The Interceptor

The Interceptor

Pinewood Derby Times
Volume 6, Issue 6
December 13, 2006

In this Edition:

- Editor's Notes

- Feature Article - Why Do You Have a Pinewood Derby?

- Speed Tip

- Newsletter Subscriber Specials

- Car Showcase

- Q&A

Editor's Notes
Free Decals!

We just purchased the excess pinewood derby inventory from a hobby shop in Pennsylvania. Some of the items we purchased are marked way down in our Inventory Clearance Area

However, we purchased over 50 decal sheets which we are going to give away to newsletter subscribers. These decals include PineCar-brand dry transfer and sticker decals, and PinePro-brand sticker decals. To get your free decal sheet:

  1. Make a purchase of $25 or more.

  2. In the comment field of the order, type in the following: "Please include free decals".
For every $25 in the order subtotal, we will include a free decal sheet (limit of two sheets per order - sorry, we cannot take requests for specific sheets). Don't delay! These decals will go quickly, and this offer is only valid while the excess inventory lasts.

Help! We are all out of Memories.

At least, we are out of pinewood derby memories for the newsletter. 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.

If your story is used, you will receive a $10 coupon in May of 2007.

Reader Feedback

From Michael Law:

We purchased and watched "Down and Derby" as a family. All of us laughed and enjoyed it. The pinewood derby was coming up, and it was Sunday afternoon - the only time of the week I had to work on the car. I asked my son what he wanted to do on the car. He described what he wanted, and then said something like, "Don't try and take over the project like on 'Down and Derby'!" So, I bit my tongue, and helped with the wheels and axles. Lets just say that the final car wasn't aerodynamic!

From Anton Petrou, regarding "Weight Distribution: Concentrated or Distributed?" in Volume 6, Issue 5:

Your article was interesting to me as I already thought I knew the answer from previous experience on a highly unstable design. Two years ago, my brother ran a car on a nearly perfect track with a COG of 1/4 inch (in front of the rear axle) with a highly concentrated lead weighting scheme. The car ran like crazy two-thirds of the way down the track, but then broke into a wild oscillation. It was two feet ahead of the nearest car, then lost most of that lead during the oscillations. It still won the race but barely.

Last year my brother bought tungsten weights and built a very thin car that had a long wheelbase and outlaw wheels. He put nearly all the tungsten, stacked vertically, at the very back of the car. That put the COG behind the rear axle, so he moved the last 1/4 ounce forward until the COG was 1/4 inch. The result was a car that had the same balance point as the year before, but when ran on the same track, the car flew and did not exhibit oscillations. The car absolutely dominated similar cars.

I did some calculations and found that you can achieve a 1/4 inch COG car with effectively five times the rotational inertia of a 'concentrated' design. This year we are going to optimize according to my math model and run a 1/4 COG car with a higher inertia.

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:

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:

  • Quality Block - Unlike the blocks provided by some organizations, our blocks are cut precisely to 7 x 1-3/4 x 1-1/4 inches to accurately duplicate the dimensions of standard pinewood derby blocks from BSA.

  • Simple Axle Preparation - Don't worry about filing off flaws, or losing hub caps. Our Speed Axles have no burr or crimp marks, and install without hub caps.

  • 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

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

Why Do You Have a Pinewood Derby?

Have you ever considered the question, "Why Do You Have a Pinewood Derby"? I know I hadn't until I ran across a posting in the
DerbyTalk Forum that posed that question.

My immediate response was, "To have fun building and racing cars". I suppose this purpose is okay, but it is not the only possible reason for holding a race. Other reasons to hold a derby can include education, competition, parent involvement, and others.

Why do you need to have a purpose for the event? Because effective events have a purpose, and all of the promotion, activities, and awards are focused on reinforcing that purpose. Seriously, if you have no purpose, then why have the event?

Can the event have more than one purpose? I believe so, but I recommend limiting the number of goals you are trying to achieve. Trying to meet one or two goals can be accomplished; trying to reach more goals is a recipe for failure.

In this article I will suggest several possible reasons for holding a pinewood derby race, and provide some ideas as to how these purposes can be reinforced through the event promotion, activities, and awards. My goal is to convince each of you to determine your purpose(s) for holding a pinewood derby race, and to make sure the race actually achieves the desired outcome.

Reason 1 - Education
Holding a pinewood derby race for the purpose of teaching the children in the organization is certainly a reasonable goal. But you must first decide what exactly you want to teach and whether the children are old enough for the topic.

