Headed to Houston – Racing with the HSARC

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Headed to Houston 

I went to Houston this past Sunday the 2nd of May to participate in the Houston Scale Auto Racing Club’s Slot It Group C and Carrera GT races.  I had been planning this trip since the end of January after the final round of the Slot It DTM Proxy race series our two clubs put on.  After waiting for the past four months with schedule conflicts and holidays the race weekend was finally here.

For those that don’t already know, I could be called competitive.  I have been told I am also very German which I like to think means detail oriented.  I like process, procedure and rules.  In light of this I tried to get as clear of an understanding of the rules for both race series in order to get my cars set up prior to getting there.  This preparation would allow me the most time to practice the track without worrying about setting up any cars.

I prepared one Slot It Porsche 962KH Group C car and two Carrera BMW Z4 GT cars. Both were prepared using the rules that were communicated to me through multiple emails and by searching the Houston clubs Facebook page.  The rules for Slot It Group C state the car must be “box stock” with the magnet.

Slot.It  Group C: Box stock Slot.It, must be a Group C with stock inline, as above you can/must ensure the magnet downforce on our machine is below a certain level, and again a stock car is almost always less.  Everyone is supposedly running box stock everything. No gear changes, no ballast, no grubbies.

The rules allow for additional magnets but the overall downforce cannot exceed a specific amount only measurable on their home-made magnet marshal.  Here is the note from the Houston club.

The only exception is the magnet tweaking. Unforthunately that is best done at the track.  As for magnet downforce, we built our own machine to check. I could give you the number but its meaningless without our machine!. However we have a range of neo magnets from tiny to big for between 25c and 75c. The process is change the tires, true the tires, then tweak the magnet to get it under the limit. No weight is allowed.

On race day some HSARC members were talking about the club purchasing a Magnet Marshal so anyone can use a similar Magnet Marshall at home to get their car set up prior to getting to the track.  This internationally accepted magnetic downforce measuring device would be a great addition for the club and for visitors coming in from out of town.


The question still remains – what exactly is “box stock”?  Can a chassis be baked?  Can a motor be broken in?  What tire truing is allowed?  It will be interesting to see what exactly qualifies for box stock.  I found an interesting post on the Houston’s club Facebook page that shows more about what “box stock” means.

Got my Slot.it group c car today and set it up. Broke the motor in in water 4-5 volts 2 watts for about 35 minutes, oiled the motor and axle bushings, greased the gears, made sure the front of the car was sitting low, moved the rear wheels out till the rear end was as wide as it could be with the tires still inside the wheel wells, and trued down the rear tires till I was happy with the cars handling. 79 gram magnet pull. The limit is 85 grams for this class.

The Carrera cars run under similar box stock rules as explained in the email I received from the Houston club.

Carrera GT: Box stock, except you can use Paul Gauge Tires on the rear, and use an alternate front tire if the stock tire is too tall, and you can/must add/remove magnets to fall below max as specified on our checker (a box stock car is almost always under). Glue and true, break in the motor. Nothing else.

I know Paul Gage makes a couple of different tires that will fit the Carrera GT cars but when I asked which ones to purchase, I was told…

He (Paul Gage) makes them to suit each car. We have quite a few in stock, but I am about to order more. Basically we find a set that fits and true them up. They are inexpensive tires, but they are truable urethane and they really are good. We only allow it because the stock Carrera tires seem to rot after a short while. Paul Gage tires are made for each car/rim, there aren’t multiple compounds.

Actually, Paul Gage tires come in both a 20 and 40 durometer for each size.  It would be helpful if there was a specific tire number listed so everyone knew specifically what tires to purchase as once they are glued on they are not easy to change.

As easy as box stock racing appears on the face of it there are issues that are unavoidable.  Here is a reply to an email from the Houston club I received when asking about the rules.

I just got a new Group c which is wicked fast out of the box, and I personally would like to get this back in the schedule.

Notice the statement:  “I just got a new Group c which is wicked fast out of the box”.  The Slot It Group C rules state the cars must be run “out of the box” with no changes to any parts on the car.  The reply notes the sender purchased a car that is “wicked fast”.  This is purely the luck of the draw.  There is nothing another racer is allowed to do to help make their Group C car as quick or quicker than this “wicked fast” one.  The Houston members have no choice but to continue to purchase cars until they get lucky and receive a car that is “wicked fast”.  The cost of a brass crown gear is $8 compared to the cost of a car at $60.  Why not allow a gear change to help level the playing field or for those that can drive a quicker car? I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to understand that box stock racing is inherently unfair and can be more expensive than allowing simple parts changes to level the performance.

