The Wedge SE

The Wedge SE

Pinewood Derby Times
Volume 6, Issue 4
November 15, 2006

In this Edition:

- Editor's Notes

- Feature Article - Remote Control Race Management

- Speed Tip

- Newsletter Subscriber Specials

- Car Showcase

- Memory - Pinewood Derby Victory

- Q&A

Editor's Notes

Regarding the Piantedosi Track review in Volume 6, Issue 2 - October 18, 2006:

Corey Drotzur, Awana Commander - I've been running a 4-lane Freedom aluminum track for local church, and regional Awana Grand Prix opens (three per year) since the track was available. I traded up from the Piantedosi wooden track and have never regretted it. Prior to the Piantedosi wooden, we had a hand built track (we had to keep repairing) and no finish line. What a pain!

The Piantedosi Freedom aluminum is a great track. Here's a hint to make it even better. I noticed the lanes weren't quite matching, so I purchased a clamp wide enough to span all four lanes. After loosing the screws, I clamped the track and re-tightened the lanes. Wow, what a difference! Mating the tracks is so much easier. A little tapping and you're done. Once tightened, never loosen the screws except where they join other track pieces. This will keep the lanes together. Now I have to go back and do the length as it isn't quite perfect. This could all be done at the same time: length and width for optimum performance.

Be careful with cleaner. I don't remember what the cleaning crew used one day, but it was caustic and laid on the track long enough to make big spots. Still works fine, but it detracts from the appearance.

My choice for finish lines is the Microwizard Fast Track with the large 1-4 finishing places. I use Grand Prix Race Manager (previously Derby Master until this year). The software displays the times on the screen and I really like the Perfect-N rounds over Stearns. Just make sure you schedule at least two or three rounds for more racing. I'll never go back to elimination brackets.

Thanks for your continued newsletter. It makes a difference.

New Products
In September we announced many new products to help you achieve maximum velocity in your pinewood derby race. But before race time arrives, we would like to introduce several more exciting items. Awana competitors will be especially interested in the third item!

  • Pro Ultra Lite Speed Wheels: Official BSA wheels which have been precision machined and then reduced in weight to 1 gram (extremely light weight) for an ultra-fast start. In addition, the inside hub is beveled to increase performance. These precision wheels are machined by DerbyWorx to exacting standards, and can be ran without any additional prep work!

  • Needle Axle Outlaw Wheels: These light and narrow, precision-machined wheels from DerbyWorx (RSN Wheels), coupled with needle axles, provide you with the fastest ride possible.

  • Awana Speed Wheels: Now some help for Awana competitors; these Awana wheels have been trued, narrowed, and lightened for lightening fast runs!

  • Jackal Decals: Now more choices than ever for detailing your Car! Introducing the full Jackal Decal line of 30 sticker decals that will make your car stand out from the pack!
We have many other new products as well. Click Here For more Information.

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:

We are clearing some inventory and have several items priced to sell. Supplies are limited so Click Here to get these discounted products before they are gone!

Feature Article

Remote Control Race Management
By John Shreffler

The basics of the pinewood derby are simple enough: Using parental guidance, produce a car that is both unique and fast. Fast is perhaps more important than anything else (since it is a race), so serious attention must be paid to accurately calling each race.

Race management has come a long way over the years. Although there are pinewood derby races still being called by human judges standing over the finish line, each year more and more organizations are realizing that the eyeball is not quite up to the task of sorting out the finish order of a close heat.(1) Clearly the electronic finish line has become the gold standard for pinewood derby race management.

Simultaneously, the integration of the electronic finish line into a comprehensive PC-based race management application has become the norm. No more charts and grease pencils; no more indecision, errors, and time-consuming re-runs. Once the contestant's names are all entered into a data base during check-in, the total heat structure is defined in a fraction of a second, and the derby is managed step by step with space age precision. Even the award certificates can be printed on the spot to take home and tape to the refrigerator door. The focus is now on the kids and their cars - exactly where it should be.

So what is next? One clear trend is to make more use of the computer by managing the audio and video presentation to the crowd. Sound effects of roaring engines and squealing tires are popular, and so are clips of Indy races between heats. Also, the race action is projected on large screens using one or more cameras located in strategic locations.

Recently a new pinewood derby embellishment, a remote control start gate, is getting a lot of attention. It is quite dramatic to see the pegs drop with nobody around to manipulate the start gate. Better yet, a lot of fun and excitement can be added to the race by allowing participants to start the race with a remote control.

The magic ingredient at work is the solenoid, which is a coil of wire that creates a magnet when hit with an electrical current. A plunger within the coil responds by moving along the coil's axis. There are two basic ways to use a solenoid: Most start gates are 'cocked', or drawn into the closed position by human power against a spring. Once the gate is cocked, a relatively small solenoid can be used to replace the human finger action of releasing the starting gate. However, a larger solenoid can provide sufficient power to provide the complete gate movement, eliminating the need to perform a manual reset between heats..

