Pinewood Derby Car Guide

Driving a car has always brought with it a sense of freedom and adventure, and nowhere is this sensation more keenly experienced than on a race track. Unfortunately, racing does have its risks, and drivers must be of a certain age before they can even begin training to compete. Kids may play with toy cars, but until 1953, there was no child-friendly car racing environment. Today, kids across the world can experience the thrill of racing through a Pinewood Derby.

What is a Pinewood Derby?

The Pinewood Derby is a race, usually hosted by a Cub Scout Troop, in which members race their homemade pinewood race cars. Cars can be as fancy or as plain as desired and strict weight restrictions mean that the boys need to wisely distribute the weight allowed to help make the car faster. Each pinewood car is propelled by gravity down a steep wooden race track, racing two or three others at a time. The first car to reach the bottom is the winner.

Rules for Racing

Each Cub Scout Troop will have their own set of rules for Pinewood Derbies, but there are a few constants which appear in all races. The pinewood car, for example, can weigh no more than five ounces. It can be no longer than seven inches long and two and three-fourths of an inch wide. The bulk of the car itself must be constructed from a pre-approved kit, and anything to artificially assist speed – wheel bearings, lubricating oil, or springs – is strictly prohibited. Similarly, pre-constructed cars are not allowed, since it defeats the purpose of each scout creating their own.

Building a Pinewood Derby Car

The basic components of a Pinewood Derby car haven’t changed since the 1950s. A block of pinewood, four wheels, and four nails make up the starter kit, and many cars are made from these items alone. Coins, melted lead, and other metal weights can be added to the car, as long as the car doesn’t exceed the weight limit. The trick to building a car with a good chance of winning is to make the car as heavy as possible and to make sure that the wheel axles are straight, which will help reduce wobbles and bumps.

The construction of a Pinewood car begins with shaping the car’s body. Streamlined cars may have a better chance of winning the race, but prizes are given out for aesthetic as well. If a child already has their eye on a “dream car” for when they begin driving, why not make a small mock-up of that car for the race? Parents are encouraged to help their child with the car’s construction and decoration, but it must be the child’s own creation.

Wear appropriate safety equipment, like goggles or a dust mask, when working with the wood to prevent sawdust from irritating the eyes or lungs. Inserting the wheels is fairly straightforward, but be sure to check for little metal bits, or “burrs,” on the back of the axle. These burrs can be left behind from the manufacturing process, and they can also make the wheels catch, which will reduce the car’s speed. Once the car is complete, test runs can be a good way to troubleshoot any last-minute issues before race day.

What to Do on Race Day

Each pinewood car must be inspected and approved by a committee before it can compete, so before leaving for the race, double-check that the car meets all requirements. Once the car has been handed over for inspection, all that needs to be done is to sit back and enjoy the races. The officials will bring the various cars to the track and place them in position, and will record wins and losses. During the race portion, it’s important to remember to encourage scouts to display good sportsmanship. Cheering for friends’ cars can mean a more fun day for all involved, and more celebration if one of the cars wins. The end of the race day will conclude with the distribution of medals or trophies for the speed and style categories. Winners of the speed category are welcome to enter in the Pinewood Derby World Championship, and from there, the adventure can only continue!