Pinewood Derby: Tips, memories and the ethics of it all!

Mario straight on compressed

This is my son's first Pinewood Derby car. He wanted a Mario Cart. We tried to put all the weight in the back. I've heard that will make it go faster.

Mario side view compressed

He's still got to put the wheels on and we need to weigh it to make sure it's under 5 ounces.


Editor’s Update: Our race was Saturday morning and my son’s Mario Cart won two of the three heats he raced in. We headed out for swimming lessons and came home to a note from his den leader: Walsh’s car won 3rd place for showmanship for the Tigers. (I think that means it was the third cutest car!) We were shocked it actually rolled, much less won anything. I was very impressed with how professional the races were.They used a computer program to flash up photos of each kid with stats on his race. They even had a program that timed how fast the cars went. They put on a very good show and all the boys had a big time!

As it is our first year in Boy Scouts, it is also our first Pinewood Derby this weekend!  I say that with more enthusiasm than my 6-year-old feels about it.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times before we are not handy people, and the Pinewood Derby does call for some level of handiness.

To be kind to the less handy in our den, our den leaders brought tools to the Scout hut so we could all work together on the project. I sent Michael to Girl Scouts with Rose and brought my handy Dad with me to help Walsh.

We wanted Walsh to actually cut the wood. He tried with a hand saw but didn’t have much fortitude. Dad and I took turns helping him carve out two simple pieces. He did a better job at sanding it and a decent job at painting it.

Things got ugly though when we decided to use Gorilla Glue to glue some things on the car. I didn’t know if puffed up. It’s not invisible glue.

Walsh knew exactly what kind of car he wanted to make – a Mario Cart – and he found a picture of it on the Internet.

You can look at Walsh’s car and clearly see that a 6-year-old did most of the work. A lot of the other cars look like the Dad got really into it. Is that bad? What are the rules on that?

I think he’ll be more excited about the car when we actually go to race. We’re checking in the car tonight. I have two problems though. I’ve still got to get the wheels in and I’ve got to figure out exactly how much it weighs. My scale at home isn’t sensitive enough to register under 5 ounces. I think I’m going to take the car to New Baby Products because they have a digital scale with ounces that people can weigh their baby on. I’m just going to weigh Walsh’s Mario Cart!

Tell us your best tips for designing a car and winning at the Pinewood Derby!

Whose car is it anyway? How much work can Dad legitimately do on it? Should the boys be expected to use woodworking tools or is that part Ok for Dad (or mom or grandpa) to help on?

Also, tell us your memories from the Pinewood Derby.

129 comments Add your comment

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Sandy

January 22nd, 2010
7:30 am

I’m soooo over these Twitter comments on here!

Phr

January 22nd, 2010
7:43 am

We just started getting ready for our Pinewood Derby. We helped Andrew more last year when he was a Tiger. I agree there are a lot of cars that look like the Dad’s made them. Some of the men in our Pack get really excited about the Pinewood Derby. They take it very seriously. I think it should be done by the kids. There are all kinds of tricks to make the cars faster on the Internet and some books. Good Luck!

DB

January 22nd, 2010
7:58 am

Haha — it’s the same parents who “help” with the science fair project to the point where the kid isn’t really sure what the project is about, or the ones that just “look over” a project paper and “make a few suggestions” that completely rewrite it. There’s a fine line between helping and being an active participant.

I LOVED the homemade cars at the Pinewood Derby. I think the mistake that a lot of parents make is expecting a five or six year old to have the same level of manual dexterity as a 10 or 11 year old. (not that the older ones often have that much more!) But you’re right — sometimes, the kids “conceive” the cars and the parents engineer them, which is too bad. I had to remind my husband to “back off” one year, when he was getting just a little too into it, to the point of trying to change my son’s mind about the color of the car. My son wanted orange — my husband wanted silver. I told him that if he wanted a silver car, he should have stayed in Scouts instead of dropping out when he was 9!

I LOVE Walsh’s car! It’s adorable and was obviously made with great enthusiasm, and THAT’s the whole point!

My son still has all his Pinewood Derby cars on a shelf in his room — including the orange one!

Photius

January 22nd, 2010
8:13 am

Pinewood Derby is terrible when a small lad actually does the work and then competes against someone who’s dad did all the work; the parents are disgusting and should be flogged for how they have corrupted this event.

Katie

January 22nd, 2010
8:30 am

Take it to the post office and use their scale :)

My dad was the scout master for years ( i have 4 younger brothers) so pinewood derby brings back LOTS of memories for me and my sister..Walsh will love it!

