Pinewood Derby Times
Volume 11, Issue 3
November 2, 2011

In this Edition:

- Editor's Notes

- Feature Article - Solenoid Start Gate: Are Races More Consistent?

- Humor

- Speed Tip - Extending the Front

- Pinewood Derby Car Showcase

- Q&A

Editor's Notes

Reader Feedback
Regarding the article entitled "Do's and Don'ts for Race Leaders" in Volume 11, Issue 1:

"First off thanks for a great newsletter. I read them religiously -- last season the kids got a smile out of seeing their cars in them.

Here is my issue, as the father of last year's pack and district champion I am the new Derby Chairman. Last year's turnout was not that great and there were some issues in the organization; that coupled with the Space Derby running till 10pm has left a bad taste in folks mouths! I need to be able to turn this around and have a successful event. One thing I noticed is a lot of boys walking away without so much as a certificate. Most families left before the award's ceremony. So I'm throwing out some ideas.
  1. Pre-registration - Our Pack gave out Derby kits before Christmas last year. Less then half actually participated. Our Committee Chairman wants to up the cost of race registration. I feel simply pre-registering would help alleviate this issue. I believe folks would be more motivated to participate if they have already paid.

  2. Activities - The only activities available for scouts to do other then watch the cars was watch a movie. I believe a few activity tables such as neckerchief slide making, face painting, bean bag toss, etc. would help keep the Scout's interest while waiting for their race.

  3. Raffle - Scouts would be issued a pit-pass when registered at the event. The pit-pass number would be their car number and their raffle number for the day. Drawings would be held between the lull of setting up for the next rank race. Some derby products would be excellent!

  4. Lucky Dog Race - All scouts who did not place in the top 3 for their rank would be eligible for an extra race! Eight car numbers would be randomly drawn. These cars would be raced for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, in the lucky dog division.

  5. "Pie-to-the-face" race - Den leaders cars are raced. Each race they lose, they get a pie to the face from a scout!

  6. Championship - Scaling back the Pack Championship Awards from three big trophies to gold, silver, bronze medals. The money saved would provide trophies for Lucky Dog division and other awards.

  7. Open Division - Last year's "Open Division" was really an "Outlaw Division". Razor wheels and fins didn't give the scouts a chance at racing last year's cars. A "Stock Open" would be ran instead -- leaving the Dads to run in the "Outlaw Division".

  8. Participation Medals - All scouts would receive a participation medal and certificate presented by the Cubmaster on stage. No Cub Scout walks away empty handed. All should be awarded for doing their best.

Any more ideas would be greatly appreciated!" - Tim Grimstead

Regarding the Q&A answer about the bad braking section in Volume 11, Issue 2:

"Tell the person with the bad braking section that Best Track sells their stop tape. You can also rejuvenate old tape by cleaning it with lacquer thinner; it will be slick until it dries, then it will be very tacky and stop cars better than new." - Joe Burns
Inventory Clearance Sale
We currently have all of our printed Car Plans booklets, several kits, and other items on sale. Click Here to find our clearance items. Don't miss out on the great prices.

Can We Help?
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Feature Article

Solenoid Start Gate: Are Races More Consistent?
By Randy Davis

Solenoid Start Gates came on the market a few years ago. These mechanisms use a solenoid (electrically activated switch) to release the starting gate at the press of button. The benefits of a Solenoid Gate include:
  1. Enabling the computer software to release the gate (as opposed to a computer operator activating the heat, and then another operator opening the gate).

  2. Allowing audience members or car owners to activate the gate remotely (adds some additional fun and participation to the pinewood derby).

  3. Potentially improving the consistency of heats. Depending on the type of gate release mechanism, by eliminating the need for a person to operate the gate, consistency may be improved.

This latter benefit is what intrigued me. I run several experiments per year, and a big issue with experiment validity is eliminating factors that can adversely influence the results. So, eliminating inconsistency in gate operation should improve the validity of experimental data.

Freedom Track Start Gate
I have a two lane, aluminum, Freedom track. The gate on the track works fine, if the operator uses care when opening the gate. But if the operator is not careful, the track will be shaken when the gate is operated.

