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!
The pinewood derby was started in 1953 by Don Murphy. A page explaining the history of pinewood derby on pinewoodpro.com 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.
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!
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
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.
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.
Pinewood derby Champ Camps are hosted by many councils for boys to build their cars with all resources available at their local council office.
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!