– Feature Article – Aluminum ‘Freedom Series’ Track from Piantedosi
– Pinewood Derby Car Showcase
– Memory – Better than 6th
Aluminum ‘Freedom Series’ Track from Piantedosi
Back when BestTrack first introduced an aluminum track, I purchased a two-lane track for testing and tuning cars. The track has served us well, and continues to provide a resource for us and our local customers. About a year after the introduction of the BestTrack, Piantedosi introduced an aluminum version of their popular wooden track.
Since then, I have had many customers ask for my advice on purchasing a track. As I am always willing to share an opinion, I passed on what I knew first hand, and what other customers have shared with me. However, I also let people know that I had no first hand experience with the Piantedosi tracks.
So, I decided that in order to better serve our customers I needed to get a Piantedosi track (there was one other reason as well, which I will share later). So on April 17, 2006 I called Gary at Piantedosi and ordered a two-lane, 32 foot, anodized aluminum track. Piantedosi was able to ship a track right away, and on April 24, UPS delivered the track in two boxes.
My first impression was that something had to be missing as the boxes seemed rather small. But as I unpacked the track, I realized that the components were packed together quite well, and it appeared that everything was there.
I want to share something at this point. Overall, I am very impressed with the track. But since this article is a review of my experiences, I will be sharing some areas that could use improvement. This is intended as constructive criticism and I did share this article with Piantedosi well before publication.
Back to the unpacking. The reason I stated that “it appeared that everything was there” is because there was no list of parts in the instructions. This made it impossible to verify that everything was included, and also made it more difficult to follow the instructions during assembly (a photo or drawing of each part with quantities included would really help).
Nevertheless, twenty minutes later all of the parts were laid out on the floor and ready for assembly. Twenty minutes may seem like a long time to unpack the two boxes, but to Piantedosi’s credit, the material was very well packed, and removing the staples and plastic took a while. If you have ever watched how UPS handles boxes, you will understand why good packaging is extremely critical.
After lunch I began assembling the track sections. Once I discovered which parts were needed, I was able to quickly attach the two lanes together, attach the starting section frame, and then piece the track sections together. This operation took approximately fifty-five minutes. Naturally, if you ordered a longer track, or more lanes, the time would increase.
During this assembly I ran across two “gripes”. First, wood platforms (included) are placed under the track sections to support the track and protect the floor. The instructions call for using 2-sided tape to attach the wood platforms to the underside of the track sections, but the tape isn’t included. I had some in the shop, so no delay was encountered, but it be nice if Piantedosi would include a small roll of this tape. Secondly, the instructions call for two, ten pound barbell weights to stabilize the start section (see Figure 1). When I read this, I remembered that this had been mentioned to me before by a customer, but it was not mentioned during ordering nor at the front of the instructions. There is a major sporting goods store about a mile away from our shop, so after spending $20.73, I was back in business. But for those folks in more rural areas, acquiring these weights could be a bigger problem. Piantedosi needs to be more up front about the need for these weights so that they can be acquired while the track is in transit. For last minute buyers, acquiring the weights the night of the race could be a problem.
Weights Form Curve and Stabilize Start Section
Next up was the starting gate. This proved to be a challenge. Apparently, the starting gate was recently redesigned. The web-based instructions had not been updated, and the instructions included were very cryptic. I am fairly mechanically inclined, so after about 30 minutes I got it figured out and working. But clearly, an instruction update is needed.
At first I was not very excited about the new gate. I was used to the BestTrack gate which auto latches when it is swung back into position. This is an easy movement with one finger, especially important while your hands are full of cars. I eventually figured out how to reset the Piantedosi gate with one hand, but you do need an unencumbered hand (see Figures 2 and 3). Regardless of the ease of resetting, the gate does function well, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
Start Gate Closed
Start Gate Open
Last came the stop section, which took about 10 minutes (again a drawing or two in the instructions would really help). At 30 inches, the Piantedosi stop section is shorter than the BestTrack stop section (40 inches), and I had some reservations about the length. But after running our fastest cars, I found that the cars easily stopped within the 30 inches. Apparently the BestTrack needs a longer stop section as the stop section is about 5/8 inch lower than the Piantedosi stop section. So, on the BestTrack, the cars “fly” several additional inches before landing on their bellies.
Now that the track was assembled (overall time to assemble was just under 2 hours not counting the addition of a timer) I had a chance to look at the overall quality of the track. The lane joints are tight and smooth, the track sits solidly on the ground, and overall has a high quality appearance.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I had another reason for ordering this track. Over the years I had the BestTrack, the track times were slowing down. I was at a loss as to why this occurred until I realized that the aluminum track surface had oxidized, leaving behind a film on the track (this is normal for aluminum). After much scrubbing with a Scotch Brite pad, and cleaning with ‘Simple Green’, I was able to get the surface of the BestTrack back in shape. Now of course I know I need to clean the track on a more regular basis. But there has to be a better way.
And there is. Piantedosi offers anodized tracks. Per the Piantedosi web site, “Aluminum is immersed in a tank containing an electrolyte having a 15 percent sulfuric acid concentration. … Aluminum oxide is grown out of the surface during anodizing and then becomes aluminum hydrate that is extremely hard.” Although this option adds cost, the result is a track that does not oxidize, cleans easier, and has a very smooth (almost silky) surface (see Figure 5). If you are going to purchase a track from Piantedosi, do not skimp; pay the extra and get the anodized version.
