How To Build a Pinewood Derby Car/Preface
The pinewood derby is an annual event of the Cub Scouts (the young-age division of the Boy Scouts of America). It is the most popular event for many Scouts and is probably the best known Scouting event among non-Scouts. Other groups and organizations, such as Awana, and civic clubs also host pine car races under different names.
The Scout is given a block of wood made of pine with two notches for wheels, four plastic wheels and four nails. The finished car must use all nine pieces, must not exceed a certain weight (usually five ounces), must not exceed a certain length and must fit on the track used by that particular scout pack. The parent, usually the father, but occasionally the mother or grandparent often spends substantial time "helping" the child design, carve, paint, add weights, and tune the final car. Judging often goes to the best looking car, but sometimes is awarded to a car that looks like it was assembled by an elementary school child.
Other than the previous basic design rules, the Cub Scout is able to carve and decorate the car as he chooses. Many Cub Scouts also add weights to the final design to bring the car to the maximum allowable weight. Cars typically vary from unfinished blocks to whimsical objects, to accurate replicas of actual cars. The fastest cars tend to resemble low doorstops, with weight at the rear. Graphite is usually the only lubricant allowed, as it often helps to polish the provided nails.
The track usually has three or four lanes and slopes down to the ground as the cars are powered by gravity. Tracks may be owned by the pack, or rented. The race is run in heats, giving every car the chance to run on each lane. The racers can be grouped with others from the same rank (Tiger Cubs, Wolf Cubs, Bear Cubs, etc.), or can compete against the pack as a whole.
The first, second, and third place winners usually receive ribbons, medals or trophies. Some packs also award on the basis of car design. The first place race winners get to go on to race first place race winners from the entire district, then each of the district-wide race winners get to race each other from across the entire council.
Cubmaster Don Murphy organized the first pinewood derby, which was raced on May 15, 1953 in Manhattan Beach, California, by Pack 280C. Murphy's son was too young to participate in the popular Soap Box Derby races, so he came up with the idea of racing miniature wood cars. The cars had the same gravity-powered concept as the full-size Soap Box Derby cars, but were much smaller and easier to build.
In the 1980s, the design of the block was changed from a cutout block, consistent with a 1940's style front-engined Indy 500 car, to a solid block. The tires were also changed from narrow, hard plastic, to wider flat-bottomed wheels. Blocks can be whittled with a hand knife, but this is considered dangerous for young boys. It is usually better for a trained adult to use a band saw or Dremel carving tool for major shaping. Decals can be bought at scout shops or hobby shops. The original style is based on open wheel cars, however, fender or body kits are available, or wheels can simply be placed outboard of the body.
Since 1953, millions of young people have built pinewood derby cars. The competitive pinewood derby races, which were the subject of the 2005 motion picture Down and Derby, remain very popular and are a highlight of each year in many Cub Scout packs. Similar racing activities are the raingutter regatta with boats, and a rubber band powered rocket race, or space derby.
Races in Canada
In Canada, the equivalent is the kub kar, raced by Cubs. It uses the same basic pine block, nails, and plastic wheels kit. There are similar restrictions and guidelines for both construction and racing. A kub kar event could also include other activities such as: rolling the car along the floor along a pre-determined path, trying to roll the car as close as possible to a target, knocking over targets, trying to pass through different sized holes, etc. Typically, a rally will also include various awards to reward some of the Cubs for their designing skills. While kub kars are very popular among the 8-10 year olds, younger members of Scouting can try "Beaver Buggies" while the older members can make and race pickup trucks and 18-wheelers.
Other pine car races
Strictly speaking, only the Boy Scouts of America can organize a pinewood derby. But many other organizations hold similar functions using different names and slightly different cars. They all involve a basic pine wood block, plastic wheels, and basic axles.
- YMCA ran their pinewood derby soon after Don Murphy ran the first pinewood derby.
- Awana (a religious organization for young people, which is popular in many churches) organizes pine wood car races each year using the name Awana Grand Prix.
- Christian Service Brigade organizes pine car races using the name Shape N Race Derby.
- Other groups organizing similar races under a variety of names include Royal Rangers (an Assemblies of God organization), and Royal Ambassadors (a Southern Baptist organization).
- The Woodcar Independent Racing League WIRL was the first national organization formed to promote the sport of pinewood derby racing for all ages.