Build Journal: The Thunderwheel

Big_Al Wednesday, 11/11/2020

The Thunderwheel is a giant hampster wheel track. The track moves while the cars stay in place. My original idea was for a drag strip of infinite length that could be sped up to push cars to their absolute maximum speed. I have no engineering background but I have some tools and time on my hand so I figured why not.

I started construction with a metal ring which came off of a patio table with a glass top. The top got blown off in a strong wind and broke so the owners were just getting rid of it. I had a couple of nice straight posts which were from an old bed frame. I connected everything together using screws, washers, and l brackets. I did my best to keep everything level, and even, and square.  The next step was to take two identical pieces of masonite (kind of like a thin pressed wood/cardboard product) and wrap them arround the metal ring, each covering half and attached with nuts, bolts, and washers. I used some metal duct tape to secure the joints between the two boards.

Next I had to figure out how to make it spin. It took some thinking, but what I ended up doing was taking apart the front wheel of a bike and hooking it up so that the hub would be still, but the axle would spin (the opposite of what it does on the bike). I drilled a hole as dead center in the cross beams of the wheel as I could with a drill press and then attached the wheel to the axle through that hole. After having tested it, I can tell you that I was not 100% on the mark but the wobble the wheel has doesn't appear to affect the track. To counter balance the weight and the force of the spin of the wheel, I attached a 10 lb and 5 lb plate weight on the opposite end of the axle. 

I attached the bike hub to a wooden frame shaped like a capitol H using little screws that fit through the old spoke holes.  I knew I had done something right when I was able to balance the wheel just by the frame on the edge of a table.  I secure it in place though, using a couple of clamps.

The wheel spins nice and smooth, with the exception of the wobble. The wobble seems to be side to side and not up and down or twisting at all. I held a pencil in one spot while spinning the wheel and found that if I set up my track along that line it runs pretty smoth. The wheel can hold a 12 piece long orange track if I put in a few foam blocks to tighten it up (plus they add some more interest to the track. Right now I have done three different track setups just as a proof of concept.  I have done a classic single straight lane with one car, a double lane to race cars head-to-head, and a Tamiya Mini 4WD inspired track that has one lane that switches over itself such that two cars can race at the same time.

The wheel is around 42 inches in diameter and has a circumference of around 11.5 feet. I haven't measured how fast it can spin safely, but it seems like it can probably handle a lot with something studier than an old step ladder to mount it on. I plan on adding a motor to it that I can use to regulate the speed and spin it up smoother than I can by hand. I have an old ceiling fan that I was considering using, but the wheel spins so easily, that might be overdoing it. I would like to put a large circle of something to cover up the middle with the metal ring and the cross beams. When a car flies of the track in that direction, it typically gets caught up in the centerfuge of the wheel and bangs around in the ring, beating up the car and making a lot of noise.  

I am also thinking of what all types of track and materials I can use on this thing. It seems like it should be able to be able to hande any type of premade track material, especially with a little cutting to the right length. Since I've only been messing with classic orange track at this point I have only learned so much, but what I have learned is that I probably need somthing with higher walls to make these races more interesting. The cars pop out of their lane too easily once the speeds start to get up there, but before things really start to get good. 

I'm not really sure if calling them "races" is the right term.  There is no real destination to get to first.  It looks like The Thunderwheel is best suited for survival type competitions where the car which either doesn't crash or doesn't fall back behind the finish line wins.  When I say finish line, what I am invisioning at this point is the line from a laser level, projected across the track some distance up the curve, behind the cars.  When a car falls back behid this line, they are eliminated.

At this point, theming and tournaments are a long way off, but I might start up a channel to post some of the test videos.  Stay tuned for updates.  Let me know what you think.  I would love to hear some ideas for motorization, tracks, a better support than my crapshack ladder, and rules for how to hold competitions with this thing.

Thanks for checking it out - Big_Al


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SpyDude 11/11/20

Dude ............ this is crazy cool. You really put some work into this.

I think that the double lane head-to-head would be best for this setup.  As you said, the cars tend to go flying when the speeds start getting higher, and the crossover - while interesting - might be too much for the cars to handle at higher speeds like you are thinking.  That being said, however, if you made a second wheel like this with the crossover track on it ...... As for mounting it, the edge of a workbench or the side of a table would work.  Motorizing it, the easiest would be a friction-drive wheel attached to the motor, and then pressed to the rim of the table. For that matter, you could even use the rear wheel setup on a bicycle to spin the ThunderWheel: press it against the outside rim and start pedalling!

