest of day there away from the xbox and ipads


                          • #14
                            To D or not to D, that is the question.

                            I must say I can not see the resistance to digital, other than "we've always done it analog!", that Flip alludes to. I have a flock of cars that I bought in the 60's, and like to run them, which I do on a friends analog track. When I got back into the hobby in the late 90's, I first expended my original Scaley track with SCX and Scaley sections. Both work, but were a bit tight for 1/24 cars.

                            When both of them changed the track to go digital, I opted for Carrera, because it was more 1/24 friendly. I thought digital was a nice idea, but wasn't interrested at that time because of the incompatability issue. Finally, a LHS had a half price sale on a lightly used Carrera digital set, and I grabbed it.

                            I am now fully entranched with Carrera digital, even after being a bit miffed at the black box upgrade. Still the racing is blast, and much more like 12":1" racing. There is blocking, passing, fueling, pit stops, and my favorite, ghost cars for added challanges and solo racing.

                            I was buying 1/24 analog Carrera cars for a few years, and then they went to digital only. Since you can run digital as analog. that was fine. After I got the digital set, I was happy they did. I also converted all my Carrera 1/24 to digital. The easy plug and play as well as the cut, fit and make holes for the chip type cars. I also bought only 1/32 digital and converted most of the early cars to digital.

                            Yes, I would love to run BRM 1/24 and 1/32 cars on Carrera digital, but that would mean a fair amount of work that I am not upto doing right now.

                            I have always been of the opinion that digital will be mildly popular, and will not take off greatly until someone finds a way to run any car on any system, just as DCC does in model railroading. Still, it is fun right now with the limited cars for each system, and there is more than enough variety for everyone to enjoy the racing.

                            Last edited by WRW13; 01-22-2014, 11:38 AM.


                            • #15
                              Well thought out Mr. Digital Flippant (using your entire name).