The Truck

The Truck

Pinewood Derby Times
Volume 5, Issue 6
December 14, 2005

In this Edition:

- Editor's Notes

- Feature Article - Wheel Alignment: Make it Straight!

- Tip

- Memory - The Wrong Lube

- Q&A

Merry Christmas to you and your family! May you have a blessed holiday season.

Editor's Notes

Reader Feedback
Here is some more reader feedback on the article, "The Dark Side: eBay Cars", issued November 2, 2005:

"I too had a great time watching as my son perfected his cars. He hasn't won a single race; but has this diminished his eagerness to open that box of wood, design, sand, paint and try again? NO, he's excited every year. He has never walked away from a race with his peers, feeling let down that his car didn't win. He has enjoyed his time with his Dad and has evolved his vehicles over the past few years.

I remember his first car, a simple wedge, which he is just as proud of as last year's Iguana! The creativity pours out of him when Pinewood Derby Day comes to town. He's a boy that has never liked drawing, yet he begins by drawing blueprints of his car. He's never liked painting, yet he sands his vehicles so that his coats of paint go on smoothly. He's excited when racing day comes, not because he's looking to win, but because all of his scouting buddies are there showcasing their cars for the first time - they get to vote for best paint job, most original, and most awesome. You see, it's not all about racing, winning and losing; it's about working together with your Dad - and in some cases, Mom - to put your 'best axle forward', and have a really great time doing it!" - Brenda Wight

Help! We are all out of Memories and Car Photos
We are all out of Car Photos, and very low on memories. So, if you have an anecdote that is unusual, sad, heart-warming, etc., please send it to me in an e-mail. Don't worry about literary polish. We will edit as needed, and review it with you before publishing. Also, please read our submission policy by Clicking Here.

If your story is used, you will receive a copy of Volume 5 of the Pinewood Derby Times when it is compiled during the summer of 2006.

If you don't have a memory to share, then please take a digital photo of your favorite car, and send it along with a brief description of any special features to:

Please include your full name. If selected, we will include the photo and description in this newsletter. Photos must be sent by e-mail in JPG format (minimum size of 640x480 - maximum size of 1280 x 960). Please shoot photos from the front left of the car, similar to the orientation of This Car.

Send only one photo per car, unless an additional photo is needed to adequately show a feature. Also, only one car per subscriber please.

Back Issues
Are you a new subscriber? Have you missed a few issues? You can start reading all of the back issues of the Pinewood Derby Times today by Clicking Here.

If you have any questions about the Pinewood Derby Times, Maximum Velocity, or about building a pinewood derby car, please contact me at:

MV Car Kit
Are you dissatisfied with the kits used by your organization? In answer to the concerns expressed by many people, we are now offering a top quality kit at an attractive price. Features include:

  1. Quality Block - Unlike the blocks provided by some organizations, our blocks are soft, northwestern pine blocks, cut precisely to 7 inches long, 1-3/4 inches wide, and 1-1/4 inches tall. These dimensions, as well as the axle slots accurately duplicate the dimensions of the BSA block.

  2. Simple Axle Preparation - Don't worry about filing off flaws, or losing hub caps. Our axles have no burr or crimp marks, and install without hub caps. Just a little polishing and they are ready to go. We supply five, so you have a spare.

  3. Quality Wheels - Forget cheap, out of round wheels. We supply top-quality, PineCar-brand wheels to give great performance.
So, if your organization does not mandate a particular kit type, consider our Maximum Velocity Car Kits.

Pro-Axle Guide
Don't be the last one to get the latest Pro-Tool from DerbyWorx! The Pro-Axle Guide will help you install axles accurately and with less risk of damage to your car. Click Here for more information.

Our new car plan booklet, Car Plans 4, has three fast car designs that are easy to build. Get plans for the Sports Car, the Truck, and the Dune Buggy. Click Here for more information

Feature Article

Wheel Alignment: Make it Straight!

