About Model Car Racing Magazine Print E-mail

by Robert Schleicher

Model Car Racing is a 60-page bimonthly magazine, with most of the pages in full color. The magazine features in-depth photo-illustrated articles that are focused exclusively on realistic scale model car racing on tabletop tracks in your home. The first issue was January/February 2002 and every issue has been on sale by the 15th of every even month. The only advertising that appears in the magazine is for new products, so the proportion of pages of editorial material is usually much greater than in most hobby magazines--we always try to give you "more magazine" with Model Car Racing. Information on back issues is on the bottom of this page.

 

The cars you see on the pages of Model Car Racing magazine are as realistic as die-cast cars, but these cars you can actually race! Knowing that, why would you want to buy a model car that did not run?

I have defined the purpose of Model Car Racing magazine by the subtitle that appears on the contents page: "Ready-To-Run Cars You Can Race At Home," but those terms need some clarifying. There are several other forms of electric model car racing, including radio-controlled racing, racing battery-powered cars in trough-shaped "lanes" or tracks, and racing 1/24 scale slot cars on commercial tracks--you'll find nothing about those hobbies in these pages.

The cars and tracks you'll see in Model Car Racing may look like the slot car hobby you participated in or heard about from the sixties and seventies, but there are some significant differences between that hobby and this one of racing realistic model cars. This magazine is the direct result of the "arrival" of this new hobby. Since the "new" hobby is a development of the old (and since the "old" is still an active hobby), I'd like to give you a bit of history and a description of what you will and will not find in the pages of Model Car Racing.

Real Racing Cars With A History

These miniatures are far more than the sum of their parts, each one is a piece of history you can see in action. Today, a full-size car is worth as much as triple the price if the car has a racing history, a provenance. Each of the models on these pages has that racing history and we turn back the clock with pictures and words to reveal the provenance of that model. And there’s more; each car is not just a statue or a museum piece, it really is a racing car that you can race. When you race it, you add your provenance---you have brought that car back to life!

Scale Model Car Racing Made Easy

Today's model car racing hobby differs from most of the slot car racing of the sixties and seventies in some very significant ways: You no longer have to be a master model builder or a professional model painter or a certified model mechanical engineer to enjoy this hobby. Today, you don't have to build a thing. Today's electric model race cars are more realistic than those that were hand-fabricated by the top dozen modelers in the world in the sixties and seventies. And today's cars are ready to run: just undo the thumbscrew that holds the car in its plastic case, put the car on the track, and drop the pickup shoe into the slot. Some of the people who enjoy today's hobby of racing realistic model cars also buy (or have kept) slot cars from the sixties and seventies, and you'll see some of those models on these pages.

Today's model race cars are usually raced on sectional plastic track assembled in a spare room, basement, or garage. Some of the track, like Scalextric and the HO sectional track, was introduced in the sixties and seventies, but it has been upgraded, and several newer brands are available to make it easier to build a superb track at home. The race track is snapped together in a half hour from foot-long interchangeable plastic sections, and you can duplicate real race courses or create your own, changing the track configuration every month or so, or keeping the tracks you like for as long as you like before changing them. Today's plastic sectional track is better than anything that was routed from particle board in the sixties and seventies. "Plug and play" is a phrase used in the hobby industry to describe a hobby that can be enjoyed to its fullest without any developed skills, and today's slot car racing hobby truly is plug and play.

The Digital Age---6 Cars---2 Lanes

So you really want to race? But risking your body, not to say $100,000 or so for a car, just doesn't fit your lifestyle? Some claim that a Play Station or X-Box video game is the closest you can get to real racing. Others believe that fuel-powered 1/8 scale radio control cars offer everything the real cars have but a driver's seat. In truth, nothing but real racing really provides the life-threatening risk that goes beyond an adrenalin rush. Nothing matches that, but, for me, digital model car racing comes darn close, far closer to getting all my attention than a two-dimensional video game or a drive around a parking lot.

There is a fairly large percentage of real racers that also race model cars. There's a group of about three dozen model car racers who complete regularly in my area. About a fourth of them also race full-size cars or motorcycles; one's an SCCA Class Champion, another an autocross winner, others compete with flat track motorcycles, moto-cross and motorcycle enduros. Most of them have now had the chance to race on digital lane-changing systems and, without exception, they agree that, bar that life-threatening experience, this is the closest you can get to real racing.

