Derby Fun

I have two sons in Cub Scouts and they both absolutely love the pinewood derby. My older son could not think of a design this year so he asked Mom; she came up with the idea of a guitar. I thought, “How can I make this?” I drew out some plans on paper and it started to come together. The more we worked on it the more it took shape and the more excited we got.

Finally it was done, and race day was here. All the adults thought the design was sure to get best of show, however the kids had not voted yet. We held the race and the car held its own but failed to finish in the top three. Then the kids lined up to judge the cars for best of show. I could tell my son’s anticipation was growing – so was mine. We had spent a lot of time on the car and were hoping it would pay off. In the end the kids did not vote for it and my son went home with only a participation trophy.

My other son picked an easier design and ended up with a third place trophy and best of show for his grade. Go figure!

The moral of the story is have fun and enjoy the time with your kids; they grow up much too quickly. And next time don’t ask Mom for a design

Steve Lee

(Editor’s Note – There is no accounting for taste. Mom should be commended
for the inspiration for this great looking car!)

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 14

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Three Wheel Cars – Are They Faster?

At Maximum Velocity, our extended wheelbase car kits and blocks are drilled such that when installed, one of the front axles will be slightly raised above the other three axles. Several times during the pinewood derby season I get a call from a customer complaining that their kit was mis-drilled. I then explain to them that the raised wheel is part of the design and will make the car go faster.

It probably seems silly to build a four-wheeled car, but then lift one front wheel so the car rides on three wheels. Maybe it is silly, but the real questions is: Does it make the car faster? Today’s article will explore this topic and provide some data that will answer this question.

How could a raised wheel provide an advantage? The initial thought is that since one less wheel is on the ground, the friction on the track (and between axle and wheel bore) would be reduced. However, this isn’t true. The amount of friction present is based on the weight applied and the type of surface (coefficient of friction). The amount of surface area is not relevant. Since the weight of the car would be shifted to the three wheels on the ground, the frictional surfaces would be unchanged.

So where would the advantage come from? The advantage is threefold:

1. Quicker start – When the starting pin falls, the car must start rolling so some energy must go into starting the wheels spinning. By lifting one wheel, the amount of energy needed to start the wheels spinning is reduced by 1/4 (By the way, based on the same principle reducing the weight of the wheels will also provide a quicker start).

2. Alignment simplification – The alignment of only three wheels needs to be adjusted instead of four. Oftentimes, just the front ‘steering wheel’ must be adjusted.

3. Elimination of weak wheel – Oftentimes, one of the wheels will not spin as nicely as the others. By placing the weak wheel in the raised position, the weak performance won’t affect the car.


Okay, actions do speak louder than words, so let’s look at some tests. We made several test runs using one car. Five runs were made with four wheels on the ground, then five more runs were made with the wheel raised. This sequence was then repeated. In addition, both BSA and Awana wheels/axles were tested. As seen in the data and graph, using a raised wheel gave a consistent advantage over four wheels on the ground.


BSA Avg Delta % Improved
4 wheels 3.1183
3 wheels 3.0706 0.0477 1.53%
Awana Avg Delta % Improved
4 wheels 3.0989
3 wheels 3.0326 0.0663 2.14%

1. Make sure the center of gravity (the front-to-back balance point) of the car is behind the midpoint of the car. This ensures that the raised front wheel stays off the ground.

2. You can raise either front wheel (we always raise the left wheel, but that is just arbitrary, probably because I am right-handed!).

3. Axle holes – Drill the raised hole 1/16 inch higher than the other holes. Don’t go higher or you will increase of the risk of the raised wheel climbing over the center lane guide.

4. Axle Slots – Use the Pro-Body Tool II to deepen the slot on one side. Another option is to angle one front axle to get a wheel off the ground. Avoid angling the axle so far that the wheel touches the car body.

5. The raised wheel must spin freely. At some point it will likely touch the center lane guide. If the wheel doesn’t spin freely, it will act as a brake (bad news).

