Thinking about building your first track. Or are you considering a new track? The following is a discussion of the various types of tracks, advantages and disadvantages.
Sectional Plastic Track
Sectional Plastic Track (Aurora/AFX/Tomy/Tyco/Matell/Lifelike) – Commercially available almost everywhere and inexpensive. Advantages include modular design, quick construction, design flexibility and ease of expansion. Disadvantages include limited number of turn types, bumps at joints, inconsistent rail height and magnetic properties from manufacturer to manufacturer and from track section to section. This type of track also suffers from voltage drop problems/failures caused by large number of electrical joints. All of these problems can be solved by elbow grease.
Work includes building the table, track assembly, massaging the bumps in the rails at joints, smoothing any surface bumps at the joints between track sections with epoxy or filler, epoxying gaps in the slot wall at joints in turns, installing the wiring including multiple power taps and jumpers. Cost of materials is low. The finished track’s surface, slots, rail height and consistency are up to the builder’s skill. However, for a top flight track, hundreds of hours can be spent in manual labor tweaking the track surface.
Continuous Rail Sectional Plastic Track
Continuous Rail Sectional Plastic Track – The ultimate in sectional track. The rail is removed from sectional plastic track. The track surface is assembled and massaged and a new continuous rail installed. The new rail is usually epoxied or super-glued into place. Usually the joints in the slot are epoxied smooth and much work is done on the surface of the track as described above. In some cases the finished track is painted. The finished track’s surface, slots, rail height and consistency are up to the builder’s skill. Cost of materials is low. However, as with sectional plastic track, hundreds of hours can be spent in manual labor assembling and tweaking the track surface.
Modular Plastic Track
Modular Plastic Track (MaxTrax) – A cross between the best of sectional plastic track and continuous rail routed track. The track is a high performance, modular plastic track, that is designed to meet the demands of today’s magnet cars. Track sections are all factory assembled and can be as long as 36" thus greatly reducing the number of joints. Track owners and racers indicate a great deal of consistency between lanes on an individual track and from track to track. Advantages include ease of assembly, modular construction, few track joints, low voltage drop and easy assembly and disassembly. Disadvantages are that the number, type and radius of turns available is limited. Another advantage or disadvantage ,depending on who you talk to, is the increased distance between the slots. The advantage is no more nerfing and less interference from cars on adjacent lanes. The disadvantage is no more nerfing and the increased track width limits the amount of track you can put on a table when compared to the alternatives. The rail used provides slightly more downforce than other types of track, however racers that I have talked to indicate that changes in setup are minimal and involve an increase in tire diameter of between 0.002" and 0.005" with no other changes. A change in tire compound is not necessary. Table assembly and wiring is up to the purchaser. Cost is between the cost of sectional plastic and an assemble it yourself custom routed track. Lead time has been an issue but appears to be improving. The lead time quoted for SIR-II was for delivery approximately six months after order. It looks like that estimate was correct.
Routed Track (Bucktrack /Brad Bowman/ Century 21/Wizzard) - The track surface is routed from one or more pieces of medium density fiberboard (MDF), Sintra or PVC plastic sheet. The track can be shipped fully assembled and wired or the track surface and rails may be provided as an "assemble it yourself" (AIY) kit. For a fully assembled track just uncrate, hook up the power and controllers and race. For an AIY track, the table is built by the end user and the track sections installed on the table. The rails are installed next followed by wiring, walls and finish detail. Advantages are that the track is smooth and rugged. Disadvantages is that there are few commercial manufacturers that specialize in this type of work. An MDF or wood surface can be damaged by water. If your site is prone to high humidity or water, MDF may not be for you. Plastic surfaces are immune to water damage and are practically bulletproof. A machine shop with a three axis mill should be able to machine the track surface but then you are on your own for rail and track material selection, design and assembly. Track designs are unlimited. The finished track is very smooth as there are minimal joints.
Factory assembled tracks are usually very good. However be sure of your builder before you invest in a routed track. Brad Bowman's and Dale Buck's turn-key tracks were first rate. Dale's Bucktracks were truly turn-key. Just uncrate, hook up and race. No tweaking required. 21st Century Tracks had some problems initially with rail consistency. Wizzard is just getting into the routed track market. For an AIY track the finished track’s rail height and consistency are up to the builder’s skill. Moving the finished track can be an issue. These tracks are usually shipped or constructed on a single table that is not designed to be split. These tracks are more expensive (+$1,500 for an AIY track, +$3,500 for a fully assembled track).
Why MaxTrax for SIR-II?
The original SIR was a combination of AFX and Aurora Lock & Jointer track. During the design of SIR-II, both routed tracks and MaxTrax were considered. My decision was to go with MaxTrax as I wanted a track that could be converted from road course to oval and a track with a proven joint detail that was designed to be split into sections for easy transport. If those design considerations didn't apply, then SIR-II would most probably have been a custom routed track by Dale Buck featuring a gray PVC surface. Which track is for you? Only you can be the judge.
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