Graphite on the Tread

Do you put graphite on the tread surface of your wheels? Come on, you can admit it. I started rubbing graphite onto the tread surface about eight years ago. It seemed like a good thing to do, and it made the tires look nice and shiny. But honestly, during this time I didn’t know whether it did anything to improve the speed of the car.

So I decided to test whether applying graphite to the tread surface has any effect on speed. While doing this, I also tested the benefit of applying graphite to the inside edge of the wheel (the part of the wheel
that touches the center guide rail).

The experiment used the following equipment:

– Extended wheelbase Wedge Body(1), weighing 5 ounces, with the balance point at one inch in front of the rear axle, and a raised front-left wheel.

– Pro-Stock Speed Wheels from DerbyWorx(2) – These official BSA wheels are accurately trued, but are not weight reduced.

– Speed Axles from Maximum Velocity(3), polished with Brasso.

– A 32 foot anodized aluminum Freedom Track with a Judge Timer. For each run the car was staged in the left lane.

Before mounting on the car, the wheels were thoroughly lubricated with Max-V-Lube(4). To prevent the graphite from getting onto the tread surface or inside edge, the wheels were wrapped in paper (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Wheel Wrapped in Paper

After lubrication, the paper was removed and the wheels were mounted on the car. The car was then aligned, and given a few break-in runs.

1. The car was run six times, the high and low runs were removed, and the heats were averaged.

2. Graphite was applied to the tread surface of each wheel. This was done without removing the wheels. To prevent graphite from getting on the inside edge of the wheel, a piece of cardboard was pressed against the inside edge of the wheel.

3. Again, six heats were run, the high and low runs were removed, and the heats were averaged.

4. Without removing the wheels, graphite was applied to the inside edge of each wheel.

5. A final set of six heats were run, the high and low runs were removed, and the heats were averaged.

The following chart shows the results of the test. As you can see there was a slight improvement in performance when graphite was added to the tread surface, and then again when it was applied to the inner edge.

Note that the amount of overall improvement is only four thousandths of a second. However, the heat times were very consistent; the standard deviation (amount of deviation of the heat times from the average) is quite small (ranges from 0.0005 to 0.0017). Thus, the improvement, albeit small, cannot be completely attributed to statistical noise.

Figure 2 – Experimental Results

Although the small improvement could be important in a tight race, lubricating the tread surface and inside edge is an extremely small factor in overall performance. If allowed in your race, I would certainly do it, but you would not suffer a significant performance penalty if you choose to not lubricate the tread.

Another factor to consider is that the anodized aluminum track on which the experiment was run is extremely smooth. It is possible that if the experiment was run on a rougher track, there could be a larger performance improvement. However, rougher tracks do not generally provide consistent heat times. So the standard deviation of the heats would likely be much higher, and any improvement could be buried in the statistical noise.

(1) Part 5622

(2) Part 4080

(3) Part 4095

(4) Part 5104

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 2

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Pinewood Derby Memory – Proud Grandpa

My grandson, Leo received his first pinewood derby kit in December 2007. His first reaction was, “Grandpapa, let’s build it now!” I told him that we needed to do some research and planning before we could build.

His pinewood derby was scheduled for January 12th, 2008. So we had time to do the research and planning. As part of the research, I talked to several cub scout leaders whose sons had won first place. They all provided me with great advice, and even showed me one of their son’s cars. They also suggested that I go to your web site and read your newsletters.

So we started building the kit. My grandson did the cutting, sanding and painting. I only drew the template on the block of wood and provided guidance throughout. He helped with polishing the axles and the wheels, and I did the drilling for the weight and axles.

Race time came, and my grandson was pretty excited. When we got to the event, he said to the Cubmaster, “I’m going to win!” He was the only Tiger in the Pack, so he had to race with the Bears and Wolves. They had to race three heats. He won all three heats, taking first place by a foot margin.

Next he had to race in the grand finals. There again, he had to race three heats. The race was very tight, and he ended up in third place overall . He was very excited at taking third, and I was a very proud Grandpa.

