It's all been building up to the start of the race. But how are you going to organise it, how long will it be, and how are you going to deal with crashes?
In this section we'll take a look at the various racing formats that are popularly used, and later we'll examine the options for lap counting and timing.
Racing rules are simply a way to make the racing fairer. They can be as simple or as complicated as you like, but if you don't know how many laps the race entails, which cars are allowed, or how to deal with crashes, then you'll be creating problems.
Rules are usually made up of three distinct elements; entry regulations, race formats, and crash rules. These elements can be combined in many different ways, so let's take a look at each category separately.
Entry regulations simply define the type of cars which are eligible for a particular race. They are most often an attempt to create a reasonably well matched field of cars. Just like full sized racing, there's probably not much point racing the fastest F1 cars with powerful motors and lots of downforce, against a vintage 1950s road car with skinny tyres and limited power.
In less formal situations these rules can be very relaxed, or even non existant. For more formal club and championship races, the rules can be both lengthy, prescriptive, and rigidly enforced.
For instance, you might simply choose to race Scalextric BTCC cars with no modifications. That should give you a reasonably matched field of cars, and is easy to understand. At the other end of the scale, you might choose to have a wider range of rules regarding tuning, modifications, replacement parts, dimensions, scale accuracy, and whatever else takes your fancy. Of course, a longer list of rules can be off putting for some, but it does open things out to allow the scratch builders, kit bashers and tuners to use their skills.
The main thing is to find a set of rules that suit you, your friends, or your club members, and that might well involve having several different classes of cars and races.
Race formats simply define how you are going to stucture a race; how long it lasts, whether it will include qualifying, heats and finals, and how points are awarded if you are running an organised tournament, or season of races.
Obviously you can make this as simple or as involved as you like, but there are several basic formats which often form the basis of races.
Lap limited races, often called Grands Prix, are simply where the race length is limited to a certain number of laps, and the winner is obviously the first to complete those laps. It couldn't really be simpler.
Time limited races are where the race is limited to a timed duration, as you might find in Endurance racing like Le Mans. Once the time is up, the drivers finish their current lap, and the winner is the driver who has completed the most laps, and completed them before anybody else on the same number of laps.
This is a popular format for a series of races, and is intended to remove the advantage of certain lanes of a track being quicker, or easier to drive. To achieve this, each driver races once on each lane of the track, and the winner is decided on the cumulative totals of all of the races.
Team races, as the name suggests, involve two or more people taking turns to drive the car. It's a popular format for digital endurance races, where the drivers swap over during a pit stop, just as they do at Le Mans.
Rally & Hillclimb
Rally & hillclimb formats usually involve a single driver on track, driving a set number of timed laps. The competitors set their times in turn, and the winner is the quickest.
As with full sized racing, timed qualifying sessions can be used to determine grid positions, particularly for digital racing.
Drag racing is, as you might expect, drivers racing on a long straight track, two at a time, against the clock.
The final element to consider is how to deal with the inevitable deslots, or crashed cars. There are several ways to do this.
If you have more people than grid slots for a particular race, it is traditional for those who are not racing to act as track marshals. In slot car racing this usually involves putting any deslotted cars back in the correct lane.
Crash & Go
If you have enough track marshals, then crash and go is a viable format. Basically this means that as the marshal removes, and replaces a deslotted car, the race continues.
Crash & Stop
If you don't have enough track marshals, it can make sense for the drivers to stop if a car deslots. At an organised club this might be achieved by actually cutting power to the track, or less formally it can just be an agreed protocol. This is obviously not the most realistic way of dealing with crashed cars, but it can avoid the damage caused by the cars still racing smashing into a deslotted car.
Crash & Burn
This the simplest format, though it can seem fairly brutal. With crash and burn, if you deslot you are out of the race. It certainly teaches people to drive more carefully, but it usually works better for shorter races.
Crash & Run
For less formal races, crash and run can be fun. Here you have to replace your own car on the track if you deslot. Or if it's a team race, then co-drivers can reslot their own cars.
Let's take a look at race timing and control. Will you be starting the race with a simple "Ready, Steady, Go", and counting the laps, or will you have the start lights counting down, the current race information displayed on a screen, the fastest laps picked out, and all the bells and whistles that go with a modern race management system.
Let's take a look at the options.
