The Dragster

The Dragster

Pinewood Derby Times
Volume 6, Issue 13
March 21, 2007

In this Edition:

- Editor's Notes

- Feature Article - DVD Review: An American Race

- Newsletter Subscriber Specials

- Car Showcase

- Memory - Bittersweet Day

- Q&A

Editor's Notes
Reader Feedback

From Kevin White:

Concerning the question that was asked in Volume 6, Issue 12 - March 7, 2007:

"Q: We have a car body with drilled axle holes, and one front wheel is drilled higher. What is the best way to make all four wheels touch the ground?"

You gave some great advice. However, there are two other options to get four wheels touching, which I used at our pinewood derby race this last January. While your answers are great for someone with the right time and equipment, it doesn't help the person who discovers the error very close to race time. For the "short-timer", I recommend the following additional options:

  1. If the distance to the ground is very slight, you can brush a very thin layer of super glue onto the wheel tread until it is thick enough to get the wheel spinning when tested. Use brush-on super glue to avoid the inevitable ill placed blob if poured from the tube. You can brush it on in layers until you get the right thickness. The wheel does not need to be removed from the car for this method, and the quick drying action of the glue gets the job done quickly. The car we corrected using this method placed first in a very close race.

  2. If the distance is too much for a quick fix, you can try the following method. After removing the axle and wheel, use a Dremel-like tool and a small drill bit to increase the axle angle (i.e., toward the top of the car) so the wheel will touch the ground. Be very careful to keep the axle perpendicular to the center line as possible. Also try to avoid increasing the diameter of the exit hole. Place the wheel and axle back in the car and check your work. If the wheel is still not touching, remove and increase the angle. Glue the axle in place once you have the right angle. The car we modified this way came in third. It very well could have placed second were it not for its extremely mismatched wheels.

From Anonymous:

To avoid any embarrassment to the council or families involved I would wish to remain anonymous. Several years ago when my boys were in Cub Scouts, I helped run our district Pinewood Derby. We had around 70 boys competing for some real nice trophies. With 70 cars and a double elimination, we had a lot of racing that day. I was in charge of loading and launching the cars for most of the races. Whenever my boys had a turn to race I would let one of the other leaders step in and do my job. Just trying to keep everything honest.

About half way through the Bear races I noticed that one of the cars would launch out of the gate much quicker than the rest. It would be about 2 feet ahead of the rest of the cars before they would even be down the ramp. At first we all thought, wow what a fast car. But the next time the car came up to race I noticed that getting the car loaded straight in the lane was rather difficult. It kept shifting to one side on its own. Well that put up a big red flag to me. It turned out that the car had a powerful magnet in the front of the car. We let the car race that race, and just eliminated that race from the standings. Afterwards the car was simply eliminated from the rounds.

The only people that were ever aware of the discrepancy were the parents of the boy and a few of the race officials. It turned out that the boy's father had done this with out the knowledge of the boy or the boy's mother - she was furious! The next year we replaced the steel pins on the track that release the cars with stainless steel pins. That way magnets would never haunt our Derby again.

Editor's Note: Some stainless steel alloys are attracted to a magnet, but much less so than non-stainless steel. To totally eliminate the effect of magnets, use brass, wood or plastic starting pins.

Can We Help?
If we can help you in any way with your pinewood derby project, or if you have any feedback regarding this newsletter, please contact us at:

Pine Block Blowout
Special Price

If you have plans to build several cars in the future, now is the time to stock up on these BSA-spec pine blocks (1-3/4 x 1-1/4 x 7 inches). Newsletter Special

Feature Article

DVD Review: An American Race

While going through the bonus features on the 'Down and Derby' DVD, I ran across a trailer for "An American Race". I was not entirely sure what was being advertised, but since I pursue anything relating to pinewood derby racing, I dutifully surfed to their web site to investigate. As stated on the web site, "An American Race" is a one-hour, multiple award winning, real-life documentary film (included as a finalist in the International Family Film Festival in LA), which follows three boy's (Brady, Nick, and Matt) quest to make the fastest Pinewood Derby race car.

Okay, I was hooked. I purchased the DVD on-line ($14.99 + shipping, I paid $18.94 total), and waited for the DVD to arrive.

While waiting I found a little more information. The documentary was directed and produced by the father-son filmmaker team of Marc and Jake Wortman. Marc is a Northwestern University Graduate in Television and Film, while Jake (his son) is a former Pinewood Derby participant. Apparently, the documentary received commendations from several film festivals (quite a parent-child project!).

When the DVD arrived, I stuck it in the DVD player on my laptop and sat back to watch. Much to my confusion, there was no menu, so I couldn't figure out how to get it playing! Finally, my teenage son figured out that all I had to do was press the enter button (duh).

