Sorry, We Will Not Be Participating Because …

Do you have difficulty getting decent participation in your organization’s pinewood derby race? Do families make excuses because of fear of failure or intimidation (I don’t have the tools and/or skills, or, everybody else is too good)? Do you sell a lot of kits, but many of these kits never get made into a car?

In order to increase participation, race organizers need to eliminate the roadblocks to participation, thus eliminating the common excuses. So let’s take a look at the common reasons for not participating.

We Have No Woodworking Skills, Or We Have No Woodworking Tools
In the not too distant past, virtually every family had the basic tools required to make a pinewood derby car (and some level of skills). But that has changed. Today, many families have virtually no tools, and very few woodworking skills. As an example, I was recently at a house helping with a swimming pool problem. I asked the dad what tools he had, and found that the household tools consisted of a screwdriver and a pair of pliers – not exactly a robust pinewood derby tool box!

So what are families supposed to do when they are confronted with a wooden craft project? Clearly, the event organizers must provide one or more opportunities for the families to use woodworking tools.

At our event, we have an open workshop on two consecutive Saturday mornings before the check-in event. Families can use whatever tools they need – we only restrict access to the band saw (and other powered saws). We also provide as much assistance and guidance as is requested. Generally, we get a  small turnout the first Saturday, and then get swamped the second Saturday (typical procrastination). If we did not offer these workshops, our race participation would be greatly reduced.

There Is Too Much Work Involved
Part of this issue can be addressed with workshops. However, much of this problem stems from the type and quality of the car kit. Some kits require more work than others due to poor wood quality, flawed axles, and/or cheap wheels. Simply moving from nail axles with burrs and crimp marks, to clean axles; and from cheap, out-of-round wheels, to precision-molded wheels, greatly reduces the amount of work required to prepare a car. So, consider upgrading your kits to one of nicer quality(1), or at least replacing cheap axles with clean axles.

There Is Too Much Time Involved
Again, part of this issue can be addressed with workshops, and by providing nicer kits. However, another aspect of this excuse is that many people do not have the time (or want to take the time) to shape the wood block. There are two options to address this:

  1. Offer wedge-shaped blocks as an alternate to the regular block (we offer both types at our race). People that want to spend less time can choose the wedge-shaped block, and then just sand and paint.
  2. Allow the use of pre-shaped car bodies. In our race, we allow pre-shaped kits, but the resulting cars are not allowed to participate for the design awards. This opens up a lot of options for people that are squeezed for time.

We Don’t Know How To Make A Fast Car
With a little time research, anyone can find the basic tips for making a pinewood derby car go fast. But as the race leader you don’t want to leave any excuses available to potential participants. So, provide a list of basic speed tips with the kit. We provide a brief set of speed tips along with the race rules in each kit. Of course, not every family reads then, but they are there for anyone that is interested.

The Competition Is Too Stiff, So We Don’t Have A Chance
People don’t like to lose, and they certainly don’t want to come in last place. But this issue is not so much of a concern with having a slow car, but with having a fast car that cannot win because the event is dominated by one or more families that know all the tricks and take the time to implement them. This is not something that can be eliminated (nor do you necessarily want to eliminate this), however, there are a few steps that can be taken to level the playing field:

  1. If your derby has rather flexible car design rules (e.g., allows modified wheel bases, machined wheels, or similar), then likely the event will end up with some high-performance cars leaving the more traditional cars in the dust. Consider tightening the rules to eliminate techniques that are not readily available to most families (extended wheelbases, modified wheels, etc).
  2. Alternately, consider offering different entry classes. How about a “Stock” class race for cars with standard wheel bases, unmodified wheels, etc., and an “Open” class race for cars with extended wheel bases, modified wheels, etc? This will require more awards, and a little more time. However, I believe you will find the increased competition and excitement will more than compensate for the additional cost.

There is no excuse! You can increase participation by addressing the common concerns of potential participants. If you have other ideas for increasing race participation, please send me an e-mail and they will be included in a future newsletter.

(1) Maximum Velocity offers a basic block and wedge kit with high quality (unflawed axles), precision wheels, and nice blocks. You can find these kits Here.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 14
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – July 13, 2017

SoCal Coupe – Nathan Paul

I built this car the SoCal Coupe because I always liked the look of the car. The finished product was okay; I just need to work on the smaller wood items next time (front struts and axle mounts). They were a little tricky to keep from cracking when installing the axles and the brass starting rod on the front of the car. I didn’t race this one on race day but did put it through some runs on testing day and it did okay.