Especially when using axle slots, it is often quite difficult to get all four wheels to touch the ground evenly. In fact, many times people end up with three-wheeled cars by accident! Don’t let your car design be accidental. Unless prohibited by the local rules, raise one front wheel to get a little extra dose of performance.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 14

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Pinewood Derby Memory – First Derby Story

My son is involved in the BIC (Brethren In Christ) Boys group at our church. Recently we were informed that they were going to have their annual pinewood derby race. I never participated in one of these races as a child, but wanted to help my son to compete in the race. I had no idea where to begin. I searched pinewood derby on Google and found your site. While working on the car we implemented as many speed tips as we were allowed.

After we registered, we were adding some graphite. I remembered you said it takes a few runs for the graphite to get worked in and I asked my son to spin the wheels. When he went to spin the first wheel it flipped out of my hand and on to the ground. I remember reading somewhere that there is always one car that gets dropped on “Derby Day”. I was a little upset when this first happened, as I could see all our work going slowly down the track. But when race time came, the car cruised to victory in the first race. One close race out of the four, but success in each. When the awards were being announced, my son’s name had not been called before they
announced the 3rd place finisher. I now knew that he had won first or second place. The second place finisher was announced and my son was the only name left. I was so proud and shocked when they announced him as the first place winner! He walked to receive his trophy with a very serious look on his face, as though trying to hide his excitement. I had to fight back the tears as he proudly carried his award back to where we were standing. Being five years old and not “liking to lose” (like anyone actually does), we had talked to him before the races to make sure he knew he may not win even one race and that, win or lose, he had to be a good sport. We think he was just “being a good sport” when he strolled to receive his award.

Afterwards, when we were in the car I asked if he had a good time at the race. He said he had fun and “knew he was going to win”. I then asked how he “knew he was going to win”. He just said, “Because I had the best car”. Later on he held his trophy on top of his head and was kind of bragging. “I won a trophy”. “I got the big one”. “Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh”!

It was wonderful that the “kid” finally came out in him and he was joyfully celebrating his victory. The amazing part is that he still was “being a good sport” by celebrating after he was away from the other racers who had not fared as well. I now knew that he had definitely enjoyed the races.

I have been proud of many things my son has done in his five years, but this seemed to be the best. Even though it was hard to keep him entertained and interested in the building, it was very rewarding to have spent the time together. The trophy? The trophy was just the icing.

Jack Helsel

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 13

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

You Can Build Great Pinewood Derby Cars With Your Kids

My sons (Webelos 2 and Webelos 1) have enjoyed building our pinewood derby cars together over the years. We have used a variety of products and the basic wedge design. I am a stickler about following the rules when it comes to building pinewood derby cars. We built the cars completely from the BSA kit provided, followed your design, axle and wheel preparation, and weight placement instructions. My boys designed their own cars, based on the templates provided. I cut and drilled the holes and they did the rest. I can tell other parents that I certainly was tempted to lend “more than a helping hand”, but remembered your “10 Commandments of Pinewood Derby Racing”.

I went over the basics of sanding, polishing axles, lightly sanding the wheels, painting and so on. The boys are old enough to use the wheel mandrel in a battery powered drill. Each day, we’d do a part of the car and then take a break. (Key: start early!!) They did all the work on their cars and finished with the painting. When I saw little things that I might have corrected, I would let them know and see if they would work on it or not. For the most part, they took my suggestions and made the adjustment. Their paint jobs were very nice – could have used some glossy finish – but they were happy with them. Off we went!!

Both boys placed 1st in their respective dens and my Webelos 1 placed 1st in the pack with my Webelos 2 placed 3rd in the pack of about 65 cars!! Here’s the most important part of the story. After the pack finals, I talked with both boys about how they liked building their cars. They said how much fun it was to get to do a lot of the work and they were excited about winning.

My Webelos 1 had NEVER beaten his brother in a race before. But he said, “You know, Dad. It would have been nice for my brother to win the pack since it was his last year.” My Webelos 2 looked a little disappointed after coming in behind his brother and I talked with him also. He was a little sad at first, but then said, “It was really great for my brother to win the pack. He has a really great car!” That’s the Scouting Spirit!! Of course, they were arguing about who’s car looked better on the way home. But hey, what are brothers for!!

SIDE BAR BONUS: I think the REAL reason they worked so hard on their cars this year is that our pack sponsored an open race for siblings. Their 5 year-old sister wanted to race a car so I helped her build it. She ‘painted’ it with a pink marker with purple flowers. We followed the same designs as before. She won by a large margin! At the end of the pack finals, they leave the track open so anyone can race. So we lined up all three cars and let them rip!! They were extremely close at the end, but the boys SLIGHTLY edged out their sister. There’s always next year!

