Pinewood Derby Times Volume 6, Issue 6

– Feature Article – Why Do You Have a Pinewood Derby?
– Pinewood Derby Car Showcase
– Q&A

Why Do You Have a Pinewood Derby?

Have you ever considered the question, “Why Do You Have a Pinewood Derby”? I know I hadn’t until I ran across a posting in the DerbyTalk Forum that posed that question.

My immediate response was, “To have fun building and racing cars”. I suppose this purpose is okay, but it is not the only possible reason for holding a race. Other reasons to hold a derby can include education, competition, parent involvement, and others.

Why do you need to have a purpose for the event? Because effective events have a purpose, and all of the promotion, activities, and awards are focused on reinforcing that purpose. Seriously, if you have no purpose, then why have the event?

Can the event have more than one purpose? I believe so, but I recommend limiting the number of goals you are trying to achieve. Trying to meet one or two goals can be accomplished; trying to reach more goals is a recipe for failure.

In this article I will suggest several possible reasons for holding a pinewood derby race, and provide some ideas as to how these purposes can be reinforced through the event promotion, activities, and awards. My goal is to convince each of you to determine your purpose(s) for holding a pinewood derby race, and to make sure the race actually achieves the desired outcome.

Reason 1 – Education
Holding a pinewood derby race for the purpose of teaching the children in the organization is certainly a reasonable goal. But you must first decide what exactly you want to teach and whether the children are old enough for the topic.

Some teaching possibilities include: woodworking, physics, and machine tool use. Generally, this race purpose is best for older children.

Woodworking Physics Principles
Promo Focus on craftsmanship and modeling
Offer ‘Show Division’ (cars not raced) and ‘Race Division’ (optional)
Prizes downplayed
Focus on how cars perform
Actual event can be time trials to test theories
Prizes optional or downplayed
Activities Wood tool training
Workshop for car body building
Field trip to professional wood shop
Demonstration of basic physics principles
Car configuration experiments
Field trip to science museum
Awards Best shape
Best car model
Best non-car model
Fastest car
Best use of weight
Most consistent times

Reason 2 – Competition
If the purpose of your event is simply a competition, then you can choose between holding a serious race, or a less serious race with a focus on sportsmanship. I believe serious racing should only be held for adults (corporate races, WIRL, etc.), whereas with children the focus should be on sportsmanship.

Serious Competition Sportsmanship
Promo Focus on making the fastest car
Win ‘Bragging rights’
Identify prizes (make them worthwhile)
Focus on building a fast car
“Do your best”
Help a friend
Build as a team
Downplay awards
Activities None required, but a workshop could be made available Sportsmanship lesson
General building workshop
Awards Fastest car
Best Design
Fastest team car
Best design, selected through participant voting (be careful that this isn’t a popularity contest)
Sportsmanship awards for helping, encouraging, etc.

Reason 3 – Parental Involvement
In some groups, getting the parents involved is an important goal. Since pinewood derby racing appeals to most Dads (and some Moms) it can be a way to get more parental participation.

Parental Involvement
Promotion “We need you” theme
Consider using pre-cut cars to minimize the need for tools
Consider offering a parent car and a child car, and let them race against each other
Pass out simple ‘how-to’ information
Downplay awards
Activities Offer several workshops, parents required at workshop
Awards Fastest car
‘Child beats parent’ awards
Best Design, selected through parent voting

Reason 4 – Fundraising
A pinewood derby can be a good fundraiser, but I don’t recommend the event as the primary pinewood derby race. Instead, hold a regular pinewood derby race with a different purpose, and then hold a second race as a fundraiser. Get companies to sponsor the event by providing food, prizes, etc. Then charge a somewhat large entry fee (this is where your funds come from) and give out donation receipts. You can also ask companies to sponsor one or more entries, which can be built by members of your club (make sure to put the company name on the car).

Promotion Allow entries from both inside and outside the organization
Hold the event at a shopping center or a large store
Activities Hold planning meetings to make sure the event runs smoothly
Awards Provided by sponsors
Fastest car
Best design

Reason 5 – Recruiting
Since pinewood derby events are very exciting, if done properly your main race can also serve as a recruiting tool.

Promotion Promote the event in the community (bulletin boards, local papers, libraries, schools, etc.)
Hold the event in a public place (store, shopping mall, park, etc.)
Have enrollment table with literature at a prominent place at the event
Provide cars for guests to race in a fun race. Give a prize to everyone entered.
Activities Hold planning meetings to make sure the event runs smoothly
Hold a workshop to build extra cars for guests
Awards Fastest car
Best design
Prize for all guests

Reason 6 – Just for Fun
One of the best reasons to have a pinewood derby race, especially the first race for your group, is “just for fun”. Basically, the event is organized to be exciting and enjoyable for all. The competitive aspect is downplayed (or non-existent).

