One of the most important and often overlooked items in the power, handling and speed equation of your slot car’s performance are those strips of metal known as pickup shoes.
The goal of the pickup shoe is to pull the electricity from the track and transfer it to power your car around the track. The condition and shape of your pickup shoes are the keys to getting the most power from the track to the motor. Adjusting and maintaining your pickup shoes prior to running will help ensure that your car is running at peak performance.
Most pickup shoes are made of copper, these are usually the stock shoes that come with your car and included in tune-up kits. There may be silver or even gold plated shoes available for your ride. The plated shoes will conduct the electricity more efficiently, but the trade off is that they will wear quicker.
The easiest way to improve performance is to keep your shoes clean. Debris can collect on the shoes and will hinder the conductance of electricity. There are many methods for cleaning shoes and they range from using an eraser or eraser pen to sandpaper, fiberglass pen, and even using a dremel tool. The key is to remove the buildup of debris and not too much of the metal, especially if the shoe is plated with one of the softer metals. The eraser is the least destructive but may not be able to remove all of the debris. Sandpaper and a light grinding attachment on a dremel will remove the buildup quicker and can also be used to flatten out the shoes and remove grooves. Practice with different techniques to find the correct one for you.
Once you are set with new or clean shoes, the next important aspect is to make sure the geometry of the shoe is correct so that you have the largest contact patch between the shoes and track rails as possible at all times as you make your trip around the track.
Make sure that the shoe is contacting the track on the front and back of the shoe. After running laps, you should see a line that runs from the front tip to the back. If the line does not run down the entire shoe, adjust it by bending to get it to sit correctly. There are metal setup blocks available which you can set the car on and see how the shoes are touching. You can also accomplish this with a spare piece of track and a flashlight. Slowly set the car on the track and make sure that the shoes touch the track properly. The goal is for the shoe to have a bit of hourglass wear across the entire contact surface.
The next step is to make sure that the shoes are not tweaked towards one side. Looking at the front of the car, you will see the windows in the shoes and how they sit on the chassis post. The side of the shoe window should be exactly perpendicular to a level chassis. If the shoe is bent, there may be times that the shoe will not fully contact the track and the car will lose power, usually in tight turns.
The pressure that pushes the shoe to the track can be adjusted by the spring. Not enough pressure and you may see black burn marks on the shoes from arcing. There is also a school of thought that the pressure of the shoe that touches the negative rail on the track should have a bit more pressure than the other. Adjusting this pressure for optimum performance will vary by car and track but tweaking it can produce great results. One simple adjustment practice is to place your car on a piece of track and when you lift the car off, the shoes should still touch the rails just a moment after the wheels have left the ground.
Constant Preventative Maintenance
It’s all about conductivity. The cleanliness of your shoe as well with the amount of contact with the track rails will improve your car’s performance. Don’t forget all tracks are different in rail height, with and cleanliness so constantly maintaining your shoes is beneficial to success.