The Wedge SE

The Wedge SE

Pinewood Derby Times
Volume 7, Issue 2
October 17, 2007

In this Edition:

- Editor's Notes

- Feature Article - Is Your Finish Line Providing Accurate Results?

- Speed Tip

- Humor

- Product Showcase

- Car Showcase

- Memory - Mikey at the Lube

- Q&A

Editor's Notes
Operation Sand Derby 2007

Rick Sanner (gobubbago on DerbyTalk) has arranged with Major Matt Voyles (US Army) to hold one or two pinewood derby events in Iraq later this year. According to Major Voyles, this upcoming event is eagerly anticipated:

"I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your support in making our pinewood derby a reality. Your assistance and generous discount on the supplies are much appreciated. As I'm sure Rick has told you, we're at a very small base that is multi-national with thirteen different countries on it. We don't have much to do here in the way of morale, welfare and recreation activities and this event will be a lot of fun and a way for us to reconnect with home. I've talked to many of my fellow soldiers and the excitement is already starting to build. Many of our coalition partners are interested in trying their hand at car-making/racing and we will truly be having an international derby. Again, thank you so much for your help and support."

You can help make this event a reality by making a donation towards this cause.

Note that all donations must be received by October 31, 2007


In the last issue, the pinewood derby memory, "Saved By the Glue" was submitted by Von Wolff. Von's name was omitted from the email version. Our apologies to Von for this oversight.

Inventory Clearance Sale

We also have several items on Inventory Clearance. Supplies are limited so make sure to get these discounted products before they are gone!

Maximum Velocity Car Kits

If you are planning a race and are not required to use a specific kit type, our MV Basic Car Kit is just what you need. These attractively priced kits are equipped with:

  • 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 standard pinewood derby blocks from BSA and PineCar.

  • Simple Axle Preparation - Don't worry about filing off flaws, or losing hub caps. Our Speed Axles have no burrs or crimp marks, and install without hub caps. With or without polishing, they are ready to go. We supply five, so you have a spare.

  • 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

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:

Feature Article

Is Your Finish Line Providing Accurate Results?

(Throughout this article I have identified action items that track owners should take to make sure that the finish line provides accurate results.)

During our April race, a parent caught my attention and stated that the electronic finish line was not accurately identifying the finish order. I carefully watched the next several races, and did detect a discrepancy. Was the finish line malfunctioning? Read on to find out!

Finish Line Principle

Electronic finish lines use optical sensors1 to determine when a car crosses the finish line. However, there is one fundamental principle of finish lines that must be understood;

Electronic Finish lines select the finish order based on the sequence in which the light sensors are activated, not necessarily on the order in which the cars cross the finish line.
To better explain how this is true, we must consider sensor, car, and track characteristics which would cause the finish line to record a finish order which is not the same order that the cars crossed the finish line.

- Characteristics -

Optical sensors2 trip when the amount of light entering the sensor drops below a certain threshold. This light blockage (caused by the car passing between the sensor and light source) is known as 'occlusion' (see Figure 1). The amount of occlusion required varies by manufacturer and from sensor to sensor. Manufacturers of finish lines generally test the sensors to make sure that the amount of occlusion required to trip the sensor is consistent within the finish line unit. If the sensors are not consistent, then the finish line results will be less than accurate (i.e., a sensor with a lower occlusion percentage will trip earlier, giving an advantage to the lane on which it is mounted).

Figure 1 - Sensor Occlusion

I tested the occlusion of two electronic finish lines from two major manufacturers. On one, the amount of occlusion required was about thirty-three percent, while the other was about sixty-six percent. Fortunately, in both cases the occlusion percentage was consistent within the unit.

Action 1: Check the occlusion percentage for your sensors to make sure they are consistent.
- Placement -

In order for a finish line to accurately judge a race, the sensor holes must be drilled in a straight line, perpendicular to the track. In addition, the sensors must be mounted accurately in the hole. Generally, the sensor is smaller than the hole in the track. For accurate results, the sensor must be centered in the track hole.

Action 2: Verify sensor alignment and placement.
- Lighting -

Most sensors are infrared (IR) sensitive, and are generally not affected by room lighting or camera flashes.3 However, reflective surfaces on the track and car can change the amount of IR entering the sensor. This can be limited by painting a non-reflective black stripe across the finish line area.4 Light variance can further be controlled by reducing the diameter of the sensor hole. This can be accomplished by inserting a bushing with a small aperture, sized to fit the hole. (see Figure 2)

Figure 2 - Bushing With Small Aperture Inserted Into Sensor Hole

Action 3: Reduce reflection with black, non-reflective paint, and reduced apertures.
Track Characteristics

Most tracks use a raised center guide strip to hold the car on the track. The width of the guide strip, determines the amount of deviation from the center line that the car is allowed to travel.

