Pre-Pinewood Derby Race Events Add Excitement

By Randy Davis
If you have ever been to a contemporary concert, there seems to always be a “warm-up” act. Why is this done? To build audience excitement, and get the attendees in the mood for the main event.
Similarly a pre-race event serves as a warm-up act for your pinewood derby event. The presence of such an event will generate excitement and encourage people to arrive early. Larry Walser of Pack 436 in Rochester, Pennsylvania points out that if you have trouble getting people to assist in setting up the facilities for the pinewood derby race, holding a pre-race event can also draw additional set-up help.
There are of course innumerable ideas for pre-race events, and I am sure that you can come up with some great ideas. But to help stir the mental process, below are several events that have been held at our
local race, and at the local races of our readers.
Special races are great because they involve members of your group. Here are two popular ideas.
Hot Wheels Race
A Hot Wheels race is a great way to get the little tykes involved. We held this event with great success for two years. Our method was as follows. Each pre-school child was allowed to enter one Hot Wheels car (could be Matchbox or any other manufacturer). The check-in was held fifteen minutes before the Hot Wheels race, which allowed time to collect the cars and the names of the kids. The race was a simple double elimination with a prize for first. We gave a gift certificate to an ice cream parlor as the prize.
To accommodate the cars, we purchased some Hot Wheels track and laid two lanes between the center guide rails on the pinewood derby track. The cars would have run right on the pinewood derby track, but we didn’t want to take the risk of marring the wood. Of course, the Hot Wheels track was much shorter than the pinewood derby track, and since it did not reach to the electronic finish line, we used two leaders as finish line judges.
Adult Race
Adult races are quite popular as a pre-race event. Several readers mentioned that adult races are held at their local race. John Hubler of Pack 165 in Round Rock, Texas says that they find an adult race is a great tool to prepare the track workers for the main event. Larry Walser of Pack 436 also mentioned that with an adult race, the parents had their own project, so the kids did more work on their own cars!
We hold an adult (Outlaw) race every year. The rules are fairly open – one year we even allowed (safe) power assistance. The winning car for our adult race was built by yours truly. It was propeller-driven and very fast.(1)

Original Propeller Car
Demonstrations relating to racing are also popular pre-race events. Two demonstrations we have used are listed below, but you might consider another event such as an R/C car race in the parking lot (check with the local hobby store for a local club that might stage the event).
Race Car
One year we invited a local stock car race team to bring a car to our event. They showed the car and started the engine (in retrospect, this was not the best idea as it was so loud that people inside the building had to cover their ears!). But the kids and parents thought the car was cool and they enjoyed talking to the team
and getting photo-ops in the car.
Lester Bowes of Marietta, Ohio used local dirt track drivers as starters for their race. The drivers wore their race suits, and signed autographs during down time. Some even brought pictures of their cars to sign.
Rocket Car
Several years ago we demonstrated the “World’s Fastest Pinewood Derby Car.” The car used a pinewood derby block, but was equipped with a rocket motor and rubber tires. The rocket car raced on a guide string in the parking lot. We actually had two of the cars racing drag race style down two strings. It was a real crowd pleaser. More information can be found Here.


John Hubler told us that Pack 165 allows the older participants to vote for “Best of Show” before the race. When registered, each car is entered in one of four “Best of Show” categories:
Best Craftsmanship (Original Kit, Paint and Decals only)
Most Patriotic (Original Kit, Paint and Decals only)
Best Car Design (Unlimited Accessories Allowed)
Best Non-Car Design (Unlimited Accessories Allowed)
Each entrant is then given three ballots with the four categories listed. The entrant can fill out all three ballots, or share them with relatives/friends. Awards are then presented after the ballots are tallied.
We used to have an adult team decide on the design awards. But about five years ago we started allowing the entrants to vote for their favorite three cars in each age group. Each entrant is given one ballot (see below). We don’t give a ballot to each attendee as that might lead to ballot box stuffing in the case of large clans. The voters then pick their favorite three cars in each group (ordering of the cars was not important). Then after the ballots were turned in, my wife tallies up the votes and the design awards are given to the cars with the most votes.

A final category for pre-race events is special guest speakers. Possibilities include a local policeman, fireman, civic leader, etc. Maybe you can even find a celebrity or a sports star. Encourage the speaker to talk at the kid’s level, and discuss a topic of interest to them. A talk on cars, racing, or another transportation-related topic would be even better.
Pre-race events are fun and a great way to generate interest. Hopefully one or more of these ideas will work in your local race. If not, put on your thinking cap and come up with another!
(1)We currently offer a modern propeller car – much faster than the original. More information about the car can be found Here.
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 10
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