Some teaching possibilities include: woodworking, physics, and machine tool use. Generally, this race purpose is best for older children.

  Woodworking Physics Principles Machine Tool Use
  • Focus on craftsmanship and modeling

  • Offer 'Show Division' (cars not raced) and 'Race Division' (optional)

  • Prizes downplayed
  • Focus on how cars perform

  • Actual event can be time trials to test theories

  • Prizes optional or downplayed
  • Focus on precision

  • Offer 'Show Division' (cars not raced) and 'Race Division' (optional)

  • Prizes optional or downplayed
  • Wood tool training

  • Workshop for car body building

  • Field trip to professional wood shop
  • Demonstration of basic physics principles

  • Car configuration experiments

  • Field trip to science museum
  • Machine tool training

  • Workshop for wheel/axle prep

  • Field trip to machine shop
  • Best shape

  • Best car model

  • Best non-car model
  • Fastest car

  • Best use of weight

  • Most consistent times
  • Best craftsmanship

  • Most consistent times

Reason 2 - Competition
If the purpose of your event is simply a competition, then you can choose between holding a serious race, or a less serious race with a focus on sportsmanship. I believe serious racing should only be held for adults (corporate races, WIRL, etc.), whereas with children the focus should be on sportsmanship.

  Serious Competition Sportsmanship
  • Focus on making the fastest car

  • Win 'Bragging rights'

  • Identify prizes (make them worthwhile)
  • Focus on building a fast car

  • "Do your best"

  • Help a friend

  • Build as a team

  • Downplay awards
  • None required, but a workshop could be made available
  • Sportsmanship lesson

  • General building workshop
  • Fastest car

  • Best Design
  • Fastest team car

  • Best design, selected through participant voting (be careful that this isn't a popularity contest)

  • Sportsmanship awards for helping, encouraging, etc.

Reason 3 - Parental Involvement
In some groups, getting the parents involved is an important goal. Since pinewood derby racing appeals to most Dads (and some Moms) it can be a way to get more parental participation.

Parental Involvement
  • "We need you" theme

  • Consider using pre-cut cars to minimize the need for tools

  • Consider offering a parent car and a child car, and let them race against each other

  • Pass out simple 'how-to' information

  • Downplay awards
  • Offer several workshops, parents required at workshop
  • Fastest car

  • 'Child beats parent' awards

  • Best Design, selected through parent voting

Reason 4 - Fundraising
A pinewood derby can be a good fundraiser, but I don't recommend the event as the primary pinewood derby race. Instead, hold a regular pinewood derby race with a different purpose, and then hold a second race as a fundraiser. Get companies to sponsor the event by providing food, prizes, etc. Then charge a somewhat large entry fee (this is where your funds come from) and give out donation receipts. You can also ask companies to sponsor one or more entries, which can be built by members of your club (make sure to put the company name on the car).

  • Allow entries from both inside and outside the organization

  • Hold the event at a shopping center or a large store
  • Hold planning meetings to make sure the event runs smoothly
  • Provided by sponsors

  • Fastest car

  • Best design

Reason 5 - Recruiting
Since pinewood derby events are very exciting, if done properly your main race can also serve as a recruiting tool.

  • Promote the event in the community (bulletin boards, local papers, libraries, schools, etc.)

  • Hold the event in a public place (store, shopping mall, park, etc.)

  • Have enrollment table with literature at a prominent place at the event

  • Provide cars for guests to race in a fun race. Give a prize to everyone entered.
  • Hold planning meetings to make sure the event runs smoothly

  • Hold a workshop to build extra cars for guests
  • Fastest car

  • Best design

  • Prize for all guests

Reason 6 - Just for Fun
One of the best reasons to have a pinewood derby race, especially the first race for your group, is 'just for fun'. Basically, the event is organized to be exciting and enjoyable for all. The competitive aspect is downplayed (or non-existent).

Just for Fun
  • Promote the event as a fun time for all

  • Decorate the venue in a festive manner

  • Downplay awards, or promote silly/fun awards
  • Hold workshops

  • Consider simpler kits that require less preparation
  • Fastest car and slowest car (optional)

  • Best design, selected by participant voting

  • Series of additional certificates such as 'Fastest Looking', 'Coolest', 'Silliest', 'Best non-Car', etc. Try to have a certificate for everyone.

So, what is your reason for holding a pinewood derby race? I know that this next year I am going to carefully select our purpose, and then focus the event on that purpose. I hope that you will do the same.

