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How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.


Packs around the country are preparing to hold their annual pinewood derby. There are many ways to make your pinewood derby car go faster. Here are some of them.

General Guidelines for Pinewood Derby Car Design

The possibilities are endless when it comes to picking a shape for your pinewood derby car. Before you begin, consider the following guidelines:

Avoid designs with a pointed nose. A pointed nose will make it difficult for your pinewood derby car to rest on the pin at the starting gate. It may also cause your pinewood derby car to get bumped around when the pin drops, and it can create problems for electronic timing systems.

Leave enough wood in the rear of the pinewood derby car so you can place additional weight there. You will end up putting most of the weight in the rear of the pinewood derby car.

Make the maximum weight. Your car should weigh as much as it’s allowed. In most races, that’s 5 ounces. If your car weighs less than that, add coins or other weights.

Be sure that it is very clear which end of your pinewood derby car is the front and which end is the back. In many races, the race officials —- not you -— will actually place each pinewood derby car on the track. Sometimes the officials put the pinewood derby car on the track backward because they can’t tell which end is which.

Choose a design that allows the air to move over and around the pinewood derby car body in a smooth manner. Pinewood derby cars with aerodynamic profiles go faster.


Designing the Ultimate Pinewood Derby Car

You don’t have to strive for the “ultimate pinewood derby car” to build a fast car and have fun competing in your pinewood derby. But if you and a helpful adult are willing to put in the extra time and effort, these tips are for you.

Bake the Block: Start with your block of wood, and before you do anything else, bake it in the oven at 250 degrees for around two hours to remove moisture and make it lighter.

pinespeed4Create the Design: Select a fast design. A rectangular car is not an aerodynamic design. The most basic aerodynamic design is a simple wedge. If you don’t have time to design a complex car, a wedge will work just fine.

Cut the Design: Draw the outline of your pinewood derby car on a sheet of paper, cut it out and attach it to your block of wood.

Make a Three-Wheeler: Raise one wheel about 1/16 inch higher so it never actually touches the track. Less friction = more speed. Rules vary from pack to pack, so make sure this is allowed in your race.

Extend the Wheelbase: The front and rear wheels should be as far apart as possible.

Determine Weight Placement: A heavier rear increases speed. Add weight to the rear of your pinewood derby car. Remember to make your car as heavy as the rules allow.

Create Glue Holes: Glue the axles firmly in their holes to ensure that they stay perfectly placed.

Sand the Pinewood Derby Car: Make it smooth to reduce friction.

Lubricate the Wheel Well: The less friction between the body and wheel, the better.

Click here for more speed tips from a former NASA engineer


Choosing and Polishing Your Axles and Wheels

The quality of your axles and wheels may be the most important factor in building a fast car. Here’s how to choose and polish your axles and wheels.

derby2.jpg1. Start with a set of raw axles.

2. Can you tell the difference between the axles in the top row and the ones on the bottom? The ones on the bottom aren’t straight and will slow your car.

3. To tell which are straight and which aren’t, mark each axle with a marker about 1/2 inch from the pointed end.

4. Have an adult clamp a power drill into a vise, a device that will hold it perfectly still.

5. Have an adult help you clamp each axle into the drill at the location you marked in Step 3. Have the adult turn on the drill.

wobble-200x2006. Bent axles will wobble as they turn in the drill. Straight axles will hardly wobble at all. Pick the ones that wobble least.

7. Once you’ve selected the four straightest axles, use a file or fine-grit sandpaper to remove small burrs and mold marks that can cause friction and slow a car. These imperfections should be removed from both the axles and the wheels.

8. Use polishing compound from the auto supply store to polish the wheels and axles. One easy way to do this is to clamp the axles back in the drill and let the drill spin the axle while you polish it.

9. When you install the axles and wheels, make sure they are aligned perfectly straight. You can test the alignment of your axles by pushing your car across a smooth floor or table. It should roll in a straight line.

