Apparently if you want to get into Formula 1 like Lewis Hamilton it costs upwards of £8000 a year to start off in karting. If you don’t have access to that kind of cash but would still like the thrill of tuning and driving a car in competition, just think “32 times smaller” and you are in the world of Scalextric model motor racing.
It’s a great hobby for families and friends, competitive, not too expensive (if you don’t want it to be), gets the adrenalin flowing and you get to experience many of the same highs and lows as real racing drivers without the injury risk and expensive repair bills! The cars are also very collectable, there may be a club near you where you can race against others, plus it’s also a great educational toy for kids and can be used to explain all manner of physics and electrical topics.
About Digital Slot Car Racing
For years, model railway enthusiasts have been able to change a set of points remotely, to direct a train into a platform or siding. Now possible for slot cars, this request to “change the points” is sent by a chip in the car. Digital cars also have brakes! To send the lane-change signal, just press the button on your controller as your car crosses the sensor immediately prior to the lane-change section. The chip in each car responds only to the commands sent by the hand throttle that is controlling it. So now, instead of one hand throttle per lane, you have one per car.
You can run up to 6 cars with the advanced powerbase, or just use the 4-car powerbase included with starter sets. With the latest pit lane track pieces you can now set up 3 or 4 lane circuits and/or tracks with infield loops like this one displayed at the 2017 London Toy Fair.
The same command system that changes the points also controls the power to the car’s motor. Pre-digital, if you put two cars on one lane and squeeze the hand throttle, both cars move, and at half their normal speed, because the power is going direct to the cars’ motors and is shared. With the chip in the digital cars acting as a middleman, the digital throttle sends information only to the chip in the car that it is driving, so that in turn, the chip can control how fast the motor in the car is going. Through separate software, the digital system can also be used to simulate refuelling, pit stops and other features of the modern Grand Prix, plus keeping track of laps and lap times, and the 6-car powerbase offers additional game modes (Rally, Endurance, etc) – so it’s not just about changing lanes.
All in all, with all the features of digital racing, (aside from the rails in the track!), compared to analogue, you get a much more realistic representation of full size motor racing, but in your own premises and without the huge expense of racing a real car. Adding scenery to the track enhances the representation even further.
Conversion and compatibility
All previous Scalextric track from the 1960s onwards is compatible with digital racing. Almost all non-digital Scalextric cars, along with cars of most other makes, can be converted to run on a Scalextric Sport Digital (SSD) track. As described below, other companies’ digital race sets are not as friendly to other brands as Scalextric’s. So if you are buying a digital set, check that the one you buy can be extended to meet your future needs and can cope with your mates’ cars when they come round to your place for a race.
Also, once converted, you can run digital cars on an analogue track (you can’t run analogue cars on a digital track though). The only difference you may notice with a chipped car running on an analogue track is less responsive braking, so you may need to slow down a bit earlier for the corners (consequently you may find yourself a tiny bit slower overall, if racing a chipped car against a field of un-chipped ones on an analogue track.)
If you already have a Scalextric circuit, of any age, you can upgrade it to digital using the If you tell us what existing analogue set you already have, we can advise on the extra track you will need to convert it to a starter digital layout (and provide a free track plan for you).
Why go digital?
In analogue one-car-per-lane racing, the primary factors involved in winning the race are the limits of speed and adhesion of your car, your ability to reach them in a controlled manner, and the length of the lane you are on. That’s it. What other cars are doing is largely irrelevant, but if you are running on a lane next to a competitor that regularly “fishtails” into your path, you are at a disadvantage for the whole race. If your lane is longer than everyone else’s or has a power disadvantage or a dodgy track connection, or if your car is not quite as quick or grippy as the others you are similarly in the back foot. Unless you have some crossovers, chicanes or side swipe straights, you don’t have the opportunity to affect your competitors’ races by getting to a pinch point in the track before them and so making track position work to your advantage. And last but by no means least, to race with more than two people you have to start building unrealistically-wide, space-hogging 4, 6, or 8 lane circuits. Some dyed-in-the-wool slot car fanatics like it this way because it means they can just go round the circuit relentlessly pumping in quick laps on their own lane without thinking much about other competitors.