My bigger point – slot car racing will never grow out of being a club centric hobby without a standard set of rules.  Rules that everyone can read, understand and follow.  These rules then must be used in technical inspections to guarantee the racing is fair and exciting for everyone.

I had no grand illusions on how I would run in Houston as their style of racing and car set up is so very different than what I am accustomed to.  It’s time to head down there and see how we do.


Race Day

More the Merrier – The Trip to Houston

After sending an email to the Austin club to see if anyone would be interested in joining me on the trip to Houston both Alejandro and Mark decided they would like to come along for the adventure.

The trip to Houston was fun.  It’s always nice to have time to catch up with other members.  Many stories were told as the miles passed quickly.  It was good to share the journey with some good friends.

The Space

The Houston Scale Auto Racing Club is located in the north west side of Houston as is easy to access from 290.  The space itself is located in a warehouse complex similar to ours but with more parking.  The entry goes through an office space that is used as the club’s retail store.  They have a good selection of parts, cars and even a few complete sets.  They also have a small fridge in this room where they sell drinks and other salty and sweet snacks.  It’s a good use of the space and really allows them to do a good job of showing off products for everyone to buy.

Once you leave the office space you enter the track room.  It has high ceilings just like ours but their ceiling is insulated for some protection from the heat.  Even with the insulation and it only being the 2nd of May the space was warm in spots.  They have two mini-split units on each end of the space set at 65 degrees but that was not enough to effectively condition all of the space adequately. To help improve the temperature the club will be installing a drop ceiling before the summer months arrive.

Just outside the office there are two 4’x6’ pit box tables with each divided into eight individual pit stalls.  The stalls are divided by small sections of wood that raise up and really force you to stay in your space.  The pits are at the front of the space and back up to the front roll up door that I am sure will be hot in the summer even with the door facing east.

The tech tables are next and have the homemade magnet marshal, tire truing station and wheel RPM gauge.  This is where all of the pre-race technical inspections take place.

Then there is the track.  The track fits into the space behind the office and is the single biggest thing in the space.  The track is a four lane routed wood track with magnetic braid that was a copy of a Scalextric track the club used to help design the track.  As a result, all the turns are constant radius and the lane spacing and depth is the same as Scalextric – meaning narrow spacing and shallow guide depth.

The track has seen many, many, many miles of use.  The track was built many years ago and has been taken apart and moved at least five times that I am aware of.  In all of those moves the track surface is not even in all places and the braid is pulling up in multiple spots.  Having said all of that, it does not seem to have a big impact on cars running with magnets and the conditions were the same for everyone.  It was interesting to see the braid moving as the cars were going over it.

There was a second routed track that had recently been moved into the space.  This track was a custom routed wood track but was much smaller than the big track and in much worse shape.  I wish them the best.

Turn Out

There was a good turn out of regular Houston club runners that were all very familiar with the track and the race format.  Everyone was very welcoming and were happy to have us make the visit from Austin.  It was topped off by the club grilling some tasty hot dogs.  It was a great atmosphere.

Race Format

The race format was based on laps and not time for each of the heats like we use.  This format is very similar to the format we have used for rally races or our Mille Miglia series where we ran for a set distance – 40 laps for our rally races – and then measure the amount of time it takes to cover the distance.  The big difference for the Houston club was the number of laps they run per heat.  Their races are based on five lap heats.  Consider the lap times are anywhere from 8.5 to 10.5 seconds per lap the heats last slightly more than one minute.  Yes, one minute.  It’s hard to find a grove, figure out where you can push or come on the throttle sooner when you have such a small amount of time to figure out the lap.  Another interesting difference is that racers will run two sets of heats as opposed to just one.  Once you finish your first set of four heats you will run another set when your turn in the rotation comes around again.  This format definitely benefits those that have run lots of laps on the track.