Just for Fun
Promotion Promote the event as a fun time for all
Decorate the venue in a festive manner
Downplay awards, or promote silly/fun awards
Activities Hold workshops
Consider simpler kits that require less preparation
Awards Fastest car and slowest car (optional)
Best design, selected by participant voting
Series of additional certificates such as ‘Fastest Looking’, ‘Coolest’, ‘Silliest’, ‘Best non-Car’, etc. Try to have a certificate for everyone.

So, what is your reason for holding a pinewood derby race? I know that this next year I am going to carefully select our purpose, and then focus the event on that purpose. I hope that you will do the same.

If you have a purpose for your race, please send me an email with your race purpose, and how you reinforce that purpose in the promotion, activities, and awards. I will plan to include some of your feedback in future editions of the newsletter.

Pinewood Derby Car Showcase

Pantera: Sean McLaughlin

This is my cool Pantera that I ran in last year’s Awana Grand Prix. My Dad carved it but I sanded it and painted most of it. The wing is balsa and the sides are pine that I glued to the Awana block. I didn’t win in the design contest but did come in third in the speed contest.

Kranston Wedges: Gary Kranston

In my daughter’s Adventure Guide race, the electronic finish line once again did not work, so two spotters were used on our six lane track. There were, understandably, some incorrect decisions on the close races, so one of the dads used his digital camcorder on each race so the results could be reviewed. After beating the same car easily in three heat races, we finished 2nd in the final heat when our car raced in lane 6, the slowest lane all day (it was so close we reviewed the video three times to confirm the winner – we’ll have to investigate what is wrong with that lane for next year).

My son’s green car participated in the local district Cub Scout pinewood derby. Out of eight cars entered for the Bear rank, his car finished 2nd, losing only to the eventual overall winner. Out of 56 total cars entered, we finished 4th, missing 3rd place by only 1/1000th of a second

Father/Son Cars: Jamie Hill
This is the first year my son was in Awana. It came time for the grand prix, so I wanted to design a car in a late model style with the wheels under the body. As you can see I achieved my goal (left car). My son (age 4) wanted a race car painted blue and with sharks on it (right car). Sad to say neither of us won a race (and I didn’t place for speed or design), but to my delight my son’s car took 3rd in speed and 1st in design. We left the race with our heads held high, as we were proud of our father/son effort.


Can you tell me the ‘regulation’ axle positions for BSA pinewood cars?

  • From rear of block to center of rear slot: 15/16 inch
  • From center of rear slot to center of front slot: 4-3/8 inch
    Note that blocks do vary from kit to kit, so some tolerance needs to be allowed for kit variance.

So what is your opinion on rail riders? Some folks are reporting better results when they deliberately guide the car to the rail, versus trying to keep it as straight running as possible. This is counter-intuitive, so what do you, the experts, think?

The theory is that if you can’t guarantee that the car will go straight on a given track, then it is preferable to avoid having the raised wheel hit the guide rail. So the car is purposely aligned such that the front wheel on the ground steers towards the rail. In addition, the body width is narrowed in the front so that the front wheel contacts the rail before the rear wheel. Thus, only one wheel contacts the rail.

Clearly, having the car avoid contacting the rail is better. But, while you can adjust a car to go straight, you cannot control the track; i.e., a perfectly aligned car on an angled track will not go straight. So, given this condition, having one front wheel contact the guide rail is better than multiple wheels contacting the rail, and better than having the raised wheel contact the guide rail.

The amount of intentional deviation must be enough to cause the car to drift in the desired way regardless of the track condition or slope of the track. Typically, this is about 5 inches over 8 feet.

Has there ever been a study performed on grooved axles? It seems like the grooved axles should not outperform standard axles because the friction force has not decreased (since the mass and coefficient of friction are the same), but is now distributed across smaller surfaces of the grooved axle and wheel bore.

The only study of grooved axles, that I am aware of, shows that the grooves improve performance when using liquid lubes, and decrease performance when using dry lubes. The supposition is that the grooves help with the liquid lube by minimizing the amount of fluid in contact with the wheel (as the viscosity of the fluid slows down the system); while the grooves prevent the powdered lubes from being properly crushed and the excess eliminated.

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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Randy Davis, Editor, Pinewood Derby Times
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