Last summer, I ordered seventeen different solenoids of various capacities to get a feel for the size and power that would be needed to perform these two actions. Here are some tips that I learned along the way:

  1. You cannot, in general, get enough power from common alkaline batteries to achieve remote control. You can use 12 volts, but you will need at least a gel-cell, or a motorcycle battery. Obviously a car battery would work, but that is over-doing it.

  2. Overall, using 120 VAC is the most practical way to get the required force.

  3. The 120 VAC solenoid found in washing machines is unnecessarily powerful.

  4. A minimum solenoid to get useful work has a coil at least one inch in diameter by two inches long.

  5. The pull of a solenoid is always weakest when it is extended and strongest when the plunger is pulled all the way into the coil. It would be really nice if the opposite were the case, but it is not. Therefore, it is very important to have a solenoid with enough power when the gate is in the closed position (i.e., the plunger is extended).

  6. Make sure the hinges on the starting gate are in perfect alignment, and they don't bind.

  7. Use minimum spring tension to keep the gate closed. If you are using DC solenoids, have the circuitry store power and release it in the first few milliseconds.

  8. Start the timer with an independent switch, not upon application of power to the solenoid. One thing I learned early in the discovery process is that there is a degree of uncertainty introduced into the timing between application of power to the solenoid and the position of the plunger along the axis. This is due in part to the force weakness at maximum extension, and in part to the phase of the current when applied. There is also a temperature effect; that is, the available power suffers as the solenoid heats up. Certainly, these are small factors; but remember that electronic finish lines are capable of measuring elapsed time to fractions of a millisecond.
Click Here to see some of my remote control designs.

The author, John Shreffler, manufactures The Judge electronic finish line, as well as light trees and starting gates.

(1)There are still some groups that use electronic finish lines, but back them up with humans who must agree. Of course, there are also folks that are still hanging on to their 8-track stereos in case CDs don't prove out!

Speed Tip
Axle Heat Treatment

When using zinc-plated axles (such as axle nails from BSA, PineCar, et al, and various speed axles) lubricated with graphite-moly, the molybdenum will scratch the zinc plating, negating much of your polishing efforts. However, this can be eliminated by heat treating the axles. Heat treating removes the soft zinc and increases the hardness of the steel, both of which help to minimize scratching.

CAUTION - Use extreme care when performing the following steps, and wear eye protection.

First, remove the burr from the axle and straighten with the Pro-Axle press.

Then hold an axle in a pair of vise-grips (hold it near the point). Position the axle in the hottest part of the flame of a propane torch (apply the heat to the area where the wheel will spin). Hold it there until the axle starts to turn red-hot, then immediately drop it in a cup of tap water.

Repeat for the other axles. Then drain off the water and dry the axles.

Next, polish as usual. You may need to start with a coarser grit of sandpaper, as the zinc plating on the axles will be essentially burned off.

Some additional considerations:

  1. Be careful to not overheat the axles, as they can deform.

  2. With the zinc-plating removed, the axles can form rust. So, after polishing keep the axles away from moisture.

Speed Tips, Web Site or Product Reviews?
If you have a speed or construction tip, a web site review, or a product review that you would like to share, please send it to:

If your submission is used, you will receive a $10 coupon in May of 2007. Don't worry about literary polish. We will edit it as needed before publishing. Also, please read our Submission Policy.

Special Offers for Newsletter Subscribers

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 November 28, 2006.

Car Showcase

Blue Cobra: Randy & Dalton West

The blue Cobra that my son, Dalton, and I made was from a hobby kit. It was supposed to be easier so he could do most of the work. Wrong! Nothing lined up on the pre-cut wood frame. So it was back to the sandpaper. We had to sand the sides down so the plastic fenders would line up; they were a pain to glue on and to get where they looked right. After that, he did a nice paint job. The car ended up taking 2nd Place.

Heart Attack: Jeff & Mara Lilleskare

After winning 1st Place for speed last year, my daughter Mara wanted to try to win a style award. She liked the American flag theme of last yearís car, but wanted to incorporate hearts this year to make it appear more 'girly'. She sketched out some ideas, and to help her out I bought a bunch of different heart cut-outs from a craft store. She just kept re-arranging them until she came up with a design she liked. When we were part way through with painting, she was so pleased with how it was turning out, that she decided not to add the additional blue heart decals and designs she had originally planned - thus was born the 'Heart-Attack'.

We had a blast building it together, and she loved trying to incorporate the tips and tricks we found on Maximum Velocity - although she was very tired of axle polishing and sanding by the time we were done! She ended up winning 3rd for design, accomplishing her primary goal, and we were extremely surprised to also end up winning 3rd for speed. Overall a great year, and she was extremely proud to have the only car in recent memory to place in both categories.

Snake Trouble: Cory Jackson, Jr.

This was a fun car I made for the Dadís Division at the pack meet. I had to use a variety of tools to make it, including a scroll saw, Dremel tool, router (for weights) etc. I used the Pro-Wheel Shaver on the wheels, and tungsten for weighting. No prizes for looks, but I did manage to whip the competition in speed!

