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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.

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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.


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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


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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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45 Comments on How to make a fast pinewood derby car

  1. last year, I did a banana car and got 1st placee!

  2. dragonpatrol // January 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm // Reply

    anyone ever seen a leggo-themed car?

    • Re: Legos-themed car: Two years ago my son covered his car in Legos. We cut the car wood block in half, and then covered the car with the thinnest-style Legos. We thought it looked ptryy cool, but it didn’t win any “original design” awards…

    • Danthemadhatter // January 16, 2010 at 9:23 am // Reply

      No, we did a Wii remote last year. This year we are doing a solar system with planets and a sun

    • Lego themed cars never win. Make your wheels parallel to each other and make your car aerodynamic; I used those tips and I was in a three way tie for first. p.s. now I’m a boy scout and help out at the races.

      • by the way use the spell checker by right clicking on the red underlined word. this will make it better for everybody.

    • We had two Lego cars this year. One looked like a long flat 8×2 board piece with a starwars character driving, the other was a half-pipe with Lego characters skate boarding in it.

  3. thanks alot! I really needed these tips!

  4. I don’t care about winning. I just like cool cars.

  5. why is it called “boy’s life” …im a girl..and i can assure u that im no boy!!!

  6. I find this very helpfull. My son won 1st place in den race YEA!

  7. less friction = more speed. i got 1st because one wheel never touched the track i won every race i beat the best people.

    • 3 wheelers (one wheel raised) are faster, but banned in many districts. Check your district rules first.

      • also some districts don’t allow baking or lubricating the axels so please check Your district rules before you begin making your car.

  8. TY a lot.
    These tips are very useful

  9. hay i mite trie to go

  10. my sons car won first in pack first in district and first in council finals. his car was undefeated in 2009,after we used secrets or pinewood derby cars..

  11. my car was a bannana and i got 1st place! (same trophy as the one in the video…)

  12. I really like this idea.;)

  13. This is the best idea ever.I got 2 place in the pinewood derby.

  14. chuchukies,. // October 28, 2009 at 10:51 am // Reply

    i like this.! ; )

  15. I would go with a more simple design.

  16. Heres a tip to win best sportsmanship trophy;shake everybodys hand that you race against thats how i won best sportsmanship

    • Great idea, Little Will!
      You know, you can’t make believe about good sportsmanship, so I think you must have been smiling and had a twinkle in your eye when you were shaking hands.
      Good for you!

  17. I beat my whole pack in 2008. Beat about half of District. But didn’t get any rewards.

  18. I will make mine look like a wing of an airplane

  19. PWD Enthusiast // August 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm // Reply

    Speed secrets book, Is a good book! Just keep in mind the rules for your pack’s race! (IT’S NO FUN IF YOU CANT RACE!) As some pack’s have strict rules! When it comes to the mod’s you can and cannot do to the wheels and axels and the car body! Desings and patterns book, Has a great way to walk you threw step by step, If your looking to build a cool car! The different car patterns in this book! Will have first time builders say wow!

  20. i like the tank

  21. on my car i extended the weal base and put the weights on the back and i also put grafite on the wheels (THAT MADE THE MOST DIFRENCE)

    those are my tips

  22. i just build a awsome award-winner. or i used to. im aboy scout now.=(

  23. Gustav Morticai // July 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm // Reply

    I prefer to try to make my cars look cool not just go fast

  24. in my first year in scouts (weblos1), i used similer tips and won against my whole pack!

  25. my son has won 7 races and used these tips

    • killer says // March 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm // Reply

      we have been doing these races for two years and these tips have really helped also I love your magazines

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