Nimbus 2000 – Bob Hodgeman

My son Sam, a Bear this year, is a voracious reader. He recently finished the Harry Potter series, and his mom voiced the idea of making a Harry Potter themed derby car this year. Thus, the idea behind the Nimbus 2000 was born! We drilled a hole in the back for lead wire, I did the rough cuts on the scroll saw, and he did the rest with a Dremel. He picked a shade of polyurethane stain that worked well, and we pulled bristles out of some glue brushes I had in the tool box for the broom bristles, which are attached with rubber cement. For finishing touches, we wrapped gold thread (tacked in place with super glue) around the bristles and used hot glue to attach Harry. I surprised him a couple of days before the derby with my hand-painted “Nimbus 2000” logos, painted with a super fine artist brush with about 2/3 of the bristles removed. He was absolutely thrilled with that small detail! While the car didn’t finish at the top of the standings, he was just as happy with his “Cub’s Choice” design award!

Semi Cab – Bob Hodgeman

My son Jacob, now a Tenderfoot Boy Scout, built this car for our pack’s Outlaw Division, so he was able to go with an extended wheelbase. The original block was supplemented with another partial block on top to form the cab, as well as 3/8 inch basswood sides to fill out the cab and form the fenders. Jacob did everything, from the rough cutting on the scroll saw, to working with the Dremel, to the paint job (I did help with the masking). From concept to finish, this one is absolutely HIS car (a fact that he’s rightly very proud of). A neighbor with a vinyl cutter supplied the Autobot logo. Next up, he wants to build the matching trailer and add starting-gate-activated sound & lights!

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 14
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – July 6, 2017

King of the Road – Monte & Bryson Evans

Here is Bryson’s car that took fourth place. My son and I built two cars from the ground up – together. This year, we hope to do even better!

Wedge GT – Travis Burkhardt

This Wedge GT took first place in the den. We used Krylon Orange Glitter Blast and many coats of clear.

Silver Bullet – Layton & Brian Grissom

This is my son Layton’s first pinewood derby car.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 13
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – June 29, 2017

Cars with a military theme:

Tiger Tank – Randy Britt

My son Cameron wanted to do a tank this year, and although it was challenging to stay under 5 ounces, we used balsa, lots of hollowing and cut down extra wheels to allow us to add 2.5 ounces to the rear. My son just missed a speed trophy, but was a unanimous design winner. A magnet turret mount allowed it to swivel and not fly off during the race.

Chinook Helicopter – Ray Betts

This Army Chinook Helicopter took 1st place in the open race in 2010. It used a standard block, corn-dog sticks for the propellers, dowel rods for the fuel tanks and engines. Scrap wood was used for the propeller housing and a coffee stir stick for the drive line between engines.

LAV-25 – Matt & Joshua Jackson

Attached are pictures of my son’s recent pinewood derby build. It is modeled after the Marine Corps LAV-25 Piranha Light Armored Amphibious Vehicle. It should have 8 wheels but two were removed to meet weight. You can still see the holes for the other wheels, which can be put back on. The main feature of the vehicle is that it has working headlights and taillights that can be turned on and off via a switch in the back. The spare tire in the back houses the battery for the electronics which are inside the car. It also has a working turret with a blinking red LED inside to simulate firing. It was a total hit at our pack races a couple weeks ago. It’s not the fastest car, but by far the coolest car he’s built to date.

The Anchor – Jason Sasser

My son and I built this car for our adult race. It raced like an anchor, pretty slow but won best in design. I am active duty Navy and most of the Pack is made up of Marines. They didn’t really appreciate my car!

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 12
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – June 15, 2017

Purple Pixie – Gary Olesky

Little 4 year old Ali and adopted grandpa for the day, Gary Olesky, took on her brother Sebastian and all the other boys at a Cub Scout pinewood derby race. The boys were not happy losing to the purple and pink pixie car, which turned in the fastest time of the day.

The Shoe – Jeremy Isaac

My daughter ran the shoe, which took first in both Speed and Novelty in the Awana Cubbies division. The speed competition wasn’t very stiff this year – the car was reasonably fast, but shouldn’t have won in my opinion.

Blue Flower – James White

My granddaughter (Olivia) and I built this car for her to race against her brother. Olivia calls her car “Blue Flower”.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 11
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Shop Talk: Bench Top Power Sanders for Pinewood Derby Car Building

If you build more than one pinewood derby car per year, then you will already know that shaping a car without some type of power sander is a real chore. Just eliminating the teeth marks left by the saw is a chore, much less trying to create nice curves and contours.

