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10 Pinewood Derby Tips: Designing the Fastest Car

Updated on February 12, 2015
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If you are a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, or Eagle Scout, the or the parent of one, then you may have come across the Pinewood Derby!

The Pinewood Derby is a fun race with handmade wooden cars made by the boys in the Cub Scout program of Boy Scouts of America.

As the event became known, other organizations have adopted much of the concept and use the Pinewood Derby race as a time for fun as well.

Pinewood Derby Tips

When it comes to making your own car, you might be interested in a few Pinewood Derby tips, but first, the basics. The cars must be made with the help of the parents and the boys are supplied with three elements: A block of wood (typically pine, hence the name), a set of four plastic wheels, and four nails--the rest is up to them!

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Rules for Construction

  • All supplied pieces must be used in the construction.

  • There is a weight, length, and width requirement that must not be exceeded, often 5 ounces, 7 inches long, 2.75 inches wide.

  • Decals and painting are allowed to customize the appearance.

  • Weights are usually allowed to be added for fine-tuning so as long as it does not cause the creation to exceed max weight limit.
  • Some packs set more specific rules under the guidelines of the Boy Scouts of America, so be informed of such guidelines before you delve in!

Rules may vary, so make sure you check your derby's rules before you begin construction.

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Making The Fastest Car

Whether you are participating in the official Cub Scout Pinewood Derby or an event similar to, here are some tips that might just help you win the race! Again, make sure you are familiar with any restrictions so that you do not get disqualified!

  1. Reduce friction: Having wheel contact with the body of the design is something that might put you out of the winner’s circle! If this is a problem on a test run, sand the wheels down a bit, whether it be the tread side or the side that faces the body, depending on where the contact is being made.

  2. Alignment: Friction can be a matter of a simple alignment problem, so be sure that the wheels are properly aligned!

  3. Aerodynamics: Reducing airflow to the underbelly of the ar is key, making sure that the design allows for air to travel around and above the car to reduce resistance.

  4. Raise a wheel: This may seem silly but it is a common trick to raise one of the front wheels just a tad so that it does not have contact with the track, thus reducing rolling resistance.

  5. Hollow out wheels: Reducing the weight on the inside of the wheels can really give your car a good head start on that initial downslope. Keep in mind that this method does not work well for tracks with a long flat to the finish.

  6. No paint or decals: Some people swear by leaving the car bare as it will allow them extra play in weight for weighting the car to increase speed. Although minimal, some say it is the very thing that led to victory!

  7. Test those wheels: There is a lot of tuning involved in making one of these cars, and one of them is identifying any wheels that may not be performing optimally. Hold the car in your hand and run all four wheels on the ground, turn it over and find the best spinning wheel. Tune all other wheels to get them going just as well.

  8. Use a lubricant: To keep those wheels spinning fast after coming off that slope, you need a good lubricant! There’s often rules set for lube, and usually it’s that you can only use graphite powder.

  9. Cutting the axles: Cutting grooves in the axles where the wheels sit is a good way to hold the lube in for longer! There’s various different methods that people use but one involves making 2 small grooves where the wheel sits and cutting the axle diameter just slightly.

  10. Side weights: Many people report great success by weighting the sides of the cars, more toward the rear, and level with the bottom of the car before painting. This reportedly helps with speed!

Are you going to use any of these tips when constructing your Pinewood Derby racer?

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The Pinewood Derby is a time intended to give the Cub Scout much-needed quality time with his caregivers by helping to make the car with them.

Parents: I know it can be tempting to take over the project in the name of winning, but let your child help as it gives them a reason to be proud for placing at all!

Always remember: Slow and steady wins the race, said no Cub Scout ever!

Easy Pinewood Derby Car Design Wins using Science!

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