This is our own latest and current track, which we started using in December 2007, and are still racing on today. The album link above includes over 60 pictures of this track and the captions provide many details about the design and construction.
Many of this track's features were carried over from the previous track (Harnois Road Course) including: The realistic scale track width (and realistic scale speed of the cars) for more realistic racing and more accurate control; The elevated straightaway (bridge) for more track in the available space; The basic concept of painting the track onto the floor (the best way to build a track); The inclines with smooth dips and rises in the middle of turns; The rough runoff areas (for smoother and more realistic racing); The chatter bumps to prevent cars from cutting the corners without stopping them and causing pileups; The slippery red & white vinyl tape used for turn aprons; the beach/desert theme; and more. Further down on this page there are many details and photos of previous tracks and info about why these features help lead to more realistic racing.
The improvements we've made to this track over the previous one include: The length is increase again from 100 to 110 feet; The bridge is painted orange for a new look and to make it stand out more for the onboard camera; The track width varies from 22 to 28 inches for a more natural look and a wider range of speed; The straight incline is turned around so it is facing the drivers, eliminating a blind spot in the previous track and making a longer flat straight followed by a sharper walled-in hairpin; And there is a much wider variety of turns including a carousel, switchbacks, double apex, tripple apex, spiral, hairpins, reducing radius, increasing radius, chicane, snake, and some suprisinigly challenging high-speed kinks.
The most important improvement is that we figure out how to create unique alternate routes while still maintaining the look of a realistic road course by using 2 shades of black/gray for the "pavement" color; The alternate routes give us somewhat of a range from faster more open routes to routes with more sharp turns. 3 routes and 2 directions means there are 6 ways to race that all have interesting unique features and are all about 110 feet long at the center line. We kept the bridge and inclines from the previous track (Harnois Road Course) which means we retain the seamless curving dips and rises which are really fun, reaslistic, and unusual features. But with the various routes we make even better use of those hard-to-make dips and rises because each route approaches and exits the dips and rises at varying speeds and angles for different effects.
To most 1/18th scale racers, the small size of the room (35 x 12 feet) and the narrow lane width (22 to 28 inches) seems impossibly tight. But first, the lane width is somewhat of a visual trick because there is always some runoff area making it affectively wider. More importantly, our emphasis is on realistic scale track width and realistic speeds for more accurate control and more realistic racing. And thus it is our preference to race on such a tight track, and we think you should try it too! Our Articles Page has all kinds of info about this. And our Videos Page has a couple videos on this track which clearly demonstrate how accurately, smoothly, and realistically these cars can be driven on this tighter style of track. It's the theme of our entire website. Some racers suggest using smaller cars on this size track, but smaller vehicles have less accurate servos, less effective suspension, and more play in the parts, making them more squirrely, twitchy, wondery, etc, and they bounce off of each other like ping pong balls - in short, they are less realistic and less accurate.
As an experiment, we initially had no walls except on the elevated portions (as seen in the top pic). We just had soft posts at the inside of each corner to keep the drivers honest. In larger radius corners, we used various kinds of tape to create chatter bumps on the inside runoff area that badly disrupt the cars (see the Photo Album for more details). The chatter bumps work wonderfully, effectively detering drivers from cutting the corner but not in a way that disrupts the racing or causes anyone to become permanently stuck. However the corner posts caused problems with silly pileups. When the lead car would hit one and stop or bounce backwards into traffic, there was often a chain reaction that would collect all the other cars due to how closely we race. So we replaced the corner posts with some pyramid shaped objects (as seen in the pic to the right) that cause the cars to flip but allow them to keep moving forward. The racing is now considerably smoother and there are more hilarious rollover crashes and better onboard video. Instead of all the cars getting caught up in a pile, the car that made the mistake (cut the corner) gets chucked off to the side and possibly flipped over, while the cars following close behind are able to flow through. In slower tighter corners we should have used smaller pyramids because the cars often get stuck on the larger pyramids at slow speeds.
The lack of walls dividing various parts of the track worked fine. We only occasionally had incidences where a car would get really far out of control and interfere with the racing on another part of the track. But this was very dependent on the skill level of all the participants. When new drivers entered the scene there was a lot more mayhem. So we went ahead and made walls everywhere, but tried to leave as much runoff area as possible in the appropriate places. The pic to the right shows the wall configuration for the Switchbacks alternate route. More pics can be seen near the end of the photo album. Some of the walls are permanent, and some walls are removable to allow for the various routes, and we have a different set of walls for each route. The white walls also help visually distinguish the alternate routes better (the routes that cut across the gray areas rather than following the black). To make the walls we used PVC drip cap or other PVC trim boards. Instead of having to cut and connect a bunch of small pieces of wood at angles, the PVC can be heated with a heat gun and bent, which made for much faster construction. However the PVC is significantly more expensive than wood. The PVC drip cap looks like Jersey Barriers on one side.
