Rule Gripes

I receive lots of questions and comments from our readers about rules.  Many times the person is asking me for the rules for their race, or for a clarification on a point. Sometimes, the person is griping about the rules, especially when the race leader appears to them to be misinterpreting the local rules.
In these cases, I can’t do much more than lend a sympathetic ear. Local rules are out of my control, and I certainly can’t jump in the middle of a rule dispute. But during these times I certainly do wish that the local race leaders would take the time to document a clear set of rules. So much miscommunication, grief, griping, and anger would be mitigated by giving a clear set of rules to the race participants well before the race event. (1)
But there is a more fundamental question that needs to be answered when establishing rules. Even if the rules for the local race are clearly documented, a valid question is ‘Why?’ Why is a particular technique allowed/banned? What is the rationale for allowing (for example) an extended wheelbase? Why do we need to have 4 wheels on the ground? Of course this list goes on.
In today’s article I would like to explore several common areas of pinewood derby design that are oftentimes regulated, and offer some guidance as to whether these design techniques should or should not be restricted.
The purpose for rules is to make sure that the cars entered in the race:
1. Will run properly on the track (proper width, height, etc.)
2. Will not damage the track (too heavy, improper materials)
3. Maintain a level of equity. These arbitrary limits – such as the five ounces maximum weight – are imposed to limit the range of options, thus maintaining a level of competitiveness.
4. Only use techniques which are commonly available to the other entrants.
Furthermore, the rules need to be in line with the rules of parent organizations when participants at the local level will be moving on to district level races.
Let’s take a closer look at several rule areas
There are many advantages to longer wheelbase cars (see Volume 2, Issue 6 – “Modifying the Wheelbase”). So, should extended wheelbase cars be allowed in all races? Let’s look at the criteria from above:
1. Yes – the car will run properly.
2. Yes – no damage to track.
3. Yes, required for equity. A long wheelbase car has a distinct advantage over shorter wheelbase cars.
4. Yes – anyone can extend the wheelbase using a hand drill(2) or drill press. But some expense is involved.
Disallowing extended wheelbase cars is a limit set to maintain competition. If the local club allows wheelbase modification, then this should be documented in the rules so that participants know that they are allowed to modify the wheelbase. Also, the means to extend the wheelbase should be made available to all participants at a workshop. By the way, some organizations run two classes of cars: “Stock” – standard wheelbase only, and “Open” – Extended wheelbase allowed.
Many different lubes have been successfully used on pinewood derby cars, including dry lubes (graphite and PTFE), liquid lubes (Krytox 100 and Silicon), and some unusual ones (Pledge furniture polish, Armor All, and
Talcum powder).(3)
1. Yes – the car will run properly.
2. Yes and No – if used properly none of these lubes will cause damage. But if used to excess, many of the lubes can stain the track (including graphite).
3. No, not required for equity. Several different lubes can be used with reasonable success.
4. Yes – anyone can select an alternate lube.
Limiting the lube to a particular type is an arbitrary decision. Certainly, to protect the track the rules must specify that excess lube be removed before the car is turned in. But limiting the lube to one type is not necessary. Different lubricants are widely available, and in fact, the choice of lube is an area where human ingenuity comes into play!
Having three wheels on the ground can be a speed advantage. But beyond this, it is much easier to build a car with three wheels on the ground than with four! Even when four wheels touch the ground, normally three of the wheels hold the weight of the car while the fourth wheel just barely touches.
1. Yes – the car will run properly.
2. Yes – no damage.
3. No, not required for equity. Although there can be an advantage to running a three-wheeled car, the amount of advantage will depend on the design of the car.
4. Yes – in fact it is easier to run three than four on the ground.
Limiting the car to four wheels on the ground is arbitrary. Since it is easier to implement, I strongly recommend allowing three wheels on the ground.
Many car kits are equipped with wheels that are badly out of round. To
improve the performance, the wheels can be trued.
1. Yes – the car will run properly.
2. Yes – no damage.
3. Yes, required for equity. Rounder wheels are faster.
4. Yes – anyone can true wheels (4). But some expense is involved.
Limiting the car to non-trued wheels does serve to maintain competition. However, since many wheel types can be severely out of round (such as BSA), groups should consider offering the means to true wheels at a workshop.
The speed of the car can be improved by reducing wheel mass through tread reduction. This can be done in many ways including drilling holes in the wheels, and by narrowing the tread.
1. Yes – the car will run properly.
2. Yes – no damage.
3. Yes, required for equity. Some modifications can greatly improve speed.
4. No – although they can be purchased, accurately modifying the geometry of a wheel requires either special machinery and/or extensive trial and error.
Since wheel modification is beyond the ability of many race participants, I recommend limiting wheel modification to ‘Open Competition’ races.
Aftermarket wheels are axles can improve the speed of the car.
1. Yes – the car will run properly.
2. Yes – no damage.
3. No, aftermarket speed axles are not necessarily faster than well-prepared kit axles.
4. Yes – Aftermarket parts are available, but an expense is involved.
The purpose of providing a kit is so that each participant uses the same basic materials. However some kits provide axles that require extensive work.(5) In these cases groups should consider offering aftermarket axles to all participants.
There are certainly other rules that should be reviewed to determine whether there is a basis for the restriction. I encourage all race leaders to thoroughly review the local rules and make modifications where needed.
(1) In Volume 2, Issue 2 – “It’s the Law! – A Sample Rule Set for Your Pinewood Derby”, I provided an outline for a complete set of rules. Just fill in the blanks for your organization.
(2) The Pro-Body Tool is a drilling guide to accurately drill axle holes with a hand drill. You can find it at:
(3) I do not personally vouch for any of these products except graphite and Krytox 100. For more information on these products, see:
(4) The Pro-Wheel Shaver is a device for truing wheels. For more information see:
In addition, trued wheels are available from many sources including Maximum Velocity.
(5) One of my pet peeves is the nail axles in the BSA kits. Removing the burrs is a difficult process for many people. Certainly BSA could include axles without burrs at little to no cost increase. But until such a time, people will continue to purchase aftermarket axles. An alternative is our Official BSA Speed Axles. For more information see:
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 4
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