Spoken like a true...

January 22nd, 2010
8:31 am

…loser, Photius….

Mkay

January 22nd, 2010
8:42 am

One of my worst/humbling childhood memories is from the Pinewood Derby back in the mid 80s. I was completely oblivious to the fact that the dads helped their kids build their cars. So I did my best and built a car that kind of looks like the one shown here. It wasn’t great, but I tried my best. When I got to the Derby my car was by far the worst looking one there. I simply didn’t understand how the other kids could have built such awesome looking cars. I didn’t know at the time that their dads had helped, or pretty much made them for them. Well, I didn’t even make it past the first round, my car sucked so bad. It was pretty much devastated and blocked it out of my mind for a while. It wasn’t until South Park did the episode last year as well as some commercial last year that had a kid in the Pinewood Derby did these memories come hauntingly back. Man, that kid in the commercial got on my nerves, because he did the same thing as me, except he won! That didn’t happen in real life.

You may want to gently discuss that some other cars may look better and he may not come in first, but to be proud of what he made. My dad tried to tell me that after the Derby but at the time I didn’t care. Now I see it as a character-building experience…but that kid in that commercial still gets on my nerves.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

January 22nd, 2010
8:50 am

Mikay — that is a good idea — hadn’t thought about warning him ahead of time

Katie — I had just thought about the post office — good suggestion and is closer than the baby store!!

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
9:02 am

I think I will take Dar’s stance yesterday… I have no comment

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

January 22nd, 2010
9:03 am

By the way guys coming Monday finally our renovation photos and the Top 10 things I learned about renovating!

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
9:09 am

ok I give, the first freaking rule here should be NO PARENT PARTICIPATION!!!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

January 22nd, 2010
9:19 am

they are using saws — you have to help a little but …..

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
9:23 am

J was not in the scouts but this really just irritates me to no end. Make these age appropriate and keep the parents to the side to just cheer them on what ever the out come is….

FCM

January 22nd, 2010
9:24 am

I love the car! Make sure to let Walsh see how many of really think he did a super job!

I am curious ” I sent Michael to Girl Scouts ” Did you really send him? I found it intrigue the way you said that instead of “Michael went with Rose to Scouts…..”. You know, I really do luv ya! I can be accused of Super Momitis too!

As to parents helping with a project. I see no issue with real guidance and help. For instance I have a daughter who is supposed to write a paper on Common Sense/Thomas Paine. I have a BS in POLI SCI I would be remiss not offer my service/knowledge to her on helping her understand this Political thinker. However, I will not write that report for her, just ler her do research (even help guide her to research) and then discuss what she has read — help her finalize HER thoughts on the subject and then check the paper for grammar errors.

When same child was a few years back we did a map together. The teacher thought I did most of the work. The child told him straight up, Mom cut the circle for I285 and drew the signs for me to cut out because I didn’t like how mine looked when I did it. Otherwise it was all her. It was more put together because I sat with her to organize what she wanted and didn’t just let her have at it. I don’t see a problem with that kind of thing…Project Managers do it. Eventually (like where she is now) you have to let them be the Project Managers.

mom2alex&max

January 22nd, 2010
9:28 am

Julia: In fact the rules of PWD (about 3 pages long, I kid you not) are VERY specific about what a parent can and cannot do. In my den, we allow dads to cut the cars, but the kid has to design it. Reason being, we use a saw to do this, and well no one wants a boy 6 to 10 years old using a band saw.

The rules also state that kids have to do ALL the work, including sanding, painting, gluing, etc.

Of course, I belong to one of those packs that has absolutely INSANE parents, so I am prepared for tomorrow (ours is this weekend too) to be a show case of dad’s work. I am POSITIVE.

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
9:29 am

FCM that is my point.. I have seen it with my own child. He will have projects and god forbid he has to go to his dads to do them.. They either call me on the way saying.. did you really want us to help him with the project or they just do it for him. I am not saying I wont help by any means and yes I will go buy the materials but I will not be up all night doing the damn thing. One time last year.. he had a balloon car thing to do and I swear he came home the NIGHT before and said I have a project done. First I said and how long have you known about this? He goes, hmmm 2 weeks…. I so wanted to not even go get this stuff… He is 14 years old. I will not at this age go behind him to make sure his home work is turned in. I do not feel this will help him as an adult.

oneofeach4me

January 22nd, 2010
9:31 am

Scouts are for the kids, the paren’t should be there to “supervise” Sure, the kids need assistance with the cutting part, and maybe a little direction as to what goes where, but it’s supposed to be a learning experience for the kids. How do these paren’t ever expect their kid to actually LEARN anything if they do everything for them?? In my opinion, if the car is obviously made by a paren’t or adult, then they should be disqualified. Or… how about making 2 races. One for the cars that the kids actually made, and another for the ones the parent’s created.

