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The first Pinewood Derby® was held in 1953 by Cub Scout Pack 280C of Manhattan Beach, California, operated by the North American Aviation Management Club. It was the brainchild of Cubmaster Donald Murphy. The derby, publicized in Boys' Life in October 1954, was an instant and enduring hit. The magazine offered plans for the track and car, which featured "four wheels, four nails, and three blocks of wood."
The rules of the very first race stated: "The Derby is run in heats - two to four cars starting by gravity from a standstill on a track and run down a ramp to a finish line unaided. The track is an inclined ramp with wood strips down the center to guide the cars." The cars still roll that way today.
Did You Know?
A fast Pinewood Derby® car can reach a speed of nearly 20 miles per hour. Pretty good for a little block of wood!
If a Pinewood Derby® car racing down the track was enlarged to the size of a real automobile, it would be speeding at more than 200 miles an hour. That's fast!
The first Pinewood Derby® was run in 1953 at the Manhattan Beach Scout House near Los Angeles when Cubmaster Don Murphy introduced the idea to Pack 280C.
Over the years, Cub Scouts have built close to 100 million Pinewood Derby® racers. That's a lot of cars!
If you lined up all the Pinewood Derby® racecars, bumper-to- bumper, they would reach more than 7,000 miles - far enough to stretch from Charlotte, North Carolina, to the North Pole!
If every Pinewood Derby® car made this year took just one run down the track, the combined distance would be from the Earth to the Moon and back. That's out of this world!
Reader's Digest magazine included the Pinewood Derby® in its 2006 Best of America list as "a celebrated rite of spring." Way to go, Cub Scouts!
No Pinewood Derby® car has ever used a drop of gasoline. Gravity rules!
CONSTRUCTION SPECIFICATIONS: Cars failing to meet these specifications will be subject to disqualification.
Length, Width and Clearance
1 Maximum overall width (including wheels and axles) must not exceed 2 ¾ inches.
2 Minimum width between wheels shall be 1 ¾ inches so the car will clear the center guide strip.
3 Minimum clearance between the bottom of the car and the bottom of the wheels shall be 3/8 inch so the car will clear the center guide strip. (It is recommended that weights on the bottom of the car be inset so they are flush with the bottom of the wood block.)
4 Maximum length shall not exceed 7 inches.
5 Maximum height shall not exceed 5 ½ inches.
6 Wheelbase: Axles may be installed in the pre-cut slots provided by the kit manufacturer or may be inserted into new slots. However, the distance between the front and rear axles must be 4 3/8 inches (as provided by the manufacturer of the kit).
Weight and Appearance
7 Weight of the car cannot exceed 5 ounces (141.7 grams). The readings of the official race scale will be considered final. The car may be hollowed out and built up to the maximum weight by the addition of wood, metal, plastic wood or metal filler only, provided that these materials are securely built into the car body or firmly affixed to the car body. No loose materials of any kind are permitted in or on the car.
8 Details such as steering wheel, driver, spoiler, decals, painting and interior details are permissible as long as these details do not cause the car to exceed the maximum length, width and/or weight specifications.
9 Cars with wet paint will not be accepted to race.
10 "Indented noses" are prohibited. The forward-most part of the car must contact the starting gate (starting peg).
11 Inspection Gauges
Registration check-in equipment (for example, weight scale, length box, rulers, etc.), as provided by the district’s designated officials, will determine official compliance with the specifications. The Cub Scout and his adult partner should be prepared to make adjustments to the car, if necessary, at the time of registration.
Wheels and Axles
12 Only the official wheels and axles provided with the official kit or the colored Official Pinewood Derby Wheels and Axles (Item #175WHEELS, as sold by the BSA and offered at the Hawthorne Scout Shop) may be used. Axles may be polished as part of the construction process. (Note that Rule G-1 prohibits the use of purchased polished axles.) Solid axles are strictly prohibited. Wheels may be lightly sanded to remove the mold projection (flash) (if any) on the tread. (For the last few years, the manufacturing process has rarely produced a mold projection.) This very light sanding is the ONLY wheel modification allowed. Beveling or tapering of the wheels (lathed wheel tread), smoothing the inside edge of the wheels, coned hubs, ball-reamed axle slots and any other wheel modification is strictly prohibited. Wheel bearings, washers or bushings are strictly prohibited.
