Pinewood Derby Memory – My Car

A couple of years ago I purchased a derby kit from a hobby store. It was not a BSA certified kit. I bought it because the car was already shaped – nothing but painting and assembly required. Well, the kit came with unified axles, one for the front, one for the rear. I did not know this was illegal for our race.

My son did a great job decorating and assembling his car. But when the weigh-in came, obviously we were disqualified. We were given about an hour to bring the car into compliance. I brought it home, ripped out the axles (it was not pretty), cut them in two with a hack saw, and then super-glued them back in. That was the BIG mistake; the glue got on the wheels and, well, the car never did make it all the way down the track.

Of course, before the weigh in it was MY SON’s car, but after the disaster he let me know what a lousy job I did on MY CAR!

Well, this year, we’re using a BSA approved kit and HE’s doing the work on HIS CAR!

(His younger brother is still getting too much help from dad.)

Frank Hines
Lynnfield, MA

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 3

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Pinewood Derby Memory – A Long Wait

My son, Matthew, just won his first trophy for his first pinewood derby race! Matthew is a Tiger cub this year and he has been enjoying being a Cub Scout tremendously. There is a good story behind his joining, too. Matt came home with a letter about a Cub Scout recruiting night from his kindergarten class at school last year. He wanted to join and I said I would take him to the meeting. Well, we didn’t know that kindergarteners couldn’t join the scouts. All the scouting people felt really bad about disappointing him; he was trying very hard not to cry. The same recruiting letter came home again this year from first grade and Matt still wanted to be a scout. Again we went to recruiting night and Matt got to officially be a Cub Scout. Well, as it turns out he was the only first grader to join this year so there was no Tigers in our town! Our Cub Scout master was advised to send him to the next town to the Tiger den there. But our Cub Scout master decided to keep Matthew in our community and have him go to the Wolf’s den meetings, and hope that more Tigers would join up (We ended up with two Tigers by the time of the pinewood derby race). I’m am so grateful that he did, Matthew is a pretty shy boy and has blossomed under his den leader’s guidance.

Matthew and Mom (me) made his car together. He wanted it shaped just like the one on the box, because it had to be fast to get on the box! I did the cutting and he sanded. He was going to spray paint it but his little fingers couldn’t press the button on the can. He put the wheels on and I checked that they were straight. He put decals on it and we got the scale out to check the weight. It weighted three ounces. Matt got some lead weights at the hobby shop and wanted to use them as the seat. so we cut them down and glued them in the “cockpit”. It just happened to be one inch in front of the rear wheels (as I read in one of your stories). It was still a little light so we put “muffler pipes” up out of trunk area. It was 4.95 ounces.

On race day, Matt was so excited about possibly winning a trophy. I kept trying to impress upon him that even if he didn’t win, he could still have fun. When his car came across the finish line in the lead that first time, his face was so excited! I think the whole room cheered for him. He won five out of seven races! He was so proud to get his Tiger cub trophy and even more proud of his car! He still thinks he would have got one of those big trophies if he wasn’t a Tiger. I believe he is right, his car beat the second place finisher three times, but I didn’t ask.

This program does so much for the confidence of little boys like Matthew and everybody has been so great to him.

Lorraine Cressey
Phippsburg, Maine

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 2

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Putting Suspense Back into Pinewood Racing

By Michael Lastufka

In the first pinewood derby back in 1953, it was written, “The car shall not ride on any type of spring.” No one remembers who formulated Rule 8 or why. Perhaps it was spawned in soapbox derbies, the race pinewood brought in miniature to boys too young to enter. With access to tools, knowledgeable adults and some money, soapbox competitors might build a workable suspension tough enough to survive at speed on a rough road with small wheels.

Fifty years later, Chuck Borough raced a winning pinewood car suspended on wooden springs, cut as one-piece with the body. Had Chuck not called attention to this feat on his “Go Ask Grandpa” website:
had he not been a physicist for 30 years, or had its construction not been so simple, his clever creation might have gone unnoticed. (See:
Pinewood Derby Flex Car
for another photo of a suspended car)

But are the thin, slightly flexible bars of pine able to speed up a jostling pinewood car? Are those who build them willing to risk the “breaks”? With help from her dad, Erica Lastufka (grade 9) pursued the first question. In running about half a dozen tests on her car, she also managed to shed some light on the second question – it broke twice!

Did it work? At first, Erica didn’t know how thick to make the “cantilevers”, the “techy” name for bars that support weight horizontally on one end. She made five front and five bent rear ones with different thicknesses to see how much they would bend. But she didn’t know how much force a wheel feels running over a bump. Her dad helped her build a “bump-o-meter” to measure it. A three-foot rail guides a zooming bump under the wheel of a stationary car. To make sure the bump traveled at race speed, they employed their track’s timer. Keeping the car still and measuring its vertical motion was the key to determining the effects of the shocking encounter.