Also, my son hasn’t started scouts yet (he will in the spring) so I am not sure… but if they are supposed to get a patch for building their pine cars…. only the kids who actually built theirs should reap the rewards.

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
9:31 am

mom2alex&max for you parents that can deal with this and not have your own stroke, you people are angles and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.. You guys are wonderful… This is NOT my calling at all :)…. The kids that come in with suped up cars that are very clearly done by the parents make me just want to go buy a real sports car and say ..here is his project. :)

LM

January 22nd, 2010
9:35 am

AB/DC had did a Pine Wood Derby for Girl Scouts. Her dad helped some, wanted to get all fancy with it, but she reminded him that it was her car, so it was hot pink with a flexible straw for a antenna. Didn’t make it past the first round, but she still has the car. But you could see the parents who got too into building the car, no way could a 6 to 8 year old girl have the skills to make it that perfect.

GeoffDawg

January 22nd, 2010
9:59 am

I think if you read the directions on the back of the Gorilla Glue, it’s mentions to be careful when using on finishing pieces since it does expand so much.

In any case, I remember my Dad hot gluing pennies to the car to add weight, not that it made much of a difference. The most successful designs that I saw though were the ones that were long on aerodynamics and short on creativity. Just cutting out a standard wedge shape always seemed to make for the fastest cars.

Rich

January 22nd, 2010
10:02 am

Many packs have races that parents and other family members can enter. So everyone can have a car.

Mkay

January 22nd, 2010
10:05 am

You’ll never get today’s parents to stop doing things for their kids; so the Pinewood Derby is inherently flawed. But who cares, right? The kids that sucked and lost (like myself) got on with life and eventually found out that they are probably a better person for doing it themselves.

The kids that have their parents do all the work and win get a superficial inflated sense of self worth. Unfortunately they’ll never realize that fact; and mommy and daddy will probably continue to support them and bail them out for the rest of their lives.

The problem is that kids on both side of the proverbial Pinewood Derby coin don’t realize this – the kids that have crappy cars just see that they suck and the kids that win think they deserve all the credit. The tricky parenting part here is to drive home the fact that growing up is not easy and although losing is painful and difficult – the kid will probably become a better person for doing it on their own.

BuckheadBill

January 22nd, 2010
10:13 am

The entire Pinewood Derby program is to encourage sons and fathers or mothers to work together on some project. The whiners about the Derby are playing golf while the kid works alone on his car.

Chris Broe

January 22nd, 2010
10:15 am

I made a pinewood derby car once, but Toyota recalled it.

TDdad

January 22nd, 2010
10:16 am

I always would let kids design the cars, I would cut them out on bandsaw. Kids would sand and paint. I would help put on wheels, as this can be sorta tricky for the younger ones. They would glue on the weights. There cars would always end up doing pretty well. They each ended up winnning a trophey or two over the years they did it, but were not even close to the ones the other kids dad had made. Tips we figured out over the years: make sure wheels are on straight and all touch the ground, spray alot of graphite on the wheels and nail that hold them in, and make sure it weighs exactly 5 oz.

Johnny Fontane

January 22nd, 2010
10:17 am

Make sure that your wheels do not have any camber in them or you will not pass inspection. If you wheels slightly tilted to the inside your car will go faster. Good luck and have fun.

Libraryjim

January 22nd, 2010
10:19 am

Wheel spacing is also a key ingredient for a fast car. My son basically put the wheels on the block of wood, and painted it for his first derby, and came in first in his pack contest. Unfortunately, he was beat out by another car and so didn’t go beyond that.

I was at Lowe’s the other day, and saw that Dremmel (sp?) has a Pinewood Derby detailing kit for their multi-tool!

Libraryjim

January 22nd, 2010
10:21 am

MKAY @ 8:42 — did you notice in the Derby commercial that the “scouts” were wearing BROWNIE Girl Scout uniforms and not Cub Scout uniforms? That caused my son (going for Eagle next year) no end of laughter!

oneofeach4me

January 22nd, 2010
10:26 am

@Mkay ~ I never really thought of it that way. Good point.

