Ad Radar
Car Craft
Click here to find out more!

Slot Car Drag Racing - Small-Scale Drag Racing

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Slot Car Racing.

By Rick Voegelin, Photography by Rick Voegelin

Remember slot cars? In the dark ages before simulators, video games, and even personal computers, there was hardly a boy in America who didn't race slot cars. Set up on the living room floor, a dining room table, or in a corner of the garage, a slot car track was the closest thing to real racing available to young, aspiring champions. Car magazines featured slot car buildups and race reports alongside articles on fullsize hot rods-until the slot car craze died.

In today's brave new world of downsized economies and diminished expectations, slot car racing is making a comeback. Not that it had ever gone away completely, of course. While most commercial tracks went bust following the boom years in the '60s, the true believers simply went underground-literally. Basements became the last refuge for slot cars, along with spare bedrooms, attics, and other off-the-radar accommodations. Internet forums became the subterranean information conduit, and eBay the enabler for slotheads to feed their addiction.

Now everything old is new again, and that includes slot cars. With inexpensive cars and track sets arriving by the boatload from China, the hobby is enjoying a rebirth among nostalgic baby boomers and their offspring. True to its drag racing roots, Car Craft is plugged into straight-line slot car competition, but there are avenues for road racing and oval track aficionados to pursue slot car glory as well.

What's not to like about slot car drag racing? A basic car costs about $15, a pair of silicone tires is a buck, and the "fuel" comes out of a wall socket. A complete racing operation easily fits inside a tackle box, and it's possible to run a national series for the cost of first-class postage. True, there are no nitro fumes in the air, no clouds of smoke from tortured tires, no scantily clad trophy girls, and no coverage at 2 a.m. on cable TV. On the other hand, a $1 million budget barely gets you through the gate at a professional drag race these days, so slot car racing is a genuine bargain for racers on a tight budget.

Drag racing coverage was once a staple of CC's editorial package before the glut of events and the immediate gratification of online results made race reporting redundant. So with a nod to simpler times, CC is proud to bring readers the action from the inaugural NTRA World Finals, the season finale of the National Thunder Rod Association. Organized by the HO drag racing denizens of Nitroslots.com, the NTRA World Finals demonstrated that racing toy cars can be just as much fun as racing real cars (which are actually just more expensive, louder toys if you think about it).

The NTRA World Finals was contested at the reborn Lions Drag Strip, a tribute to the famed track that roared in Long Beach, California, until its demise in December 1972. Lions still looms large in CC's collective consciousness, a place where former staff members spent their misbegotten youth and tested Detroit's best and brightest during the first muscle car era. The Lions Drag Strip re-creation is not so much a replica as an impression of the historic venue, incorporating many of the elements that made the track memorable: the elevated timing tower and pedestrian bridge behind the starting line, the refreshment stand in the pits that sold hot tamales, and the V-shaped Lions sign that stood proudly alongside the San Diego freeway.

The slot car of choice for NTRA drag racing is the venerable Aurora ThunderJet chassis, produced by the thousands in Hong Kong. A surprising number of ThunderJets have survived since the '60s and '70s, and N.O.S. chassis and parts are still available, albeit at 21st century prices. The TJet's quirky pancake chassis design, with its characteristic horizontal armature and an array of spur gears, has been cloned and reproduced in modern times by Johnny Lightning and Auto World, making cars abundant and affordable. Modern inline-motor chassis from Tomy, Mattel, and specialist suppliers offer superior performance, but considerably less nostalgia.

Competition classes in slot car drag racing mimic real-world racing and range from box stock to highly modified. The axiom that speed costs money holds true in slot car racing, with performance-enhancing modifications adding to both the thrill factor and the bottom line expense. In slot car drag racing, voltage is like nitromethane-crank up the volts and the car runs faster. At 14 volts DC, a typical TJet is reasonably quick; at 26 volts, it's a bullet. The resistance of the armature windings is roughly analogous to displacement: If a stock 16-ohm armature is a nice 283 small-block, a 5-ohm arm is a torquey big-block, and a 1-ohm arm is a Top Fuel motor with a short fuse.

NTRA events are run as mail-in proxy races-racers send in their entries, which the host club drives on their behalf. The hosts aren't eligible to compete in their own races, heading off any potential conflicts of interest. The quickest car doesn't always win, as driver reaction times, redlights, and hole shots frequently determine the outcome in close matches. Links on the Nitroslots.com site and some creative web surfing will turn up many other organizations, clubs, and commercial tracks that conduct slot car drag races.

Previous rounds of the NTRA championship were held in Colorado, Florida, and Illinois. Fifty-one entries from across the U.S. competed in three classes at the NTRA World Finals: Stock, Gasser, and Nostalgia Funny Car (see the Nitroslots website for the complete lowdown on classes and rules). Since it's about modeling as well as racing, many of the entries had period paint schemes and were remarkably detailed.

Regardless of the size of the car, success in drag racing requires careful preparation, sharp tuning skills, and a killer instinct on race day. In short, racing on a smaller scale can be just as rewarding as the real thing-and a lot cheaper.

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • View Full Article
By Rick Voegelin
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!
0 comments
Car Craft