The typical guide strip width used today is 1-5/8 inches (see Figure 3). This width effectively limits the side to side travel of the car.

Figure 3 - Guide Strip Width on BestTrack and Freedom Track

However, some tracks have a lane guide strip of 1-3/8 inches. Figure 4 shows a photo of a homemade track that was based on plans provided by Awana. Some plans on the Internet also call for a 1-3/8 inches lane guide strip.

Figure 4 - Guide Strip Width on Homemade Track

Narrower lane guides allow the car to deviate a greater distance from centerline.5 For a car with a full-width (or reasonably wide) front end this deviation causes no issues at the finish line. However, cars with narrow noses can have problems with narrower guide strips.

Consider a car with a 1/2 inch wide nose crossing the finish line on a track with 1-3/8 lane guides. The finish line sensors require a 66 percent occlusion. If the car is positioned at the center of the track when the finish line is crossed, then the finish will be properly registered. However, if the car is riding the rail, then the car may not register properly. In Figure 5, the car has crossed the finish line, but the sensor has not tripped (not 66 percent occluded). This car will need to proceed nearly 1-1/2 inches past the finish line before the sensor trips. Figure 6 shows a finish between this car and a car with a wider nose.

Figure 5 - Narrow Nose Car Not Tripping the Sensor

Figure 6 - Finish between Narrow and Wide-Nose Cars

In this case, the narrow lane guide, the narrow nose on the car, and the 66 percent occlusion requirement add together to create a major discrepancy. But note that narrow nose cars can cause discrepancies under less severe circumstances. When the two cars in Figure 6 were tested on a track with a lane guide measuring 1-5/8 inches, and a sensor requiring a 33 percent occlusion, the narrow nose car still had a 1/4 inch disadvantage when it rode the rail.6

If alerted to the narrow nose issue, entrants can choose to either design the car with a wider nose, or install a nose wing on the car.

Action 4: Test your track for discrepancies when using narrow-nosed cars. If a discrepancy exists, insert a note into race rules and handouts alerting the builder of the issue.
Car Characteristics

In addition to a narrow nose, other car characteristics can result in finish line discrepancies. These include:

  1. Reflective surface on the underside of the car (delays sensor trip due to reflective light).

  2. High-nose on the car (allows more reflective light, possibly delaying the sensor trip).

  3. Narrow 'Cheater Bar' on the front of the car (not enough material to occlude the sensor) - See Figure 7.

Figure 7 - Spoiler May Not Trip Sensor

Action 5: Alert builders of any car characteristics which can result in finish line discrepancies.

After discovering these issues with our track I painted a flat black stripe across the finish line and inserted bushings with narrow apertures into the sensor holes (see Figure 8). This has eliminated light reflection issues.

Figure 8 - Modified Finish Line

In addition, I plan to put an alert in the race rules regarding narrow-nose cars; I will recommend a minimum of a 3/4 inch wide front end for accurate judging. Furthermore, when our group chooses to invest in a new track, we will choose a track with wider lane guides, and preferably, an electronic finish line with a lower sensor occlusion requirement.

If you are a race leader, then I encourage you to test your equipment and take the necessary actions to ensure a fair race. If you are competing, then consider using a car with a wider nose and painting the bottom of the car flat black.

1With one known exception: the Supertimer uses physical switches to determine the finish order.

2For more information on sensor occlusion and timer accuracy, please refer to Volume 5, Issue 11, "Pinewood Derby Timer Considerations".

3Infrared sensors are not intended for outdoor use, as the sun produces high levels of infrared light which can affect the sensors. A sunlight option is available on the "Judge" timer at:

4Entrants can also reduce this issue by painting the bottom of the car flat black. I used Krylon-brand "Ultra-flat Black" with success.

5The amount of wheel hub to car body gap also affects the amount of deviation. I am assuming a normal gap of 0.035 inch.

16Generally, a car nose width of 3/4 inch is sufficient for tracks with a 1-5/8 inch lane guide.

