Pinewood Derby Times Volume 13, Issue 2

A- Feature Article – Rules: Post Them and Follow Them
– Pinewood Derby Car Showcase
– Q&A

Feature Article
Rules – Post Them and Follow Them
By Randy Davis

If you have been a subscriber for any length of time you know by now that I am a stickler for having a well documented set of rules for each race, and providing those rules to every race participant when the kits are distributed (or when the race is announced). I am regularly reminded of the need for adherence to this policy by e-mail, such as this one from Brian Masek:

“When we arrived at our district race, we were shocked by a paper with a sudden rule change. The paper stated:

‘All 2013 Pinewood Derby cars MUST have all FOUR wheels touch the track to be considered LEGAL!! The rule was mistakenly omitted from the rules posted on the (name omitted) Council web site and is hereby corrected’.

It wasn’t nice to learn this surprise at our district pinewood last weekend; especially after we built a raised wheel rail-rider. The guy in charge pointed at a box of tools and suggested that we just bend the axle down right there so my son could still race. My son wanted to try to fix the car so we went home, broke the axles out of the epoxy, band sawed the slot clean and remounted the wheels using paper strips as a wedge (since the slots were a little too big after the band saw). We got them aligned, still rail-riding with the fourth wheel just barely touching. We ended up in fourth place, which honestly, is better than I thought we would have done. I’m glad we went to the early check in the night before.

Holy cow — post the rules in advance. I talked to the committee chair, and he was cool and admitted his fault, but others on his team were arguing with me that the rules posted in advance meant nothing and all that mattered was what they were enforcing at check-in. Can you believe it? We don’t run our race this way. If we don’t state a rule in advance in writing, we will not enforce it.” (Brian’s son’s car is included in the Car Showcase).

Holy cow is right. The rules posted in advance don’t matter?! That is like the police saying: “We won’t tell you what the traffic rules are until we pull you over and give you a ticket. Then you will find out how you should drive.”

Of course the rules matter and need to be enforced as posted/distributed. If something is omitted, then fix it for next year.

Okay, let me know get off my soapbox. Obviously, I can’t change all of the inequities in the pinewood derby world, but one thing I can do is make a plea for diligence in setting and enforcing the rules for your race.

Eleven years ago I posted a sample rule set, so I think it is time to post it again to help those groups that don’t have a thorough set of rules.

First, I have provided some preliminary thoughts on race rules, and then have provided basic rules with some choices. The intent is that your group will select the preferred choices, and eliminate the alternatives. Also, information [in brackets] may need to be customized for your organization.

Preliminary Thoughts on Rules

District Rules – If your group will participate in a district or council/conference race, before adopting a rule set check the rules for that event. Make sure your rules are in harmony with the parent organization rules.

Completeness – The race rules must be complete. Thus, the rules should specify all car dimensions (maximum height, maximum overall width, minimum distance between the left and right wheels, maximum length, bottom clearance, wheel base); and allowed/disallowed wheel treatments, axle treatments, accessories, and weighting methods.

Specificity – If the intent of your rules is to ban specific design techniques, then the rules must specifically do so. If the rules do not specifically ban a particular technique, then entries using that technique should be allowed to participate. For example, consider the following rules:

  1. A light sanding to remove flaws is allowed as long as the wheel retains the original width, diameter, and shape.
  2. The wheels may be lightly sanded.

Rule 1 is more specific as to what can be done with the wheels. A car with narrowed wheels would clearly be disqualified from a race using this rule.

On the other hand, rule 2 is ambiguous and could lead to problems. A car with narrowed wheels should be allowed to participate, since the rule does not disallow narrow wheels.

General Car Rules

Entry Qualifications

  1. All cars must be built from the official [enter name of club or organization] kit.
  2. Each car must be newly built for the race. Cars previously entered in a race cannot be used.
  3. Each club member may enter one car.

Car Specifications

  1. The maximum total weight of a car cannot exceed [five (5)] ounces. When weighed on the official scale the car must register no more than [five ounces] for a period of not less than 5 seconds.
  2. The car dimensions are:
    • [No longer than 7 inches
    • No wider than 2-3/4 inches
    • No taller than 3 inches
    • Minimum underbody clearance of 3/8 inch
    • Minimum inside wheel separation of at least 1-3/4 inches.]
  1. The entire car must stage behind the starting pin.
  2. Weight and decorative accessories may be added to the car, but will be included as part of the car for all measurements.
  3. All weight and accessories must be securely fastened to the car, and fixed in place. Wheels are the only allowable moving part on the car.
  4. The car must be powered by gravity alone. Thus, weights and accessories may not actively contribute to the movement of the car.

Wheelbase – Choose one of the following three options. The first requires the use of the original slots. The second allows new slots to be created, or holes to drilled, but the wheel base must be maintained. The third allows extended wheel bases.

10.1 – The axles must be placed in the original axle slots on the car body. The axle slots must retain the original wheel base measurement of [fill in measurement].
10.2 – New axle slots or holes may be created, but the original wheel base measurement of [fill in measurement] must be maintained.
10.3 – The axles may be mounted on the car as desired as long as all car specifications are met.