Daniel Coelho, the owner of X-PERIENCE Paintball Arena in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil, originally contacted us in April 2009 after seeing Harnois Race Park online. He said he wanted to build "Harnois Race Park Brazil" as an additional attraction, and had lots of questions. Initially he told me he had a room that was 8 x 4 meters. He took the CAD drawing of Harnois Race Park and squished it down to fit in that space, but it was all out of scale because it really doesn't fit. I explained that we could come up with a design that fits his space better. He asked how much space he would need to make it exactly like Harnois Race Park. Well the room needs to be maybe 10 or 11 meters long instead of 8. His response a few days later, "My engineer says he can make the room 10.5 meters!" And thus the conception of Harnois Race Park Brazil, an almost exact replica of the original, but on another continent. Turns out he didn't even have a room yet, he was planning on building one. By about August he had completed the construction of the new room and the track including all its colorful details. He also put a fleet of 6 cars together so that anyone can race. And he created the a logo for "XPB-RACER by harnoishobby.com."
Brothers Martin and Carsten, who live in Northern Germany (about 1.5 hours North of Hamburg), contacted me in June 2009. They seemed already well on their way to creating their own version of Harnois Race Park. Their attic does not have the ceiling height, but has more floor space, so they adjusted the track accordingly. They left out the bridge and instead routed the straightaway around the outside, but kept the curvy parts otherwise identical. This was a great way to adapt the design to their space. And with no bridge or inclines to build, they seemed to have a much easier time with the construction, although they clearly still spent a lot of time creating this, but that's why it's called a hobby.
These guys included lots of cool details like miniature ad banners, bushes, tire barriers, and red & white rumble strips that actually rumble. They also experimented with using clear flexible tubes on the insides of the corners to keep the racers honest. They already had their cars hopped up with 7.4v lipo batteries and Graupner G320 motors, which is too fast for this kind of track. They were able to use their throttle end point adjustments to tune it down, and they seemed to take well to the concept of realistic speeds and realistic track proportions.
This track was completed in about March 2006 and used through about March 2007. It was the replacement for the Harnois Modular track and was later remodelled into Harnois Race Park. As you can see this track is way more elaborate than our previous modular track design. Here are some of the many functional and visual improvements:
By locating all the drivers in a specific location at one end of the room, we were able to extend the track at the other end and still have everyone able to see the whole track. And by elevating the straight we left more room for curves on the floor. These two changes allowed us to increase the overall length of the track to 100 feet, up from 70 feet for the typical previous modular layout. It also allowed for a longer start/finish straight (the bridge).
The elevated bridge provided an opportunity to indroduce some dips and rises, a feature I always wanted in an RC road course but have rarely seen it done in a realistic way. The dips and rises are built super smooth - no harsh transition between the flat and inclined surfaces. The cars gain traction on the dips and lose it on the rises, just like in real racing. At first this was difficult to get a handle on but after some practice they are fun and not a problem. For variety, and because it fit the space, I built one of the inclines on a straight piece of track, and the other on a curved piece of track.
I intentionally built the straight incline so that the cars would catch a slight bit of air on the rise if taken at full speed coming off the bridge. We used a radar gun to determine the speed of the cars (timing them across a fixed distance would also work). Then with the formula V^2/R (velocity squared divided by radius) I was able to determine what radius to use for the rise to slightly outdo the acceleration rate of gravity! Seriously. And it worked. The cars would catch an inch or two of air here especially with fresh batteries. This was particularly interesting because after the long straight crossing the bridge, the no-traction rise, and the downhill, there is a hairpin turn! I really wanted to create a layout that required good use of brakes (another concept of real racing that often seems missing in RC). In some cases it was necessary to brake for about 2 feet on the glass, then release the brakes for the rise, then grab the brakes for a few more feet going down the hill, otherwise you'd never make the hairpin.
On the other end of the bridge, I sought to make the most of those dips and rises as well, by putting them in the middle of a reducing radius curve (or increasing radius depending on direction). We call this curve the spiral, and it has been carried over to our newest track (Harnois Race Park). In this layout, It had a high-speed approach in either direction. Going up the hill the car gains traction on the dip, and then just as the curve tights up the car goes over the rise and loses traction. With rubber tires the cars used to drift over that rise.
