Pinewood Derby Memory – Dad’s Car

Our son joined the Tiger Scouts in the fall of 2002, so January 2003 was our introduction to “Pinewood Derby Racing.” We were excited about the idea of building a car together (well I was), but we did not know a whole lot about what we needed to do. Other than the few lines of information that came on the sheet that came with the block of wood, four nails, and wheels, we were pretty much left on our own. The pack we belong to is pretty loose on structure and strong in the boys having good safe fun, and a lot of it. As the weeks went by we found out about the weight limit, length, width, and lubricant requirements.

Austin drew out his design on paper complete with guns, a jet turbine, and a device that extinguished the fire from the jet. We then transferred the design to the wood block. I carved and chiseled, he sanded and was constantly asking, “Are we done yet?” Along with his Mom telling me, “Let him do a lot of the work, it’s his car.” I carved and chiseled and he sanded some more.

He helped put on the first coats of paint and sanded some more and continued with, “Are we done yet??” And Mom, “Let him do a lot of the work, it’s his car.”

He picked out the stickers and helped put them on with the constant resonance of (you guessed it), “Are we done yet???” And Mom, “Let him do a lot of the work, etc., etc.”

We finally got the wheels on, and it was all I could do to keep him away from the car until race day in fear of it getting broken (you know I’m old and wise and know that I would be the one with additional work – that I did not need – when it got broken).

I then went on to build my own car. Our Pack, to encourage the parents to, “Let them do a lot of the work, it’s their car”, have an open race for the parents and siblings.  This gives them an outlet for their creative streak and competitive juices. My car was going to be the envy of all the Dad’s and would she be fast!!!!!

The evening before race day came, with cars packed in individual boxes, the whole family took off to the weigh-in and impound. Those around were ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at our cars.  The smoothness of the finish and the shine sparked constant comments such as, “How do you do that?” and, “Those are the best paint jobs we’ve ever seen.” My head was getting so big, and I was very proud of our accomplishments so far.

Race day starts with the scouts voting on the cars for ribbons in a number of categories including, most creative, best theme, most original, etc.  Austin’s den – the Tiger’s – were the first den to run. Austin finished second in the den, not bad for our first build, and he also received the ribbon for best paint job.

When all the scouts were done it was time for the Open race.  Not too long after the start I was standing off to the side holding my car with what must have been a sorry look on my face, because one of the officials came over to me and said,

“It’s a good looking car, but the speed’s in the axles.”

It was a great day and we had a lot of fun building, and I was already thinking about next year – “Speed’s in the axles.”

Boy does time fly.  It was about time for the Pack’s 2004 running of the Pinewood Derby. We did a lot of reading during the year and I had that comment,  “Speed’s in the axles.”  running through my head all year long. Our daughter wanted to participate in the event this year, so we had to build three cars (didn’t think I was going to be left out did you?).

Just like last year Austin, and now Shannon, drew out their designs and we transferred them to the wood block. I carved and chiseled; they sanded and put on the first coats of paint. Not a lot of noise – “Are we done yet?” – this year; I think they were preoccupied with other issues. So I took the time to really work on those axles and wheels; polishing, polishing, and more polishing.

On the night before the race the family set out with cars packed for the weigh-in and impound. Again, a lot of comments on the finish of all three cars and the same official (“Speed’s in the axles.”) said:

“They not only looked good but I think they will go good. We will see in the morning.”

The same routine as last year:  the boys voted on the cars and then the racing began. Austin, now a Wolf, proceeded to finish in first place for his den and was now eligible to compete against the first place finishers from the other dens.

After all the Scout dens had finished their events, it was time for the open race. Shannon proceeded to win every heat in the open with no losses. I was so proud, but the event was far from being over.

After the Open race was finished and the crowd settled down, it was time for the day’s climax, the bid for Grand Champion. All den first place finishers now raced for the title and the trophy. Yes, you guessed it, Austin won! I could not believe it, what a day.

The event then concluded with the results of the boy’s votes. Austin won the ribbon for best paint job again.

Now I am thinking about next year; how my kids can retain their titles. What happened to Dad’s car? He did okay, you should see his smile!

Fred Wesstrom

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 12

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Pinewood Derby Memory – Know Your Glue

This was my son’s first year in Tiger Cubs and thus our first Pinewood Derby race. Our pack also includes a race for siblings, so his 4 year old sister and 5 year old brother also got to build cars. The children all picked out a design and we worked together on the cars over a period of about 3 weeks (I had no idea what I was getting into, but we got better and a little faster with each car we built!). A friend of mine shared some tools with me and gave me some tips. The night before the race we finished preparing the wheels and very carefully applied glue to keep the axles from popping out. Everyone was very excited about the big race and could hardly wait for the next day.

The next morning after church about 1 hour before we were to leave for the race, I went to get the cars from the workshop. To my shock and horror I discovered that the glue had greatly expanded and had glued ALL the wheels on ALL 3 cars to the axles! My heart started racing as I imagined the great disappointment for my children if they could not race after all their hard work (yes, and my disappointment too). It had taken us about 4 hours to prepare the wheels the first time, and now I only had 1 hour before the race. I just started praying and working like crazy – I had to pry off all the wheels, re-sand the axles, sand out the inside of the wheels, lube the axles and wheels, re-sand the bottom of the cars to remove excess glue, re-install and align all the wheels, and re-glue the axles (with a different type of glue this time). I could tell the wheels did not spin quite as well as the night before, but at least they moved! My wife kept the kids busy while I worked on ‘the disaster’.