13 All four wheels must touch the track surface. Cars shall not ride on any type of springs.
14 Cars must be free-wheeling, with no starting devices or other propulsion.
Pinewood Derby Car Designs
Designing a cool car is one of the more fun parts of pinewood derby. You can design a creative, funny type of car or a super slick speed racer. I suggest letting your (or your child's) imagination work before narrowing down to something you can actually build.
Before you start
If you are building a car with a child, be sure to let them do as much as possible. The more they do, the more they will get out of it. The design stage is a great way to get them engaged in the project. Have fun brainstorming car designs. Let your child be creative coming up with car ideas before picking your final car design. He may want a military design, animal theme, cartoon theme, race car theme, or "something totally cool and different." The table below lists about 100 pinewood derby car design ideas that will help you select a design theme for your pine wood derby car.
Sketch Your Car
Once you have settled on the car design theme it is time to draw. The drawing stage is also fun and creative for a child. You can let them draw freehand or take the pine wood block and trace it on a piece of paper. Trace the side view and the top view so you get an idea of what it will look like from each angle.
- Cars should be built by the Cub Scouts with some adult guidance. Make it fun!
- Measure twice, cut once. Start early and take your time. Scout Shops are happy to sell more cars.
- Help your Cub draw out his design on paper and then on the wood.
- The low wedge is a fast design. It is also easy to make.
- A wide, flat front edge gets a better start off the starting pin and hits the end timer beam sooner.
- Aerodynamics is not a factor at 10 MPH. Weight, Axles, wheels, & lubrication are more important.
- Slick gloss paint reduces friction where the wheels rub the car body.
Axles and Wheels
A longer wheelbase increases stability. Think of a dragster. Drill axle holes as far apart as allowed.
Axles need a 90-degree angle so the car goes straight. Check angles with a square, protractor or alignment tool.
Sand off burrs on axles for less friction by holding axle in drill and 600 grit sandpaper.
Pre-drill your axle (nail) holes with a bit just under the size of the axle to prevent splintering. Use an axle guide if possible.
Lightly smooth wheel treads with fine sand paper to smooth tread. The treads must be left flat.
- After the car is painted, attach the wheels with a 1/32 to 1/16 inch gap.
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- Weigh your car with wheels, axles, and any accessories (driver, steering wheel, etc.).
- Get your car as close to 5 ounces as possible.
- Keep the weight in the back to push the car down the ramp longer.
- The car may be hollowed out & weight inserted up to the 5 oz. maximum.
- You can also drill holes & insert fishing sinkers. Do not glue weights in yet.
- To put weights on the bottom first hollow out space so weight doesnot hit the track.
- Ask to weigh your car on the official scale before check-in. It does not matter what your scale says.
Lubricate the Car
Use a dry, fine powdered lubrication (graphite). Liquids or sprays can melt the wheels. Remember: graphite is messy.
Shake wheels in baggy with graphite to coat the outside of the wheel first.
Lube the wheel hole, axle, & axle head. Lube where the axle will touch the car. Use more graphite!
Spin the wheels repeatedly on the axles to work in the graphite. You still didn't use enough graphite!
Roll the car on a flat floor. It should travel in a straight line. If not, your axles may need to be trued to 90°.
Test the Car
Now glue the axle only at the axle (nail) tip & attach wheel to car. Use epoxy or non-resin glue.
Don't get any glue on the surface of the axle where the wheel rides. It can bind.
Check your weight one last time and glue weights into place. Weights cannot be loose.
Lube your wheels again immediately before the race. Bring lube with you to the race.
Protect your car. Carry your car in a shoe box lined with tissue or other gentle padding.
Do not play with the car until after the last race.
Most important tip – make sure it is FUN!