I have used many different power sanders, so in this shop talk I’ll share the ins and outs of the various products that are available (and affordable) for the home shop.

A Word of Caution
With any power tool, precautions must be taken to avoid personal injury. Always wear eye protection, tie up long hair, remove hanging jewelry and tuck in shirts. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s safety warnings. Finally, power sanders produce a lot of dust. So, where possible use dust collection equipment, and always were a dust mask.

Belt Sander
The first power sander I used was a belt sander, turned upside down and clamped to a work bench. Let me tell you, this was a big step forward from hand sanding, as you can really take off a lot of wood, and can readily make contours.

Figure 1 – Belt Sander

But please note that I do not endorse this method of using a belt sander, as it is not intended to be used this way. This method of sanding introduces several problems. First, the sander wants to take the car body right out of your hand and throw it against the wall (or automobile, or whatever is in the way). You really have to hang on to the car body. The second issue is that if you do not apply even pressure on the block, you can easily end up with a lopsided block. Finally, especially with thin cars, the tips of your fingers are fair game for abrasion, so a lot of care must be taken.

Home Depot List Price: $50 and up

Belt/Disc Sander
A big step up from a belt sander is a Belt/Disc Sander. These come in several varieties, one of which is the Ryobi model shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Ryobi Benchtop Belt Sander
(Source: Ryobi website)

The Belt/Disc Sander is a bench top tool (meaning it is screwed down to a work bench), so clamps are not required. The belt sander part is equipped with a stop, so that the car body is not easily taken out of your hand. The disc sander part is nice for sanding the back end of the car and for making round corners. Since the disc is square to the supporting table, you can ensure that a right angle is formed when using it.

Of course, like the belt sander, the belt/disc sander can still remove finger tips, and when using the belt, poor technique will result in uneven cars.

Home Depot List Price: $119

Narrow Belt Sander
A specialty power sander that can be used is the narrow belt sander. It is much less common as it is not as useful as the belt/disc sander (however, there is a combination narrow belt/disc sander available).

Figure 3 – Central Machinery Narrow Belt Sander
(Source: Harbor Freight web site)

The narrow belt allows you to sand straight edges that are inset into the car body, such as on our Arrow design (Figure 4). However the edge of the belt can cut into the wood, so you need to continually move the car body back and forth across the belt, and apply minimal pressure..

Harbor Freight List Price: $50

Figure 4 – Standard Wheelbase Arrow

Spindle Sander
Another type of sander that is handy for building pinewood derby cars is the spindle sander. The spindle sander has sanding drums of various diameters that are used to create concave curves. For example, a spindle sander would be used to create the side on our Detonator design (Figure 6).

Figure 5 – Delta Spindle Sander
(Source: Delta Tools web site)


Figure 6 – Standard Wheelbase Detonator

Spindle sanders oscillate, that is, the sanding drum moves up and down to maximize the use of the drum and to increase the sanding action. They also have some type of dust collection, so less dust piles up on the support surface and hovers in the air.

Spindle sanders are special purpose (like the narrow belt sander), so unless you make cars with convex curves, it will tend to just collect dust. But when you have a need for it, the spindle sander is a godsend.

Sears List Price – $300 (A less expensive model is available at Harbor Freight)

Oscillating Edge/Belt Sander
I have a confession to make; I don’t use any of the products listed above anymore. Several years ago I ran across the Ridgid Oscillating Edge/Belt Sander (Figure 7), and it is the only sander I now use.

Figure 7 – Ridgid Oscillating Edge/Belt Sander
(Source: Ridgid website)

The Ridgid sander is a home shop version of a floor mounted oscillating belt sander used at most cabinet shops. Back in high school, I worked at a cabinet shop, and used a commercial oscillating belt sander every day. So when I found the Ridgid sander, I knew it was a must for the shop.

The sanding belt (which is a standard size used on regular belt sanders) oscillates up and down, maximizing the use of the belt and increasing the sanding action. It is square to the work surface, so you can ensure that the sides of your car are square to each other. A stop is included to keep the car body from flying away. The stop can be easily removed so that the large diameter drum (left side in the photo) can be used for rounding inner curves.

But that is not all. If the drum is too large, the Ridgid sander easily converts to a spindle sander (Figure 8). It comes with five different drums, and the parts to make the drums fit properly.