Donald J. Judeikis

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 1

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – July 16, 2014

Camping Tent – Jack Long

Camping Tent was a car I made just for fun for the 2006 pinewood derby. The tent is canvas, the poles are toothpicks, the feet are from a doll, and the fire has a red light bulb that lights up.

Old #25 – Robert Mareches

I wanted to share my car with all the fine young racers. This car is probably 40 years old. My Dad and I made this car together when I was seven or eight years old. We didn’t know anything about weights or polished axles. With lots of guidance from Dad, I learned how to use a wood rasp, file, and sandpaper. The big decision was what color to paint it! He did find out that sanding the wheel diameter made it run smoother. I thought that this would be the clincher for me to win the race. Well, our car lost, but I still have fond memories of building a derby car with my Dad. The memory means more to me than winning a race; my trophy is this car. Good luck to all you fine young men in building your trophy racer.

Ghost Rider – David & Davey Sides

My 9 year old son, Davey, is very proud of the car we built. He is very enthusiastic about anything regarding Marvel Superheros and loves this particular character. Next year, he wants to made a “Wolverine” car.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 1

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A Winning Philosophy

I originally published this article in Volume 2, Issue 5 – November 27, 2002. During the past five years, I have continued to be disappointed by the number of parents that take a “Win at all cost” viewpoint. I hope that this article will cause many to rethink their philosophy as it relates to pinewood derby racing.

Not long ago I had a discussion with a dad about an upcoming pinewood derby race. He asked if I sold completed cars. I responded that I didn’t offer finished cars. I then went on to ask the following question: “Since the pinewood derby is intended to be a child/parent project, wouldn’t buying a completed car go against the basic spirit of the event?” The dad responded something like, “Me and my son have a ‘win at all cost’ philosophy. So we do whatever is necessary to win.” I was a bit disturbed by the comment, and tried to explain to the dad why I held a different philosophy. But I soon realized that there was little room for discussion.

What is my philosophy? Why did I react to the dad’s comment? I hope to make this clear in the article today, and in so doing I hope that I leave you with some food for thought. Your philosophy certainly does not need to match my philosophy; however, we all need to make sure that we understand our basic belief in the area of competition and ensure that it is the philosophy that we want to impart to our children.

When considering life’s events, I believe that a person should strive to do their very best. In sports, this means giving a 100 percent physical effort. In educational pursuits this means studying to achieve mastery of a subject. In fact, I believe if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. From simple chores to running a business, I strive to do my best.

A “Do Your Best” philosophy has at its core the concept of integrity. Thus, the athlete gives one hundred percent and follows the rules of the sport; the student achieves mastery without cheating; the business-person offers a quality product for a fair price.

Furthermore, there is another aspect to a “Do Your Best” philosophy which is not so black and white. That is the idea of fair play or sportsmanship. One can abide by the rules and yet be ethically delinquent by demonstrating non-sportsmanlike conduct. The athlete may badger the competition with cruel words, use steroids or other questionable means to enhance performance. The student may use fragments of another person’s work (easy to do today with the Internet), or study a copy of last year’s test from an upperclassman. The business
may make questionable product claims or slam their competition. These activities and others go against the grain of a “Do Your Best” philosophy.

Although it is not specifically stated in all cases, the “Do Your Best” philosophy is clearly in harmony with the philosophy of the major organizations that sponsor pinewood derby races:

Awana Mission Statement – “… challenge and train the youth of the world through Bible-based, Christ-centered programs …” (paraphrased)

BSA mission statement – “… to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. ” (In fact, the Cub Scout motto is “Do your best.”)

Royal Ambassadors’ Motto – “Ambassadors for Christ”

Royal Rangers Aim and Goals – “… to instruct, challenge and inspire our boys in the areas of Bible doctrine, Christian service, moral conduct, and basic beliefs of our church through interesting activities that boys

YMCA Mission Statement – “… to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”

How does a “Do Your Best” philosophy apply to pinewood derby racing? I believe that in the pinewood derby the child-parent team should strive to do their best. This means that they should have fun building the fastest car possible within the guidelines of the local rules, and within the boundaries of good sportsmanship. To further clarify the “Do Your Best” philosophy, let’s take a look at another philosophy.