Speed Tip
Always Have a Spare

We learned an important lesson during our last Awana Grand Prix race. My daughter, Taylor, was racing in the finals round. Her car was clearly the fastest car on the track that day. At the end of one of the heats, her car crossed the finish and bounced off the foam that we have on our track to stop the cars. Her car bounced off the track, landing hard on the floor -- the end of our track extends off the stage onto a table that gives the audience a better view of the race. In the fall, the hubs of two wheels snapped, making them useless. We had to replace the broken wheels with unprepared wheels, which increased her carís time by .07 seconds. Luckily, she only had one heat to race with unprepared wheels. While Taylor ended up winning the event, she could have easily lost because we were not prepared for broken wheels. When you are building your car, purchase a second kit so that you have extra wheels and axles. Take the time to prepare the extra wheels and axles just like the ones that are on your car. That extra work may just save your race!

Scott Morris

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 2008. Don't worry about literary polish. We will edit it as needed before publishing. Also, please read our Submission Policy.


This past fall semester, at Duke University, there were two sophomores who were taking Organic Chemistry and who did pretty well on all of the quizzes, midterms, labs, etc. Going into the final exam, they had solid "A's."

These two friends were so confident going into the final that the weekend before finals week (even though the Chem. final was on Monday), they decided to go up to University of Virginia to a party with some friends. So they did this and had a great time. However, they ended up staying longer than they planned, and they didn't make it back to Duke until early Monday morning.

Rather than taking the final then, they found Professor Aldric after the final and explained to him why they missed it. They told him that they went up to Virginia for the weekend, and had planned to come back in time to study, but that they had a flat tire on the way back and didn't have a spare and couldn't get help for a long time. So they were late getting back to campus.

Aldric thought this over and agreed that they could make up the final on the following day. The two guys were elated and relieved. So, they studied that night and went in the next day at the time that Aldric had told them.

He placed them in separate rooms, handed each of them a test booklet and told them to begin. They looked at the first problem, which was something simple about free radical formation and was worth 5 points. "Cool," they thought, "this is going to be easy." They did that problem and then turned the page.

They were unprepared, however, for what they saw on the next page. It said: (95 points) "Which tire?"

Product Showcase

Max-V-Lube Dry Graphite

Proper lubrication is a critical key to victory. The difference in time between a well-lubricated car and a car without lubrication can be one-half second or more (this translates into several feet on the track).

Most race rules require dry lubrication, and graphite is the lube of choice for most people. When lubricating with graphite, take the time to work it in thoroughly; a casual puff before the race is not sufficient. After lubricating, make a few test runs to break in the lubricant (or free spin the wheels several times). Since graphite works best after a break-in period, don't re-lubricate between race heats.

Graphite is a form of carbon that has been ground up into a powder. There are many varieties and qualities of graphite available at hobby and hardware stores. The best graphite for pinewood derby cars comes from natural flake, high-purity deposits.

Max-V-Lube is a high-purity graphite mix from natural flake sources. We performed multiple controlled tests including inclined slide tests, weighted-wheel spin tests, and track tests. In all cases Max-V-Lube outperformed other graphite lubes sold for pinewood derby use.

Newsletter Special - $1.00 Off!

Until October 30, 2007, you can purchase Max-V-Lube at $1.00 off the regular price. To take advantage of this limited time offer,
Click Here.

Car Showcase

Although this is a break from the "norm", today I am including six photos sent to me by Wade Charlesworth. I know that you will agree that these are very unique cars. Here are excerpts from the note I received from Wade:

"Thank you for the interest in the cars I have made. Every year we try to have a theme so that we don't end up with the same cars repainted and the same individuals winning over and over. The cars must be retired after the season. This year's theme was anything in your house. It was a fantastic turn out. If you look around your house you will find an amazing amount of ideas for cars. The elephant, bathroom, tape measure, and knife were from this year (no, there wasn't an elephant in the house; it was modeled after a statuette).

Last year's theme was anything to do with food, hence the taco and french fries. We also had a butter tray, a Butterfinger candy bar with a bite out of it, a pumpkin pie, a Snickers bar, celery with peanut butter, and a smore's car. Please use whatever you feel is appropriate; I just want kids to know that you can make any kind of car you want if you put your mind to it."



Swiss Army Knife

Tape Measure


French Fries

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 per year please. Thanks!

Pinewood Derby Memory

Mikey at the Lube

It looked extremely rocky for Mike's pinewood car that day.
The car did not look speedy as it ran its opening race.
And as Mike sat and sadly watched his car lose in a rout,
A pallor wreathed the features of this young and trusty scout.