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

Pinewood Derby Victory

Last year, at the District Pinewood Derby, we learned just how much difference a rough wooden track can make! On the first run down the track, we had an axle get pushed backwards as we hit a rough spot in the track, resulting in the car being out of alignment.

So this year, we were determined to improve performance. To guard against a similar mishap as last year, we prepared the car for a rough ride by reinforcing the front end with good ol' automobile body and fender putty (Bondo).

A few days before the race, we started tuning the car. First, we did an initial test run to get a baseline. Ryan, my son, placed his car on the track, read the results from a window on my laptop, and entered the time into a spread sheet. He also spun the wheels and operated a stop watch. By working on his car, Ryan not only learned about wood working and painting, but he also learned about averages, statistics and the affect of different lubricants on surface friction. Most importantly, he learned how to have fun with technology. Some people say, "Oh, that Pinewood Derby is a dad's thing". Yes, I enjoy it, but Ryan has participated in every step of the process, and he enjoys it as well.

We were fine tuning his car right up until an hour before the race. After a short half-hour drive, we arrived at the race location, the Jim Falls Lions Club. We made sure we were about a half hour early so we would have time to adjust our maximum car weight to the limit of 5.00 oz. Ryan handed his car to a scout leader at the judge's stand and was told it was 5.02 ounces. Perfect, I had my drill in hand, ready to drill some lead out. The judges scale had three significant figures and we had to get two of them to zero (5.00 oz). As other cub scouts arrived and weighed-in, my drill became more and more popular as other fathers discovered that their kid's cars were overweight..

After a few announcements and an explanation of how the race would be judged, the racing began. There were 25 contestants and six lanes on the track. To make it as fair as possible, each boy's car ran six races, one race on each lane of the track.

Ryan's car won the first race against five other cars. They rotated all the cars to the next lane to the left, which bumped us off the track. We would not race again until all of the other 25 contestants had raced at least once. Then after about 10 races, a problem was discovered. They decided that there was corruption in the process, or the computer had a glitch; something had gone wrong enough that it justified a restart.

This time, we took second place out of the group of six cars. So now we were just hoping for a possible second or third place. Many races went by as we waited our turn to get back on the track. We noticed some very fast cars, a low-rider type red car, a pickup truck, and a yellow one had many first place wins in their six races. Finally we got a chance to race, and took first place five times in a row! In one heat, there was a tie for second place that required them to rerun the heat, but we took first again.

Then, they announced the top seven qualifiers. Ryan's name was not called first or second. I was concerned for a minute (we have been overlooked before in the Pack race, and I had a feeling that it could happen again). But after the third or fourth name, they announced, "Ryan Wolff".

In the first race of the finals Ryan's car took first; we beat the guy who had at one time beaten us. Then, like before, we were booted off the track as they rotated lanes, but this time only for one race. We came back onto the track to win another first place, and continued to win every race thereafter.

They announced the third place winner and Ryan's name was not called.

They announced the second place winner and Ryan's name was not called.

They announced the first place winner and Ryan's name WAS called. They gave him a plaque and a trophy.

So, now that Pinewood Derby season is over, what do we do in the off-season? I wish there was another level of racing for us.

Von Wolff

Editor's Note: If you have been bitten by the pinewood derby 'bug', then consider racing with the WIRL at

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


Our local rules on wheels reads as follows: "No wafering, tapering or other similar shaving of the wheels is allowed. Remove the extra plastic and mold projections from the wheel tread by light sanding. No wheel bearings, washers, bushings etc. are permitted." My interpretation is that the guideline, "no wafering, tapering or similar shaving", is directed at the wheel tread surface, and therefore, removal of wheel material from the interior would not be a rule violation. Understanding this is a local rule and needs to be clarified by the local derby officials, I wanted to see if, based on your experience, do you have any input on how this may be interpreted?

Clearly, the intent of the rule is to prevent modifying the tread surface. Probably, the idea of removing material from the interior was not considered. However, since our Pro Ultra Lite Wheels (part #5065) are noticeably different (thin edge), the officials could say the wheels were 'wafered', horizontally not vertically. So, you would be safer to use the Ultralight Speed Wheels (part #5080), which are lighter in weight, but not noticeably different in appearance. In any case, I encourage you to check with the race officials ahead of time to make sure that the wheels you intend to use will be considered legal.

What is the best coating material for axles? Zinc or nickel?

Most axles are plated with zinc to resist rust and corrosion. However, some speed axles are coated with nickel. Most people think that nickel plating is the best as it is a harder finish. This harder material is less prone to scratching, and has a lower coefficient of friction. Note however, that zinc-plated axles have a dull, aluminum-colored finish. Nickel-plated axles are shinier, and do stand out somewhat.

Will NyOil II affect the paint on the car?

NyOil II isn't a solvent, so you should not have a problem with paint contact. We have used it with Krylon-brand paints and automobile paints with no problem, and I haven't heard of any NyOil-paint issues.

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
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

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 bi-weekly from October through April.

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Randy Davis, Editor, Pinewood Derby Times

Copyright ©2006, 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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