Troubleshooting your Judge or Transponder

Number 1 Problem since 2010
Help! My start gate solenoid runs continuously and gets very hot.
Are you a Champ or Smartline owner and running the Etek Set Up Program?

The first step in troubleshooting is to determine whether the problem you are having is due to a defect in the equipment, or a flaw in the way it is being operated. There are many things that could go wrong with the equipment, such as failed components, dead batteries, defective cables, defective start gate switch, improper computer set up, etc.

But the place to start troubleshooting is to make sure you are following the Three Rules when operating your finish line. Failure to follow these rules accounts for 86% of problem reports.

Rule 1 Add Power Last The first thing the Judge or Transponder does when power is applied is to count the number of lanes. If there is no illumination of the sensors, the number will be zero, and your finish line will not work. Your illuminator assembly must be aligned under the Judge and plugged in to the socket above the batteries. The light over the Transponder must be shining down on all sensors. Only then, install the batteries.
Rule 2 Check Your Start Switch The start switch must be an open circuit when the gate is open, and a closed circuit when the gate is closed.
Rule 3 Keep Your Gate Closed Open your gate only to release the cars. You may wait until the cars cross the finish line if you want to avoid vibrating the track. But don't wait until the end of the reset cycle. The finish line is "hot" then, and is sensitive to gate transitions. You risk starting a race you didn't intend to, and your racing results will get out of sequence.

Help!  Sometimes things get out of sequence during a derby, and the computer is reporting impossibly long times! 

It is likely you closed the start gate when the Judge was hot (green light flashing), and did not do it cleanly, accidentally starting a race you didn't mean to.  Always close the gate right after the cars are away, certainly before the red display ends. During this period, The Judge ignores the start switch.  But after the green light is flashing, The Judge is ready, and cannot distinguish between an oooops, a switch bounce, or the start of a real race. The Judge issues a text warning if it finds the start gate open, but derby software packages do not act on this warning. You are allowed to close the gate at that point if you do it cleanly, but on older Judges there is no way to be sure the timer didn't start.

The J Series Judges and Transponder will tell you the status of the timer, so you will know if it is ready (green winking) or busy (dark).

Help! My Computer does not seem to be picking up the start signal from the start gate switch.

If you are using a start gate that uses a hinged aluminum angle as the peg bar (BestTrack or New Directions solenoid gates), it is likely that your magnetic switch is not properly mounted. Keep in mind that the switch actually operates when the distance between the magnet and switch is about 1.0 inch. A hinged aluminum angle does not allow enough displacement when the gate opens to achieve this separation if you mount the magnetic switch so that the elements are close together when the gate is closed.

The solution is to separate the elements by 5/8" to 3/4" (about the width of your finger tip) when the gate is closed. Now, when the gate opens, the distance will be about an inch and a quarter, and the Judge will pick up the time = zero signal.

The photo at the left shows the magnetic switch mounted on a BestTrack. Note that the two elements are separated by a finger width when the gate is closed. The position of the magnetic switch is easily adjustable by loosening the nut and sliding the assembly.


If you have an aluminum track, ground it. A large chunk of metal isolated on a wooden or linoleum floor can build up considerable electrostatic charge, especially in winter when the humidity is low. You know how a spark can jump from your finger to the doorknob after walking across the floor? Same thing, only the track is a lot bigger than a doorknob, and has a lot more electrical capacity. If you plug your computer into electronic finish lines or other items near the metal track, you could damage your computer with one of those sparks. Secure a wire under one of the track's assembly screws, and run it over to a metal electrical conduit or cold water pipe. Make a good solid connection, not a tentative one.

Help! I can't seem to make communication between the Judge and my computer. Is there a good way to tell whether the Judge or cables are defective, or if my computer just not set up properly? Yes! Do the Paper Clip Test.

Why does this work?

Click HERE to find out

Unpower the Judge. Select a small paper clip, not the big size. Straighten it out, and bend it back on itself with tips even and nearly touching. Unplug the serial cable at the computer (or USB converter), and insert the paper clip tips in holes marked 2 and 3. Now power up the Judge, and if you get a DOUBLE light show (instead of a single light show), it means the Judge and computer cable connections are good.

Help! Everything appears to work correctly, but once in a while the race management software picks up some obviously erroneous results.   If you are using 120 volts near your track, make sure you are not laying the power cord along the modular cable running from the Judge to the start gate. We have confirmed that there is enough electrical field surrounding a common extension cord to corrupt the data being transmitted to your computer.

Help!  My illuminator board does not light up!    Right.  It is emitting infrared light.  You cannot see the light, but that doesn't mean it is not there.  I get at least 20 calls per season about this. See the note at the top of this page regarding the new illuminator diodes currently being used.

Help!  My Judge won't work outside!     See Sunlight Max.

Help!  The Judge won't detect the cars.  I can make it trigger only when I put my finger right against the sensors!     Your room is aglow with natural light from windows, doors, or there are strong incandescent lights shining on The Judge.  Reduce the amount of natural or incandescent lighing, and use florescent lighting instead.

Help! How do you suggest mounting the Junction Board and magnetic switch on the metal Freedom Track?
Here is a location that works well, the top panel of the pylon. Make sure to install those black plastic spacers. Otherwise the wiring will short out on the track.

Help!  I can't make the microswitch work reliably with my start gate!    In 2001, I changed to a magnetic switch for the start gate, and this complaint has gone away.  The magnetic switch adjustment is not critical:  sort of like a hand grenade, close is good enough, and much more reliable.  We can help you upgrade to a magnetic switch. Give us a call.

Help!  I removed the screws on the bottom, just trying to... (you name it), and now things rattle around inside and I can't make things tight again!    Removing the screws will not help you open up The Judge, if that is what you were trying to do.  Slip a butter knife under the end caps to cut the adhesive.  Remove end caps, and shake out the flat spring nuts.  If you have lost any, send $3 and a SASE.  Using a tweezer or small needle nose pliers, put the nuts back on the screws.  Glue the end caps in place with GE Silicone II.  If you are curious as to what is inside The Judge, send $10 and a SASE, and I will send you the complete schematic diagram.  The microprocessor code is proprietary.  Attempting self repair or modifying your Judge will void your warranty.

Help!  The last cub master wrote lane numbers on the Judge with a permanent marker, and did a very sloppy job.  Can it be cleaned?    Probably.  During manufacture, I scrub the plastic with Comet on a green Scotch Guard pad.  If you lose the gold label in the process, give me a call, and I will send you a new one.

Help!  I cannot make computer contact with The Judge, either in HyperTerminal or my derby software program.   The most common reason for this is that your computer has been configured to boot up with the serial port already assigned to a Palm Pilot or similar device.  This prevents other programs from accessing the port.  Look for the device icon in the tray at the lower edge of your screen, right click, and close it.

Help!  My computer has only USB ports, not serial.  Stop by your Best Buy or other computer store and get a USB-Serial cable.  We also offer this item at $29. This device makes your USB computer think it has a serial port.  Most Judge owners want to be at the start line with their computer, and USB signals do not travel over long cables.  Serial messages easily travel on long cables, so this is most practical format at this time.

Help!  What are the Serial Port settings of the Judge?  9600 bits per second, 8 Data Bits, 1 Stop Bit, and No Parity. Flow control does not matter.