About the Competition | How to Build a Pinewood Derby Car | Official Rules
Important Notes | Pro Tips
About the Derby
The first Pinewood Derby was held on May 15, 1953, by Pack 280C in Manhattan Beach, California. By 1955, the event had become part of the official Cub Scout program.
While competitive, the derby really isn’t about winning. It’s meant to promote sportsmanship and good citizenship, personal achievement and bonding between the scout and the adult partner as they work together on the car. But most of all, it’s meant to be fun.
Keep these goals in mind as you’re working with your scout on their car. And remember … it’s their car, not yours. Let your scout do as much of the work as they are able.
About the Competition
We have our derby every year in January (check the calendar for the specific dates and times). Weigh-in is always the night before the race. This is where your scout’s car will be weighed and checked to make sure it fits inside the track and complies with all derby rules using the pack’s Inspection Registration Form.
Lions and Tigers compete in their own division. Wolf, Bear and Webelos scouts compete together in another. Siblings and adult family members can enter cars in the open division. In addition to the speed competition, cars are judged on design, with separate showmanship awards for younger and older scouts, plus a “Most Awesome” car voted on during the derby. Note that pack rules state that judging for the showmanship awards “will be heavily biased toward cars that are built predominantly by the Scout.”
Each car will race three times in each heat, once on each lane of the track. Times are recorded by computer. The times for each car are averaged and ranked by division to determine speed winners. This means your car could win all three heats and still not win the division, because you are racing the clock and not the car in the next lane.
Cars that finish first, second or third in pack speed or showmanship in both scout divisions (Lions and Tigers, older Cub Scouts) are eligible to compete in the Sweetwater Derby at the April Scout Show at Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.
How to Build a Pinewood Derby Car
IMPORTANT: Before you do anything else, familiarize yourself with the Inspection Registration Form. This vital document — used when your scout checks in their car — contains all the information you need to ensure your entry will meet all the pack’s rules and regulations.
Your scout will receive a Pinewood Derby kit at our December pack meeting (siblings and adults can purchase one for $5). This contains the basics for building a Pinewood Derby car, including an unfinished block of pinewood material, four wheels, nails for use as axles and a few stickers.
You’ll need to purchase additional supplies, such as paint, lubricant and other materials, separately.
Making a Pinewood Derby car involves three simple steps. First, choose a design. Second, cut, sand and decorate. Third, check-in and, if necessary, refine the design to meet weight and dimension limits and other rules.
Some scouts choose simple, basic designs. There’s nothing to say you can’t put four wheels on the plain block of wood and send it down the track. Others like to personalize their cars to reflect their own interests.
As you and your scout design the car, encourage them to think about accessories they may want to use and the placement of weights you may need to add to bring the car as close to 5 ounces as possible without going over.
Once your scout has settled on a design, you’ll need to assemble your supplies and get to work cutting, sanding and painting. You’ll want to sketch your design on the pinewood block to guide your initial rough cut.
Then use smaller cutting tools and sandpaper to finish the car’s shape. If you need to add weight to your car, drill or cut a space for them. Remember, weights can’t hang below the car or it won’t pass inspection, so you may need to countersink weights placed on the car’s undercarriage. Weights come in many styles, including panels with detachable segments, cylinders and spheres — even putty.
Finally, your scout will want to paint and embellish the car as desired. Just remember — paint and accessories add weight and can add to the length, height or clearance of your car, so you need to take that into account as you decorate.
Some dens hold Pinewood Derby workshop meetings to share tools, tips and knowledge as boys work on their cars. Ask your den leader if he or she is planning on holding one this year. Home Depot also holds Pinewood Derby clinics, but these are often timed for spring derbies.
At check-in, Boy Scouts will assist adult leaders in weighing, measuring and inspecting your son’s car to ensure it complies with all rules. If your car is rejected, you’ll have the opportunity to make changes and have your car re-inspected. You will leave your scout car overnight to ensure no changes are made between check-in and the race.
Design and Build Resources
- The Gwinnett County library system has several copies of books filled with information about how to design and build a Pinewood Derby Car. You can also purchase these books at the Scout Store, at ScoutStuff.org and on Amazon.
- Boy’s Life Pinewood Derby site
- BSA’s Pinewood Derby site
- Pinewood Pro (includes free tips and link to buy “Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets”)
Where to buy additional supplies and accessories
Please check the rules before you purchase or add any part or accessory to your son’s car! For instance, pack rules prohibit use of axles other than those that come in the kit.
- Scout Store
- Hobby Lobby
- Pinewood Pro
- Maximum Velocity
- Almost every scouting family has a story about “that Dad,” the one that sends his scout out to race with a perfectly sleek, impossibly shiny, perfectly tuned Pinewood Car that would be the envy of Detroit. Remember, while you are a crucial part of your family’s Pinewood Derby team in that parent and son need to work together to field a car, this isn’t just about you, being the best, or winning awards. It’s about working together as a team and helping teach your son sportsmanship, good citizenship and the value of personal effort. Those lessons won’t stick if you do all the work. It’s also not fair to other scouts whose parents insist that their scouts play an active role in designing, building and fielding their cars. By the same token, it’s not fair (or the point, or even safe) to require your scout to do everything. This should be thoroughly a team effort.
- BSA rules prohibit scouts from using power tools. It’s okay to use them, but they must be used by adults. The kids can use hand tools with proper supervision and safety gear. See the BSA guidelines for details, but above all, use common sense.
- Cars must be checked in the night before the derby is scheduled or will not be allowed to compete. There are no exceptions to this rule. There will be some tools available for use at the check-in, but to be certain you will be able to help your scout field a car, you may want to consider bringing tools you’ll need to add or remove weight, shave down wood, repair and replace axles and wheels, etc.
- On race day, encourage your scout to cheer for their denmates and other kids in the pack. While everyone wants to win, scouts want their friends to do well, too.
Here are some great tips for having a super Pinewood Derby experience, compiled from fellow pack members who have been there before:
Be careful how thin you make it if you intend to drill it later to add weight. We cracked our car nearly in half a couple to days before the race and had to glue it back together.
Get it close to the max weight, but don’t go over! We weighted our car up to where we thought it needed to be, but ended up a little short and taped quarters to the top. George Washington was our driver.
Let the scout choose the look of the car. The bulk of the fun should be in the building process.
Make sure your wheels are straight. Do an alignment using a string. Just like a real car, wheels that are not in alignment will cause scrubbing and extra friction.
Pick a fast color! 😉
Graphite is key!
Be sure all four wheels touch. This one gets more people than anything else.
Study the inspection registration form. That’s the most valuable document so parents know what it will take to pass inspection.