For the first time in the history of racing model cars on a tabletop, you really can recreate the appearance, the speed and, now, the movements of real racing cars. Digital racing system have provided an element of racing realism that has been missing from tabletop racing, you can now "maneuver" the cars, in addition to controlling their cornering and regulating their acceleration and braking. "Maneuver" is the key element that has been missing from model car racing.

The "action" of traditional slot car racing is two cars (or even better three or four) and drivers with speed and skill equal enough to be able to run side by side for lap after lap. Exciting, of course! Something that happens on a real race track? It happens less than rarely. Real race cars MANEUVER from one side of the track to other to be able to get past that nearest car. Digital has added that "move-over" maneuvering capability and it changes everything.

Full-size racing cars only have the track all themselves for brief moments, hardly ever the chance to pass at will just about anywhere. Full-size racecars are often found in groups, (clumps, if you prefer), with two or more drivers attempting to get around the lead car. The element that makes a race a race, as opposed to a timed fastest lap, is that concentration of three or four or five or even six cars in a melee, all vying for the inside line. My ancient Webster's Dictionary calls a melee "A fight between combatants mingling in a confused mass." And I've not seen that on any four-lane model car track. Somehow, two cars running side-by-side, watching only for curves where one car might knerf the other, has never been anything like a melee---but melees are almost always the most exciting part of any real car race.

Scalextric, Carrera, SCX, NINCO and Artin have new cars and controllers that use digital technology to allow you to drive the cars more like real racing machines than slot cars. The new systems allow four to six cars to race at once in one lane, with each car under your complete control. There's no need for more than two lanes. With the digital systems, the better drivers will soon learn which is the "fastest line" around the track and you will be "the first of the losers" if you can't figure out how to pass the leader---the second lane is for passing. That's what happens on a real race track, even in NASCAR. It's a first for tabletop racing. Until now, tabletop racing was still "slot racing" with each car able to zip along more-or-less without regard to any other car on the track---that's not the way it is on a real race track.

The new digital systems all feature a diagonal slot in a special track section to allow the cars to move from Lane 1 to Lane 2. With the Scalextric Sport Digital, Carrera Digital 132, Ninco N-Digital and Artin systems, there's a small metal flap that aligns either with the straight-ahead slot or with the crossover slot. A button on your controller "opens" that flap to the crossover when you want to change lanes. There's an electronic sensor just before the crossover that identifies your car, so only your car will take the crossover path to change lanes. The SCX Digital system is similar except the lane-change mechanics take place inside the car with a special lane-selecting pickup system. The track plans in Model Car Racing, starting back in issue number 16 have Scalextric and Carrera lane changers located at what I would guess would the best places to best simulate real racing action.

These systems all have built-in car identification systems for fool-proof lap counting and timing. Most of the systems also offer optional computer-generated pit stop track sections so each car must add enough "fuel" finish the race.

Remember Slot Car Racing?

This probably sounds like the hobby you remember. Those memories, however, are colored by years of nostalgia. In the old days, you had to build just about everything. Some cars came in kits complete with motors and chassis, but you had to assemble the chassis and body, paint the body, hand-brush the tiny details, and apply decals. If you wanted to race, you had to assemble a track that was far more complex to build than a deck on your house, then apply your skills with a power router to cut the slots. The alternative was to take your car to the nearest commercial slot car shop and rent time by the hour on their tennis-court-sized eight-lane tracks.

We called this hobby slot car racing in the fifties and most of the sixties. Then something happened. What was a hobby became more of a sport as the need for speed overcame the desire to create replicas of real cars. Most Americans raced their cars on one of the 4,000 or so commercial raceways that were operating in America and about that many more worldwide in the early seventies. By the early seventies, the "cars" had evolved from scale replicas of real racing cars into "slot cars." A typical slot car was 1/24 scale with a wedge-shaped body. Two-inch-high pieces of clear plastic sheet designed to force the airflow over the car for more downforce were stapled to the sides and rear of the body. That hobby peaked in the early seventies, then almost disappeared. The number of tracks had diminished to less than 100 tracks worldwide in the eighties. That hobby has grown slightly and stabilized at about 300 commercial raceways around the world. You won't find those cars or tracks in Model Car Racing magazine, but if speed is more important to you than absolute realism, you might enjoy racing on commercial raceways. There are listings of commercial raceways, clubs, and websites that cater to these 1/24 scale cars on the web.