Wheels and Axles

  1. The wheels and axles supplied with the official kit must be used as follows:
    • The wheels must turn about the axles and support the weight of the car
    • The axles must be directly attached to the wooden car body
    • Washers, sleeves, bushings, bearings, etc. may not be used. Nothing can be placed between the wheel and the axle, and between the wheel and the car body.

Choose one of the following two options

12.1 – Wheels may be lightly sanded and polished, but must retain the original shape (diameter, width, profile, and geometry).
12.2 – Wheels may be modified as desired, but must be readily identifiable as the official wheels.

(Choose one of the following two options, or write your own rule)

13.1 – Axle flaws may be removed and the axle shaft may be polished. The axle head may be beveled on the inside to reduce contact with the wheel. No other modifications are allowed.
13.2 – Axles may be modified as desired, but must be readily identifiable as the official axles.

(Choose one of the following two options)

14.1 – All four wheels must contact the ground. Raised wheels are not allowed.
14.2 – All four wheels must be present on the car but not all of the wheels need to contact the track surface.

Lubrication – Choose one of the following three options

15.1 – Any lubricant may be used, but it must be dry at the time of inspection. All excess lubrication must be removed before inspection.
15.2 – Only dry (powdered) lubricants are permitted. All excess lubrication must be removed before inspection.
15.3 – Only [fill in lubricant type] is allowed as a lubricant. All excess lubrication must be removed before inspection.

Race Procedures

Check-in and Inspection

  1. All cars must be brought to the official check-in for inspection [option: by the club member]. Any car arriving after the check-in period will not be allowed to race.
  2. Cars must pass the official inspection using the official scale and measurement devices. If a car fails the inspection, it may be corrected and re-inspected. [optional: The start of the race will not be delayed due to rework on a car that failed inspection.]
  3. After a car passes inspection, it will be impounded. Once impounded the car cannot be modified or lubricated.
  4. All decisions by the race check-in officials are final and binding.

Car Handling – Choose one of the following two options. The former is preferred except in the case of very young children.

20.1 – Each club member is responsible to place their car at the starting line and to retrieve their car at the finish line. If a club member leaves the race area and does not arrive back in time to stage their car for a heat, the car will automatically lose the heat. If the club member is physically unable to perform these tasks, a substitute may be selected to perform these duties. The substitute should be of approximately the same age as the entrant.
20.2 – Race officials will place each car at the starting line and retrieve each car at the finish line.

Race Heat Anomalies

  1. If a car leaves its lane, and the race officials determine that a fault in the track or starting mechanism caused the incident, the heat will be rerun after the fault is repaired.
  2. If a car leaves its lane, and the race officials determine that a fault in the track or starting mechanism did not cause the incident, then:
    • If the car does not interfere with any opponent, the car will automatically lose the heat, and the remainder of the cars in the heat will be judged normally.
    • If the car interferes with any opponent, the car will automatically lose the heat, and the heat will be rerun with the remaining cars..
  3. If no car reaches the finish line, the finishing places will be determined by the distance traveled by each car in its own lane.
  4. If a wheel falls off during a race, the car may be repaired by the car owner. The repair must be completed within the longer of (a) five minutes, or (b) the start of the next heat in which the car will run. At the discretion of the race official, additional help may be provided to the owner of the car.
  5. If a car part (other than a wheel) falls off during a race, the part cannot be replaced on the car.
  6. Any appeals or rule questions must be promptly brought to the attention of the race officials.

Good rules help to make for a successful pinewood derby race. So whether you choose to use these rules as a starting point, or whether you write them yourself, make sure that you have a rule set that is complete and specific.

Pinewood Derby Car Showcase

Sponge Fun – Brian & Grant Masek

This was the car that I told you about that they wouldn’t check in since it didn’t have all four wheels on the ground. We took the car home that night, pulled the front end apart, and cut new axle slots through the epoxy with a band saw. We wedged the axles back in with paper shims and re-glued so that all four wheels touched the ground. The car took 3rd in our pack and 4th in the district.

Formula One – Brian Masek

This Formula One was from your plans. I made it just for fun since it looked like a cool design.

Purple People Eater – Ardie T.

Attached is my 2012 adult class derby car winner. As the name applies, it just about ate up the competition. The tail wing was made from a piece off of the main block. Just so happened, it fit perfectly. I looked at it and said, “Yeah, this will be cool”. With some help from your axles and wheels, and a bit of polishing of the axles, it was a true winner.


Can I use your epoxy on my axles after I have inserted them?

You can use epoxy to lock the axles in place, however, if you do so you will not easily be able to remove them. Instead, I recommend using white glue (Elmers, etc). The white glue will hold them in place, but if you ever need to remove them, you can do so by grasping the axle head and rotating. This will break the glue bond and allow you to pull them out.

Our rules say that axles will be checked (axles must be attracted by the magnet). Can you tell me which of your axles are attracted by a magnet?

These axles are attracted to a magnet:

  • Steel coated with zinc or nickel: 4094, 4095, 4096, 4097, 4099
  • Magnetic stainless steel: 4051, 4052

These axles are not attracted to a magnet:

  • Non-magnetic stainless steel coated with nickel: 4093, 4098

Want Answers?
Do you have a pinewood derby-related question? If so, e-mail us your question.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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The Pinewood Derby Times is a free e-newsletter focused on pinewood derby racing. It is published biweekly from October through March.

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