A few graphs later, she picked five millimeters as the thickness for the suspension. Though the longer rear wheel cantilevers could have been a bit thicker, keeping them all the same made building easier. She was ready to roll! It did – perfectly straight. They were amazed.

Did the suspension work? Yes and No. Back at the bump-o-meter, Erica checked to see if the suspension would let each wheel roll over a bump without lifting other wheels or the tungsten weight supported by it. At slow speeds, it worked as designed. However, at anything near race speeds, it acted just like a rigid car! Hopes were fading.

Another innovation sidelined? Well, Erica, being clever, made locks for the car so it could behave like a rigid car too. She ran time trials with the car locked and unlocked and taped wires to the track for bumps on half of the runs. Yes, the bumps slowed the car down locked or not, but had no effect on the race time difference between the locked and unlocked configurations. In other words, individual bumps – even up to one millimeter in height – were not smoothed out by the suspension.

So it didn’t work? It did. The unlocked configuration beat its locked rival consistently by a whopping two inches, bumps or no bumps. So, it wasn’t because of bumps in the road! Confused? So was Erica. She and her dad really had to think now that there was a real mystery to solve.

The solution has to do with the fact that the wooden cantilevers can not bend quick enough when running over a bump at race speeds. It is easier for the bar to lift the rest of the chassis, wheels and weight attached to it. The quickest a bar can respond to a force on one end is called its “natural frequency”. When a plucked tuning fork sounds out middle “A”, it bends 440 times a second, first one way then back. Erica found that her car’s cantilevers bend less than 170 times a second. They would have to be much thinner to bend over a bump, especially small ones.

So, why does the suspension work? Erica figured out how many times a wheel spins going down her track. In one second, it spins at most 42 times. If there is an imperfection in a wheel bore or if a wheel is not round, its cantilever would need to bend up and down 42 times a second to smooth it out. That’s much less than 170! There could also be patches of uneven varnish and wavy wood grain on the track that would necessitate lower response times too.

Which is it, bad wheels or wavy tracks? Erica found out by using professionally prepared lathed wheels. The results? She had to run the trial twice to make sure. The lathed wheels lost lubricant much faster than the normal ones, so the time difference between locked and free suspension runs were obscured. But in the final analysis, the lathed wheels sped to the finish line significantly faster with the suspension. Waves in the varnish or maybe even wood grain on the track slow a rigid car, allowing one with a simple suspension to win. So, judges will need to dust off old rule number 8 and decide if these simple suspensions are springs or not!

Dad’s Addendum
Erica found a two inch advantage at the finish line for the suspension. Simulations of her locked car show the same advantage for lifting a wheel. If you need to keep four on the floor, use Grandpa’s suspension. If not, lifting a front wheel is still a great way to go.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 2

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Pinewood Derby Memory – Helping the Mothers

I own a Hobby Store in Bellingham, Mass. Every year there are several mothers with Tigers that never get any help from the pack. I do my best to help with weights, painting, etc.

This past spring a mother came in with a car that had been cut and painted. Her question was: “What do I do now?”

Unfortunately, there would have been a lot more work to be done since she had cut the axle slots off. She had to have the car ready for Friday night inspection. I took a Pinecar kit off the rack (a new design this year), opened the package, glued the weights on the car, put marks on the car around the axle slots and told her to paint the car, except around the axle slots on the side of the car. I would use a wheel and axle kit from the BSA and do the polishing. I asked her to bring the car back when she finished painting. Two days later she came back with the car painted to her Tiger’s satisfaction. We glued the wheels and axles onto car, checked for visual alignment, gave it a graphite lube, etc. I told her she should have a competitive car and to go and have some fun with the Tiger.

I got a phone call on Saturday around 1 PM at the store. She could hardly stop talking as her Tiger has won he whole pack race (he won every race he was in)! She could not believe it and was very thankful for the help. As the Tiger was being announced as the champion, some of the dads were inspecting the car and were claiming it to be illegal, as it must have washers or bearings in it. They were actually going to take wheels off for inspection! But she stated that since the car would be running in the districts, how could they do that? Besides, the car had passed the inspection.

Had they taken the wheels off, they would have been embarrassed since the car was completely standard. The reason it won is that I had followed the principles very closely – sleek design, weight in rear, polished axles, sanded/polished wheels, graphite-moly, etc.

I’m glad I could help the mother. Each year so many first-year families do not get the extra help they need to compete.

By the way, I kind of wish that the men had taken the wheels off the car – it would have been front page material!

Bob Rice
Bellingham, Mass

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 1

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Ten Commandments of Pinewood Derby Racing

Most people know of the 10 Commandments(1). When I was young they were posted in the schools, courts, etc. With the shift to a secular society this has changed somewhat. But life would certainly be better if everyone lived by these commandments.

