Calibrating your track, keeping things fair

redlinederby Thursday, 5/25/2017
Site manager

The most important thing about making your own race track is keeping it as fair as possible. You don't want any outstanding advantage in one lane over another...but that can be difficult.

Given the nature of plastics and other materials, it's likely that your track will not stay the same between races. No matter how hard you try, you'll setup your track differently each time. So calibrating your track before you run any "official" race is your best bet.

The nice thing is, you don't need any fancy tools to calibrate your track. I mean, if you got 'em, use 'em; but I don't have any such accessories so I use what I got - my eyes.

Use matching cars

When I need to calibrate my track, I go and buy 2 cars of the same model. They go right from package to the track. If they're the same color, I use a Sharpie or sticker to denote the difference. While every car will be different (even same-model cars), in theory, they should be close and race similarly.

Eyeballing it

If you have a timer on your finish line, you don't even need your eyes...but for the rest of us, I just denote how much of a lead the winning car has over the other. I use a 1-3 scale: 1 meaning the finish was super close, 3 meaning the finish was a blow-out. Given this isn't scientific, it seems to work just fine.

I then run each pairing 5 times per lane and jot it down on paper.

If your track is fair, you should see the same results in both sets. Even in the case of one car blowing out the other, as long as the losing car gets blow out on each lane, that should be okay...just means that car is slow right out of the box.

If you see a lot of variance within your result sets, then you need to figure out how to fix your track and reduce that variance. So what should you do?

Adjusting your track

First, check the obvious things...

Make sure your track is flat and straight. If your track has waves or bumps in it, use Velcro to keep it down, or just swap that segment out for another. You can use popsicle sticks to help keep your track straight too.

Try keep your segment joints as even and smooth as possible. The more you race, the more the segment joints will expand, bend and flair out, which can cause cars to catch. Toss out overly worn track and slide in a new piece.

After that, I've found that most unfairness happens with the transition where the hill turns into the straight. Unfortunately, this one is sometimes tough to remedy.

Make sure your track at the bend is the same for both tracks. Make sure they have the same amount of give (or no give). And make sure the downhill stretch is straight and lined up with the transition.

Try moving your starting gate left/right and that will align the downhill track differently, and hopefully fix any issues. You will probably need to do this to account for any variance between transition bends. It's a back-and-fourth until you feel it's giving your consistent results.

Personally, I find track calibrating incredibly frustrating. I have to constantly remind myself that this isn't a scientific endeavor that has great bearing on the future of mankind. No, it's just a plastic race track on which I race toy cars for the amusement of others. After saying that to myself a few times, I usually feel better and don't sweat the details. 

As long as your track doesn't show overly obvious signs of unfairness, it'll all be good. Just remember you'll never get things perfect. You'll have problems and that's okay...just have fun doing it and have fun racing. In the end, we're just racing Hot Wheels here.


View member profile
redlinederby 9/10/17
Site manager

I spent some time testing my track today. I took several same-casting pairs and ran them down about 10 times per lane. I tracked which car won and by how much. Most cars, even same castings, won't be the same speed but as long as they're consistent across lanes, that's probably the best you're gonna get.

View member profile
Kevblokey 12/13/20

One other alternative is to run each race twice, or however many times, so that each competing car uses every lane once, so any lane advantage is available to all. I'm with you on the whole flat & even thing though.


View member profile
Uncle_Elvis 12/13/20

In real life, 1:1, drag races there is usually "the fast lane." It could change during the day or over the weekend based on use, weather, etc. 

Most diecast host do a best 2 of 3 with lane swaps or 2 in a row with lane swaps. This really seems to negate the fast lane situation from 1:1 racing. Deavers hosted an event a couple of weeks ago where one lane was clearly faster than the other but since a car had to win 2 in a row to advance, it was fair. 

Not to say any of that negates the need to calibrate a race track. 

