When it comes to optimizing your pinewood derby car for competition, one of the most important factors to consider when designing your car is the weight. When affixed in the correct position, a pinewood derby car weight can give your entry the extra push it needs to overcome your competitors.
Pinewood Derby Car Weight: The Basics
To understand the importance of weighting your pinewood derby car, you should first understand the basic role it plays.
Pinewood derby cars are gravity-powered vehicles. They typically race on a sloped track and are held in place by starting pins. There is no additional external force acting to propel the car forward; when the pins drop, the car rolls down the slope. Most tracks are built with a transition from slope to a long, flat section. In this section, friction is hard at work to slow down your car. Everywhere two parts of your car are touching, friction is at work. Even the air flow over the car body is a form of friction.
Overcoming friction is the job of momentum, which is the force that allows your car to continue rolling as fast as possible on the flat section of the track. So to build a winning car, you must maximum your momentum while also minimizing friction.
Weighting your car is the key to increasing momentum. In most races, the maximum allowable weight of a pinewood derby car is five ounces. By meeting this maximum limit – while also strategically placing your weights at the rear of your vehicle – you will improve your momentum and increase the distance your car travels towards the finish line.
Types of Pinewood Derby Car Weights
Maximum weight can be achieved with any type of weight, but there are benefits in choosing specific kinds.
Denser weights take up a lesser volume of space, so it’s easier to reach max weight while also having the freedom to place the weights strategically on your car. Tungsten is an excellent weighting material for pinewood derby cars because of its high density. Only gold, platinum, and a few other rare and expensive metals boast a similar density. Because it’s so dense, it allows for a tremendous amount of freedom in the car’s design. And it’s also non-toxic and completely environmentally-friendly, so it’s safe for children and adults alike.
At Maximum Velocity, we offer 20 different kinds of tungsten weights to choose from. Browse our inventory of cylinders, COG weights, rounds, bars, cubes, canopies, beads, plates, putty, disks and even decorative pieces like skulls and triangles.
Lead also features a high density, and because it’s a soft metal, it can be easily manipulated and shaped to fit into the best location on the car. However, lead is one of the most harmful pinewood derby car weights to handle, and only adults should work with the material.
If you want to match the density of lead, but don’t want to worry about the risks of handling, then tundra is a great alternative. Tundra is formulated with tungsten, so it boasts the same density as lead. But it’s more affordable than both lead and tungsten, and can be easily cut, drilled or sanded to shape. We offer tundra in both flat and rod shapes.
Steel pinewood derby car weights are not as dense as tungsten or lead, so it requires more pieces to reach maximum weight. However, if you want to avoid using lead, steel is a good compromise between density and cost. Both cylinder and bar weights are available in our online store.
A flex weight is a dense, flexible material that can be cut with scissors to the desired shape. The weight attaches to the car using a strong adhesive strip.
At Maximum Velocity, we also offer comprehensive weight kits for the specific cars listed in our Car Plan booklets. These kits contain everything you need to follow our easy, step-by-step instructions as you build one of three winning designs.
Best Location to Weight Your Pinewood Derby Car
When deciding on where to weight your car, you should try to reach a final balance point of the car 1 inch or less in front of the rear axle. To achieve this, place 2/5 of the added weight behind the rear axle, and the remaining 3/5 in front of the rear axle. Placing the weight lower on the car also gives greater stability.
The Pinewood Derby Experts
Maximum Velocity founder Randy Davis has a background in engineering and over twenty years of experience in pinewood derby. For reliable, tried-and-true insight into the best possible pinewood derby car weight selection and placement, trust the experts at Maximum Velocity and let us help you speed to the finish!