The person who follows a “Win At All Cost” philosophy will do whatever is necessary to win, even if it means stepping into questionable, even unethical behavior. No one doubts that the ethical boundary was crossed when figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was assaulted. So certainly if a pinewood derby participant “accidentally/on-purpose” damaged a competitor’s car, the bounds of ethics would be crossed. A parent-judge that favored their child’s car would also be viewed as crossing the ethical boundary.

But how about the case where a parent has a craftsman friend build the car while the child is home playing. How about purchasing a pre-built car on eBay? Where is the ethical line crossed?

Clearly the purpose of the pinewood derby is both a craft-learning experience and a competition for the child. As such, the parent/child team should strive to do their best in crafting the car, and in making it go fast. To balance all of these aspects of the project can be a bit of a challenge. To help you achieve a balance, I suggest the following guidelines:

1. The parent should make sure that the child is involved to the greatest extent possible in all aspects of the project, while taking into account the child’s age and capabilities. Here are some ideas for making sure
that the child stays involved.

a. Help the child select a design that they can build, without the parent having to do the majority of the work.

b. Allow your child to do as much as they physically and safely can accomplish. This will tend to slow things down (an excellent exercise in patience for the parent!).

c. Show your child the proper use of tools.

d. Help your child work through the required steps (no shortcuts) and help them understand why the steps are important.

e. Add strength and/or finesse for those steps that the child cannot do (initial saw cuts, drilling straight, inserting axles, etc).

2. If you choose to use more sophisticated tools, supplies, techniques, keep your child engaged at each step. Help them to understand the purpose for each tool or technique, and let them use the tool whenever possible. If you have access to a machine such as a drill press or lathe, explain why the machine is being used, show your child how to use the machine, and let your child run the machine (assuming that they are at an age where they can do so safely).

3. Give your child the pinewood derby building experience. Buying an “almost guaranteed district championship car” is very easy these days, but it cheats both your child and yourself out of the whole experience.

What is your philosophy? Do you hold to a “Do Your Best” philosophy or a “Win At All Cost” philosophy; or maybe you haven’t thought about it. If not, I encourage you to consider this question and then ensure that you are imparting to your child a philosophy that will serve them well as they grow and mature.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 1

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Pinewood Derby Time

By Chris Joker

Pinewood derby cars are serious business. Last month it was pinewood derby time for my son’s Cub Scout pack. I was so excited I couldn’t stand it. I remember my Dad helping me when I was a scout. Now I could pass down the long standing losing tradition to my son. We didn’t really lose so much as we didn’t win. I really don’t know what that means, but that’s what my Dad used to tell me and it really does sound better. Things have changed in the thirty plus years since I was a scout. Now we have packaged plans, pre-carved kits, specially designed weights, aerodynamic paints, axle optimizers, special lubricants and, of course, The INTERNET.

The pack provided the kits for the boys (a block of wood, four nails, four axles, four official wheels and a copy of the rules) for free — free. This is great, I thought, we can spend quality time together and it won’t cost me anything. After we received our kit it was straight to the Internet. An initial Google search for “pinewood derby” returned 589,000 listings. Included were sites such as:, (maximum-velocity and lowerfriction — yeah I was a little worried about those too),,, and PinewoodPRO? Come on, are there really pinewood derby PROs???? When I visited his site and saw what he was charging for tips I came to the conclusion that he did fit the definition of a pro. There is actually a page from Stanford University that explains “The Physics of the Pinewood Derby”. Oh, and one of my favorites, (I’m guessing he got his PhD from Stanford). The professor says “Be Smart! Use Science and Physics to Make The Fastest Pinewood Derby Car Possible!” The professor offers a “new cutting edge DVD” (just $14.99 plus $5.01 S&H) to help you do that. Did I say it wouldn’t cost me anything? We don’t need no stinking DVD!