MORAL OF THE STORY: You can build great cars together with your kids. You do not have to cheat or break the rules to build fast cars. Obviously a Tiger Cub will need more supervision than a Webelos 2. Start early, take some breaks, and enjoy your time. If it’s your first time, ask for help from other parents. Most folks are more than happy to share tips they have learned. Finally, remember your 10 commandments in pinewood derby racing and in life!

James Sedlak

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 12

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

How Has Pinewood Derby Racing Changed? – Part 2

5. How has the Internet affected the event?

Overwhelmingly, the Internet was viewed as a positive for pinewood derby racing.

John Shreffler – The Internet serves not only as a market to offer or buy equipment, but as a place to share and learn about experiences, recommendations, and recognition. Ten years ago there were only a few sites dealing with Pinewood Derby. Today, there are thousands.

Bill Launius – The Internet is positive in that it has made the ability to gain the knowledge of building fast cars accessible to all.

Michael Lastufka – I think it demystifies pinewood racing, especially for the beginner who has never seen a track with a lane guide or timer. It makes equipping for the race more accessible to those on a lower budget. Coordinators can find plans for do-it-yourself tracks and timers, and if you have some programming knowledge, source code can be found or requested from individuals through forums. On the forums there is usually someone who can answer your question or get you pointed in the right direction. No one has to go into planning, running or participating in the event blindly anymore.

a. Specifically, is E-bay a positive or negative effect? Why?

There were mixed thoughts on this one. Selling parts on e-bay was viewed favorably. However, everyone took a shot that those selling completed cars, specifically the “guaranteed district champion” cars.

Darin McGrew – eBay cars, and the “learn to BUY a winner” approach to the derby corrupts the ‘learn to BUILD a winner’ ideal. On the other hand, some folks have set up legitimate businesses on eBay selling derby supplies that might be hard to get in less urban areas.

Randy Lisano – eBay has been positive in that you can get some bargains on supplies and race equipment, but the negative aspect is those that buy fast cars and pass them off as their own.

b. Specifically, are on-line speed stores (such as Maximum Velocity) positive or negative?

The response was mostly positive, with some concerns about what is being sold.

Cory Young – I view these as both positive and negative. Positive insofar as they allow the purchase of weights, decals, tools, and anything to help a boy build a better car from scratch, speed shops are great. Negative insofar as they allow the purchase of pre-built or pre-worked cars or components, they go against my ‘from scratch’ philosophy.

Darin McGrew – I think they’re positive when they sell tools and basic supplies. I’m less convinced when they start selling professionally machined components. I’d rather see the kids learning how to do things themselves.

John Shreffler – These are a positive thing. No matter how much lip service is paid to the togetherness, fun, learning, and the like, it is a race. Everyone is tuned in to the speed. Fast cars are no accident. You can learn a lot from these sites.

Bill Launius – On-line speed shops are very positive in that they understand what people are looking for and what works. It is something that is hard to find in a traditional retail store.

c. Specifically, are on-line forums (such as the DerbyTalk, Pinewood Performance, and PinePro forums) positive or negative? Why?

The respondents were very positive on forums, but with the caveats noted below.

Cory Young – To the extent that forums are a great place for sharing all kinds of information about the pinewood derby they are positive. But to the extent that most of the discussion centers around how to go faster and win trophies, one wonders: do these folks take what they learn and share it with their organizations? I know that some do; I bet that many don’t.

Darin McGrew – Overall, I think they’re positive. For a newcomer, I’m sure it’s like drinking from a fire hose. Most father-son teams would probably benefit more from one of the many good ‘how to’ guides than from wading into the ocean of information. But for people running derbies, and using them as a tool for ministering to kids, they’re great.

Randy Lisano – I’m biased, but I do believe that these online forums are a great way to share information so racers can build better cars and race coordinators can put on better races. There have been many great discussions on about every facet of building a car and those forums that are searchable make them great research tools.

6. How has the advent of new products such as the Pro-Tool line affected the event (positive or negative)?

Generally positive responses were received, with most appreciating the relatively low cost for the resulting high precision.