Track Surface Comparison
Both Piantedosi and BestTrack produce a quality product, and I am sure you will be satisfied with either one. There are of course many factors to consider when purchasing a track (cost, storage, set-up/tear-down, durability, length, ease of transport, et al), and the intent of this article is not to compare these tracks in detail. However, here are a few comparison points to consider:
- Due to the ease of resetting, I prefer the Starting Gate on the BestTrack.
- The Piantedosi Stop Section gets my vote as the cars don’t fly as far before landing.
- The anodized track surface is a must (I’m sure BestTrack will soon be offering something similar).
Piantedosi (Now MicroWizard)
Pinewood Derby Car Showcase
Blue Angel: Joel & Bradley Keels
Our Cub Scout Pack (249, Edgewater, Maryland) had our Pinewood Derby today, and it was great. My son Bradley proudly took the ‘Best in Show’ selection from the Derby judges, and the car actually ran well. He got the idea from another ‘Blue Angel’ car that we saw in your gallery a while back. Plus, he’s seen the real Blue Angels perform several times, and just loves them. When he first said that’s the design he wanted to do, I was a bit stumped trying to envision a design. Then, I remembered a pretty beaten-up old Blue Angels jet toy that wasn’t getting much attention lately. So, we found wing sections, tail sections, cockpit and nose pieces, and missiles that we could salvage from the toy and use in the car design. He told me what he wanted to use and where he wanted the pieces, and I helped him fasten or glue them. He painted the main blue color, and then I taped off the stripes and missiles so he could do the yellow accents. We were lucky to come across some JPEG shots of the decals (that really had me stumped up to that point), so I printed them up and he decided which ones to use and put them on. Finally, he put on the clear coat to really make it shine (like the real ones!). He also helped with sanding and prepping the axles and wheels, but since he had a 102 degree fever the day before the race, his Mom helped me to put the wheels/axles onto the body. Luckily, he was well on race-day, and all went well. We look forward to next year (and hopefully an easier design choice!).
Number 1: David & Craig Baum
Craig is a Tiger Cub in Pack 135 in Wellesley, Massachusetts. This was our first Pinewood Derby. Craig designed the car, painted, and applied the stickers (I did the cutting and sanding). Craig’s car placed 3rd out of nearly 80 cars. We are looking forward to next year!
’32 Coupe: Mike & Mikey Ferraro
My son Mikey and I are involved with the Cub Scouts in our town, and I am lucky enough to be a den leader. Last year we made a ’32 coupe for him with Curious George at the wheel. For the adult race I made a race car carrier for my vehicle. The adults raced for fun. We had a blast; the coupe didn’t place but it lasted a while before it got beat. Thanks for the tips and products on your site.
Pinewood Derby Memory
Better than 6th
My son completed his last Pinewood Derby this year. Each year he has placed first or second in his den and gone on to district. Every year he wound up in 6th place. He always walked away happy because he had fun, walked away with a trophy, and got to go to district. Every year we stopped for donuts after the district race as a little celebration.
This year things started out about the same. He was in 6th place, and was happy as a clam just talking to his buddies. After a few heats he moved up to 5th place. In his last heat he beat the car that was undefeated. When we looked up he had moved up to 3rd place. Eventually he walked away with a trophy. On the way home he never set the trophy down; when we went in for donuts he carried his trophy with him. While he enjoyed every derby he participated in, his last derby will always be special.
I had always planned to round my son’s wheels for reduced friction but I purchased your booklet and it makes no mention of rounding the wheels. Do you not advise wheel rounding?
By rounding I assume you mean to change the tread profile from flat to curved? If so, I don’t normally recommend that because:
- It is quite often disallowed.
- It cannot be done accurately without a computerized lathe.
That being said, if you are not allowed to use lathed wheels, and if a curved profile is allowed, you can gain some benefit from lightly rounding the tread with wet sandpaper. Just don’t go overboard, and make sure the contact patch is in the center of the wheel.
Better speed can be attained by using lathed wheels (wheels that have been made truly round).
The axles and wheels in the BSA kit do not fit well. When I remove the burrs and crimp marks and polish the axles, and then polish the wheel bore, the wheel bore is too big and axle is too small. There is about .008 to .010 slop. How do I fix this?
Ah yes, this is what happens when we try to turn ‘toys’ into precision machines! As you indicate, the BSA axle is undersized for the wheel (or the bore is oversized for the axle – if you look at it that way). Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to correct this, as most races require the use of official BSA components. There are after-market axles which are larger (and work much better), but they are not official components.
Some people have tried to plug the bore with epoxy or plastic rod, and then recreate the bore to the proper size. While this is possible, it does require some precision equipment to accurately machine the bore. Also, this borders on breaking the rules, as a bore made of epoxy could be consider a ‘bushing’ or ‘bearing’.
Where can I find elimination charts for race scheduled?
First, I don’t recommend using elimination methods as they are not as accurate as other methods, and the slower cars don’t get the opportunity to race as much. That being said, a search on Google will turn up several elimination charts.
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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