Pinewood Derby Car
Ghostbusters made by a UNPC, High Uintah District Scout.

Racing pinewood derby cars is one of the most fun activities in Cub Scouts. The Scouts get to work with their parents and scout leaders to construct fun cars of every design and race them against each other. This article teaches the fastest pinewood derby car designs, following pinewood derby rules. But before we get into that, have you ever wondered how the pinewood derby got started in the BSA?

Remember there are awards for creativity too!

Pinewood Derby History

the first pinewood derby
The first pinewood derby, 1953.

The pinewood derby was started in 1953 by Don Murphy. A page explaining the history of pinewood derby on is linked in the title above. Back in 1953, the Scouts did boxcar racing. Don Murphy wanted his son to participate, but he was still a Cub Scout, and it was too dangerous for his son. So Don Murphy made little cars out of wood and built a track with some other leaders that made an electric finish line, and the pinewood derby was born. Murphy pitched the idea to BSA, who implemented the activity.

The October 1954 issue of Boys’ Life carried the first description of the pinewood derby. Now, their online platform still talks about car designs. We will take a look at one of these articles after discussing the rules.

Pinewood Derby Rules

The rules can vary slightly depending on the competition, but the core pinewood derby rules remain the same and are outlined in the title’s link above. Below are these rules!

Pinewood derby car

It is important to limit the weight and size of the cars to eliminate unfair advantages. 

Winning Pinewood Derby Designs and Ideas

An article on Boy’s Life, a BSA magazine and blog, called “Use Science to Build the Fastest Pinewood Derby Car” gives great guidelines for creating a car that uses physics to its  advantage. Here, Mark Rober gives his 7 steps to building a fast pinewood derby car:

1. Max out your Pinewood Derby car’s weight at 5 ounces

2. Use lightweight wheels

3. Use bent polished axles

4. Railride

5. Create a Pinewood Derby car that is reasonably aerodynamic

6. Ride on three wheels by raising one wheel off the track

7. Use lots of graphite (an the axles to reduce friction)

Read his article to learn more about each of these techniques!

Fastest Pinewood Derby Car

When I was in Cub Scouts in California, my dad got very involved in the pinewood derby. He researched all sorts of different winning car designs and found the ultimate, fastest pinewood derby car out there. This design, featured in the image below, as long as you follow the 7 principles outlined in Boy’s Life, will not lose!


This car is so elite that there aren’t even any great photos of it on the internet! No one wants competitors to know the secret. 

The key advantage to this pinewood derby car design is its quick start function. A Pinewood derby track starts each car simultaneously. The starter pulls a lever which drops the pegs toward the slits you see in the image below. Notice how each of the cars in this image rest on the pegs the same way. But this fast car design has a forked front end, with a wire that runs across it on a higher plane. When this car is on the starting line, the wire is what makes contact with the peg, and as the peg begins to drop, the car is already in motion. Whereas other cars cannot start moving until the peg is all the way down. This quick start feature gives the car nearly a two-inch advantage right from the start! The foil on the wire is to ensure that the electrical sensor in the finish line registers the front-most part of the car as it finishes.

fastest pinewood derby car

Other than the quick start function, this design is sleek and aerodynamic, with most of the weight in the back. Use the Boy’s Life article, applying those 7 steps to this car design, and you’ll have a sure winner.

Champ Camps

Pinewood derby Champ Camps are hosted by many councils for boys to build their cars with all resources available at their local council office. 

fastest pinewood derby car

Check in with your local council to see if they are hosting a Champ Camp!


Comment below a pinewood derby car design you have won with!


  1. Avatar
    steve says:

    A car that rests past the starting peg, but has a device which causes it to trip the sensor would be illegal in our races. You’re basically getting a 2 inch advantage on all the other cars (you’re also starting lower with less potential energy)

  2. Avatar
    Ann says:

    How about changing your article to read that scouts work with an adult to build the car. Could be an awesome mom like me that helps him build it.
    Very sexist to say the boy spends time with his father only.
    Welcome to 2019.

    1. Avatar
      Jason says:

      I don’t believe he was trying to be sexist. This program is here so sons can bond with their father. In this time and age, many fathers are not present and many mothers do have to step up. There is a show out there right now called dance moms. Why not dance guardians? Because mostly moms are involved with dance. Forgive this young man for typing the political incorrect statement.