Cory Young – A tool such as the Pro-Body Tool is more affordable and more easily shared than, say, a drill press. Over time, tools such as these will not only improve car quality but also level the playing field.

Darin McGrew – I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, specialized tools like this are more accessible to people who can’t afford more expensive,more generalized tools, and whose only real woodshop activity during the year is the derby. On the other hand, learning to use drill presses and other shop tools is a more useful general skill.

Bill Launius – I am of course biased, but I believe that the Pro-Tool line is very positive in that it has not only increased the speed of the cars and eased the building process, but it has brought precision and accuracy to those that do not have access to lathes and mills.

Michael Lastufka – As a ‘pinewood engineer’, I rely on some of these tools to increase the consistency of our trial cars to obtain mathematically significant results. Many race scheduling methods favor fast, consistent cars over the car that achieves the fastest race time only once in the race.

7. How has the basic “spirit of the event” changed (if it has)? Is this change positive or negative?

The general feeling was that the basic ‘spirit of the event’ has not really changed.

Cory Young – The spirit of the event is the same as it was years ago. The basic competitive tendencies of people do not change that much over time.

Darin McGrew – It depends on the derby. It depends on the people running the derby, and the people participating in the derby. The competition in some derbies gets pretty cutthroat, but ours stays pretty low-key, and keeps the emphasis on the kids doing the work and having a good time.

John Shreffler – The spirit has not really changed. The high tech aspects have made things edgier and flashier, perhaps, but the core event, the intention, the direction, and the emotions are always there… American Icon, up there with Mom and Apple Pie.

Bill Launius – I believe that the spirit of ‘Doing your Best’ and ‘Working with your children’ is as strong if not stronger than ever. This is what makes this a GREAT yearly event for families.


Cory Young – Former Webmaster of “Pack 146 Pinewood Derby”

Darin McGrew – Webmaster of “Shape N Race Derby” at:

John Shreffler – Proprietor of “The Judge” at:

Billy Launius – Manufacturer of the Pro-Tool line of pinewood derby products:

Don Murphy – Founder of the pinewood derby.

Randy Lisano – Author of “Grand Prix Race Manager”, etc. at:

Michael Lastufka – Webmaster and pinewood derby ‘scientist’ at:

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 12

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(C)2012, Maximum Velocity, Inc. All rights reserved.

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How Has Pinewood Derby Racing Changed? – Part 1

With pinewood derby racing being over fifty years old, I began to wonder how the event has changed. These years have brought overwhelming changes in technology, as well as broad societal changes. Has pinewood derby racing been positively or negatively affected by these changes?

To answer this question I sent out a questionnaire to a number of pinewood derby enthusiasts and have compiled their responses. Today’s article contains the questions, a short summary of the responses, as a well as some quotes from the participants that captures the essence of the responses.

I want to personally thank each of the people that responded for taking the time to capture their thought. I trust that you will find their input interesting and informative.

1. How many years have you been involved in pinewood derby racing?

Most responses ranged from six years to eighteen years.

Bill Launius – I participated in the pinewood derby myself as a scout; it was a highlight of the scouting year for my dad and me. My son became involved in scouting 3 years ago and it started all over again for me.

Don Murphy – From 1952 to 1955 my son was in Cub Scouts, and we held the first pinewood derby. Then I wasn’t involved again until 1997 when Gary McAulay (who had taken over my cub pack) discovered I was still around.

Michael Lastufka – We first moved to Texas and attended a church that had an annual Awana Grand Prix nine years ago. In the three years prior to that move, we’d seen only one Awana Grand Prix race in California, though our children attended two different clubs. The track we saw had three consecutively smaller hills on it. They couldn’t find a place to store it and by the time my oldest could participate, it was ruined by weather, and there was no race.

2. What is the most significant change that has occurred to pinewood derby racing?

The most common response was the Internet, followed by Electronic Finish Lines (although the first race in 1953 had an electric finish line), modern tracks, and race software. There are more comments on some of these later in the article.

John Shreffler – High tech tracks are important, and electronic finish lines are almost a must. But the most significant improvement in my opinion is the creation of software packages that run the entire derby, such as RaceView, DerbyMaster, and GrandPrix Race Manager. These have taken the focus away from the adults bumbling their way through the grease pencils and charts on tripods, and put the focus on the scouts and their cars, where it belongs.