On the lower sections on the floor, instead of curved walls we painted the track onto the floor, and the walls were built in such a way as to provide runoff areas as much as possible, except on the elevated portions. The paint used for the runoff areas was color-matched to common masking tape. This allowed us to create bumps in the runoff area by applying 1/8-inch thick strips of foam tape to the floor and then covering those with the masking tape. We call these chatter bumps and they work great for preventing anyone from gaining an advantage by going off track but do not stop the cars or bounce them back out into traffic, thus making for smoother more realistic racing. But the chatter bumps won't work for the sharper turns, so for those we developed the red & white wedge-shaped devices (seen in the top photo) made from 1/4-inch foam board. They were shaped such that the bigger the mistake the worse the punishment, and in the worst cases the cars did end up on their lids but off to the outside of the turn out of the way of the other cars close behind. These actually worked better than the ones we designed for our current track (Harnois Race Park).
The masking tape color also conveniently is a great approximation of "sand" for a beach/desert theme. We then elaborated on that theme by crafting palm trees with bamboo poles and fake plants purchased at a craft store. We also found flexible red & white vinyl tape online to use as turn aprons, checkered tape for the winner's circle, and other colored tape, which was much faster than painting. The vinyl tape is quite slick compared to the painted surfaces which makes things that little bit more interesting.
The lane width here is 28 inches everywhere. This width was chosen because the pieces of tempered glass that I used for the bridge surface happened to be that wide. It also happens to be the most realistic width for 1/18th scale cars.
Before this track existed, this room was unfinished. We finished it (sheetrock, trim, ceiling) before building this track, so we had a pretty big gap in our racing while this was being built. While we were at it, we painted the walls light blue to approximate sky.
Of course the most standout feature is the 19-foot long arch suspension bridge. Most accurately it is a "bowstring arch" bridge. Since I was a teenager I've drawn house plans and admired bridge designs, and had a million and one ideas of things like this to build related to various hobbies, but this would be one of very few of my bizarre ideas that would actually be made into reality!
Before building this bridge I considered and designed (with a basic CAD program) a cable stay bridge, a rigid arch bridge, a trush bridge, and others. I decided on this design for a lot of reasons: It did not require any support except at the ends allowing complete freedom to reroute the track below it; It could easily be detached and carried out of the room for remodeling purposes; I figured it would be the most interesting for the onboard camera; After thinking long and hard about all the construction details I decided that this design was the most within my means (easiest to construct); The bowstring suspension concept just seemed like it would be the most fun to see made into reality; and because arch bridges to me are the most beautiful type of bridge.
I looked up the proportions online to determine how tall the arch should be relative to the length (20%). The arch is 1-1/4-inch PVC pipe that is flexed into its arched shape. The siderails and cross members supporting the glass are made from MDF. The tempered glass weighs about 75 pounds total (all knowledge is available online!). There is no way the road deck would stay up without the arch and cables. And the arch itself, before the cables were attached, was super flimsy over such a long distance, so pushing on it you wouldn't think it would support anything. Yet, once the arch and road deck were attached by the cables, it became very rigid and sturdy, at least vertically, which is one reason this type of bridge is so interesting.
Initially I had a difficult time trying to figure out how to connect the cables in such a way that wouldn't look cumbersome and would allow for the tension to be adjusted, which would be necessary to get the road deck flat. I found some small chain material that is rated to support 11 pounds, which is more than twice what's needed. The chains easily hooked into the eyelets and were adjusted by crimpng the links. Figuring out all these kinds of actual construction details was one of the most challenging aspects of this project. It had to work but loook decent, be simple enough to execute, and be made from commonly available tools.
This was the first track that we built in my basement. This space was about 12 x 24 feet - the typical size of a single-car garage. The floor is smooth-trowelled concrete, however it was not done very well so I had to fix some cracks in it by filling them in with sheetrock mud, sanding, and then painting over. This has been plenty durable. The grey paint is also just wall paint, not floor paint, and it too has been durable. Then I bought two 4 x 8 sheets of particle board. With one sheet I cut curved walls, 180 degrees of every radius from 4 up to 48 in 4-inch increments, so the walls were about 4 inches wide. Those were all cut in 45-degree sections. Then with another sheet of particle board, I cut 4-inch wide straight peices and cut them to various lengths. With all these pieces we basically had a modular setup with actual curves instead of just corners. The 4-inch width of the walls gave them a bit of weight and mass once connected together, so they didn't have to be attached to the floor. We also used bricks (wrapped in white tape) and grippy material to further stabilize the walls in some areas. As seen in some of the pics in the Photo Album, it was quite conducive to being dressed up with lines and color in various ways.