    2. Avatar
      Alicia says:

      I have been building pinewood derby cars with my boys for eight years. My husband has nothing to do with it. And we have learned a lot over the years. Dads do plenty, moms can definitely help their sons. My boys always come to me. My husband thinks we are too competitive. Go moms!

    3. Madison Austin
      Madison Austin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ann! We totally agree that moms do and can help their youth with their cars and have edited the article to reflect that.

    4. Avatar
      Lonely Mom says:

      Doubt it was the intention of the article drafter. It just makes sense, to be fair. But… now everyone knows how YOU feel, and that’s what really matters.

    1. Avatar
      Alicia says:

      That’s dumb. Not in our pack. Unless we just have lax rules. We also give out like 20 trophies…so we are essentially setting these kids up for failure in the real world. No rules…too many awards. We are horrible. And we do free raffle prizes.

    1. Avatar
      Alicia says:

      Here’s the thing. Ive been to so many of these workshops. The body of the car isn’t the driving force behind its speed. Its the wheels axles and alignment. The car with the smoothest lightest most polished wheels and axles that is aligned perfectly will be faster than a car without. Little seven year olds struggle with those tiny blocks and band saws. I see no harm in having the boy draw the design out and having the dad cut the body. Kids should be able to put the weights, paint, wheels, and axles on themselves. Then they can fix the alignment. Many people assume that if the dad cut the boy out the kid didn’t build the car. It’s a family project. Unless they change the rules to say that parents need not get involved and have the kids build them at den meetings. I for one love the pinewood derby, and it has been fun learning about the science behind it. There is plenty of time for life lessons and failing on your own. Leave it out of cub scouts.

  3. Avatar
    Ashley Riddle says:

    My nephew has been in Boy Scouts for a few months now and he seems to love every minute and has been learning great life skills. Brandon called me for help, and I could hear the heartbreak in his voice. He has been having trouble making his pinewood derby car, and Brandon’s dad usually helps him, but Chris is an active marine and is currently overseas, and my sister is a fashion statement (She knows nothing about building anything haha) Without hesitation or even knowing what I was doing, I jumped in my car to go help. I decided to go online and try to find some information on what to do and I found your page which was great for beginners and helped us out so much.
    I decided to keep looking just so we didn’t miss anything when Brandon was on his laptop. He brought a great page to my attention. gives you every little detail you need, and it was pretty neat to be able to learn with Bran about how the Pinewood Derby became what it is today. This article gave us tons of information on what we needed for supplies, rules, designs and kits, and a lot more. Brandon thought you could add this to your page? After a few days, both pages helped us in making our car fast, in the weight requirement, understanding the race, and were great for first timers like us. Thanks again for all the help.

    1. Avatar
      Adam says:

      Want help with a pinewood derby car? Send me his Axels and wheels, im no pro but my son just took first in his pack. I did alot of studying and was tired of my kids going home frome losing to the pre built purchased cars. I think I have it narrowed down.

  4. Joyce Olesen
    Joyce Olesen ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I like the idea of the Pinewood Derby. Making a winning car takes a lot of Dad and Cub leaders time.
    This makes it difficult for Cubs without a father present. Please reach out to these kids, because I am sure your concept of the winning car sets them up to loose. Do Cubs who make their own cars ever win? Perhaps it should be run in two categories. One made by the Cubs, and the other with lots of Dad’s help. It would help to make it fair.

    1. Avatar
      Christine says:

      my son, who was 8 years old when he made his car by himself, won not only his den but his pack championship too! the previous year where one of the local “dad’s” helped, he came in last. So in answer to your question, no, the kids whose fathers made their cars for them didn’t win. even if the car does win, it’s not for the kid because it wasn’t earned. As My son said, it meant more to him when he won doing it all on his own then it would have if he hadn’t done any of the work. And thankfully they didn’t cheapen it by giving everyone “participation trophies”

  5. Avatar
    Bryce says:

    Actually this car will only win on a wood track. The steel tracks drop much quicker and this type car can be beaten every time. Trust me I watched it lose. New steel tracks prove to be much faster dropping system than wood.

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