Figure 8 – Conversion to a Spindle Sander
(Source: Ridgid website)

As with any belt sander, care must be taken to avoid abrading a finger. Also, dust collection is a necessity. This sander produces lots of dust, and if the dust is allowed to collect in the area under the oscillating belt, it will eventually clog up the machine. The sander is equipped with a dust collection port in the back, which can be attached to a shop vacuum or to dust collection equipment. Make sure to do so.

Home Depot List Price – $200

Although all of these sanders have their purpose, I believe the Ridgid sander is the best choice for most pinewood derby projects. It combines the best features of a belt/disc sander with the benefits of a spindle sander.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 11
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – June 1, 2017

18 Wheeler – Scott Carpenter

I built this truck for our pack. Its trailer acts as or “Go/No-go” inspection box too. I have entered it in the Dremel derby design contest and am hoping it does well.

HD Solutions – Andy Holzer

I built this pinewood derby truck for Dorman Products for competition between companies. The truck has bearings on 10 of the axles (the ones that are touching the track). Click Here for a promotional video of the event on youtube.

At about 6 seconds in you can see the trucks bounce as they cross from the ramp to the flat. That scares me.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 10
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – May 25, 2017

Delorean – Daniel Stalzer

This car was created after my son saw “Back to the Future”. He wanted a car that was fast and would “travel through time”. I made two of the cars, one for each of my sons. The cars won creativity and speed awards.

The only thing I did to help was painting the car, helping with tools, and installing the wires. Unfortunately the 2nd car was destroyed during the younger boy’s play time.

Arrow – Aaron Shain and Jim White

My grandson (Aaron Shain) and I built this car for his 2012 RA (Royal Racers) event here in Kentucky. “The Arrow”, as he calls the car, has a carbon fiber rod down the car center for extra strength. We hope it hits a “Bull’s Eye” at the races. (The hole in the side is for final adjustment of the car weight using tungsten putty when the wheels are changed for different races.)

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 9
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21st Century Changes Pinewood Derby Racing

During the pinewood derby season I receive many calls asking for assistance in selecting products for an upcoming pinewood derby race. Quite often the customer will state something like, “Wow, there sure is a lot to choose from. When I did this back in 19xx there wasn’t anything available”.

There certainly are a lot of products to choose from today. Whether it is tools, weight, software, tracks, etc., the pinewood market really exploded during the first decade of the 21st century. Sifting through all of the new offerings, I believe there are several key products and technologies that created a step change in competitiveness and in race management. Let’s take a look at these key developments and how they have made a huge impact on pinewood derby racing.(1)

Internet Retailing – 2000
Although not specifically related to pinewood derby racing the introduction of e-commerce, opened up the opportunity to offer a wide variety of pinewood derby products directly to the user. Maximum Velocity began selling on the Internet at the end of 1999. Prior to that (to the best of my recollection), there was one mail order company (Hodges Hobby House) offering an assortment of products, and another company (Winning Edge) offering a speed tip booklet. By the end of 2001, there were a few additional companies offering a broad assortment of products. Now there are numerous companies offering either a wide or a unique selection of products. Regardless of the new products that have been developed, if it were not for Internet retailing, the pinewood derby builder would continue to have only a limited selection of products.

Tungsten Weight – 2001
I believe Maximum Velocity was the first retailer to offer tungsten weight for pinewood derby building. The first product was a tapered tungsten cylinder, which was actually a golf putter weight. There is an interesting story behind these weights.

In 2000, I received a call from a tungsten sales rep (who was also a pinewood derby dad), asking if we had considered offering tungsten. He had used tungsten for his son’s car, and thought that it worked great. At the end of the conversion, the sales rep offered to send me some samples. When I received the samples (an oddball set of parts), the only part that seemed interesting was a tapered tungsten cylinder (the thought of having custom made tungsten parts did not seem reasonable at the time). When I asked the sales rep about buying some, he stated that he didn’t mean to send me that part, as it was a proprietary part from a particular customer. Oh well.

But the part intrigued me, so I went looking on the Internet. The sales rep had indicated that they sold parts to golf club manufacturers, so I specifically looked at golf club dealers. Amazingly, a Ping putter was shown on a particular site, and it looked like the putter used the tapered tungsten cylinders for weighting. Ping is based in our area (Phoenix, Arizona), and I happened to know a manager at Ping, so I showed him the part and explained that I wanted to offer the part for pinewood derby racing. He said, “No problem, we will sell them to you.” So, for the next several years, we purchased the cylinders from Ping.

Now, the use of tungsten for pinewood derby racing is quite common. It allows for much more effective weight placement, and for extremely low-profile cars. Not only are cars more unique today, but the weight placement and aerodynamics have greatly improved performance.