We had about a month and a half before race day to build our winning car so I had to narrow the list. I typed in: “guaranteed winning pinewood derby car” (sounded logical). This search returned 17,400 listings. Still
too many for our time frame, so I typed in: “pinewood derby cars that will allow you to say in your face to the other dads”. Jackpot! This search returned only two listings. A quick check of these sites found we could
spend from $6.00 for plans to $109.90 for all-inclusive kits. We don’t need no stinking plans! We would just find a car design we liked and re- create it. After two weeks of looking at car designs we finally choose a smoking hot one. Now we just had to draw the design, transfer it to the block, and cut it out — simple. Problem: this design has fenders, Our block does not. No problem: after we cut out our basic car shape we will simply glue some extra wood on for fenders. We transferred the design. Problem: in order for the fenders to match up, our design called for the wheelbase to be different than the stock block. I checked the rules; nothing in there said we could not change the wheelbase. Some of the Internet sites said you couldn’t. A quick call to the scout leader for confirmation, and we moved the wheelbase. Then we cut it out. Now we just had to cut the fenders and glue them on. Problem: the fenders proved to be too high for the block we just cut. It was off to the hobby shop to buy a new stock block (only $4.00, not bad). While we were at the hobby shop we checked out other supplies. They had some interesting weights. According to the rules the cars may weigh up to 7 ounces. Back in my day my Dad and I melted lead weight into our cars. Yes, I said lead. Kind of explains a lot, doesn’t it? I decided we would use some of these hobby store weights instead. I mean it wouldn’t do anything to bring back my brain cells but it might benefit my son. We went ahead and bought weights in anticipation ($8.00). Did I say it wouldn’t cost me anything? When we got back we added extra wood for the height of the car and the fenders, transferred the design, and cut it out again. Now, time for sanding. Problem: the rotary tool was dead. Believe me when I tell you that “back in my day we didn’t have any fancy rotary tools; we just used a block and some sandpaper”. Did not work. Okay, we will buy a new one ($57.00). Did I say it wouldn’t cost me anything?

After sanding it was time for painting and attaching the axles and wheels. It looked great. We put it down for a test “drive”. Problem: only three of the wheels were touching the ground. A quick Internet search and I discovered (from the pinewood pro, no less): “Free speed tip: Friction can actually be eliminated! (eliminate friction? No wonder this guy is a pro) How? By removing the surface that is causing the friction. In our speed section titled ‘Triple Trouble’ we tell you how to eliminate friction by lifting one of the front wheels so it doesn’t touch the track at all. Your car is rolling on only three wheels, thereby eliminating friction from one wheel!” Okay, I’m not going to sweat the three-wheel thing. Call it a happy accident. Now we had to add weights to get us right at the 7-ounce limit. I do not have a scale to weigh 7 ounces. The post office does. We took the car to the post office. Ten ounces. I’m glad we bought those $8.00 weights. So we brought it back and drilled a bunch of wood out of the bottom. We went back to the post office. I weighed it again. Nine ounces. Let me just apologize now to the person behind me that was trying to get me to hurry when I shouted, “Back off lady, I’m weighing my car here!” Sorry. It was obvious to me that the post office was not the best way to check the weight of the car. I bought a kitchen scale ($14.00). Now we can drill and weigh until we get it right. We got it right. 7 ounces. My $14.00 scale is not really as accurate as the post office so I wasn’t convinced. Back to the post office to weigh again (sorry again lady). We were slightly over so we  drilled out some more. One more trip to the post office and we were good.

Just under $100.00 in supplies and tools and a month and a half in prep time and we were finally ready. Tomorrow is race day.

We show up at the race site. Outside I see fathers and sons with power tools making last minute adjustments to their cars. One guy’s car was like 16 ounces. He should have gone to the post office. Our weight was right on so we helped the guy with the heavy car. I held it while he drilled. Just before the race he had it down to weight and even patched and painted over the holes. It was race time!!!! Let me just say that the “three-wheel eliminate friction” thing: not so much. Between races they allowed you to re-lubricate. My son got so happy with the graphite that if they re-weighed us we probably would have come in at 10 ounces again. The guy we helped with his car, yeah, he came in first. We won the “Dreaming Award”. I’m not sure what that means, but I do know that I am dreaming about next year. I’m also thinking about getting a sponsor, so
if you know anyone who works at Home Depot or DeWalt maybe you can have them give me a call.

Columnist Chris Joker is a single father of two, and editor of Family Pastime Magazine available online at:

Used by Permission

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 15

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