I overheard a conversation the other day, between two young men (young from my perspective). One of them said, "My car is pulling to the left, and I have to constantly adjust to keep it going straight. I think something is seriously wrong, but the shop says I just need an alignment. An alignment!? I paid a lot of money for the car; it shouldn’t need to be aligned? It’s supposed to be a precision car!"

Maybe this is a common misconception of younger drivers. I have driven a number of older cars, and alignment adjustments were needed on a regular basis. Newer cars seem to have fewer alignment issues, but it is still a recommended maintenance procedure. Why is that?

All cars (regardless of price or quality) are designed with the ability to make adjustments to the alignment. Why? When the car was originally assembled, the alignment was set properly. But over time, rough roads, tire wear, and generally wear and tear of the steering components affect the alignment. If the alignment is not adjusted regularly, excessive stress is placed on the steering components, and the tires wear unevenly (and more quickly).

How does this relate to pinewood derby cars? In an automobile, a minor alignment issue can be readily corrected by the driver, so the car goes straight. But with a pinewood derby car, the only ‘driver’ is the guide rail(s). Thus, any alignment issue will result in excessive collisions with the guide rail. Since every collision reduces the speed of the car, the desire is to minimize or eliminate guide rail collision. How? By setting the alignment to be as accurate as possible.


Using precision components and tools will minimize the amount of required alignment. Some options include:

These products (and others) will minimize the amount of alignment needed. But just like an automobile, regardless of the level of precision or cost, wheel alignment is still necessary.


In order to adjust the alignment of a car, you must first have a way to measure the amount and type of misalignment. I have found that this is most readily accomplished with a test track. Don’t let the words ‘test track’ scare you. This is simply a hard, flat, pitched surface, down which the car is rolled. In Volume 3, Issue 13 (March 17, 2004) there are plans for a nice test track. But here is a simple solution:

To test the car, place it at the uphill end and align the edge of the car with the straight line drawn on the board. Make sure to place it the same way on each test - a slight difference in placement will make a big difference in the measurement. After you are satisfied with the placement release the car and observe the direction and amount of drift. The goal is to get the car to deviate less than ˝ inch over the 8 foot run. Test the car a few times until you have a good idea of the amount and direction of drift.


There are two primary methods for adjusting wheel alignment: the axle bend method, and the axle shimming method. A third method (if the car has axle slots), angling the axles, is not recommended as it can cause binding between the axle and wheel bore.

Axle Bend Method

The axle bend method is cruder than the shim method, but is the method of choice if time is short. It is most easily done on a car with a raised front wheel. The method is quite simple:

  1. Remove the front wheel/axle which is on the ground,

  2. Make a ‘slight’ bend in the axle, and then reinstall the wheel/axle (see Figure 1),

  3. Test roll the car, and then slightly rotate the axle by grasping the head of the axle with a pair of pliers,

  4. Repeat until the car goes straight, then make sure to glue the axle in place.

Figure 1
Axle Bend Method

Wheel Shimming Method

The axle bend method corrects alignment by imparting some toe-in, toe-out, or some cant. Although it works, there is some energy loss in the front wheel due to this correction. A better way is to set all four axles such that each is parallel to the ground (no cant), and pointed in the same direction (no toe-in or out). This can be accomplished by placing thin (2 to 3 thousandths inch thick) shims between the axles and the car body such that the desired alignment is accomplished.

The shim method was developed by Stan Pope, and is documented both on his web site, and in our booklet Speed to the Finish. Due to the length of the procedure, I won’t include it in this article, but here are some considerations.


Wheel alignment is a critical procedure for ensuring top speed. Whichever method you choose to implement, make sure to allocate time for alignment. Then as long as the car is accurately placed on the track (see the tip below), whatever time you spend aligning the car will pay off at the track.


This tip was submitted by Blair Guerin:

To aid the child in lining up the car straight on the track, have the child paint a small stripe down the exact center of the car (or use pinstriping). The child then places the front of the stripe against the starting pin, and the rear of the stripe is lined up with the center of the track. This really helps out with first time racers.

