Pining For The Pinewood Derby

The pinewood derby stands as a great tradition that the Boy Scouts and other type clubs host every year. If you have never been in one you are missing out. Boys and their fathers take little blocks of pinewood, convert them into little cars and race them. More than just a hobby, this is an all-out, winner-taker-all, battle for a year’s worth of bragging rights for the rest of the year.

The derby series itself was started back in Manhattan Beach in 1953 by Cubmaster Don Murphy. Every year the scouts had a soapbox derby but his son was too young to participate so he thought it would be fun to have them build cars and race them. He had no idea how popular it would become.

Each scout is a given a solid block of pinewood, 4 nails for axles and 4 wheels to make a car. The rest is up to them.  There are some standards to maintain however. For one, the car usually has to be under a certain weight, usually 5 ounces. It also has to fit on the standardized track.  Usually it served as a project a scout could use to spend time with his father or grandfather. While it is often more art than science there are some common design elements to keep in mind. 

Design is Key

You need your car to be as aerodynamic as possible. Trim it down to low on the top with a low front to reduce the air drag. Careful not to take too much off though because then it will be too late. The design should also allow the wheels to turn smoothly with no resistance. Lastly, endless polishing and sanding helps ensure it is a slick as can be.

Weight it Down

 A cars weight can define the difference between winning and losing. You want your car to weigh the max amount without going over the limit. Good weights help insure a fast start and more momentum as the car goes. Lead fishing weights are often melted down and use for this but there are plenty of hobby shops that sell lead for this purpose.  Once again, this process is open to debate as some put the weight in the front, some in the back and some in the middle. 


Wheeled Warriors

Of course no car can run without wheels and neither can the pinewood derby car and just like every other part of the car, there are all sorts of tips and tricks to help you out. First of all the wheels can’t be too tight or they rub against the car and prevent turning. On the other hand, they can’t be too loose or the will wobble and slow you down. Secondly you should polish and smooth the axles and wheels in order to help them spin smoother. Lubrication on the axles is also recommended to help increase viscosity. Another trick people sometimes use is to grind the edges off the tires in order to create less areas of friction, if this is true or not remains to be seen but some people swear by it.

Give it a Dash of Color

Lastly, you will want to paint your car and this is open to wide debate. Other than not getting in the axles to clog it most people paint whatever they want. Some go futuristic, some go modern, some even design their cars to look like antiques while others stick to racing stripes. Either way, a good paint scheme adds to the fun of the great tradition.

Jeff Jordan lives and writes in Southern California. He writes about life, education, cars and pop culture. Enterprise Car Sales is one place to get your own real, life sized car.