You will see a few 1/24 scale cars in these pages because there is a relatively small group of people around the world that want the superb realism and exact scale of today's 1/32 scale cars but prefer the larger-sized 1/24 scale cars. You can run 1/24 scale cars on Carrera sectional plastic tracks, and Carrera, BMW and Avant Slot also offer ready-to-run 1/24 scale cars. You can also assemble your own 1/24 scale cars from a variety of static model plastic kits, clear plastic and cast-resin bodies and separate chassis (as you can in 1/32 scale). Some commercial raceways offer special events for these exact-scale 1/24 scale cars. You can, of course, race any 1/32 scale car on a commercial raceway, but the car will be lost in the vastness of the track.

HO Scale Model Car Racing

I have grouped "HO scale" cars into a separate category because their path of development from the sixties and seventies to today has taken a slightly different direction. The HO model car racing hobby began as a highway accessory to HO model trains. It quickly developed into a racing hobby with models of race cars in addition to sedans and trucks. Today, there are several hundred clubs around the world that race HO cars with clear plastic bodies (painted on the inside so the clear plastic protects the paint), wide foam rear tires, O-ring front tires, and extremely strong traction magnets that literally rub the steel pickup rails at many places. These HO cars look like flattened-out versions of real racing cars, but they have not needed the clear plastic air dams along the sides and ends, nor the wedge shapes of the 1/24 scale commercial raceway cars--the ultra-strong magnets provide all the downforce they need. These cars are so fast that they can zip around a 90-foot track in less than three seconds.

Most of the people I call "commercial HO racers" build their own cars starting with a bare A/FX G-Plus chassis and installing all-new components and a hand-painted clear plastic body. Except for the wider rear tires, thin front tires, and often a brass plate suspended beneath the chassis, the chassis for these fully modified HO cars do not look all that different from an out-of-the-box G-Plus car. These fully modified cars are also available ready-built for about $100. The tracks themselves are usually made by one of the half-dozen commercial track builders from hand-routed plastic sheet with steel pickup rails and a continuous strip of color to identify each slot. Most are six lanes wide. With the stronger magnets and faster motors, these cars can reach speeds of about 20 real miles an hour, fast enough to lap a 50-foot tri-oval in less than two seconds. There are a few commercial raceways that also have HO scale tracks for rent, but most HO scale racing on hand-routed tracks takes place among clubs with the track in one of the member's homes. You'll find dozens of listings of these HO clubs on the web. There is a growing enthusiasm among HO model car racers to race cars without traction magnets so the HO cars can powerslide around the corners like 1/32 scale cars. You'll see much more about those cars in Model Car Racing magazine. If you want to pursue speed over realism, you will be able to find a club and websites that will provide most of the information you seek. Only the HO cars that are designed to be realistic replicas of real race cars will appear in Model Car Racing.

Why Model Car Racing Magazine?

In a sentence, to show you the newest cars, other racer's cars and tracks, tracks you can build in your own home, ways to make each car equal to others in its class, performance tests of new cars, how to tune ready-to-run cars for more performance, how to upgrade and build your own cars, a regular series of race track plans you can assemble from sectional track or route from MDF board or expanded PVC plastic sheet, and thousands of other ways to make model car racing more fun. The magazine focuses on replicas of real racing cars with ongoing series of articles on how you can build your own replicas of cars you cannot buy ready to run.

I deliberately did not include the words "slot car" in the title because that term has become synonymous with the cars and tracks at commercial raceways, and that is a different hobby. This "new" hobby of model car racing that you see in the pages of Model Car Racing magazine will continue to grow, unlike what happened when too-expensive, too-fast caricatures of cars all but killed "slot car racing" in the seventies. This new hobby is about matching the performance of cars (or picking cars with matching performance) so the cars are as equal as similar cars would be on real-world racetracks. I call it "Performance Parity" and you will be able to learn much more about it in these pages over the coming months.