If you have a tip you would like to share, please send it to:

If your tip is used, you will receive a copy of Volume 5 of the Pinewood Derby Times when it is compiled during the summer of 2006. Don't worry about literary polish. We will edit it as needed before publishing. Also, please read our Submission Policy.

Pinewood Derby Memory

The Wrong Lube

Last year was a poor year for pinewood derby performance for my sons. From the scout store we had purchased the pinewood derby speed kit that included: sandpaper, extra nails, a white powder (that I thought was Teflon lube), wheel mandrel, etc. Then we went to work.

The cars were the boy's designs. One was a limo, and the other a cross between a submarine and a shark. We used a drill press to get straight axle holes, then we sanded the wheels and nails. We painted the cars, and even bought two plastic models to get decals to use on our cars. We then lubricated with the white powder. The wheels just didn't spin for very long, but we were in the middle of a move so I couldn't put any more time into the cars.

Our cars performed marginally well - we won a few heats and lost a few heats. But they were a lot slower than our prior year cars. My boys were disappointed in not winning as many heats as in previous years.

After the race when we had more time I decided to find out what was wrong. Oh, you probably know already. The white powder wasn't lubricant, but instead it was axle polish (powdered pumice). When I cleaned out the powder and replaced it with graphite, the wheels spun like crazy. We learned how to really polish axels, and what not to use as a lubricant on race day!

Michael Law

Do You Have a Pinewood Derby Memory to Share?

Now that many races have been completed, I am sure there are many stories to share. Please jot down your humorous, unusual, sad, or heart-warming pinewood derby tale and send it to:

If your story is used, you will receive a free copy of Volume 5 of the Pinewood Derby Times when it is compiled during the summer.

Don't worry about literary polish. We will edit as needed, and review it with you before publishing. Also, please read our Submission Policy


When I polish the axles, should I polish them in the direction the wheels will spin on the axle?

I don't believe it makes any difference. Once the axles are polished, there should be no trace of any lines on the shaft, so the spin direction shouldn't matter.

Our district has decided to allow extended wheel base this year. What are your recommendations for axle positioning from the front and rear of car?

On extended wheelbase cars, we set the axle holes at just a little over 5/8 inch from the ends of block. This allows the front wheels to stay just behind the front of the car. However, some people set the rear wheels at 5/8 inch, but the front wheels at 3/4 inch (or so). This ensures that if the car body is shortened due to excessive sanding, the front wheels will still not extend beyond the front of the car.

What is the best way to lubricate the axles with graphite?

Before installing the wheels/axles, place graphite in the hub of the wheel, insert the axle, then spin the wheel on the axle about 10 times. Then with the wheel hanging downward, place graphite in the wheel bore area, tap the wheel gently to shake the graphite into the bore, then spin 10 more times. Finally, repeat the previous step.

Do you have a pinewood derby-related question? If so, send your question to: We answer all questions by e-mail, but not every question will appear in the Q&A section of the newsletter.

Back Issues

Are you a new subscriber, or have you missed some of the previous newsletters? Don't miss out! All of the issues for Volume 5 are posted on our web site:

  1. Volume 5, Issue 1

  2. Volume 5, Issue 2

  3. Volume 5, Issue 3

  4. Volume 5, Issue 4

  5. Volume 5, Issue 5

  6. Volume 5, Issue 6
Issues from the four previous seasons are available in four formatted volumes, ready for immediate download. To find out more, Click Here.

Newsletter Contributions

We welcome your contributions! If you would like to contribute an article, a web site review, or a speed tip, please send it to:

Please read our submission policy.

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The Pinewood Derby Times is a free e-newsletter focused on the Pinewood Derby. It is published biweekly from October through April.

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Randy Davis, Editor, Pinewood Derby Times

Copyright © 2005, Randy Davis. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or place this newsletter on your web site without explicit permission. However, if you like this newsletter we grant permission, and encourage you to e-mail it to a friend.

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