@Buckhead Bill ~ “to encourage sons and fathers or mothers to work together on some project” I don’t know about you, but working TOGETHER does not mean building it for them. Assisting, supervising, and lending some insight or finding out how to make the car better (but allowing them to actually do the work) is collaberating.

@Chris Broe ~ LOL

Mkay

January 22nd, 2010
10:27 am

Libraryjim: I didn’t notice the Brownie uniforms. That is pretty funny though.

BK

January 22nd, 2010
10:34 am

The pinewood derby is about winning!!!!! I engineered the car with my dad, made a few cuts sanded and painted when I was 8. Sure he did the heavy lifting I would much rather be a kid with a winning car than one who is proud their car looks like an ugly block of wood. When my son races I’ll do the same thing. You give your children something to aspire for. Now I am handy and a wood worker so I can finally build a car for my son…. People that are just “proud” of their cars are left trophyless…..

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
10:34 am

BuckheadBill – **coughsbullcrap**

Uh, I bet it would...

January 22nd, 2010
10:34 am

…go faster if the car in the picture had wheels…

woody

January 22nd, 2010
10:34 am

The tips for winning the pinewood derby are these.

1)Graphite all over the wheels.
2)Put strips of lead weights on the car. Always be at the maximum weight allowed by the rules.

boots

January 22nd, 2010
10:37 am

This is a race between dads who put their own spin on this and push the kids out of the picture. They will spend major $ on ordering specialized weights, paint, tools and wheels. There will be more talk about how to use files on the wheels, oils, and other short-cuts to help their – uh… their son’s – car win. It is a joke and 100% NOT about the scouts.

Rob Vinson

January 22nd, 2010
10:39 am

I remember my first pinewood derby. My dad didn’t help me with the car at all. I sanded it to shape and painted it and on the day of the race, it didn’t make it to the finish line because it was too light…I remember being heartbroken and crying watching the other kids’ cars make it to the end. I remember the other boys laughing etc. Kids can be pretty mean sometimes. I think my car that year weighed 3.5 ounces or so. The next year, i made sure the car weighed 5 ounces or whatever the maximum was. I also went to the hardware store and bought some graphite to put in the axles. I won the next year and i was pretty excited about it. I am laughing about it right now! If the car is too light, get some fishing sinker weights and put them in the bottom of the car, towards the front and that will help you. Take a knife and carve out a little hole and put them in with glue. My wife and I don’t have children, but really wish we did, so i could participate in this event. I honestly loved the pinewood derby and i loooked forward to it each and every year. The track was set up in the basement of the United Methodist Church in Alpharetta and it was made of wood…it was really neat. I haven’t seen one in over 30 years, but would like to again some day. Good luck to you and your children.

Hairy Banana Reid

January 22nd, 2010
10:45 am

I kept asking my Dad to help me weeks in advance. At our Scout’s Christmas party, we got the “kit” from Santa. We were actually encouraged to whittle the block of wood with our scouting jackknife. So I keep asking my Dad for help and he was like – yeah, yeah, I will. Well, two nights before the derby, it still was a block of wood with a few corners shaved off with the knife. In a big panic he built the thing with all sorts of power tools and such. He stayed up half the night. I didn’t even get to paint it. LOL! He did a great job. I made it to the finals. Later on after the event, the other boys and I started racing our cars all over the floor and running into the walls and tables/chairs. He comes running over screaming – “Do you know how much time I put into that car?!?!? I, didn’t build it for you to smash it up against the wall!!” The car came home and sat on my dresser for years, untouched. That guy… what a PEST.

Anyway, I do have a good tip. Some vegetable oil on the nails that hold the wheels works wonders.

Name (required)

January 22nd, 2010
10:51 am

I miss Pinewood Derby. My dad was a pilot so he was gone a lot and I always ended up doing pretty much everything by myself. I got SPANKED by the kids whose parents obviously did most of the work for them. Where did that get me today? Well, I can now build a pretty snazzy built-in bookshelf, desk, and entertainment system. haha. Good memories.

Webelo

January 22nd, 2010
10:51 am

Back in the ’60’s, we used to hollow out a spot on the bottom in the back and fill it with melted lead from fishing weights – is that still allowed?

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
10:52 am

To you parents out there that want to do this project for your child, shame on you. Why are you taking away from thier childhood so you can relive yours? .. Can you really just not be that selfish and let them have it???

