Ugliest Car in Pinewood Derby History

When I was a young boy in cub scouts, derby time came. So like many other kids my dad helped me build my car. Because of my health problems, my dad worked two and sometimes three jobs, so spare time was a rare thing. As a young kid I didn’t understand why it seemed like I was having to build the car on my own (besides, I wasn’t doing such a good job of it). I didn’t know it then, but I had the very best in fathers. He helped me every chance that he had, but like I said, his time was in short supply. Anyway, the car finally was built and ready for paint. I was sort of on my own again for this, and I really messed it up bad. My dad saw it and said it wasn’t so bad, he would just sand it off and I could start over again. Nobody told me how to paint though, so it came out worse the second time around, and I also had run out of paint. As ugly as it was, things got even worse.

Race day came and I wasn’t going to take that ugly car to the derby. I am not sure which of my two older sisters or my mom came up with the idea that fingernail polish might cover the bad paint job — and that it dried really quick. Just as soon as I got home from school I started trying to make things better with some horrible color of fingernail polish that one of my sisters had given me. It got worse and worse. I kept piling on more of that thick gooey stuff. The polish would dry and I would put on more. It looked horrible. Nothing more could be done at that late date and even though I was very unhappy with the final results, we had to go race it anyway.

One of the first things I can remember when we got to the race was the cars that two friends of mine had brought. They were absolutely beautiful, formed so well and the paint was perfect on both of them. But both of those cars were eliminated before the race because that had not complied with rules and had used really trick slot car wheels instead of the plastic wheels required by the rules.

During the race, my car won races up to one of the very last rounds. The little ugly car smoked so many others, and not by just a little. I was so proud of it then even though it was hard to look at. This is not the end of the story, although I guess it could be.

Years later, derby time came around for one of my nephews. I helped him build his car (in other words I did almost all of it myself). It was perfect, sanded with 1000 grit paper, weighted perfectly on a digital scale, and the paint was so perfect. The car turned out great.

Race day came for my nephew and as we were having the cars inspected before the race someone doing the inspections mentioned to the crowd that these were some very good-looking cars that the “boys” had built. Then he looked right at me. He knew that this was my creation, not my nephews.

The race came and went and we were almost happy with the results. It turns out that the fastest car that night turned out to be the second ugliest car in derby history. Right behind the one I built when I was young.

Terry Graham

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 6

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – September 19, 2014

Chilly Willy – Rob & Blake Overton


Attached is a picture of my son, Blake’s ice cream sandwich car which he named “Chilly Willy”. It won crowd favorite and took 3rd place in speed. We had to take the photo from the right side to see the bite (which is actually from Blake). He bit into a piece of foam and we traced it to the wood.

Photo Finish – Gary Kranston

This car competed in my daughter’s Indian Guide Pinewood Derby last year. Since my daughter is getting older and she likely won’t do this many more times, I wanted to create a special keepsake for her. I used clear acetate, and applied a decal I created to look like a filmstrip with some special pictures of our camping adventures together. Also, I used some small watch batteries to power a flashing yellow LED light at the front of the car and two white LED lights beneath the filmstrip. Not only was the car fun to look at, we raced it with outlaw wheels and won!

Flex Car – Tom Bybee


I compete in the open class in our pack which was designed mainly for adults and has very few restrictions. However, there is still a restriction of no external springs. Since we use an older wooden track that is pretty rough in places, cars lose a lot of energy because the entire weight of the car has to go over every bump. This year I tried a flex design. By doing some clever cutting and a lot of sanding, the car has four-wheel independent suspension — each wheel can flex and move more than 1/4 inch. With this design I was able to move the weight further back on the car (the wide area at the back is filled with lead) without fear that it would “pop a wheelie”. It also absorbed track bumps without losing much energy. Although from the picture it may look fragile, it is actually quite strong and won every race by well over a car length.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 6

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Pinewood Derby Memory – Highest and Longest

We had heard about the upcoming World’s highest and longest Pinewood Derby track event, so we decided to go. We picked out some cars from my son Patrick’s, collection, and I took him and his friend downtown to the museum. Patrick chose the car that he made as a Tiger Cub, an Indy-style racer. His friend, Bryce, picked out a car loosely based on the Dragonfire car plans that were part of a design booklet we had purchased. I got greedy and took two cars, a car based on a 60’s Indy Watson Roadster that I made for myself when Patrick was a Cub Scout (so I could keep my hands off of his car), and a vintage “skinny wheel” car made in the 1960’s.

We had seen the track on TV, so we knew it was going to be high and long, but it was even more impressive in person. There were lots of friendly volunteers helping out with the racing. We quickly got our cars inspected, and were ready to roll.

The aluminum track was four lanes suspended from the ceiling. The starting gate was perched over the second floor railing, and the track made a graceful arch down to the main floor and the finish line. The scoring results were recorded and displayed on a big screen TV near the finish line. Each car was allowed three timed runs. The fastest ten cars would be eligible to compete for one of the top five trophies that were being awarded for the event.

All of our cars ran nicely, but not near the top ten times. The top times were in the 4.5 second range; the best any of ours did was 4.6 seconds. Still, it was awesome to see the cars from below, rocketing down two stories of Pinewood Derby Race track right down to the finish line. You don’t always have to win to have a good time.

I was surprised to see the vintage Pinewood Derby car, made in the 1960’s, holding its own racing against the newer models. It brought back fond memories of my son’s Cub Scout enjoyment of the Pinewood Derby. I found this reflected in the faces of all the kids who were having the time of their life racing their cars on this day.

In addition to the kids, there were several “Old Timers”, like me, who brought their boyhood creations down for one more taste of Pinewood glory.

Two kids that we met that day stood out the most. One boy was there with his Mom. The boy’s dad was out of town, so Mom got Dad’s old Pinewood car for the young man to run. It was probably a seventies car. The builder used the wider 70’s tires for the back and a couple of older skinny wheels in the front. It gave the car a very distinctive look. The son was having the time of his life “driving” daddy’s car.

The other youngster who caught my attention was probably 6 or 7 years old. His car was one that he had made “All by himself”… with a little help from Mom. The car, was nicely painted silver, and had a Lego driver in the cockpit, with horns on it’s helmet, and he had found a matching sticker to decorate the back. It was really neat to see the joy and pride on the face of that little boy — it brought back lots of fond memories of Pinewood Derbies past.

All in all, we had a really great day taking part in a bit of Pinewood Derby History. I heard from one of the volunteers that they may make this into a yearly event. I sure hope so.

Bob & Patrick Henderson

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 5

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – September 3, 2014

To the Rescue – Chris & Kaycie Tufaro


This is the car my daughter, Kaycie (age 10), and I built for her 2008 Powder Puff Derby. It is a basic wedge design with a few special add-ons. In front is what is left of a car after a large “boulder” had fallen on it. Behind are emergency vehicles coming “to the rescue”. The “Falling Rocks” sign was another creative touch. Although she did not win a ribbon for any of the “best of themes” (most colorful, favorite food, sporty, girl scout values, etc.) the car ran fast and we had a blast making it.

Two-wheeler – Bob Weaver


After seeing my two-wheeled car, Bob dropped by Maximum Velocity to show me his version. Modeled after a car that was entered at his pack’s race many years ago, it runs on the right-front, and left-rear wheels; the other wheels are off the ground. Unlike my car which is center-weighted, Bob’s car is rear weighted (balance point at 1-3/4 inch in front of the rear axle) by offsetting an underbody lead plate to the left. It is possible that this design could be made faster by using tungsten plates and shifting them further back. Nevertheless, the car is very fast; it has taken first in several races.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 5

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