Photo 1 - Freedom Track Gate

Referencing Photo 1, if your hand is placed at point A and then slightly rotated, the gate releases and the track remains stable. However, if the gate lever is pulled at point B (the natural place to operate the gate), the starting section of the track will shake.

Solenoid Start Gate From New Directions
For the testing I acquired a GLM Start Gate from John Shreffler at New Directions.1 This gate was specifically designed for the Freedom Track start gate. The gate installed with minimal effort; I had it up and running in 20 minutes.

Photo 2 - Underside of Start Gate

Photo 3 - Top Side of Start Gate

In Photo 3, for reference the manual release arm is still present. It can be removed, but like the photo I left mine in place so that I could switch back and forth from manual to auto. For manual testing I used a rubber band to pull the solenoid latch out of the way.

Test Setup
The car used in the test (Photo 4) was equipped as listed below. I chose this car as the needle axles and outlaw wheels result in very consistent performance from heat to heat.

Photo 4 - Test Car

For the experiment, I ran five heats with the manual gate (carefully rotated at "A"), then five heats with the Start Gate. Next, I ran five heats with the manual gate (quickly pulled at "B"), then five heats with the Start Gate.

The standard deviation2 was calculated for each of the four sets of five runs. The results are shown below:

Figure 1 - Results of Testing

As seen in the chart the deviation was smallest when the Solenoid Start Gate was used. The deviation was larger when the manual gate was used carefully, and even greater when the gate was used in the natural way.3

Clearly, gate consistency does affect heat times. So if gate consistency is important to you, consider adding a solenoid start gate to your track.

1Click Here for more information on the GLM Start Gate. New Directions offers a similar gate for other tracks.

2A statistical calculation showing how much the data deviates from the average. A larger number means that the data has a greater deviation from the average.

3The results of this test are only applicable for a two-lane Freedom Track. Results may be different for Freedom Tracks with more lanes (more stable), and for tracks using a different type of manual gate.


One day an out of work mime is visiting the zoo and attempts to earn some money as a street performer.

However, as soon as he starts to draw a crowd, the zookeeper grabs him and drags him into his office.

The zookeeper explains to the mime that the zoo's most popular attraction, a gorilla, has died suddenly. The keeper fears that attendance at the zoo will fall off. He offers the mime a job to dress up as the gorilla until they can get another one. The mime accepts.

The next morning, before the crowd arrives, the mime puts on the gorilla suit and enters the cage. He discovers that it's a great job. He can sleep all he wants, play and make fun of people and he draws bigger crowds than he ever did as a mime.

However, eventually the crowds tire of him and he gets bored just swinging on tires. He begins to notice that the people are paying more attention to the lion in the cage next to his.

Not wanting to lose the attention of his audience, he climbs to the top of his cage, crawls across a partition, and dangles from the top to the lion's cage. Of course, this makes the lion furious, but the crowd loves it.

At the end of the day the zookeeper comes and gives the mime a raise for being such a good attraction as a gorilla.

Well, this goes on for some time. The mime keeps taunting the lion, the crowds grow larger, and his salary keeps going up. Then one terrible day when he is dangling over the furious lion, he slips and falls. The mime is terrified. The lion gathers itself and prepares to pounce. The mime is so scared that he begins to run round and round the cage with the lion close behind.

Finally, the mime starts screaming and yelling, "Help, Help me!", but the lion is quick and pounces. The mime soon finds himself flat on his back looking up at the angry lion and the lion says, "Shut up you idiot! Do you want to get us both fired?"

Speed Tip

Extending the Front
By Bill Klingler

If your race rules do not limit the distance between the ends of the block and the axle slots, you can cut off the back of the block and move it to the front. So, instead of the stock distance of 1-11/16 inches between the front end and the front axle slot, you will now have a distance of 2 inches This should give the car a higher velocity entering the horizontal run because the center of mass can be higher up the slope when the car is staged.

Bill Klinger's Car (Work in Progress)

Car Showcase

Wedge Turbo - Bill Odom

My grandson and I built this car from your plans and raced it earlier this year. He finished first in his den and second overall. We had already finished a car when I found your web site. I purchased several of your tools, and we built a second car. I ran the first car in the parent/sibling class and finished a close second, but noted the times would not have placed that car in his pack. My grandson's car won 11 of the 12 heat races with one second place, which was to the eventual overall winner. My post race inspection revealed several areas that I can improve upon for next year's race. Thanks for all of your information, assistance and great tools.

