Pinewood Derby

Pinewood Derby Car Design Tips

The Pinewood Derby has been drawing Cub Scouts together for a day of competition since 1953. The noble goal of the derby is to foster a stronger relationship between the Cub Scout and his parent by working together to create a personalized, custom, one-of-a-kind car from a basic BSA kit. It is hoped that a scout feels pride in his work, enjoys the competition of racing against other scouts, and demonstrates good sportsmanship whether he wins or not.

Pinewood Truths
I've been through 6 years of Pinewood Derbies with my sons. The first year was a rude awakening to the reality of Pinewood Derbies. These are the few truths I discovered:

After the first derby, I sat down with my sons and we talked about the various levels of craftmanship and speed we had seen. They decided that next year they would try to win the Most Creative award instead of the Fastest Car because the scouts all voted on the Most Creative. They recognized that some scouts did very little work on their car because the scouts told them. They also didn't care about not being fastest. They were already talking about cool designs for next year and asking me if I would do the sawing again - that's all I ever did on their cars. Every year, I also made my own car on which I could demonstrate my creative abilities.

I believe the Pinewood Derby is a wonderful opportunity for a son and parent to have a great time working with wood, learning about friction and gravity, being creative, and just having an excellent time together. As long as the parent emphasizes that they are participating together and does not take over the project, the derby is great. I think the team needs to set a few goals and guidelines before the derby car kit is even opened:

While my scouts were not too concerned about speed, I was very interested. Some of those cars just flew down the track and I wanted to know how. After hours of research, I learned all the tricks for a fast car and I learned the Pinewood Derby is Big Business with a myriad selection of tools, templates, plans, and designs for a dad to purchase in an effort to help his scout bring home a trophy. I decided to try some of the free speed tricks myself - I won the pack's adult competition. The following tips tell you the most important pinewood derby car design concepts. Doing just the first few will make a huge impact on your performance.

Pinewood Derby Car Design Tips

These tips are in order of the most important first. If you have wheels as smooth as glass on axles that are misaligned, it will do no good.These are all modifications scouts with adult help can make on their standard kit. There are also many different tools available to help with the more advanced tasks such as polishing axles. And, it's even possible to just purchase pre-polished axles and wheels.

Design Modifications

In a bid to make superfast cars, some folks have modified the design in ways that are often outside the rulebook. These modifications also tend to be outside the skill level of a cub scout. I don't recommend doing these unless you have an unlimited category for adults.

For many Pinewood Resources, check out my Pinewood Links page.

 Feb 20, 2012 - Branden Griffin
I'm seven and my grandpa is helping me.
Feb 25, 2012 - Suzy Lentchner
Some of the suggestions on this page, such as shaving the wheels & using a paper "bushing" are against BSA race rules, and the cars would be disqualified before the race begins.
Feb 25, 2012 - Scouter Paul
Suzy - that's correct, and that's why it says "I don't recommend doing these unless you have an unlimited category for adults" in the Design Modifications section above.
Feb 29, 2012 - Vicki Podzemny
Thank-you for the tips. Hopefully my son has a chase now. No one told him to put weights on his car. Just said not to go over 5oz.
Nov 18, 2012 - Gary
My son is a Tiger scout and this is our first pinewood derby. Are there any good sites or areas on the web to go to for design ideas or suggestions? I am trying to find ideas or help to get started. We just received our kit and have about 2 months to get it together. I am glad to have some time to work on this.

Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.
Nov 18, 2012 - Scouter Paul
Gary - There's a link right above that lists a lot of sites to check out.  There are now many performance products available at your local scout shop or at also.
Dec 02, 2012 - Judy
Wow that is so cool. My son did an experiment and actually he came up with the conclusion that if you put the weight in the front the car will go faster. I think that a lot of scouts put their weight in front the last time I went to the Pinewood Derby Race. They also made the front of the car pointy and put lots of weight on their car. My son didn't win but he didn't know much about all these tips :) Thanks, Boy Scout Trail. I'll be sure to share this with my son. Hopefully he'll win this time! ;)
Dec 27, 2012 - Joyce
Scouter Paul, Thank you so much for starting your article with the reminder that Pinewood Derby is for our boys not for the adults. If you want to win make a car for yourself.  Letting your son do the majority of the work sends the message you have confidence in their ablilities and imagination.  We did six derby's with my older son and we are in our second year with our youngest. The pride they displayed when it was finished was worth more than any trophy or certificate.  Also thanks for the tips.
Jan 11, 2013 - 2Girls4Speed
Thanks I love the tips. I have two girls, and this year the church is allowing the girls to build cars too. They are definitely interested in the look of the car way more than its speed. As a dad, I do hope a girl beats all those boys though.  :)
Jan 12, 2013 - Scouter Paul
2Girls - I hope the girls race in a 'siblings' category rather than against the Cub Scouts.  That would be the appropriate way to allow them to race.  Some Packs also have a 'Parents' or 'Unlimited' category for those that really want to race, but still keep it fun for the Scouts to race against each other.
Feb 06, 2013 - Michael
Our pack gives every cubscout 2 kits, 1 for them and 1 for their adult partner. We also have classes on a couple of Saturdays to help get evrybody up to speed. I'm proud of our boys and their cars. We have some very close races.
Feb 06, 2013 - Scouter Paul
Michael - That sounds like a great way to encourage an 'adult' car and race separate from the Cubs race.  There are soooo many accessories, tools, and gadgets available at the Scout Shop for Pinewood racers, a class is probably very helpful.
Feb 07, 2013 - Twila
lowes and dremmel tools also hold pinewood derby work shops
in January and Febuary.they have a lot of good tips and show the kids how to use tools to more work on their on.
Jan 02, 2014 - Brice
So where is the line drawn between it being a boys car that a dad helped with and a car that a dad made? My boy made the design, drew it on, suggested modifications and painted it.  I have done all the cutting and detail. I know it can't be avoided but if we won I am sure others would think my boy had not made it. Fair enough. Just would like to know what others view as acceptable.
Jan 02, 2014 - Scouter Paul
@Brice - There is no line.  It's a very wide smudge, interpreted differently by everyone.  My view is that an adult should do the work that could be dangerous to the scout, such as bandsaw, power sander, and the like.
The scout can do everything else.  Getting the axles in straight is one area where an adult's help would make a big difference.
Jan 28, 2014 - Cubmaster Paul
For free body design templates, check out this website:

Lots of designs to choose from.

Thanks to Dan Kipp who posted this information on the new Best Practices Portal on the BSA website -
Feb 01, 2014 - Brian
@ Brice, a 7-10 year old boy will not have the know how to build a car. The most important part is to spend time together, teach techniques in building the car, and let them do everything they are capable of doing. All boys are different and require different amount of help.
Feb 14, 2014 - Robert Wells
As a grandfather new to this grand prix, I would like to see a picture of a typical car. Also not everyone has a   scale accurate enough to measure 5 ounces. Is there a convenient equivalent in so many nickels, dimes or whatever?
Feb 14, 2014 - Robert
@Robert Wells,  most post offices will weigh your car with their scales free of charge.  Just don't try to do it during their busy time.  Also be prepared to make minor adjustments at the derby weigh in if there is a small difference in scale accuracy.
Mar 01, 2014 - Paul
Im building my first derby car with my son and trying to remember all my Dad's tricks, he helped my brothers and me build two 1st place cars and one 2nd place car. The most important thing though is involving my son and teaching him sportsmanship and fairness. I remember sanding my cars, polishing wheels and axles and helping with painting. Axles were totally Dad's domain since they were so critical to the cars running well.  One tip I will share, he would incorporate a small box in the design and buy 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 oz crimp on type fishing weights.  This allowed quick adjustments if the judges scales read differently from our scales...we could quickly and easily add or remove weight and keep the car at 5 oz.  Have fun with your sons and daughters and teach em good scout values!!!
Mar 02, 2014 - Angry Dad
My son loves the derby and doesn't even try to build a car to win.  He just loves cutting and painting the car.  This year it is part painted and part drawn.  Personally it's a little embarrassing BUT he is proud of his unique creation and that is what the derby is all about (in my opinion).  Have races for the parents if they want a "professional" looking car but let the boys just have fun with it.

Mar 04, 2014 - Becky
In our rules it says not to use washers and stuff, as weights, and then to read online to use quarters to help weight the cars. Aren't they about the same. What do you suggest to use as weights, that would  be laying around the house? And do you think front or back to place weights for speed?
Mar 04, 2014 - Scouter Paul
@Becky - Fishing "pencil weights" are small, easy to cut, and cheap.  Or, the BSA has tons of Pinewood accessories available, including official sets of weights.  See all of it at:

If you read the content above, you'll see information about weight placement.  Back is better for speed, but may affect holding the line down the track.

Mar 04, 2014 - Tim
as to weight placement, if you run om a long track place your weights toward the back, 1/3rd past the back axle 2/3 in front of the axle.I drill in from the bottom and put them as high up as possible or use the dome weight from the store. If you have a short track move the weight forward toward the center. weight in back pushes the car at bottom ,weight in center goes faster down slop. We race on 2 tracks one long one short and I move weights for each race.
Jan 13, 2015 - David
Our pack has an "akela" category.  The idea is to prevent parents from taking over the cubs' cars. We also allow siblings - they race with the dens of their age. I make a very intricate car every year - slow but fun. For good or bad, my kids follow that example, and design beyond their own ability, but each year they can handle more and more of their own build.
Apr 27, 2015 - Joe
Be sure of the rules for YOUR Pack to avoid disappointment on race day. Rules can vary from Pack to Pack so be sure to check and to have a printed copy of those rules.

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