With digital, things even up a bit. Lane length is immaterial, you can be on any lane at any time, the power and lanes being shared by all cars. The ability to swap lanes means you have the choice of lane for a particular corner. If there is a car on track that’s difficult to pass, it’s the same for everyone. And you don’t necessarily have to be the fastest driver, although having a quick car with good grip will obviously be helpful – but a smart driver with a slightly slower car can get track position and make everyone else work to get past them. You will have to lap people as well using the same method. Bad driving is more heavily penalised because if you crash you really have to work your way back through the traffic – it’s much more like a real motor race. You can also use the computer functions to run different types of race, like endurance, or rally stages and you can fit a much longer track into a smaller space – because you only need two lanes (although using forked track pieces you can still open your track out to three or four lanes in places if you want to). Also, digital racing software creates simulations of fuel and tyre stops, economy driving and fuel weight. Overall it requires a different tactical approach and could accurately be described as the “thinking person’s slot car racing”.
Who is digital racing for?
Since establishing this site in 2015, it seems that slot car racers mainly fall into two groups: (a) young boys (and girls) and teenagers, and (b) men over about 40 rediscovering their childhood hobby with their kids, wives and girlfriends. The arrival of digital technology is prompting many people to dust off their old track in the attic, bring it up to date with some new cars, and adding in the digital track pieces. Women particularly seem to find digital racing more appealing than traditional “stay in the same lane” racing because of its more strategic bias – a steady, quick-thinking driver can often outwit and out maneuver those who prefer out-and-out speed but with regular visits to the crash barriers. So even if you have never tried the hobby before you might find it a welcome change from nights in front of the telly, and it’s a great excuse to have some friends round.
Which is the best digital slot car system?
Well, we can only speak from the point of view of the UK buyer. SCX Digital (Spanish), Carrera Pro-X (German) and Ninco N-Digital (Spanish) are the three main other digital slot car systems. All of these systems are separate and largely incompatible, both with each other and with Scalextric. SCX Digital is even incompatible with SCX analogue.
For example where Scalextric uses an LED for car identification, Ninco’s system uses digital data pulses. Ninco’s digital chips have to be disconnected if you want to run them in analogue (Scalextric’s don’t). And SCX’s system uses special guide blades in the cars for the lane changing mechanism – just a few examples.
We have nothing in particular against these systems, which work well in their own right, and for some types of users in certain countries – and for those without any existing commitment to Scalextric in terms of track and cars, these other systems may well be ideal. However this web site is focused on the UK, where many people already have some Scalextric kit from the last 50 years tucked away in storage.
If you already have knowledge of how Scalextric works from your youth (the basics haven’t changed much), and already have Scalextric cars, or are likely to be browsing UK toy shops for cars in the future where Scalextric is the main brand on offer, or needing English-speaking telephone technical support, then Scalextric will certainly be the easiest route for you. Sure some of the other brands have one or two digital features that Scalextric doesn’t have, but with the more “open source” nature of the Scalextric offering, many extra features are available via third parties. And being as these other digital formats are more “closed” in nature and not so widely accessible in the UK, for British customers the choice is fairly simple – it’s Scalextric.
Also do note that even if you choose Scalextric as the basic framework for your digital layout, analogue SCX, Carrera and Ninco cars, plus those of other brands such as Fly, can still be chipped to run on Scalextric Digital, so you are getting pretty much the best of all worlds. Other makes have different wiring / motor / power configurations so check the Chipping Database link in the margin first. And for example the independent model maker “Slot-It” have produced their own SSD chip to help with this process. However another manufacturer “Sloter” have an agreement to produce SCX Digital Cars. So your best bet when shopping for non-Scalextric cars to chip, is to look for cars labelled “SSD-compatible” or “SSD-ready”. See also the separate page about “Scalextric in Spain”.
A word about die-cast models…
Model companies are queueing up to sell die-cast (static) models of F1 and other racing cars, at prices sometimes greater than the cost of a Scalextric car with a motor in it that you can actually drive. In the past it may have been true that slot car models had to compromise design and looks to fit in the motor and electrics, so the Scalextric model wasn’t a true likeness of the real car, but these days that’s no longer the case. To us it’s a puzzle why someone would want to buy a car to sit and look at on a shelf, when for around the same price you can get one that you can actually tune and race your friends with. But then we are a digital racing shop!