I don’t know about you but I spent many hours sitting on the living room carpet alongside my brother, racing slot cars around a figure 8 track. The sound of the cars electric motors winding up as they roared around the track, the smell of the cars as they warm up from racing and the sound of the tick as the analog lap counter advances one on completion of each lap.
It was a fun way to pass a winter afternoon but I quickly outgrew the toy, not realizing that it could in fact become a hobby. To me, it lost its appeal when there was no one else to race against and I found video games. Now, some people did turn their slot car toys into a hobby and obsession where they recreated tracks from around the world in near perfect miniature detail, much like the model train hobby. The problem is, the technology didn’t advance very fast and while the track materials got better, cars got faster and the product in general did get to be of better quality, it was a pretty much stagnant hobby.
That changed with digital slot cars where you could now carry out full on multi-car races with stat tracking, lane changing and even pit stops. This really took the hobby of slot car racing to a new level but this was a cumbersome and somewhat expensive hobby that really did not hit mass appeal. Then you had a toy like Anki come out, they created a slotless more arcade like racing experience that you use your phone or tablet to control. This again has broadened the appeal of at home racing, but it’s not slot car racing in it’s truest form.
Now, though one of the oldest slot car companies in Scalextric has released a new product called ARC (App Race Control) Air that I think not only is revolutionary to the hobby of slot car racing but will bring it into the homes of many more people and will grow the hobby exponentially.
The ARC Air is the next step of the ARC line for Scalextric with the first in line being the ARC One with the ARC Air Pro set to be released later this year.
The ARC Air is a power base addon that fits into any Scalextric track and pairs with your bluetooth device to create a full on racing environment that takes what is essentially an analogue toy and brings it into the digital age. Included in the box is the powerbase, two rumble wireless controllers, a device stand and power cable.
Now, with this simple addon and app download you can get a racing experience that adds a dimension of realism to your racing experience. The app allows for multiple modes of play including solo against a pace car, quick race, practice, grand prix, endurance, tournament, drag race and arcade. As the app controls the race, you no longer have to worry about creating tournament brackets or figuring out race standings, you simply add the racers to the app, select who’s racing and go. The app figures out the rest.
Each mode offers something different where Arcade offers a racing experience where you collect powerups and your opponent can get hit with things such as blown tires and oil slicks, racing against the pace car can be fun for trying for best time, the tournament features make it easy to race against friends and family to see who’s the best and the endurance is a fun mode to replicate the longer endurance races.
You even get the option to include weather conditions, fuel usage (requiring pit stops), tire wear and incidents within the race. This amount of customization adds a lot of features to each race that makes each race feel different from the last one.
The app also includes an area to enter racer information and store your collection of track and cars. For parents, the driver feature is nice as you can limit the throttle speed of younger drivers so that they can’t go full out and crash the cars…making it less frustrating for you and a lot more fun for them. There are even throttle controls to allow you to customize your racing style.
I have now raced closed to 300 laps on a small track that I made in the house for testing and from that small amount of race time here’s what I have discovered in both good and bad:
- Easy to integrate into existing tracks
- For existing Scalextric owners at under 100 bucks it’s a great investment
- Adds a lot of really great features and re-energizes what could be considered a stale hobby
- The app is serviceable and for the most part easy to use
- Race features such as weather and fuel usage add variety to each race
- Rumble feature of controller makes it easy to know when you need to pit, instead of looking at the device for the information
- App is not as intuitive as it could be
- No place to just add drivers, you have to go into a race and add them that way.
- The speed feature is only useful if you select a pre-made track from Scalextric, if you use a custom track you can not get stats based on speed
- ARC Air sets are pre-order only at this point, meaning to get the ARC Air you need to have existing track or be willing to buy an analogue set and then the ARC Air addon
- App only available on Android and iOS devices
- Updating firmware while easy to do, could be a step some users will not be willing to take
- No cloud sync feature or app
- The instruction book is thin and could do better to explain the app features
The ARC Air is a really solid product that for people already into slot car racing will greatly enhance what their slot car set was capable of before. The app is fairly easy to use and with the ability to control racing features such as weather, fuel, tire and incidents you can create a truly competitive and fun racing experience. The app though is a bit rough and could use some work to make it more intuitive to use for instance a driver section where you can add, modify and delete drivers or see past race results. I would also like to see an online component where I could create tracks using my existing components and add my cars this could then sync with the mobile app. Having a track creator that is then able to sync with the app opens up even more of the features that you currently do not get (speed recording for example) unless you pick a stock Scalextric track.
The other issue that is currently holding the system back is the fact that for those new to slot cars, you can not purchase the ARC Air inside a box set yet. You would have to purchase an analogue track and then purchase the ARC Air at an additional cost. This may hold some people back from purchasing.
All of this can work it’s way out though as they improve the app, take feedback from users and get supplies into store.
If you are a current Scalextric owner then I would highly recommend purchasing the ARC Air, if you don’t own any slot car track and are interested in the ARC Air, I would hold off on purchasing until you can get a box set that includes the component that way you get track, cars and the ARC Air for one price.
I truly think that with the resurgence we are seeing in people wanting to get together to experience activities such as board gaming that the hobby of slot car racing could see a surge of growth similar. The ARC Air with its ease of use and setup (but with a bit more polish) I think could help drive that growth and create another in person and offline activity that sees growth like that of the board gaming industry.