  • Thanks! It's been an interesting challenge to work on. I think your idea to use a friction wheel is a good call. I've been trying to figure out gearing and what kind of chain/belt to use but a friction wheel would eliminate all that. If I set it up on the weight side of the axle I could use the different weights if I needed to change the gear ratio. I'll try to get the videos posted soonish. I think if you see the crossover track in action you will see the potential. — Big_Al
  • Well, show us a video with the crossover setup, and turn it by hand! I want to see this thing in action. — SpyDude
  • I will. I just need to get the YouTube channel set up. Gotta make a logo and all that jazz still. — Big_Al
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redlinederby 11/12/20
Site manager

This is awesome! Find yourself a way to get it spin on its own - like a belt or something - and you have a great tool for breaking in your cars. Just load up a train of cars and let it spin for hours.

Now you have me thinking

  • Good call on the breaking in! 12 hours or so of continual rolling ought to break em in real nice. — Big_Al

Wow, this is definitely thinking outside the box!

Amazing! Great job, this is totally cool and different. I look forward to seeing more!

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SavageSpeeder 11/12/20

cool...  one question what is the purpose?

  • Treadmill racing without the treadmill. — SpyDude
  • Good question. Originally it was so that we could take the cars to max speed to determine who could build the absolute fastest, regardless of track length. I like the idea of using it to break in cars. I'm still trying to figure it out though mostly. That's kind of how I operate. Shoot first and ask questions later. "Your scientists were too preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.: - Dr. Ian Malcom — Big_Al
  • I suffer from the same problem. — redlinederby
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SpyDude 11/12/20

Idea for the back of the wheel: get some coroplast to cover it up. Plenty of that laying around free with all those political signs ... just grab a handful and cut to fit the shape of the wheel, then screw joints across the back.

  • I like it! Those politicians are always spinning stuff as it is! — Big_Al
  • LMAO — SpyDude
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Big_Al 11/12/20

I went ahead and made a channel for Big Al's Custom Diecast to get some of the test videos posted.  It's a little basic at this point, but I'm just using it to house these test videos for now. I will polish it up a bit before I start posting any competitions.  Anyways, here are the videos!

One Lane:

Two Lanes:

And the Two Lane Crossover:

This should give you a better idea of what The Thunderwheel is like in motion and how cars behave on this kind of a track.

  • Okay, you were right - the crossover IS pretty cool! — SpyDude
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redlinederby 11/12/20
Site manager

LOL, that is incredible and hilarious to watch. Crossover is pretty sweet. Really interested to see where you take this as a competitive track.

I wonder what's the smallest diameter it could be? I just like the idea of this thing as a way to breakin cars. Give it a crank and let it go...or hook it up to some gears and small motor and let it run for hours. 

Again, well done on a unique idea and a clever build to boot. 

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Big_Al 11/15/20

I've been working at getting the wobble taken out of the track part of the Thunderwheel.  So far I have just added a double ply ring of heavy duty poster board inside the masonite ring.  I then gave it a turn and marked a new out side edge.  Once I cut along the new edge I could see that this should work like I am hoping.  The outside edge stays is more or less the same place. 

The plan now is to fill in the space between where the poster board is and the metal ring with more poster board.  Then I am going to replace the masking tape I have now with some sort of sandable tape and to go over the whole thing with some sort of putty to fill in cracks and let me sand it all down to one nice smooth ring. 

I still plan on sticking some coroplast in the back to cover the frame and to give it all a nice even inside wall.

Anyone have any suggestions on what kind sandable tape and putty I should use?  Lightweight is the key but I also want it to be strong enough to last and not something brittle like spackle.

Stay tuned.  Still a long way to go!

  • "Turning" out great! Love the progress so far! — SpyDude
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jdensillegg 2/13/21

Love this idea. I bet you could get some sweet videos of your cars on this. Lots of background motion while keeping the cars perfectly centered. Better than a gimbal! NIce work! I'm excited to see where it goes.

  • The cars move around a lot more than I expected. The tend to rock back and forth on the wheel. Its not really a problem, it just doesn't make for the kind of "still" shots that you're talking about with the car centered — Big_Al
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Rainsford 2/13/21

This is great...if you add highway scenery and a backdrop you can do some cross-country endurance races!

  • I'm working on a few different track setups with straight track endurance being one of them. Right now the background is just white but I've been thinking about some different themeing and scenery, although thats still a ways out. — Big_Al

Now thats original. You could do endurance runs.

This reminded my of my Quest for a mini treadmill. Not for racing, just to simulate running cars. In the background i would put an pc momitoe running driving videos.

  • You might still go with the treadmill and monitor idea for what you're going for. On the Thunderwheel, the curve of the wheel is very apparent from the side and the spokes wouldn't allow for a monitor to be placed in there. After the pandemic is over and there are plexiglass sheets available everywhere I might try to make a wheel with a clear back (and maybe clear track). I could integrate a monitor with that wheel. — Big_Al
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