Pinewood Derby: Tips for Building a Speedy Car!

Pinewood DerbyIt’s that time of year again, the Pack 24 Pinewood Derby is just a few weeks away! Weigh-ins will be held at our January Pack Meeting on Wednesday Jan 22nd 6:30pm and the racing will be Saturday Jan 24th 9:30am at Lillie B Haynes.  For nearly 60 years now, Cub Scouts (and parents) have been participating in the Pinewood Derby. With the holidays hustle behind us, it’s time to start designing and building your roadsters. There are a number of great resources out there including books, magazines, and websites to help with your project. Here are a few tips that I’ve gathered for our Pack 24 website. Disclaimer: I have yet to build or assist in building a car that won a race

Tips and Specifications

  • Weight: Get as close to 5 ounces without going over. As you start carving and sanding the block of wood, you’ll find that it doesn’t weigh much at all (1.5 to 3 oz).  To greatly improve speed, supplement with weights in the back of the car.  Tungsten weights, in most cases, are best because of their high density but you can also find zinc weights and pellets at hardware stores and hobby shops.
  • Size: Width- The overall width of the car shall not exceed 2 ¾ inches. Length- The overall length of the car shall not exceed 7 inches. Track Clearance- There shall be a 3/8 clearance between the bottom of the car and the track.  Speaking from experience, if you add material to the bottom of the car, it may drag on the track.
  • Axles: The axles that come with your kit are essentially small plated nails that typically have burrs just below the head. To reduce friction and help those wheels spin, use a small file and fine sandpaper to remove any defects from the axles.  If you’re really ambitious, you can put a number of axles in a power drill and spin them to find the axles that are most straight (and eliminate any with noticeable wobble).
  • Painting and decals: Have fun coming up with a design and decorating your car.  While the aerodynamics of a good paint job don’t matter much on such a short track, it is helpful to reduce friction where the wheels meet the car body.  A couple options are (1) to avoid painting the wheel base and rub graphite into the body or (2) use slick decals to adorn the side of the car.  Hobby stores like Lee’s in Groton offer a number of cool stickers and other details to jazz it up!
  • Lubrication: This is another important trick to increasing the speed of the car.  There are a couple places to add lubrication (dry graphite only). (1) The wheel base, (2) axles, and (3) wheel surface.  Applying dry graphite in these locations will reduce friction and increase wheel speed.
  • Final steps: Once your car is carved, sanded, painted and the wheels are mounted, make sure to check their alignment. The axles are notorious for popping out of the pre-drilled grooves.  A little glue or thin decal can help with holding it in place. Once you are finished with the car, make sure to weigh it with a small postal scale so you won’t have to fiddle with it at the weigh-ins.  It’s easier to make adjustments at home, than trying to add or remove (much more challenging) weight in the final moments.  Once the car is weighed and the dimensions are checked, the car will be “impounded” until the big race.  Good luck, have fun, and don’t forget those safety glasses!

Resources on the Web

Places to purchase supplies include a number of vendors online, Michael’s and Lowe’s in Waterford, Lee’s Toy & Hobby and Johnson’s Hardware in Groton, and Amato’s Toy & Hobby in Middletown, CT.

Pinewood Derby 2012