Pinewood Derby Times Volume 5, Issue 12

– Feature Article – Troubleshooting
– Car Showcase
– Memory – The Race
– Q&A

So the car is done, you’ve given it a few test runs, and you’re not satisfied with the way it performs. What do you do now? Here are some common symptoms that occur along with some suggestions for correcting the problem.

SYMPTOM: The car starts more slowly than other cars.


  1. Weight has been added to the wheels – Remove the wheel weight and add it to the car body.
  2. Wheels do not spin freely – Make sure the wheel-to-body gap is set properly using a wheel alignment tool (or use a dime), and that the wheels/axles are thoroughly lubricated with a recommended lubricant (graphite must be broken in to perform well).
  3. Car is not properly staged – Make sure the car is pointing straight down the track, and the wheels don’t touch the guide rail.
  4. The car is too heavy (outlaw-type races) – Reduce the weight to something less than 12 ounces (less for short tracks).

SYMPTOM: The car is fast down the hill, but is passed on the flat section of the track


  1. The car is not at the maximum weight – Add weight to bring the car to the maximum allowed weight (typically 5 ounces).
  2. The weight position is not set properly – Move weight such that the balance point of the car is at the recommended position (1 to 1-1/4 inch in front of the rear axle for most tracks).
  3. The wheels are not aligned – Adjust the wheel alignment such that the car rolls eight feet on a smooth and level surface with less than 1/2 inch of deviation.
  4. Wheels do not spin freely – See comments above.

SYMPTOM: The car wobbles back and forth


  1. The wheels are not aligned – See comments above.
  2. The axles are too small for the wheels – Refit the car with properly-sized axles.
  3. The weight position is set too far back on the car – See comments above.

SYMPTOM: The car makes a chattering sound near the finish line


  1. The weight position is set too far back on the car – See comments above.
  2. Wheels are not properly lubricated – See comments above.

SYMPTOM: The car hugs the guide rail


  1. The wheels are not aligned – See comments above.
  2. The wheel tread is beveled – Replace the wheels with flat tread wheels (be aware that ‘Speed Wheels’ from some suppliers have slightly beveled tread).
  3. The track is not level – Adjust the track.

SYMPTOM: The car jumps the guide rail


  1. The car has a raised wheel which is too high – Set the raised wheel no more than 1/16 inch higher than the other wheels.
  2. The wheels are not aligned – See comments above.

This article covers many of the problems that are encountered with pinewood derby car performance. But if you run across another problem, please send me an email and I’ll be glad to assist with some causes and solutions. Good luck with your race!

Pinewood Derby Car Showcase

’32 Ford Coupe: Bob Davis

This is a picture of my son’s second pinewood derby car. It is loosely based on a ’32 Ford coupe body with a dragster look to it. Everything was hand painted by my son (I masked off a pattern for him to follow). Every car we build has a funny saying on the back, so – since Alex is a Terminator fan – I painted “Hasta La Vista Baby” on it. We spent many hours cutting, sanding, polishing, etc. on it.

Although it didn’t take first place, it did finish 4th out of twenty cars. Given our enjoyable experience over the years, he is already excited about building another car for this year’s derby.

Silver Lightning: Trevor Colvin

My name is Trevor Colvin. I am in Pack 28 Den 1 in Denair, California. I applied several coats of metallic silver paint and clear acrylic. I used dry transfers for the flames, stripe and the lightning bolts on her nose. The number 6 is for my favorite NASCAR driver Mark Martin. I put the weights on the side for stability. I seem to get better speed from this too.

iPod Racer: Jeff & Nicholas Lafrenz

Here is my son’s pinewood derby car for this year. He wanted to have an iPod, so, that is what we did. He placed second in his class and fifth overall. The ‘screen’ of the iPod has the Webelos logo, my son’s name, etc. I created all of the graphics from scratch in Adobe Illustrator and printed them out on photo paper. While I did the major cutting on the car, he sanded, painted and glued on the stickers. The wheels are sanded, axles de-burred and polished with plenty of graphite.