Fortunately, I finished all the work with just a couple minutes to spare (I worked a little harder on the Tiger Cub car). We were off to the races and had no idea what to expect from our ‘refurbished’ cars. To our great surprise, my Tiger Cub took first place for his den (out of 7 cars) and came in 4th place for the whole pack (out of 60 cars)! My other children placed 3rd and 4th in the sibling race (out of 16 cars)! Now we are all hooked and can’t wait until next year!

Jim Heidecker

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 11

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Lessons from our Race

We just held our local pinewood derby race. Although I have been leading the race for many years, every year I learn or re-learn something new.

1. Don’t use white or yellow glue to attach weight to the bottom of a car (even in weight holes).

I already knew this, but some folk at our workshop didn’t, and they glued in several weights before I realized it. During the race, four cars lost weight out of the bottom. The problem with white or yellow glue is that it is water based, so it shrinks as it dries. For bottom weights, use epoxy or hot glue.

2. No matter how many times you tell people to add weight to the cars and lubricate the wheels with graphite, people generally don’t do it unless they come to a workshop and you help them.

We had several really slow cars due to lack of weight and/or lubrication.

3. Kids do want their cars to be fast, and they expect their parents to help make it so.

Slow cars leads to upset kits (see above).

4. Even the most time proven timing systems can have glitches.

Our timer (Microwizard K2) and software (Grand Prix Race Manager) has always worked well. But this year there were two glitches. In one case, the timer showed a tie for first, but the software showed the tie as broken — this is not supposed to happen. After looking at the log in the software, this was clearly a timer problem. In another case, a boy kicked the timer (accidently) and it reset. We saw it happen, but thought nothing of it until the heat results were all wrong. We re-ran the heat, but in the future we will know to take action before the race is started.

5. Adding oil to graphite-lubricated wheels is a bad idea.

As one family found out.

6. Good weighting, lubrication, wheel/axle prep, and alignment continue to be the keys to winning.

The two fastest cars were aggressively weighted with tungsten, had highly prepped and lubed wheels (weight-reduced) and axles, and were well aligned.

The next two fastest cars were aggressively weighted with tungsten, had highly prepped and lubed wheels (not weight-reduced) and axles, and were well aligned.

The next fastest group of three were aggressively weighted with lead and had well prepped and lubed wheels and axles.

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – April 13, 2012

Fireball – Ed Mujica


I got the idea for this car from the cartoon “Wacky Racers.” Peter Perfect drives the Turbo Terrific and it looks a little like the car I built. I didn’t race the car this year, but it still was pretty fast. I wanted to let you know that you’re a good teacher! We put these dry transfer decals on the car and it turned out great. We like these much more than stickers. My son was very pleased with the way the car turned out.

Cub Cadet Lawnmower – Mike Webb


This lawnmower derby car was built for a CaseIH dealer who I used to work for. It was used in a business race that is held during the cub scout derby. The hood and mower deck are made of balsa wood. The steering wheel is actually a BSA wheel that I cut the tread off and used an axle to hold it. The seat is a small piece of scrap pine from the car, as are the fenders. The hood has a small hinge on the front of it from the hardware store and the motor was from a derby accessory kit that I had. The logos were made from ink jet decals. It weighs exactly 5 ounces. The mower actually took 2nd place in the races and was very popular because of the unusual design.

1960 Indy Car – Doug Henthorn

This was the last car my son Cole built for his pinewood derby. It is modeled after the 1960’s Indy cars. Brass screen was used for the grille, and a stainless steel rod was used for the roll bar. The car placed first in the Webelos and was the fastest car overall. It also won “Best of Show” for the pack.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 14

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – April 10, 2012

The Outlaw – Tim Schneider

My goal for this car was to make an extended wheelbase car, with front and rear airfoil shapes (teardrops). I found the wood to be too thin in the middle, so two carbon fiber rods were used to help reduce body flex. The car was wrapped with 3M Damping Tape. This gave the body a brushed metallic appearance, and additional strength/vibration damping ability.

Outlaw Orange – Chris Kostik

I raced this outlaw car to 1st place in the adult unlimited division! The competition continues to get faster and faster in this division every year. I have already begun work on prototypes for next year’s race!

’32 Deuce Coupe – Michael Pecora

My ’32 Deuce Coupe was built for my pack’s open race. It was built for show, not speed.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 14

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – April 6, 2012


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 Memory – Great Karma!

My father – the boy’s grandpa – loves coming to the annual Cub Scout derby race for our cub pack. He helps everyone and loves to cheer for his boys. He also is quite involved in the building of the derby cars, and as a retired engineer spends a lot of time on the details.

One year, a couple of years ago, we showed up on race day with our cars, all of which had MANY hours in them. One of the other boys in my son’s den showed up with just mom and no work done on the car. I kid you not; the kit was still in the box, no sanding or tweaking of any kind, and crayon colors on the block of wood. Mom was upset and didn’t know what to do, the cub was crying – kind of a mess. Grandpa stepped up, and in about 15 minutes on the sideline got the wheels on the car, some lube on the axles, and some weights glued on top to make weight. That’s it.

You guessed it. The car smoked everyone in the den and took second place in the districts. Just goes to show you that all the paint and engineering can’t top great karma!

Joe Cusack

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 10

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