The other interesting thing about the races is what happens when you de-slot.  When you de-slot you must yell out “hazard” at which point the track power is turned off for everyone.  Your car is then re-slotted but not where it came out.  It’s moved back to the last set of track markers you passed before your de-slot.  This means if your car de-slots you could lose one inch or four feet depending on how close you are to the track marker behind you.  This means the club does not need corner marshals as the track power is cut off for everyone while the de-slotted car is put back in the slot.  This makes finding a rhythm in a quick five lap heat very challenging.

I can see where this format works for the Houston club but I would find it difficult to run this format long term.

The Cars

Neither Alejandro or Mark had a Slot It Group C car prepared to the “box stock” rules so both would need to borrow one from some willing Houston members.  Thankfully the members of the club were more than happy to help out and loan both a car.  In fact, they had a couple to select from.  Alejandro also needed a Carrera GT car and there were multiple ones to choose from.  After trying to come to terms with the loaner Carrera DTM car I loaned Alejandro my spare car which he found much easier to drive.

I had a both a Slot It Group C car and two Carrera cars as prepared as possible without access to the Houston club’s homemade magnet marshal.  I chose to run the tried-and-true Slot It Porsche 962KH for my Group C entry and a Carrera BMW Z4 for my Carrera GT race series entry.

I tried a multitude of different magnets in my Slot It Group C car to get the magnetic downforce within the rules while the Carrera GT cars were both ready to run with only the stock magnets in place.

It was during pre-race technical inspection where I noticed all the Carrera cars from the Houston club were set up with a red guide.  I was told the red guide is included in the Carrera box and therefore is considered to be a “box stock” item.  Everyone in the Houston club uses them because they are shorter and shallower so they don’t rub the bottom of the slot or get caught in the tighter turns.  This information would have been good to know earlier as both of my BMW Z4’s were set up with aggressively sanded front tires to lower the center of gravity, lower the guide into the slot and move the magnet closer to the track for increased down force.  Now I find out the stock guide could work against the performance of the car.  So much for my interpretation of “box stock”.  No time to fix it now as my cars are already in parc ferme for technical inspection.

Time to race.

The Race

The races were a blur.  It was difficult to stay on pace with the others and the heats were so short it was difficult to find where you could push and where you had to brake.  This was compounded by the numerous de-slots and track calls that impeded any possible rhythm.


Having said all of this, I was still racing slot cars and still having fun.  It’s always good to run on a different track and experience different things with different people.

The Results

The Slot It Group C – There have not been any results posted but I think it’s safe to say the three Austin Club members finished at the bottom of the results in tenth, eleventh and twelfth.

Carrera GT – This race series was slightly easier to run as the differences in the car’s performance were not as big as they were with the Group C cars.  Out of the twelve racers I finished in 9th, Alejandro in 11th and Mark in 12th.  Not great but not too bad for our first time at the track.


Post Race

The easiest way to talk about the post-race is to ask if I would do it again and the answer is an easy “yes”.  The hospitality we received from the Houston club was amazing.  It was good to go to another track and be accepted as a member of the slot car fraternity and run with new people on a track that is so very different from the one I am so familiar with.  I think it’s important for every slot car club member to get out and run with new people on new tracks and get out of their comfort zone and grow their view of slot cars, people and life.

Can’t wait to do it again.








  3 comments for “Headed to Houston – Racing with the HSARC

  1. It Was a great time!
    **Suggestions for any future races in Houston at HSARC**
    Carrera cars need Red (Scalextric sized) guides; — if you replace rear tires with Paul Gage, check for any tire rub from from the tub/cockpit; — chose lightest model you can; — Zero-grip fronts recommended; — break-in a OEM 18k motor for long time to match the age of the HSARC cars. (!) My GT40 was not only a horse but the PG tires hit the tub and the black guide noisily scraped the bottom of the slot.

    Other brands/classes: — use Scalextric sized guides (both depth and length); –use zero-grips; — break in the OEM motor very well; — use well-worn OEM 27z/28z driven gear and axles.

    Controllers: bring an XLR to gator-clip adapter -JIC the HSARC XLR-socket is intermittent.

    Bring a “Tire Razor” for truing the Carrera tires.

  2. I will definitely go back when invited next time the camaraderie of the racers there was really good
    We will have to set our cars in a better fashion to be competitive and have more time to practice and get to know the track better
    I will really like to see our club’s best racers trying this track and having a different experience than our usual.
    That was good
    Thanks to Marty for taking us there and lend us cars.
    Thanks to the Houston people for letting us participate and enjoy
    ” We will be back “

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