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High School Slot Racing - Round Two!

By Wayne Halabourda

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The High School Student-Built Hillclimb Track

For the 1998 - 1999 school year, I had a grand total of 16 technology students.  For the 1999 - 2000 school year this figure has grown to a whopping 94 students.  That is about a 600% increase in just one year.  These are numbers beyond my wildest dreams.  Yet this is precisely the growth I experienced since starting a slot racing program at my school last year.  It is clear that slot racing has captured the imagination of these students.

A view from the bank

With this kind of growth, I knew that we had outgrown our existing 65', six-lane track.  So, last spring, I set about rearranging my workbenches - I needed more room!  In the end I was able to go from a 10' x 18' footprint to 13' x 28'.  This would allow a longer eight-lane track.  We decided on a Hillclimb layout because of its compact form. The 105' track was drawn up on AutoCAD and broken down into 4' x 8' sections.  AutoCAD is an essential tool for design as I can quickly modify and adjust the layout as many times as necessary. I also knew that a former student's father owned a cabinet shop stocked with a $300,000 CNC router table.  This saved a huge amount of time (and mess) cutting the track.  Whereas the old track took between two and three hours per section to route by hand, the new track took less than 30 minutes.  With 16 pieces to cut, this still took a full day.  This service was affordable because of an exchange of services: I got a new track, the cabinet shop owner got some AutoCAD lessons for his staff.  I talked with Brian Crosby at Ogilvie Custom Tracks recently and found out that they still cut their tracks by hand.  UGH!  By the way the finished product was perfect.  We had to trim nothing as the CNC machine cuts to an accuracy of 100th of a millimetre!

Better not try driving this assembly over the U.S. border!  ;-)Back at the ranch, with bags of farm hands, the assembly went quickly.  I will say however, I think the first track was put together better than this one.  With so many kids working it was harder for me to check quality control, so there are a few bumps here and some braid to reglue there.  But overall this track is awesome to drive and the layout offers better visibility and marshalling. Whereas the old track uses D.C. power supplies, I opted for battery power on this track for several reasons.  First, I want to start running hotter motors than unbalanced 16D's.  The 10 amp linear D.C. supplies on the old track would let me run X-12's okay, but in a rider situation I think the system would be overloaded.  Also, because I do not have the old track sold yet  (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), I'm experiencing a bit of a money crunch.  I got a couple of factory blemished deep-cycle gel cells for $40 each.  The power supplies are about $70 each.  Multiply that by eight and you get a whack of money that I would rather redirect to where it would be better spent. I put another TrakMate timer/lap counter on this track, as I am able to work with Dan Groulx, helping him develop his software.  We went away from the infra red sensors and are now using a dead strip.  There will be a separate relay for each lane so that the timer may be reset and, in a commercial application, time sold.  He is also supplying me with a splitter so that I can run two monitors at the same time. This will let racers monitor there position in real time and hopefully avoid kids running around the track at the end of a heat to see how they did. Aside from racing, we will be tackling a number of other projects.  The students will soon build motors from scratch.  These will not be slot car motors, but rather working models that will help them understand how a three-pole DC motor works.  They will also air brush, detail, and mount a body and interior in true concours fashion.  Yet another idea I got from Vance Oathout at last year's Slugfest is to design and build trailers for their slot cars.  The payload will be lima beans!  The objective is to go fast - without spilling the beans.

Racing action in the donutAnother project we are working on is a Magnet Zapper.  I have finally assembled all the materials and now just need a bit of time.  I cannot thank Monty Ohren enough for the information on how to build one.  We spoke on the phone for over one hour last spring.  This seems like a good place to thank some other people who have been so unselfish and immeasurably helpful:  Lee Gilbert at the Speed Shop, Kirk Livernash at South Hills Slots, Gil Aubin, Brian Crosby at Ogilvie Custom Tracks, Brian Youngson at Victory Lane Hobbies, Rudy Bardeck at Apollo Industries for cutting my track, and on and on. (Hey Larry S. where's our stuff!! LOL).  Of course there is also Ben Bell at SlotSide, Paul Meiers at Slot Car Bulletin, Greg Wells at Slot Car Enthusiast, and John Ford at SARN who all helped me "spread the good word" about what we are trying to do.  Last, but not least there is Paul Kassens, whom I briefly met at last year's SlugFest.  The Old Weird Herald, his online Magazine (it goes way beyond magazine, by the way) is absolutely invaluable to guys like me who are just starting out.  I have come to "know" many new friends on the bulletin board and through various correspondences.  Even everybody's walking, talking poke-in-the-eye, local racer, is at the very least entertaining and at his best insightful.  Some of you guys have to lighten up a bit. LOL.

Who says kids aren't into hobbies like slot cars any more?

One thing I have not been able to do yet is interest other technology teachers into starting a slot racing program.  I am not sure if it is a case of them just not being interested (that is hard to believe when one considers the kind of growth my courses have experienced).  I am sure that there are a number of tech teachers who are doing equally interesting things that are more in tune with their own personal interests.  However, there are a good number of teachers that take an apathetic approach who feel they get paid the same whether they are innovative or not.  They will be making their spice racks, cookie sheets and bottle openers until they reach their long awaited retirement.  Another point to remember is that slot racing is only part of the equation.  If it were the whole picture, then I, the teacher, do not factor in - I would be unimportant and anyone could simply take over and be successful.  I believe, in all modesty, that I am important, that the kids take my courses at least partly because of me.

View from the loft

It also seems to me that there are probably a good number of commercial track owners out there who have customers come in not because of them, but rather in spite of them.  These track owners should learn to put a smile on their faces, be more helpful and realize that slot racing could be any number of other things and that in time, it will and they will be out of a job.  I think my enthusiasm and support are what is important and that slot racing is secondary and could (it will not) be replaced with something else that the kids can buy into.  My courses will go beyond slot racing as I am going to start cedar strip canoe building, mountain bike maintenance, and custom golf club fitting and building later this year.  These are all things I am interested in and I know I will turn at least a few kids onto them as well.

Watch out for that first turn!

I would love to hear from anyone else who has or is thinking about taking up this kind of challenge.  My email address is wnhalabourda@hotmail.com.  I would like to offer you the generous help that has been shown me.  It is a whole ton of work, but just remember, when you get to your work and are faced with mountains of invoices and lawsuits and stuff like that, I am going to be playing with my toy cars.  I'm going to be smiling all day long in Geezer Heaven. 

by Wayne Halabourda
Burnaby, B.C. Canada
email: wnhalabourda@hotmail.com

Chrome Bar

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