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Pinewood Derby Rules, Part 1

November 26th, 2006 · 5 Comments

Are you putting together a Pinewood Derby race? Charged with assembling a set of rules? You might be wanting to create a bunch of rules designed to ensure with absolute certainty that the kids will build the cars, not the dads. You want to prohibit springs, shaped wheels, changing axle locations, and exotic lubricants. You think this will make the race more fair.

This is the first in a series of articles aimed at race officials. In the series you’ll learn why complicated rules hurt the kids and the integrity of the race.

In sports, the kid who’s faster, stronger, and more skilled than the rest is praised. His talents are rewarded. But in pinewood derby, the geeky kids who like math and physics are told that their talents are an unfair advantage. The kids who spend the time researching the science behind building a winning car are considered cheaters and next year we’re going to create a rule to prevent them from being creative and coming up with new ideas.

Sure, there are some dads who will do lots of the work on the cars and build an unfairly fast car. But do you think your rules and restrictions are preventing this? All you’re doing is eliminating the easy adjustments the average kid can make and understand. The complicated tricks and techniques aren’t prohibited and you’ve just made it more likely that the winning car was built by dad.

My car last year had four-wheel independent suspension, low-energy wheels, a low-inertia design, and minimized braking friction with all the advantages of bushings and washers. It was something that no kid is likely to be able to build. It was also completely legal according to most sets of rules I’ve seen.

What are you going to do when a kid enters a car like that?


5 comments so far ↓

  • Richrd Ver Steeg // Aug 12, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Completely legal according to most sets of
    rules I’ve seen…

    Excluding the official rules published by the Boy Scouts which explicitly prohibit all the things you list. But of course packs can and do come up with their own rules.

  • Adam Kalsey // Aug 12, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Richard, there’s really no such thing as “official rules” from the BSA. At least not to the extent that most people believe there are. That’s why races beyond a district or council are problematic; you get kids using cars built with different sets of rules.

    Here’s all the sheet inside the kit says about restrictions on car construction:


    • Width: - 2-3/4″ - Length - 7″ - Weight - Not over 5 Ounces
    • Width between wheels - 1-3/4″
    • Bottom clearance between can and track - 3/8″

    Wheel bearings, washers, and bushings are prohibited. The car shall not ride on springs. Only official Cub Scout Grand Prix Pinewood Derby wheels and axles are permitted. Only dry lubricant is permitted.

    My car…

    used independent suspension, but contained no springs.

    had mirror surfaces between all moving parts, but contained no washers

    had a perfect fit with low-friction between the axles and wheels, but did not use bushings.

    Not only does it fit into the rules above, but I’ve never seen a rule set that would exclude the things I did to this car.

  • Hypertech Pine // Jun 8, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I really hate the one rule about dry lubricants only. This is an old wives tale and should be banished as false information. Oil lubrication when properly used is completely undetectable. We redid our rules to NOT exclude it as anybody using it (there were a few we believe) could not be positively identified. Done correctly oil could be a slight advantage as compared to graphite only and when used in conjunction with the proper oil in the correct manner it has a two fold advantage.
    We wrote our rules to say there shall be no dripping or visible wet lubricant on the car or wheels, which eliminated any track fouling concerns and had no problems what so ever since. Most importantly it eliminated an unenforceable rule. The bottom line here is don’t make rules you cant enforce at tech inspection or you open up the door to those who will abuse the system. Its much easier and fairer to just allow these things. If you cant prove something through visual inspection, all you are really doing is giving the rule benders an advantage. It only takes one to abuse it, think about it.

  • D. Shawn Racing // Feb 16, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Completely Agree with Hypertech, Rules are only as good as you can enforce them. The “Dry Lubricants” only is just plain silly. I think the no-canting rule is silly too. You can visually check for a cant, but our council rules suggest 80% of the wheel tread should be touching the surface. How are you going to enforce that? We all know you can cant a car enough to where the wheels will work themselves out to the heads and still allow the car to pass an inspection when placed fast on the table.

    Lastly, How can any Dad who really wants to help his son build a fast car use the contents of the standard BSA kit? They are such trash. You would spend more money buying those stupid tools to help you machine the contents, than a small investment in some descent wheels and axles from a reputable website.

    Building a Fast Car takes time and quality materials. The Dad that complains about cheaters, is the lazy Dad that snaps his weights and wheels on the day of and expects to place. And if he doesn’t ? well, everyone else cheated.. NO, the faster cars most decorative cars likely had a Dad that actually cared about the project to spend some time with his son. Rules to Enforce include Weight, car dimensions, gravity powered, and perhaps wheel base and Wheel Mass and shape. Other than that, let it go! And Have fun RACING!

  • Bill Klingler // Feb 14, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I wanted to send in a comment but then I decided to just have everyone re-read D. Shawn Racing. That’s the way it should be.

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