In looking on the Internet for those elusive pinewood derby tips, on a few sites I found a version of the 10 Commandments for pinewood derby racing (2).


1. Thou shall have no other car except thy own kid-built car.

2. Thou shall not exceed 5 ounces for thy car.

3. Thou shall not swear, or grumble or even bite thy lip over any race result, whether thou be car owner, sibling or relative.

4. Remember Pinewood Derby is for the kids; thou shall keep it for the kids always.

5. Honor thy race committee and judges, lest thou be thanked for volunteering to be the next pinewood derby committee chair.

6. Thou shall not kill a child’s happiness on pinewood derby day by acting like a bad sport.

7. Thou shall not commit acts that undermine the bonds of parent and child.

8. Thou shall not steal the enthusiasm of any child on race day.

9. Thou shall not bear false witness as to any race result.

10. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s car, nor thy neighbor’s graphite, nor thy neighbor’s decals, nor thy neighbor’s good fortune.

I applaud these commandments, as following them certainly would help keep fun and excitement in pinewood derby racing.

But since I can’t leave well-enough alone, I would like to offer my version of the 10 Commandments for pinewood derby racing. These don’t necessarily parallel the 10 Commandments, but are certainly important rules to follow to have a fun and low-stress event (and a fast car too!).


1. Thou shall start building early: Overnight jobs can do well, but the process is tough on the parent and the child (this also saves money on shipping charges if you purchase supplies on-line!)

2. Thou shall understand the rules before building the car: Don’t get disqualified, or have to do a last minute part change.

3. Thou shall design the car, including the weighting method, before cutting out the car: Adding weight after the car is cut out is difficult, and oftentimes a car-damaging undertaking.

4. Remember that a good looking car and a fast car can be one and the same, but often are not: Reserve enough time to work on the wheels and axles. They are responsible for at least 70 percent of the speed of the car.

5. Honor the spirit of the event by letting the child do as much work as they physically and safely can: It’s their car after all!

6. Thou shall respect your tools’ cutting edges: Keep them sharp, and away from your fingers!

7. Thou shall apply graphite to the wheels and axles at least three times: Apply the graphite before the wheels and axles are attached to the car. Spin the wheels 10 times after each application. (Keep mom happy, don’t do this in the house!)

8. Thou shall test and adjust the alignment of the car before race day: A well-aligned car has a big advantage over a poorly aligned car. Don’t break this commandment!

9. Thou shall handle the car carefully: Don’t play with it before the race, and store/transport it in a padded container.

10. Thou shall be a good sport: Don’t brag about your car either before or after the race, and offer your compliments to the other car owners.


Whatever your stance on the Bible, or on posting the 10 Commandments, I believe we can all agree that our society would be a better place if everyone lived by these rules. And I guarantee that your pinewood derby experience will be greatly improved if you abide either version of the 10 Commandments of Pinewood Derby Racing!

(1) In summary, the 10 commandments are listed below. They can be found in the Bible in Exodus 20:1-17

I. Thou shall have no other gods before me.

II. Thou shall not have any graven image or likeness before thee.

III. Thou shall not take the name of God in vain.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

V. Honor thy father and thy mother.

VI. Thou shall not murder.

VII. Thou shall not commit adultery.

VIII. Thou shall not steal.

IX. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor

X. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

(2) Author unknown. Edits were made to make the commandments generic.

(3) MVRV – Maximum Velocity Revised Version

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 1

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Pinewood Derby Adventures Come Full Circle with Son’s Success

By Matthew D. Keenan

That piece of lumber embodies the hopes, dreams and worldly expectations of a boy – a boy who believes that his dad is invincible and that any undertaking uniting father with son cannot possibly fail. Until it does.

By most objective standards, I’m probably not a very good parent. My failings could fill this entire newspaper and indeed have in previous columns. I’m tough when I should be forgiving and forgiving when I should be tough. The red flags for my flaws were apparent many years ago, when our sons showed their penchant for “drop to the ground” temper tantrums at obscure places like Christmas Mass.

In contrast, my mom and dad seemed to do most things right. They raised five kids and never played it safe. They constantly tossed my brothers and sisters in harm’s way. We won some, lost more and learned that life is not fair and complaining about it does not make it more equitable. Now in case you think I’ve become the next Dr. Phil, stick with me for a moment. I’m getting to my point.

And that point is the Pinewood Derby. That little five-ounce block of wood is a metaphor for much about parenting – and life. That piece of lumber embodies the hopes, dreams and worldly expectations of a boy – a boy who believes that his dad is invincible and that any undertaking uniting father with son cannot possibly fail. Until it does.