If you have a purpose for your race, please send me an email with your race purpose, and how you reinforce that purpose in the promotion, activities, and awards. I will plan to include some of your feedback in future editions of the newsletter.

Speed Tip
Scale Accuracy

Most scales used at weigh-ins are accurate to 1/10th of an ounce with rounding. Thus, if a car weighs between 5.01 and 5.04, it will register as 5.0 ounces, and if the car weighs between 5.05 and 5.09, it will register as 5.1 ounces. Thus, when building a car add enough weight so that it weighs at least 5.1 ounces. Then at the weigh-in, remove a small amount of weight at a time until the car registers as 5.0 ounces. This method allows your car to have the maximum possible weight, which is one of the keys to speed.

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.

Car Showcase

Pantera: Sean McLaughlin

This is my cool Pantera that I ran in last year's Awana Grand Prix. My Dad carved it but I sanded it and painted most of it. The wing is balsa and the sides are pine that I glued to the Awana block. I didnít win in the design contest but did come in third in the speed contest.

Kranston Wedges: Gary Kranston

In my daughterís Adventure Guide race, the electronic finish line once again did not work, so two spotters were used on our six lane track. There were, understandably, some incorrect decisions on the close races, so one of the dads used his digital camcorder on each race so the results could be reviewed. After beating the same car easily in three heat races, we finished 2nd in the final heat when our car raced in lane 6, the slowest lane all day (it was so close we reviewed the video three times to confirm the winner - weíll have to investigate what is wrong with that lane for next year).

My sonís green car participated in the local district Cub Scout pinewood derby. Out of eight cars entered for the Bear rank, his car finished 2nd, losing only to the eventual overall winner. Out of 56 total cars entered, we finished 4th, missing 3rd place by only 1/1000th of a second

Father/Son Cars: Jamie Hill

This is the first year my son was in Awana. It came time for the grand prix, so I wanted to design a car in a late model style with the wheels under the body. As you can see I achieved my goal (left car). My son (age 4) wanted a race car painted blue and with sharks on it (right car). Sad to say neither of us won a race (and I didnít place for speed or design), but to my delight my sonís car took 3rd in speed and 1st in design. We left the race with our heads held high, as we were proud of our father/son effort.

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!


Can you tell me the 'regulation' axle positions for BSA pinewood cars?

  • From rear of block to center of rear slot: 15/16 inch

  • From center of rear slot to center of front slot: 4-3/8 inch
Note that blocks do vary from kit to kit, so some tolerance needs to be allowed for kit variance.

So what is your opinion on rail riders? Some folks are reporting better results when they deliberately guide the car to the rail, versus trying to keep it as straight running as possible. This is counter-intuitive, so what do you, the experts, think?

The theory is that if you can't guarantee that the car will go straight on a given track, then it is preferable to avoid having the raised wheel hit the guide rail. So the car is purposely aligned such that the front wheel on the ground steers towards the rail. In addition, the body width is narrowed in the front so that the front wheel contacts the rail before the rear wheel. Thus, only one wheel contacts the rail.

Clearly, having the car avoid contacting the rail is better. But, while you can adjust a car to go straight, you cannot control the track; i.e., a perfectly aligned car on an angled track will not go straight. So, given this condition, having one front wheel contact the guide rail is better than multiple wheels contacting the rail, and better than having the raised wheel contact the guide rail.

The amount of intentional deviation is just enough to cause the car to drift in the desired way. Typically, this is about 2 inches over 8 feet.

Has there ever been a study performed on grooved axles? It seems like the grooved axles should not outperform standard axles because the friction force has not decreased (since the mass and coefficient of friction are the same), but is now distributed across smaller surfaces of the grooved axle and wheel bore.

The only study of grooved axles, that I am aware of, shows that the grooves improve performance when using liquid lubes, and decrease performance when using dry lubes. The supposition is that the grooves help with the liquid lube by minimizing the amount of fluid in contact with the wheel (as the viscosity of the fluid slows down the system); while the grooves prevent the powdered lubes from being properly crushed and the excess eliminated.

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
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.

Subscription Information

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.

The author disclaims any personal loss or liability caused by utilization of any information presented in this newsletter.

The Pinewood Derby Times is not specific to, and is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts, YMCA, Awana, or any other organization.

®Maximum Velocity! is a registered trademark of Maximum Velocity! Pinewood Derby Products.
Pinewood Derby, and Space Derby are registered trademarks of Boys Scouts of America. All other names are trademarks of their respective owners.

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