The DVD is truly a documentary, with (apparently) no script. After the usual introductory whiz-bang cinematography, the three boys were introduced and the car building began.

Although the web site states, "The DVD is also a great 'How To' build your own Derby car, by actually watching real-life families building their cars, with lots of 'Tips and Tricks'!!", this is really just marketing hype. There are only a few tips mentioned, and they are the same ones you can find on any of 100,000 web sites. So, if you are looking to purchase a video to help you build a faster car, this is not the one.

Instead, the documentary is really a human-interest story with a pinewood derby race as the venue. In my opinion, the human interest story is quite well done. The boys are shown as they apparently really are, a little spoiled, a little quirky, and certainly competitive. I appreciate that the character flaws were left in, as it allowed the documentary to really reflect life.

Would this DVD be of interest to you? Well, if you are a 'pinehead' (like me), then you would certainly enjoy the video. The track is a double-hump monster (over 4 seconds for a heat), and clearly demonstrates the need for a less abrupt braking section! The 'speed tip' of wetting the axle sanding paper with spit, was certainly unique, and watching Nick attach wheels with gluey hands was to me like fingernails on the chalkboard (the car ended up doing quite well, so I have to believe that the 'pinewood derby fairy' did quite a bit of work on the car while Nick was asleep - although the parents swore he did all the work himself). I also felt 'justified' when Matt's car did poorly (he kept the basic block shape in an attempt to prove that the shape of the car didn't matter).

If you are not a pinehead, but do like documentaries, then you will likely enjoy the DVD. At the beginning I thought it would be somewhat boring, but by the end I was starting to empathize with the characters. When the story ended, I was actually hoping for the story to continue.

Although there are no bonus features (and no menu), the DVD is well done. For an independent (likely low-budget) project, the sound, lighting, and editing are quite good.

So, if you are like me - liking all things pinewood derby - or if you like documentaries, then you will likely enjoy "An American Race".

Special Offers for Newsletter Subscribers

Pine Block Blowout
$0.95 off

If you have plans to build several cars in the future, now is the time to stock up on these BSA-spec pine blocks (1-3/4 x 1-1/4 x 7 inches). The blocks are equipped with BSA slots (we did not cut the slots). You can use the slots, or turn the block over and make your own slots or holes.

You can Purchase Here

Awana Speed Wheels
$2.00 off

Are you looking for an edge in your Awana race? Then look no further! These Awana Speed wheels are perfectly round and smooth to give you a fast ride. In addition, the tread is narrowed to reduce the contact patch and weight. Finally, the inside hub is shortened (to compensate for the narrowed tread) and the hub is beveled to reduce contact with the car body.

For more information, Click Here

but make sure to Purchase Here

These specials are valid through April 3, 2007.

Car Showcase

Canyon Dragon: John & Jake Harig

This is the second year for Jake, and he won 1st place again. This year the 'Canyon Dragon' car was fastest overall. The name comes from the base coat of 'Canyon Orange' and, of course, dragon decals.

We used your wheels and axles, and the block was yours with drilled holes, extended wheel base and raised wheel. COG was 0.9 inch forward of rear axle, much too aggressive for what I now realize is a rough wood track. I used a 1/2 inch diameter steel tube cut 2.5 inches long that protruded 1/2 inch out the back end to look like a jet engine nozzle. It also served as a weight chamber for your tungsten cylinders and beads. The part I liked best was using an ear plug to hold the weights in place - the approach worked sweet at the weigh-in.

Mach 5: John & Billie White

My daughter Billie and I raced our Mach 5 in the Awana Grand Prix this past fall. She was placed in the adult/leader group. The competition was TOUGH, but she placed third for speed and third for design. We raced this year on a new aluminum track. Many of my old secrets didn't seem to want to work, but it was still a fun race.

Arrow of Light: Millisa & Cody Kramer

This is my son Cody's car for his last Pinewood Derby. As a Webelo II, he has been working on his Arrow of Light achievements for the last year; so this year's car design was based on that. After cutting out so much of the block and inserting a dowel for the arrow shaft, the car barely weighed anything at all. So there are weights across the entire bottom of the car, in a hole drilled out of the back. The fin on the top is even a weight! It weighed exactly 5.0 ounces. The axle holes were not quite straight, slowing down the car a little. It came in a very close 3rd out of 5 cars in his den, but it won Best of Show for the Pack.

Share Your Pinewood Derby Car Creation
Do you have a car you would like to 'show off' to our readers? If so, send us a photo of your car along with a brief description of any special features. Also, please include your full name. If selected, we will include the photo and description in this newsletter.Please e-mail photos to:

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 the cars shown above.