We started out making tracks for Mini-Z with a 24-inch lane width. Later as we transitioned to the larger 1/18th scale vehicles (HPI Micro RS4 and Xray M18), we moved to a 28-inch lane width and as a result had simpler layouts. The photo album shows the various layouts we made.
Even though this was one of our earliest designs, in my opinion it was already better than an RCP track for all of the following reasons: We had a huge variety of angles and radii to work with, and we were still able to make it match up full circle; The layouts had a more realistic curving flow rather than a bunch of corners and weird offsets; It had a more realistic appearance; The walls were harder so the cars bounced off without coming to a complete stop and disrupting the racing; The outside radius of a sharp turn could double as the inside radius of a larger turn outside of it, and straight walls could double as the barrier for the other side, and we could use every inch of available space without being restricted by a set width, all of which made the setup quite efficient at getting the most track out of the available space; The track width could be varied in any increment of 4 inches, so we could have a straightaway wider than the curvy parts, or make tracks for vehicles of different sizes. However unlike RCP it was dependent on having a large smooth surface to work with, and the setup time was such that it would have been difficult without a permanent space to dedicate to the track.
What I didn't like about this method was the lack of runoff area. Racing around the curved walls had a more realistic feel in comparison to straight walls with angles, but what I really wanted was the even more realistic feel of pushing the edges of the track onto turn aprons and bumpy runoff areas rather than ricocheting off walls. A car that bounces off a wall often bounces back into traffic and then we have a big silly pileup instead of realistic racing. And the ability to change the layout only had so much usefullness because within this small space there's only so many ways to rearrange it before you are just repeating features you've had before. That is why in later tracks we moved towards painting the layout onto the floor, but with some alternate routes (see Harnois Race Park) which I do think is the best way to go about building a track in a limited space.
This track was built on the same 20 x 14 foot track as the first one (see below). Once again I turned in a new design and the hobby shop owner decided he wanted it built. This track is wider (32 inches instead of 24) which the hobby shop owner wanted because he felt it needed to be easier for beginners. Also we were starting to get into 1/18th scale (instead of 1/28th scale Mini-Z) and the wider track would work well for that too. Instead of building curved walls, we simple drew the route onto the surface and painted the runoff areas green, and then built enough walls to divide the track and prevent cutting the corners, but leaving as much runoff as we could in the best places.
Unfortunately this hobby shop is no longer in business, but it was fun while it lasted. The races were not just for the game but also for the social event bringing together an interesting variety of people. This is where most of our current crew of dedicated 1/18th scale drivers met in 2003, and our racing group is still going strong now into 2010.
One major thing I never liked about this track or any other track that we had in this hobby shop was that it was built at table height. Although some people think this is "more professional," in my opinion it is a very bad idea. It is much better to build it on the floor or at most knee height, and put stanchions or a half-wall around 3 sides of it if worried about it being a tripping hazard. There are so many problems with the table height. First is that the viewing angle is flatter, making it more difficult for the drivers to perceive the position of their car on the far side of the track. Second is that the drivers all tend to move toward the table, and then one driver's view of certain parts of the track is blocked by the other drivers standing next to him. Third is that it is more difficult for smaller kids to spectate. Fourth, and probably the worst, it created problems with reception, and caused major glitching. At the time we were using 27 MHz AM radio systems, and when a car gets close enough to another radio it pics up the signal from that radio even if the "crystals" do not match. This is worse beause drivers tend to hang their antennas over the track while driving. Even with today's 2.4 GHz systems I suspect there would be similar problems. My spektrum 2.4GHz system, for example, starts behaving badly if the car get within a few feet of its own transmitter, which it would do with the table-height track.
In 2003, in one of our local hobby shops, they had built a table that was 20 x 14 feet for Mini-Z racing, but they had a very simple curve layout. I drew a design on graph paper with a 24-inch lane width and lots of curves. I gave this to the shop owner as a suggestion and then had to leave town for about a week. When I returned, some of the other racers had built the layout that I designed, with very well-made curved walls. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own design made into reality by others. There were no dimensions on the drawing, but the center of the arcs were marked, and it was to scale on graph paper, so they were able to figure out how to transfer the layout from the paper to the table surface.
The Charlottesville Regional Mini-Z Cup event in January 2004 was hosted on this track. Although a few weeks before the event we rerouted it a bit just to have something different.