  • Yup, that's all we can really do. I've accepted that lanes will never be even and that's just how racing is. The real PITA is when the offset between cars is same as the faster lane and it takes dozens of heats to have someone get 2-in-a-row. — redlinederby
  • It may be a PITA to you host, but it is a fun watch on YouTube — Uncle_Elvis
  • When I started I had a 6-lane track. I raced each car once in each lane awarding points for finishing position. The top point getter advaces/wins. In a 2 lane race, I like the 2 wins in a row method Redline used in the RLDL. If after4 rounds you don't have a winner, I flip a coin for lane choice and do a 1 and done race. If the cars are that close, it doesn't really matter which one advances, right? — Peter_Bee
  • Nope. Coin flip lets the slow car advance with .5 probability. If the red car is 1 second faster than the blue one on a true track, but on your track lane 2 is 1 second faster than lane one, then the blue car can go through based on getting the fast lane due to the coin flip — Uncle_Elvis
View member profile
Phil_NWA1 9/9/23

As someone new to this I appreciate the tips for what could swing an advantage and will calibrate my track as suggested by running two of the same cars.

As I set up and take down each session I don't think I can get consistency across different days although my current fastest car, a What 4 2, has beaten all session winners so far over the same distance, 14' of race track, 14" drop over 3.5 pieces of the almost 1' track pieces.

The more I am learning about this hobby is really helpful and this website is great for sharing these hints and tips.

View member profile
hashaxe 9/27/23

I just built a permanent scale 1/4 mile track in my basement. Lane one has a clear advantage and I'm not sure what to do. I'm using spoolheads racing SR1 lane connectors which are nice since they allow me to screw them into the base, but they do make the track a little wavy. 
Lane 1 has an advantage of .017-.037 seconds. That's about a car's length. These two F40s perform nearly identically on lane 1.

  • I wonder if you pulled your "slower" side and replaced it with new and kept your fast side as a control if you could mix/match bits until you got a closer speed? — Stoopid_Fish_Racing
  • I'd also suggest using more than just 2 of the same casting. Take 3 or 4 because there is a good chance that one of them is just slow due to defect or manufacturing. — redlinederby
View member profile
dr_dodge 9/27/23

I would measure the track before I did anything

go every 6" or so, use a sensitive level, and 2 blocks.
take a measure, swap the blocks and remeasure

It could be a slight differenct in their heights, and that could just be shimmed up


View member profile
redlinederby 9/27/23
Site manager

It looks like you have the seamless roll of orange track? If so, solving the wavy problem won't be easy, it's just what it does. The seamless track I had gave me nothing but grief in trying to get it fair and reliable.

But to keep track straight on a structure like you got, you don't really need to screw it down or anything - gravity will do that for you. Just use something to guide the track rather than something that goes into the track channels. Something as easy as popsicle sticks work great. This might help your waving problem a bit.

And to Doc's point, the level-ness of the transition curve is critical. I always felt that's where my own track let me down. I was constantly adjusting the (width) angle of it, not the drop angle.

  • as yousaid, gravity is your friend, track will slowly find it's spot — dr_dodge
View member profile
hashaxe 9/27/23

No, just the 2 ft orange track from the dollar store. I cut them all with a table saw to ensure they were all the same length and butted them together. 

Good call out FredD, i'll try swapping the tracks and if that doesnt work, maybe i'll try just laying it on the platform. I just like the connectors because everything is on there tight and the track doesn't really like to pull apart.  

I'll look into leveling it out with some legos too. That's a clever way to measure that. 

  • good luck mate! Keep us posted... you got a lot of great advice for the pros... I am certain you will find a good solition! — Stoopid_Fish_Racing
View member profile
dr_dodge 9/27/23

I use the 1" washers to weight the track
my launch was inconsistant,
added the same amout of 1" washers to each side,
in a week it layed flat
premo, after that

it just may need some time, and mass to get it


  • I've put a few super magnets on the backside of my board and works great with washers, keeps them in line. — redlinederby
View member profile
hashaxe 9/28/23

I got it sorted! I re-adjusted my start gate position and now both sides are running as they should. It was the launch after all! The Dr. was on the right track! ;)

View member profile
EnZedRacing 9/28/23

Maybe send this thread to 3D....his track is starting to take out cars in the most random places  :)

View member profile
JBlotner42 1/4/24

I have a question about the type of materials to use for leveling or raising a part of the track, specifically my 180 turns 1 and 2.
I was thinking about using the brown pegboard with wooden dowels as supports to help give that part of the track a more solid base and help with the clearance issue some cars have when trying to use just strips of cardboard.
I would cut it into 2in strips using my table saw and then cut the dowels to length and stick it in the holes in the pegboard.

to join the conversation or sign-up now