Randy Lisano – There are lots of things that have made an impact, but I would say that the Internet has had the most significant impact on pinewood derby racing. It is a great medium to share knowledge on how to build the cars and coordinate the races. This helps race coordinators put on a fair and fun event and helps racers to learn the ‘secrets’ that might otherwise be limited to just a few racers. It is also a great place to order race equipment and supplies and car building supplies.

Michael Lastufka – With the Internet, it has become much easier to find out how to make a good, fast car, and there are products, information and forums for coordinators and experimenters. Our first year’s car designs centered on a couple of physics concepts I thought might be important. We couldn’t get the kind of information from people (parents) we needed. Either they didn’t want to give out their ‘secrets’ or they really didn’t understand why it was they had done well in the past. When one of our “naive” cars placed, I had to conclude they really didn’t know any more than we did.

3. How have electronic finish lines and computer scoring affected the event?

Overwhelmingly, electronic finish lines and computer scoring are viewed positively. Comments included: more accuracy, less arguing, and faster heats (crowd stays more engaged and less overall time for the event). There were comments about possible inaccuracy of these devices, and some concern with cumulative time scoring methods, but no one was willing to give them up. I thought you would enjoy this anecdote.

John Shreffler – My son was a cub from ’86 to ’88. The first year, I was picked out of the audience as a pinewood derby Judge, along with another Dad. We quickly found out that it was not easy, and in a quick hushed conversation, we agreed that it was more important to be decisive than perfect.

I was an electronic engineer, and in my spare time before the next year’s race, I put together a device that picked the winner of three lanes. It was a big improvement and went over better than sliced bread.

The third year, I brought it back with a suggestion for a racing scheme that was somewhat like the double elimination that is one of the standards many packs use. When my son moved on, the scout leader came back every year to see if he could borrow the system, and I finally just give it to him.

In 1992, I was out of a job, and thought about that system in a more serious light. I designed it to do the finishing order of all three lanes, and for mass production. I took a deep breath, ordered parts for 100 and bought a small ad in Scouting Magazine. The Judge was born. I was scared. But within 6 weeks, I sold every one.

The next year, I expanded to 2 and 4 Lanes. I doubled the inventory, but again I was sold out before the season ended. In 1997, I got a web page and it went from an amusing sideline to a real business. In two more years, I never went back to working full time for others.

4. How has changes in our society affected the event (2-income families, hectic schedule, ease of purchasing parts)?

Several people indicated that the fast pace of life has limited participation, but Cory Young pointed out: I seem to remember always hearing my Mom say, “There’s just not enough hours in the day!” Things were busy back then, too. Some additional comments:

Randy Lisano – There are probably less dads helping their kids build the cars today than in years past, but I have seen moms, leaders and other adults stepping up to help. With people’s lives so busy, it has meant that many kids have not been able to participate at all, which is a shame.

Michael Lastufka – A few large families have cited cost as a reason for not racing, but many more say they are too wrapped up in other things. Some always prove it by buying the kits but not showing up at the event because something came up. Then there are always those who make a point to tell everyone that they built the car the night before!

(To be continued)

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 12

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Our Pinewood Derby Moment

Well, we got our car kits two weeks before the race. This was our son’s first pinewood derby race. We worked as a team: Son, Mom, Dad. Even the man at the hobby shop helped. We went there every day to weigh our cars. As soon as we walked in the door they got out the little electronic scale and put it on the counter for us to use. He even helped with ideas when we were over our weight limit.

We sanded, drilled, primed, and painted. We hollowed, puttied, buffed, and glazed. We weighed, wet sanded, and reweighed again.

Finally the big day was near. Tomorrow was the race: ready, set, go! Well when morning came so did the snow . And snow it did. About 10 A.M. the phone rang. It was our den leader and the race was canceled. It was a white out. We would have to wait one more month. Our big day was delayed 4 more weeks!

In scouting you just never know what lesson you will learn, but believe me you will learn something. If my scouting family learned one thing about the pinewood derby, it was patience.

Brenda Puntel

p.s. One cracked car, one can of wood putty, and one ten year-old; when left unattended spells T R O U B L E !

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 11

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