DE

January 22nd, 2010
11:05 am

I definitely disagree with some of the comments. Cub Scouts is about teaching the child and is a progression from 6-10 years old. You cannot expect a six year old to know what to do.
A six year old should NOT be cutting the wood on the car – too dangerous. At six years old the adult does more, then each year you plan more with the child and give them more responsibility. When they become a Webelo (are 10) they should be doing most if not all of it themselves.

mom2alex&max

January 22nd, 2010
11:09 am

BK, no offense, but u are a tool. Are you going to write his resume, stand by his side as he interviews for his jobs, and help him do that project his boss wants by the morning too?

It’s parents like you in scouts that drive me right up the wall.

I think I am going to suggest to my pack leader that next year we have some kind of clinic where all tools are provided and scouts are supervise as they build the car themselves. THIS is what it has come to. Dear God.

Hairy Banana Reid

January 22nd, 2010
11:13 am

If my son wants to join scouts next year, I am going to let him decide how he wants to have the car look. I will cut it out and help him with the weight issues. Give him some pointers and let him paint it. If he doesn’t do well, I will tell him why. He can get some ideas in his head for the next year’s design and so on. He needs to learn how to do things himself and I will be there to guide him when needed. He also doesn’t need to be shielded from joys of winning and the perils of losing.

motherjanegoose

January 22nd, 2010
11:14 am

Howdy from Dallas TX!

DB…rofl at your husband and the silver car. I had to remind my husband to back off, when ours were little too. No problems now as they are into AP Calculus, Latin, Anatomy and Physiology, Molecular Biology and Organic Chemistry….neither of us HAS A CLUE!

@Mkay….you are right on the money! These parents are everywhere and they will still be there when the kids are applying for college. Some parents write the essays and fill out the forms for their kids. Some write their kid’s college papers!!!!

Both of my kids got in early action to UGA ( I am aware that some of you will not give a flip but it is not easy to get in early, as others of you know) and I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT! They earned it themselves as THEY are the ones who will be going to college and not me ( again) . Reality, I know I would not be able to get into UGA ( today) with what I had as a Senior, so yes I am proud.

Too bad that some parents did not get the memo about producing problem solving, independent children who will eventually be able to secure a job, move out on their own and pay their own bills. I remind myself that my kids are ( hopefully) heading in that direction….hoorah!

Those with little kids….you WILL be up against perhaps a child with a science project whose parent is a botanist and you will not stand a chance. Get ready for your future!

FCM

January 22nd, 2010
11:15 am

@ Julia…I am confused…are you saying that you believe the kind of assistance I give the kid is too much? I totally agree with you by 14 she is going to be pretty much on her own for how to research and organizing the project. She is 10 — she probably hasn’t got very many research skills yet, nor much practice on writing a paper. Why would I not assist her? Last paper I showed her how to make an outline a follow it. This time she will show me how she makes the outline (though we may discuss the organization of the outline).

In my business life, I sometimes have to go to others and say ok here is what I want to do now your better at this than I so teach me.

budman

January 22nd, 2010
11:18 am

Speaking as a 2 time winner..I received 2nd place one year and the next year I won 1st place.in the Swamp Fox Division…not just my pack. .Here’s a few tips..Get your weight close as can on your home scale..But have a pocket knife with you at inspection to make adjustments. The weights can be 2 holes drilled in the bottom of the car and filled with soft melted lead. Go heavy not light..you can take away but you cannot add weight at that inspection point. Pay attention to the axles..they should be polished and very smooth.If they still allow powdered graphite use it on the wheels…These are things my Dad suggested I do because it was South Carolina..!959-1960 we knew all about race cars….Let the child build the car..mine looked like crap…but it ran like lightning.

Julia

January 22nd, 2010
11:21 am

FCM, not at all.. I think we should “help them”, not hover, not do it for them… :).. I did some of that at 10 but once it became a stroke on a daily basis.. I had to stop for my own sanity… :)

Webelo

January 22nd, 2010
11:24 am

DE – you’re one of the causes of the wussification of America. The proper use of a pocketknife is a skill taught to cub scouts and, yes while there may be accidents (a little cut won’t kill anybody), it is a part of growing up. No one is going to lose a finger by carving a pinewood derby car.

JoeV

January 22nd, 2010
11:29 am

Step 1…take your kids out of boy scouts before its too late and they are 35, living in your basement, and still a virgin.

Step 2…lighten up because I am just kidding. :)