Developing on NVIDIA® Jetson™ for AI on the Edge

RACECAR/J Chassis Preparation

This is the first step of building a RACECAR/J. Here we prepare the chassis by removing parts we do not use, and upgrading the springs and bumper. Looky here:


RACECAR/J is derived from the open source MIT RACECAR, an “open-source powerful platform for robotics research and education”. The first version of RACECAR/J is based on MIT RACECAR build 2.5, the current build as of November, 2017.

The RACECAR/J Chassis is based on the TRAXXAS Slash 4×4 Platinum Truck, an upgraded version of the normal Slash 4×4 which adds aluminum bits and pieces such as C-hubs, steering blocks, rear hub carriers and axle nuts. An anti-roll bar is also added, which helps better handle the weight that we will add with the autonomy sled.


The tools provided with the Traxxas Slash can be used to complete the procedures we are discussing. However, tiny allen wrenches may not be your cup of tea. I have found the following tools very useful, especially if you’re building a lot of robotic projects:

Chassis Preparation

As shown in the accompanying video, there are several steps in preparing the TRAXXAS Slash. Preparation takes 30-45 minutes. Most of the preparation involves removing parts of the RC Car which which are not used. Here are the major steps:

  • Remove the 4 body clips which hold the clear plastic body on the car
  • Remove the plastic body
  • Remove the body mounting brackets. There is one in the front, and one in the rear. Each mounting bracket is held in place by two screws.
  • Remove the receiver case. 4 screws hold the cover down, 2 more screws accessible from inside the box hold it to the chassis.
  • Remove the stock Electronic Speed Controller (ESC), which is held in place by two screws.
  • Remove the stock front bumper.
  • Upgrade the front and rear springs.
  • Install a new front bumper.
  • Remove the antenna holder

The video gives detailed instructions on the modifications.

Remove the Body and Body Mounts

The first step is to remove the Traxxas Slash 4×4 Platinum from the package and place it on a work space.
Remove the body retaining clips, remove the body, and then remove the two body mounts. There are two screws holding each body mount in place.
Here are some pictures:

Remove Receiver Box

The Traxxas Slash does not have a receiver, but has a box for one attached to the chassis. In this step, remove the receiver box.
Remove the four screws holding the top of the receiver box in place. Remove the top cover, and thread the ESC and Steering Servo wires from the Receiver box. Next, remove the two screws holding the lower receiver box to the chassis, and remove the lower receiver box.
Here are some pictures:

Remove the Stock ESC

The next step is to remove the stock Traxxas ESC. Detach the wires going to the car motor, and then remove the two screws that are holding the ESC in place. Then remove the ESC.
Here’s some pictures:

Now remove the antenna holder. A pair of pliers may be useful for this operation.

Remove the Front Bumper

There are five screws holding the front bumper to the chassis. Remove the two screws holding the top the bumper to the chassis. Next, remove the three screws holding the bottom of the bumper to the chassis. Then remove the bumper.

Replacing the Springs

Because of the weight being added to the RACECAR, new springs are added to the Traxxas Chassis. The springs are available on the Racecar/J web store. The entire RACECAR/J can be be bought as a kit (minus cameras and lidar), take a look around. Note: RACECAR/J Kits and parts are currently only shipping to the United States. New regions soon!

Replacing the springs is difficult to describe, watch the video for a walk through. Remove the screw holding the lower shock assembly to the suspension arm. Afterwards, you can flip the shock assembly up for easier access. For the front shocks, access is easier if the front bumper is removed. For the rear shocks, access to the attachment screw is easier if the car is placed upside down.

Once the shock assembly is free, compress the spring. Remove the spring retainer, then remove the old spring. Install the new spring. For the front shock, the short 2″ springs are used. For the rear springs, the longer 2.75″ springs are used. Compress the new spring after placing it on the collar, and reinstall the retaining clip. Reattach the shock assembly to the suspension arm.
Here’s a couple of pictures, but the video may be more useful here:

Bumper Installation

The front bumper is replaced with a foam bumper, for better impact resistance. This is particularly useful for indoor use.

The bumper included in the RACECAR/J kit is a JConcepts Scalpel Bumper kit. For installation, see the directions included with that kit. People also use the Traxxas foam bumper, which uses Traxxas part numbers 7436, 7415x, 7437. Note that these are Amazon links, you can also order through There have been reports of clearance issues with the new springs with the Traxxas foam bumper parts, you may have to modify them to get a proper fit. I have not worked with the Traxxas foam bumper parts, so I have no experience to share.


Preparation of the chassis is straightforward. Basically remove the bits and pieces that are not needed, upgrade the springs, and add a new front bumper.

There are many ways to modify this build to suite any given application. In this build, we remove the stock ESC so that it can be replaced with a VESC. The VESC is an open source brushless DC motor controller. This provides better control at slow speeds than the stock ESC, as well as the ability to monitor engine speed. The engine speed can be used to calculate crude odometery, since there are no encoders built into the car drivetrain.

There are two mounting points for cameras, and a place for a lidar. In the next article, we will cover installing the platform decks and basic electronics that control the chassis. Off to Part II – RACECAR/J Platform Preparation.


15 Responses

  1. The link, “Screwdriver Bits for Hitachi” is broken. It redirects to a page in your order history which is not public.


  2. So excited to see the series continue. I looked into the VESC from enertionboards, but they are having some production issues right now. Can you recommend an alternative source for the VESC?

    1. There’s the one that MIT uses on their 2.0 builds:

      I believe that you can contact them and have them custom build one with the 3.5mm bullet connector and something like a XT-60 connector for power. You’ll still need a XT-60 to Traxxas power connector, or maybe you can have them source that for you too.

      Note that you will have to mount that version with standoffs on the bottom of the board.

      HobbyKing also makes a version:
      but I don’t know any people that have used it for this application.

  3. Hi Jim, I noticed that you link to “ball” type of screwdriver bits. I’ve read in the RC community that they’re not recommended because they tend to wear out themselves and the screw over time.

    I have heard glowing reviews of MIPS bits (both screwdriver and speed bits):

    I personally use the Team BlackSheep hex wrenches and love them. I think they should be of comparable quality.

  4. To make the springs stiffer, one can move them to the outermost holes in the A-arm (that connects wheels to the transmission) and shock tower (the place where the upper part of shocks connect).

  5. When can we get an image or a HOWTO for RACECAR/JTX2? That platform is a lot more powerful, and supports JetPack 3.2 and ROS Kinetic…

    1. Once the series starts up again we’ll go over the software installation on the Jetson TX2. There is little difference between the two, other than you install ROS Kinetic:

      There is also code for the new IMU to be added. In general, all of the RACECAR installation code is in the Github RACECARJ repository:

      Also, JetPack 3.2 is a developer preview, it is not yet production ready. One issue is that the Stereolabs ZED camera does not work with CUDA 9.0. So most people will use JetPack 3.1 (L4T 28.1) for now.

      Thanks for reading!

    1. The Traxxas Slash 2WD has a different suspension. The front suspension towers are different. You can perform a similar project on the 2WD, but the steps outlined in these articles mostly don’t apply. Good luck on your project!

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