10. Don’t forget to add graphite or another dry lubricant to your wheels and axles.

Remember: The No. 1 rule of a pinewood derby is that it’s supposed to be fun. While you should always strive to do your best, don’t get caught up in winning. Just enjoy the ride.

Adapted from the book “Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets,” DK Publishing, $12.95 softcover.

More pinewood derby fun:

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36 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. neonnissan55 // December 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm // Reply

    man this helped alot my indy car has never lost

  2. yummy

  3. WOW this stuff really helped i scored 1st place and went to the nationals:)but there I got 2nd place out of 10!😦

  4. Zeoranger3blue // October 23, 2011 at 7:14 pm // Reply

    I got 4th place in my pack in my 1st year

  5. whodathunkit // October 2, 2011 at 9:54 am // Reply

    I like to mold match the wheels. look for the numbers inside
    the wheel.

  6. sniffin in da kitchen // September 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm // Reply

    does the front weight thing work?

    • No, it is just the opposite; the farther back the weight is the longer the car has to pick up speed. You want the weight back far enough to where the center of gravity is about 1.25″ ahead of the real axle; being too far back can make the front too light and jump off of the track = broken car/axles. Good luck!

  7. Do not make a pickup truck mine was very slow

  8. Whatever you do do not make a pickup truck ans a PW car it goes really slow but i won the best in show for mine that had a bed with fence posts in it and a tool box (the fence posts where weights)it was awesome but it didnt go fast.

  9. videogame freak // June 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm // Reply

    it is a really AWSOME game.Translation:I LOVE IT!

  10. skatebored dude // May 27, 2011 at 9:04 am // Reply

    i usually shape my car like a skateboard. but ive seen lots of cool cars like hersheys bars. sometimes i wish those ones where made out of real chocolate.

  11. i guess this website is cool. The next race i get into is gonna be a mario cart. Whos with me peoples!

    i havent one one quite yet but ive only done 2 races

  12. these secrets are awesome!!!

  13. hate this

  14. squrrel boy // April 24, 2011 at 9:11 am // Reply

    nice good thinking

  15. you should sand the axles.the key to winning is to make your car low and short. Also, make the back have a little more weight than the front.

  16. JustinTime // March 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm // Reply

    I was winning heat after heat, and then in the gold medal race my car was going so fast it went airborne and flipped over, took out 2 other cars and some fans watching along the side and finally crashed into my cubmaster and knocked him out cold.

  17. We had multiple injuries at our PW derby. One racers wheels flew off and struck spectators in the stands sending them to the emergency room. The driver of the racer only suffered minor cuts and bruises.

  18. mighty crumb // March 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm // Reply

    Only helps a little bit.

  19. Used the ultimate plans for our first derby car. Scored 4th place out of 28 cars. the difference between 1st and 4th was .03 seconds!I still can add 2 grans to car since the max was 142 grans and our car was 140.only change to design was couldnt use quick start paper clip trick. we are off to district in 3 weeks.

  20. idea for car. battery.

  21. Ideas for a car. Staple remover. Stapler. Crayon. Hedgehog. Ruler.

  22. well i think this is cool except for one thing… around here in minnesota it’s cold and it’s snowing so i can’t go outside toget that booklet so right now i’m trying to find things for my pinewood derby car like some attachment that would make it better but i’m having trouble😥 please help! P.S i think all i need is some tips like gresse or something for the wheels ofmy car so it can go faster, of course if it’s allowed.

  23. To Tiger Tank, what did you do with your wheel alignment to make it different than it is? I am building a tank and would like the advice. Thanks!

  24. i agree with riggo. aerodynamics has no effect on the car design. my dad did a test with a block and a totally aerodynamic car, and they both finished at the same time

  25. If you have a perfectly flat car, be very careful. If you don’t position the weights just right, and too little weight, the car flies off the track. Be Prepared.

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