Black n' Yellow - Ronnie Cutler

This year we decided to stick with a slick, low profile, and just all around cool car. Not only does it look spectacular, it performs! It was undefeated and went on to win first overall in districts -- all thanks to Maximum Velocity!

Speedy 86 - Rick Ellis

This year our Awana Grand Prix used your kits. This car was the fastest in the Open Division and was the fastest overall in the Grand Finals where the winners of all the divisions raced against each other. It also won Best Workmanship in the Open Division.

I used weights, tools, and techniques from Maximum Velocity, and have since 2008. Since then either my car or a car I helped build has won the Open Division and/or the Grand Finals each year. Thanks for all your help and for your great site. record.

Share your car with our readers!

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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

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I have now come to the conclusion, that no situation that ever arises regarding the pinewood derby will ever surprise me. That said, I was wondering if you could offer any advice on the following. My friend and I recently completed his wedge for his daughter's powder puff derby. He ordered the pre-cut standard wheel base axle hole Wedge from you, and except for some graphite, the car is ready to go.

Then yesterday evening, the girl's leader sent them an e-mail with the "rules" for this year's event. This is the first time the rules were sent, and yes, two days before the weigh-in. One of the rules states that you MUST use axle slots. We asked if our drilled holes were okay, but were told regardless that axle holes will not be allowed. Any ideas on how to turn drilled holes into axle slots without totally screwing up the car? We are now down to hours until weigh in. Figured I would throw this out there just in case you had any thoughts.

Sorry to hear about the issue. One way to solve the problem is to use a saw to cut slots into the existing holes. If the blade width is a bit smaller than the hole diameter, then the axles will still follow the path of the holes.

In most cases, two hacksaw blades are about the right width, and typically you can mount two blades on one frame. You may need to squeeze the blades together in the center with a binder clip. Make a test cut first on a scrap block to make sure the width of the cut is okay.

Strike a line on the bottom of the car and saw into the holes. The accuracy of the cuts can be increased by clamping a piece of wood with a straight edge along the pencil line. Then hold the blade against the block to keep the cut straighter.

I need your help with a condition in my son's car. We ran our car at the pack race. It has a balance point of 1/2 to 5/8 inch in front of the rear axle. Tungsten was used for weight.

The car took off fast and tracked straight for the first 10 feet or so, but as it transitioned to the flat part of the track the rear end started to wiggle, bouncing off the rails the remainder of the race, losing speed and most or all of the lead every time. It won three heats and took second once. The tiebreaker was lost by a mere fraction of an inch, after having over a car length lead.

The car qualified for the Regional and I need some advice on how to resolve this condition. I believe it could be an axle issue, but it goes straight on my test bench. Is it possibly an alignment issue or could the wheels be "binding" on the axles because they were bent using the rail rider, Could it be a weight placement issue?

What is likely happening is that the balance point is too far back for the alignment setup. As the car hits the flat section, there is not enough weight on the front to keep the front axles pressing onto the wheel bores. So, essentially, the car is steering with the rear wheels.

This can be solved in one of two ways.
  1. Shift the weight forward so that the balance point is closer to 1 inch in front of the rear axles (maybe 7/8 inch). This will shift some weight forward so the front wheels will steer the car.

  2. Adjust the steering to rail-ride somewhat aggressively. You would need to steer the front wheels so that the car drifts left or right about 5 to 6 inches over 8 feet. Having one of the front wheels on the rail tends to keep the car more stable so that it can handle the extra weight on the rear. This solution is not as reliable as solution 1, unless you can actually test the car on a track.

Another thing to check is to make sure that the bend of the rear axles is truly at the 12 o'clock position. You can determine this by rolling the car backward and forward and watching to see if the wheels move to the axle heads when the car is rolled in both directions.

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.

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Randy Davis, Editor, Pinewood Derby Times

Copyright ©2011, 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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The Pinewood Derby Times is not specific to, and is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts, YMCA, Awana, or any other organization .

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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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