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TCR Jam Van Nationals

Fact: TCR (Total Control Racing) was the absolute shit. Regular slot car racing was cool and all, but slotless was a whole new world of fun and throw in the ‘jam car’ technology which added an autonomous third racer to the mix, and it made the racing fun pretty much endless. TCR released a bunch of sets ranging from Indy and NASCAR to Dukes of Hazzard and semi truck racing, but one that I always thought was the coolest was the Jam Van Nationals set. It included two tricked out Ford Econoline street vans and a jam car that appeared to be inspired by the Dodge Lil’ Red Express.

The first generation of TCR cars worked on the principle that when the lane changing switch was flipped, the car’s motor would reverse direction, sending the power to only one of the rear wheels. The resultant bias of having one driven wheel forced the car to run (up against the raised edge) in one or other of the lanes. Later, more complex generations of TCR cars steered by means of the reversal of the motor triggering the steering mechanism of the front wheels to be fixed left or right. These later cars have driven power to both rear wheels and had much greater performance than the earlier generations.

If scaled up to actual size, a TCR car would run along a straight at perhaps 350 mph and corner at not much less and by design, the track’s included sidewall barriers kept cars on the track much better than traditional slot track that had racers routinely fetching cars after being flung across the room.

The product was withdrawn from the market in the mid 1980s after being doomed by new regulations for child safety. The TCR system required at least 2 amps to correctly drive all the cars and jam cars used. The original sets gave the customer a 1/2 amp transformer which was reported to give children electric shocks when they went to fix a stalled or ‘derailed’ car. As a response, Ideal changed the transformer in the mid 1970s to a 1/4 amp transformer, but this was barely enough to run one car, when players used 2 cars plus the jam cars it was very hard to maintain the rhythm needed to keep the cars rolling properly with such low amperage. Sales for the product dropped off dramatically because of the change, though most TCR enthusiasts ran custom power supplies to continue to enjoy racing as it was meant to be.

It really is too bad that the tech hasn’t made a comeback as the smartphone controlled, Wi-Fi connected slotless race sets don’t hold a candle to the experience of racing these little HO-ish scale cars on actual plastic track, but maybe I’m just old school?

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