Once you have built your track the next thing to consider is a lap counting method so you can conduct an actual race. Back in the day your only realistic choice was counting on your fingers or a simple mechanical device like this which would just count the laps:
Old Scalextric Lap Counter
In more recent times manufacturers moved on a bit and produced electronic versions like these which added lap timing to the equation:
Most major manufacturers have produced something similar, a lot of them are no longer in production but are usually available second hand. If you only have a temporary track then they may well be all you need. A good, if pricey, stand alone system for temporary tracks is also available from Dragon Racing Systems.
Race Management Systems
Nowadays sophisticated electronic Race Management Systems (RMS) are widely available which will do a lot more than just simple lap timing, but you do need a permanent track to get the best out of them as they are not easily dismantled.
There are three parts to any race control system:
A method of detecting when a car passes the start/finish line. The three main ways of doing this are:
‘Dead strip’ (a modified section of track which has a few centimetres where the rails are unpowered and isolated which connects to a simple electronic circuit).
Sensors and a lightbridge (a bridge with lights that shine onto the track. Photo resistors are set into the track which detect when a car passes under the bridge and casts a shadow).
Slotted opto coupler (fits under track and doesn’t need a lightbridge. No light is needed since it has an integral transmitter and receiver co-axially aligned in the device).
RMS Software. There are several of these available, some free, some paid for. They turn the signals from the track sensors into useable data and run the races for you.
A Windows PC or laptop. This does not have to be an expensive new one, RMS software uses a tiny fraction of a computer’s capabilities so any cheap second hand/refurbished one running XP or later will do just fine. They can usually be picked up very cheaply on eBay and some places even give their old stuff away when upgrading their systems.
Plug and Play
There are many ‘plug and play’ complete systems on the market if you should wish to buy one. Here are links for a few to consider:
They all have their good and bad points, none of them stand out as significantly better or worse than the rest and it is just down to personal preference, but they are all expensive.
However, if you can wield a soldering iron and connect wires to computer plugs (or know a man who can) then it is easy to construct your own at a fraction of the cost. A simple lightbridge and sensor set up can be made for £20/£25.
Due to the availability of different computer inputs (parallel port, serial port, usb etc.) it is beyond the scope of this article to detail all the wiring arrangements but here are some links to point you in the right direction:
If you need further help then just ask a question on the forum and somebody will be sure to respond.
All you need to do then is install an RMS. Here are three to consider:
Lap Timer 2000
Free download, simple and very basic for home use. Ideal for a beginner who wants to start racing as quickly as possible without spending too much time setting it up. The software is no longer supported after the unfortunate passing of Gregory Braun, but fortunately we have a copy of the software.
Generally reckoned to be the best RMS available and will run anything from a single lane rally track to a fully featured eight lane club system. It is donation-ware so you can get it for free but any contributions do go to a very worthwhile charity so please donate if you use it. Its capabilities are almost limitless but it does need a lot of setting up. It has a very useful demo mode so you can try things out without connecting directly to the track.
Which one you use depends on your own requirements but it won’t cost anything to try them out so experiment with all three before you decide.
Race Management Systems.
Most digital slot car systems come with basic lap timing and race mode options either built into the powerbase or accessed by plug-in accessories. Carrera Digital has an impressive range of functions – including a fuel simulation – that operate from the Control Unit and can be displayed via a range of accessories. Similar set-ups are available for the now discontinued Ninco N-Digital and SCX Digital systems.
However, many enthusiasts have linked their digital systems to software run on personal computers. Most require additional hardware to connect. The latest digital systems from Scalextric, Carrera and SCX have apps that run on smart devices and connect direct to the powerbase or to a plug-in dongle via Bluetooth.
Software for Windows computers
PC Lap Counter
Developed by Guy Langenakens, PC Lap Counter is compatible with Carrera Digital, Scalextric Advanced 6-Car Powerbase, SCX Digital, Ninco N-Digital, Davic, Slot.it oXigen and Scorpius. In addition to race management, has a fuel simulation. Requires appropriate powerbase to PC cable.
Developed for the Scalextric Advanced 6-Car Powerbase by Martin Schmidt and Marcel Minnaard. In addition to a fuel simulation, RCS64 offers tyre choices, variable weather conditions, simulated grip, brake fade, plus a damage simulation. Requires APB to USB cable.