Pinewood Derby Memory
The Race

Our pinewood derby experience leading up to our race was included in your newsletter in 2005 (Volume 4, Issue 11 – February 23, 2005). Our race was delayed and we learned the lesson of patience. Here is a follow up as to what happened after the snow storm.

Last year my son was in his final year of Cub Scouts. Our pack was planning the annual pinewood derby. The race had to be rescheduled due to a big snow storm that hit our area. We were very disappointed. To make the time go faster our family decided to use the extra time to build more cars (each one of us could have our own car in the race). So using our own designs, we drew different styles until we each found our favorite. Dad’s car was black; he named it the Night Rider. My car was red with a golden glitter finish. My son’s car was purple – it was very metallic.

The race was very crowded and most of our scouting families attended. The room was filled with energy, all the scouts as well as their families were ready to go. The extra cars were registered in an after-race that families could enter – the main race was for scouts only.

Heat after heat the cars ran smooth. Suddenly there was a commotion at the back of the room. One of the attendants had accidentally knocked a car off the holding table. We all held our breath to find out whose it was.

Over the loud speaker our number was called; it was my son’s car. The rear right wheel was totally off. Tears filled his eyes. After the weeks of hard work, the waiting, and the anticipation he was crushed. Now what would he do? The judges allowed him to fix the car. Normal rules were no contact with the car until after the race, but since the accident was not his fault, they bent the rules. He had five minutes to repair it. We had come prepared, our emergency supplies ready. My son and I did our best.

Finally it was the purple car’s turn; first down the track. Heat after heat, car after car the purple car flew down the track. It did not seem to matter what lane or whose car it went up against, the outcome was the same. The purple car was taking the lead. By the end of the race the purple car was the leader, delayed, broken, but bound to win. Some things happen for a reason. The trophy was his!

Now the after-race, the families got to join the fun. My car was last every heat, but wait, dad’s car was winning! My son’s car was entered again and still holding together. Random pairing joined them together. Father against son. Man against boy. The black car against the purple. The scout wins! Cheers filled the room. Again and again the cars flew down the bright yellow track. Again and again the cars challenged each other. Time after time the son and father went neck and neck, nose to nose. First and second was the call.

At the end of the race the final tally was purple car 1st Place, Black Night Rider a close second. Two trophies came home that day; Two proud racers, each with their own design. Each with their own happy memories. I was proud too, remember I held the glue bottle!

If a lesson was learned it was never give up. Try, try again, and never – I mean never! – leave home without the glue.

Brenda Puntel
Austintown, Ohio


Where can I get parts for Royal Ambassador cars (RA Racers)?

There are two vendors for RA car kits and parts:

Make Tracks

RA Racers

A lot of the information in the newsletter relates to cub scout pinewood derby races. We are in an Awana-sponsored event. What do we need to do to the Awana wheels and axles?

The Awana axles are clean, but they do perform better if you polish them. You can just use a metal polish (such as a Brasso) for 10 to 15 seconds per axle. Then buff off the residue.
The Wheels do need to have the inside edge sanded smooth (where the molding spike was located). I would also sand the ‘corners’, that is the transition from the tread to both sides of the wheel. Finally, beveling the inside hub is beneficial. We offer the Pro-Hub Tool to help with that.

I am having problems with the wheels going into the body at an angle. I think you had something on this in one of your newsletters, but I can’t remember which one it was in, or how to correct this problem. Can you help me with this?

I wrote an article on the pros and cons of angling angles, but not how to correct it.

The best way I have found to make sure the axles go in straight is to use the Pro-Body tool to put pilot holes in the slots. Another option is to use an Alignment Tool to adjust the camber to zero. The new Pro-Axle Guide will also minimize this problem.

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.

Back Issues
Are you a new subscriber, or have you missed some of the previous newsletters? Don’t miss out; all of the issues for Volume 5 through Volume 17 are posted on our web site.

Newsletter Contributions
We welcome your contributions. If you would like to contribute an article, a web site review, a speed tip, or a pinewood derby memory, please e-mail us.

Subscription Information
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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