His folks almost got up to go, they'd given up all hope.
"But no," they thought, "We can't quit now. Our son is not a dope."
They thought if only Mike would think to lubricate his wheels...
They'd put up even money, then, that he could beat the field.

But Mikey's Dad, you see, his brain was often on vacation.
He'd neglected to discuss with Mike the need for lubrication.
So for Mike's parents hope of pinewood glory seemed afar,
For there was little chance of Mikey lubing up his car.

When suddenly young Mikey sprinted fast along the floor.
He crashed into the donut stand, he bounced into a door.
He caromed toward a window, and rebounded across the room.
And now Mikey, clever Mikey, was advancing toward the "lube".

There was ease in Mikey's manner as he lubed his car with grace,
There was pride in Mikey's bearing, a smile on Mikey's face.
And as he took his dirty hands and wiped them on his pants,
Dad said to Mom, "Can you clean those?" And Mom replied, "Fat chance!"

Then from Mike's gladdened parents, there went up a joyous cheer.
It rattled off the ceiling, it echoed far and near.
It rumbled through the spectators, annoying half the place,
For Mikey, and his pinewood car, were getting set to race.

Two hundred eyes were on him as he staged his car on the track.
One hundred voices giggled as he tripped when he stepped back.
And as the official starter set the starting line to trip,
Defiance glanced in Mikey's eye, a sneer curled Mikey's lip.

Now down the pinewood derby track the cars unheeded sped.
Mike's parents shouted loudly as their son's car forged ahead.
And when the dust had lifted at the finish of the heat,
Mike raised his fists in triumph as his car won by two feet!

Thrice more Mike's car ran down the track, thrice more it led the way.
The crowd was now behind him, they thought he would win the day.
And when the heats were over and they totaled up the score.
Well, Mike was first, but he was tied with some kid from Den Four.

The Committee quickly huddled, they weren't sure of what to do.
'Til a Tiger Cub said, "Race 'em off! Just use lanes one and two!"
And so they raced, and Mike's car sped to victory, like a dart,
But it wouldn't count this time because the judges yelled, "False start!"

From the benches, black with people, there arose an awful din,
Like the snoring of a Webelos fast asleep inside his tent.
"Egg them! Egg the judges!", shouted someone in the stands,
And its likely they'd have egged them had not Mikey raised his hand.

With a smile of Scouting charity, young Mikey's visage shown.
He stilled the rising tumult, he bade the race go on.
He signaled to the starter, he staged his car again,
The crowd knew now that Mikey would not be denied this win.

The sneer is gone from Mikey's lip, there's fire in his belly,
Probably from pastrami he ate earlier at the deli.
And now the starter trips the gate, and now the cars go by,
And now the air is shattered as they cross the finish line.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
But Mike, alas, has suffered the most shameful of disgraces,
His car has been disqualified! You have to lube BEFORE the races!

Copyright ©1997-1998 by Cory Young. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission

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 2008.

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


Some questions about Awana wheels and axles:

What is your experience with Awana wheels?

Awana wheels are generally quite round, but they do have nasty molding spikes. So you will need to remove the spikes, then mount the wheel on a mandrel and polish the tread surface and inside edge with fine grit (600 grit or finer) sandpaper. Make sure to keep the sandpaper wet; the plastic is soft and can melt. For this reason, avoid using a high-speed Dremel-type tool. Instead use a hand drill on medium speed.

Are the axles polished when we get them in the kit, or do they need to be polished with your Axle Polishing Kit?

Awana axles should be polished. You can use the Axle Polishing Kit, however some polish will work as well. I suggest either Brasso (a household brass polish) or Mother's Chrome Polish (auto parts store). Place the axle in the chuck of a drill, apply a dab of polish to a soft rag, polish for about 10 seconds, and then buff off the residue with a clean part of the rag.

Do you make a Pro-Axle Press II for Awana axles? The "Note" under that section says the Pro-Axle Press II is not for Awana axles.

Unlike nail axles, Awana axles are generally straight so an axle press is not normally needed. If you do find a bent Awana axle you can use the press to straighten it, or you can just replace the axle.

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!

We have just added an index of all newsletter articles since the first edition in October of 2001. We hope this helps you find information more quickly. To view the index Click Here

All of the issues for Volumes 5 through 7 are posted on our web site:

Volume 7

  1. Volume 7, Issue 2

  2. Volume 7, Issue 1
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

  14. Volume 6, Issue 14

  15. Volume 6, Issue 15
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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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.

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.
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