Each issue of Model Car Racing also includes a track plan for a 5x9-foot ping-pong or similar size fold-up portable tabletop raceway in 1/32 scale for each of the popular brands of sectional track, as well as plans for larger replicas of real racing tracks. You'll see how those wonderful model cars of the sixties and seventies compare to today's cars. We're addressing the magazine to three distinct audiences: the adult who wants to have accurate replicas of real cars, the adult who also wants to race those accurate replicas of real cars (preferably on a track that's a replica of a real track), and a younger audience who just wants to have more fun from these electric race cars. The majority of the articles in this magazine focus on 1/32 scale, but we expect to have at least one at least one HO track plan, and some photos of your HO cars and tracks. We also have an occasional article per issue about realistic 1/24 scale model racing cars. The tracks we feature are always be home or club tracks, ranging from 3x6-foot HO layouts to some of the larger 1/32 scale home track with 100-foot lap lengths.

A Magazine You Can Trust, Because It's Yours

We all do everything we can to make Model Car Racing a magazine you can trust to have ideas, tune-up tips, track designs, and other articles that we have tested so we know they work. The magazine is never, ever, the "final authority." The editorial policy is that every article is a "Part 1," even it does not state it. That means we are putting what we know "out there," and if you have more information or a better way, please let us know and we'll print an updated article, or if it's a simple revision, supply a correction in our "letters" column. We always hope to receive updates, corrections, more information, more facts, more photographs and other feedback from experienced modelers so we can publish supplementary articles.

I have been waiting for over a quarter century for the hobby of model car racing to revive, and revive it has, thanks mainly to the relatively low cost and incredible quality available from Spain and the Orient. The hobby of racing 1/32 scale cars survived as home racing in England and Europe during the eighties and nineties, but the ready-to-run cars were more toy-like than the die-cast metal models that began to proliferate during that period.

Fly can claim credit for starting this new hobby (in the late nineties) by risking production of a fully detailed 1/32 scale car that not only matched the quality and realism of the best die-cast cars, but included a full driver figure, interior, and all visible chassis details. And these exact replicas of real cars can be raced! Today, every model race car maker has cars in their line with quality like Fly's cars, and virtually all of the newest cars match that level of realism. The very best hobbyists in the sixties and seventies could not custom-build cars as well detailed or that ran as well as the cars you can buy ready-to-run today.

The hobby has matured, and it's more fun than any other form of car racing, large or small. Model Car Racing magazine brings this hobby home to you. 

BACK ISSUES

We have no paper copies of any back issue. You may be able to find some paper back issues at some of our dealers on the www.modelcarracingmag.com website, and Electric Dreams (www.electricdreams.com) has a few of the number 1 through 6 issues (from 2002) with a Scalextric Limited edition Cadillac Northstar LeMans car.

 

Internet versions of issues number 55 through 68 (all the issues from 2011, 2012 and 2013) are available at $4.95 each direct from the Apple iTunes store for the iPad, but only as readable and downloadable copies.

We have tried to keep the most significant material in print because photocopying back issue articles is not an option. The most important tuning and race setup information is on the www.modelcarracingmag.com website under the left hand link “New To The Hobby” as well as information on 1/43 scale vs. 1/32 scale. All of the Race Track Test results from issue #1 through #66 are also on the website under the top bar link ”More Information” then in the left box “Race Car Tests” and there is information on selecting a specific brand of track. All of the articles on digital racing, on visits to “Your Tracks”, 4 x 8 and 5 x 9 1/32 scale plans, 4 x 8 HO race track plans and additional features from issues #44 (March/April 2009) through the current issue are available on the website under the top bar link “Sample Issues”. These are readable and printable but cannot be downloaded for security purposes.

 

Most of the material that appeared in the in the January/February 2005 through November/December 2007 (numbers 19 through 36) issues of Model Car Racing is in the book SLOT CAR RACING IN THE DIGITAL AGE. Similarly, much of the material in SLOT CAR RACING, TIPS, TECHNIQUES  & TRACK PLANS was first published in the magazine in the January/February 2003 through November/December 2004 (numbers 7 through 18) issues but that book is no longer in print and no reprints are scheduled. 

There are two other recent books on model car racing (also by Robert Schleicher) that contain additional material that was not published in this magazine but both are long out of print: RACING AND COLLECTING SLOT CARS was published in 2001 and the THE SLOT CAR BIBLE in 2002.

 

 

 
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