Specialty Tools – 2002
Prior to 2002, the only readily available pinewood derby tool was the wheel mandrel. But then in the summer of 2002, Bill Launius contacted Maximum Velocity regarding a prototype tool he had invented, the Pro- Hub Tool. That tool was introduced in September 2002, and was quickly followed by the Pro-Body Tool and Pro-Axle Press. More tools followed, and now there is a broad selection of pinewood derby tools available from DerbyWorx. We also have a few of our own unique tools such as Axle Extraction pliers, and the Axle Install Support.

Now that these tools have been available for many years, it would be difficult to make a competitive car without the tools. Just like other types of technology, we have become accustomed to having the right tools for the job. By simplifying the building of accurate cars, pinewood derby specialty tools have increased the competitiveness of all pinewood derby races.

Race Computerization – 2002
Although some software packages were available before 2002, in that year Lisano Enterprises introduced Grand Prix Race Manager (GPRM). With the ability to create “perfect-n” and “partial perfect-n schedules”, this package helped to convert many race leaders away from elimination-style racing. Coupled with certificates, sound effects, and many other features, GPRM dramatically improved the quality, accuracy, and entertainment value of pinewood derby racing.

Aluminum Tracks – 2002


Prior to 2002, an aluminum track surface was only available by covering a wooden track with aluminum plating. But this changed when BestTrack introduced an all-aluminum track in mid-2002. Piantedosi (now Microwizard), followed soon after with an all-aluminum version of their Freedom track. Now aluminum tracks are much more prevalent than wooden tracks.

The common use of aluminum tracks has resulted in faster times (for a given track length) and generally tighter races. This adds to the excitement of the event, and has further increased the number of organizations that hold pinewood derby events.

Rail Riding Technique – 2008
Although the Rail Rider alignment technique(2) was developed by Jay Wiles several years ago, it became popularized in 2008 with the introduction of the DerbyWorx Pro-Rail Rider Tool, and eventually the Pro-Axle Bender.  The Rail Rider technique greatly improves the consistency and performance of pinewood derby cars. Because it is relatively easy to implement, the Rail Rider technique is now commonly used not only in the highly-competitive adult race leagues, but in most pinewood derby races. No other technique has so quickly become a standard that is virtually required to have a competitive car.

New BSA Wheels – 2009A major step forward for Cub Scout pinewood derby builders was the introduction of the improved BSA wheel in 2009. By using internal injection, this wheel did away with the mold mark on the tread, reduced the weight, and improved the accuracy of the wheel. This served to improve the competitiveness of Cub Scout Pinewood Derbies. Now there are fewer cars which don’t cross the finish line, and races tend to be much closer, increasing audience interest.

Not involved in a BSA-sponsored derby? In 2010, Maximum Velocity introduced a highly accurate light-weight wheel for their MV Car kit. This wheel also uses internal injection to eliminate the mold mark and improve concentricity. In races using this kit, cars are much faster and are much closer at the finish line.

Certainly, the first decade of the 21st century significantly changed pinewood derby racing. I for one am anxious to see what the current decade will bring. Hopefully it will be as exciting as the first decade, and pinewood derby racing will continue to grow in popularity and excitement.

(1) This is my list of pinewood derby step changes. If you have one or more additional items that that you believe are 21st century step changes, please send me your input and I’ll collect and publish them in a future newsletter.

(2) If you are not familiar with the Rail Rider technique, please Click Here.You can find the Pro-Rail Rider and Pro-Axle Bender tools Here.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 9
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – May 12, 2017

Today’s special: Cars with tungsten canopies

Spiderman-mobile – Robert Stevens

Last year my son participated in his first pinewood derby and won the grand championship for his pack. This year was his second pinewood derby and his second grand championship for his pack. We took the Predator design and turned it in to the Spiderman-mobile. We implemented the rail-riding alignment technique using the Pro-Rail Rider tool. Thank you for all that you do to help boys have success with the pinewood derby. It has really helped build my son’s confidence and esteem.

Predator – Michael Tances

I raced this car in the adult class in 2010. The car won all the races and had faster times than the pack winner. It is completely stock and is exactly 5 ounces. I’m 64 years old and still like to win!

Race for the Cure – Kimberly Paul

This car took first place in the open division at our pack here in Tulsa. The car ran really well thanks to the tungsten canopy purchased through Maximum Velocity.

Vaccinator – Stephen Davis

This car was raced in an Outlaw division a few years back.  It easily took first place.  It has needle axle wheels and a very aggressive COG.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 8
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