What is it and why do we do it?
The Pinewood Derby is an
annual event of the Cub Scouts. It is the most popular event for many Scouts
and is probably the best known Scouting event among non-Scouts.
The Scout is
given a block of wood made of pine with two notches for wheels, four plastic
wheels and four nails. The finished car must use all nine pieces, must not
exceed five ounces, must not exceed the length of the original block and must
fit on the track used by Pack 800.
Description of the event
Other than the
previous basic design rules (more detail rules will be passed out before the
race), the Cub Scout is able to carve and decorate the car as he chooses. Many
Cub Scouts also add weights to the final design to bring the car to the maximum
allowable weight of five ounces (highly recommended). Cars typically vary from
unfinished blocks to whimsical objects, to accurate replicas of actual cars.
The fastest cars tend to resemble low doorstops, with weight at the rear.
Graphite is the only lubricant allowed, as it often helps to polish the
The Pack 800 track
has four lanes and slopes down to the ground as the cars are powered by gravity.
The race is run in heats, giving every car the chance to run on each lane. The
racers compete against the Pack as a whole.
second, third and fourth place winners receive trophies. Pack 800 also awards
trophies on the basis of car design. The top four race winners get to go on to
race winners from the entire District and Council at the Blackhawk 500, usually
held in April.
The idea behind
the pinewood derby is for the parent, but occasionally grandparent, to spend
time helping the child design, carve, paint, add weights, and tune the final
car. However, it is often the case that the parent takes over the construction
of the car, an aspect of the event that was lampooned in the 2005 film Down
and Derby. The quest for a fast car supports a cottage industry that
supplies modified wheels, axles, and blocks as well as videos and instruction
books. While a pinewood derby car kit costs around $5, a set of modified wheels
and axles can sell for more than ten times that amount. These aftermarket items
are illegal under Pack 800 rules.
History of the Race
Murphy organized the first pinewood derby, which was raced on May 15, 1953 in Manhattan Beach, California,
by Pack 280c. Murphy's son was too young to participate in the popular Soap Box
Derby races, so he came up with the idea of racing miniature wood cars. The
cars had the same gravity-powered concept as the full-size Soap Box Derby cars,
but were much smaller and easier to build.
In the 1980s,
the design of the block was changed to a solid block. The tires were also
changed from narrow, hard plastic, to wider "slicks". Blocks can be whittled
with a hand knife, but this is considered dangerous for young boys. It is
usually better for a trained adult to use a band saw or Dremel carving tool for
major shaping. Decals can be bought at Scout Shops or Hobby Shops. It is also
possible to use standard model decals to replicate actual racing cars. The
original style is based on open wheel cars, however, fender or body kits are
available, or wheels can simply be placed outboard of the body.
millions of young people have built pinewood derby cars. The competitive Pinewood
Derby race remains very popular and is a highlight of Pack 800 each year.