Like me, my dad had three sons, all in Scouts, all needing Pinewood cars. And like me, my dad had little time and less talent to build anything. He owned no saws, drills, hammers or even nails. If necessity is the mother of invention, my dad was Mother Hubbard. He taught me that steak knives are more useful for carving wood than fillets. That a fishing tackle box contains almost everything you need to achieve the desired weight of five ounces. That brown carpet can swallow a couple pounds of graphite without even a hint of stain. And that you can complete three weeks of work on the night before the weigh-in. His makeshift approach did nothing to dampen my expectations. We never took home any trophies or ribbons. But every year we kept trying.

A generation later I have remained largely faithful to that legacy. This month my fifth-grade son, Robert, raced his last car in his Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. Between him and his two brothers, our family has made 12 cars over eight years.

In the early years, it was one misadventure after another. And we had frustration, disappointment and tears. But every year we got better. I picked up some tips my dad never appreciated, learning that when wheels rub against the chassis, the odds of your son holding the championship trophy are long. When his finished car rolls in a semicircle on your kitchen floor, those odds roughly double. And the digital postal scale at Hy-Vee is critical to achieving the perfect weight of five ounces. And when the derby arrived on the last Friday in January, our efforts came full circle. Among 70 competitors, the final two cars included the one belonging to a fifth-grader named Keenan. Second place. Meaning his car will run one more time, in the countywide Pinewood Derby contest.

And when my son’s final car runs its final race, we will retire it in his bedroom, in the same way his brothers have. Each one has my son’s name taped to the underside, assigned at the weigh-in. Each one will have a story – each one an embodiment of hopes, dreams and expectations. Some realized, others dashed. Each one symbolizes a special time in their young lives, when we lived and learned and came to recognize the value of taking a chance on a block of wood, just like another father and his sons did 30 years ago.

Copyright 2004, The Kansas City Star
Reprinted by Permission

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 15

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With my son earning his Arrow of Light and moving up to Boy Scouts last year, I didn’t think I would be involved with another derby. But with continued communication and visits to the Pack meetings I have volunteered to assist with this year’s derby by giving a seminar on speed tips and conducting a car cutting workshop. Last night we had the workshop (delayed by snow and work for 2 weeks) but there were still about 20 boys and parents who needed assistance (and tools) to design, drill axle holes and cut their cars with my drill press and bandsaw. Much advice on axle prep and painting and finishing was given as well.

Somewhere during all this fun and confusion I had helped a new Tiger Cub to design and cut his car. The look of awe on his face as the bandsaw sliced off the excess wood and he saw his dream start to become reality was priceless. As I moved on to the next boy, the Tiger Cub ran to his mother with a smile from ear to ear, clutching his car. Several minutes later, I felt a tug on my shirt and looked down to receive a big THANKS and huge hug from this little Tiger for the help he received. It really made my night and reminded me why I volunteer; to help the boys have fun!!

Frank Hannabass

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 14

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Free Car Parts and Special Offers from Maximum Velocity

Now that the 2011-12 Pinewood Derby season is coming to a close,
Maximum Velocity is offering you an opportunity to prepare for the
next racing season with great products at substantially reduced
prices. Special offers include:

– Pre-cut car kits, including the Detonator and Propeller Car Kits
– Max-V-Lube Graphite
– 3/16 Tungsten cubes
– Car Plan Booklets.

These are just some of the items we have reduced for this event. To
browse all of our special offers, please visit:

== A Gift For You ==
As a token of our thanks, we are giving away a set of Plastic Car
Parts to the first 200 shippable orders with a subtotal of $25 or more.
To get this gift, please add the Car Parts to your shopping cart at:

== A Special Discount For You ==
In addition to the gift, we are offering a 10% discount on all orders.
To take advantage of this offer, please enter the coupon code
“10OFFMAY2012” in the “Coupon Code” box on the last checkout page.
This offer is good through May 15, 2012.

== Shipping Offer ==
And don’t forget, we offer no cost shipping for orders over

Thank you for your time and past patronage. We hope you have a great

With best regards,
Randy & Elisa Davis
Maximum Velocity – Give Your Car The Racer’s Edge


Pinewood Derby Memory – Priceless

Yesterday our troop ran a derby for a pack at a church. I was score keeping and the scouts were handling the registration, starting gate and finish line. During one heat the scout on the gate let the handle slip out of his hand and the rebounding pins launched two cars off the track to the floor. One car, a wedge, hit nose first and broke the right front quarter back to the axle completely off the car.

I called an official time out and asked the scout if he wanted to repair his car. He indicated he would like to, but he needed help. Well, I took him to the pits repaired the car with epoxy, did a quick alignment with one wheel raised, lubed, and glued the axles down. We allowed him two practice runs and continued the race.

He had been in the losers bracket with one loss at the time of the accident. He went on to take 2nd Place in the pack. Glue? – about five cents. Lube? – maybe a penny. My time? – nothin’. The expression on his face? – priceless!


From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 13

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