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

Pinewood Derby Memory

Bittersweet Day

Our pack was involved in a combined three pack pinewood derby this year. Not only did the boys race against their own dens, they also raced against the winners of the other packs. Our pack had purchased a brand new aluminum track with digital sensors. It was cool! Not one car jumped the track this year. No more jarring bumps as the cars raced down the track. The cars seems to go faster than in years past as well. The track was carefully roped off so anxious cub scouts couldn't bump it or step on it. The cubs placed their cars on the track and had to walk around the audience to the finish line to receive their cars from the cub master at the end.

The derby this year took almost two hours to run. As the winners from each den were announced, their cars were put aside for the final race of the day - the three pack champion race. By this time, some of the boys not advancing to the district were leaving with their families or playing with the cars on the gym floor. Nine cars competed in the tournament of champions. There were multiple races and scoring to determine the overall winner. My son's car had won against his Weblos den. He was the three pack champion last year, so he was one of the nine again this year. Tension was high - would he take first place again?

There were 9 heats to determine the overall winner. For each heat, four cars raced and five sat out. The cars were rotated so they were constantly racing other cars. About halfway through these heats my son's name was called to get his car. It should have been on the judges table with the others - it wasn't. We started looking around - did someone steal his car? My poor excited son (and his anxious dad!) couldn't find the car. Everyone started looking. It took just a few seconds to see that some little girls were imitating the other cub scouts by playing with HIS car on the gym floor - pushing it back and forth. My daughter raced over and picked up the car from the girls playing with it. Now the problem wasn't finding the car - it was to get it back in the race. No time to look at it to clean off the wheels or check alignment.

My son didn't win the tournament of champions. We weren't even allowed to handle the car after the final race, as the district wanted the cars quarantined until the district race next month. We requested time to examine and repair the car since it was mishandled. No such luck. Everyone agreed that we should be able to examine it - but whoever has the cars in quarantine isn't letting us know where they are being stored. So next month my son will race his car against the district, and we won't know until after that race if any damage was done - it's sad that we know already his chances to win are slim. This will be his last pinewood derby before he bridges to boys scouts. What a bittersweet day.

Michael Law
Live Oak, CA

Share Your Pinewood Derby Memory!
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 memory is used, you will receive a $10 coupon in May of 2007.

Don't worry about literary polish. We will edit as needed. Also, please read our Submission Policy


We want to run our race outside, but can't find a timer that works outside. What do you suggest?

As you have found, virtually all timers are designed for indoor use. However, 'The Judge' from New Directions can be optionally equipped to work in sunlight. See:

Alternately, you can shield the finish line from all IR by building a shelter around the finish line. Unfortunately, this generally blocks the view of spectators.

Is it possible that a car using lathed wheels may not clear the center section of the track properly since the lathed wheels are smaller and therefore the car runs closer to the track?

This isn't typically a problem. All speed wheels are turned on a lathe to make them round. This reduces the diameter (on our wheels the resulting diameter is 1.170 inches) from the original 1.190. So the radius reduction is only .010, or less than 1/64 of an inch.

The issue that people do have with light-weight speed wheels is the need to load the car with extra weight to make up for the loss of wheel weight. When using the lightest (1 gram) wheels over stock wheels, you need to add a little over 1/3 ounce of extra weight.

We want to have a semi truck race and are looking for information as to rules and truck kits. Can you help?

I don't know of any specific web site for rules and information, but you can search Google for either:

pinewood 18 wheeler
Pinewood semi-truck

Do You Have Questions that Need Answers?
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 Volumes 5 and 6 are posted on our web site:

Volume 6

  1. Volume 6, Issue 1

  2. Volume 6, Issue 2

  3. Volume 6, Issue 3

  4. Volume 6, Issue 4

  5. Volume 6, Issue 5

  6. Volume 6, Issue 6

  7. Volume 6, Issue 7

  8. Volume 6, Issue 8

  9. Volume 6, Issue 9

  10. Volume 6, Issue 10

  11. Volume 6, Issue 11

  12. Volume 6, Issue 12

  13. Volume 6, Issue 13
Volume 5

  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

  7. Volume 5, Issue 7

  8. Volume 5, Issue 8

  9. Volume 5, Issue 9

  10. Volume 5, Issue 10

  11. Volume 5, Issue 11

  12. Volume 5, Issue 12

  13. Volume 5, Issue 13

  14. Volume 5, Issue 14

  15. Volume 5, Issue 15
Issues from the four previous seasons are available in four formatted volumes, ready for immediate download. To find out more, Click Here.

Newsletter Contributions

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Randy Davis, Editor, Pinewood Derby Times

Copyright ©2007, 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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