For many years, the Pinewood Derby has been a staple of the Scouts and an excellent hobby that not only promotes father-son bonding, but helps instill a spirit of craftsmanship and sportsmanship amongst its participants. Selecting and building a Pinewood Derby car is a fun and educational task, but there are a few things you should know before starting to help you have the best derby racing experience possible.
The Pinewood Derby was started in 1952 by Don Murphy, the father of a scout who was more than eager to join the soap-box derby, but was still too young. Looking to get his son involved in a similar experience, Murphy used his skills as a model builder to come up with the idea of building smaller model cars and racing them against other scouts. The first Pinewood Derby race took place at the Manhattan Scout house on May 15th, 1953. The event was highly successful and it was not long before Pinewood Derby races had spread to other scout troops all across the country as the essential warm-up to the soap box derby. More than fifty years later, the pinewood derby is still a staple for all cub scouts.
You couldn't have Pinewood Derby without the stars of the show, the cars themselves. Although simple in design, multiple aspects go into creating a fast car. There are many different ways to acquire your Pinewood Derby car and the only major rule is that each car must be built new for it to race.
The traditional, and most often recommended, way is to build your car yourself from a solid block of wood. Although this requires more time and craftsmanship, it is the quintessential pinewood derby experience. You can purchase a Pinewood Derby car design, or even come up with your own, and shape the wooden body yourself. Most kits include all the parts necessary to build your car and even tips on tools to use and the best body shapes for speed.
Another method, similar to the first, is to buy a derby car kit that comes with the body already shaped. These kits are available in hundreds of different Pinewood Derby car designs, allowing you to choose one that you like, without the worry of having to shape it yourself, often making these kits faster and more aerodynamic.
Also available are pre-assembled derby car kits. Although these kits eliminate the craftsmanship side of Pinewood Derby, they are an excellent choice if you simply don't have the time to build a car, or if you just want a professionally built car to study for tips on your own creation. Coming pre-assembled and already lubricated, these cars are not only ready-to-race, but are some of the fastest derby cars available.
Although choosing the right kit is a major part of having a successful derby car, there are other factors that should be taken into account for your Pinewood Derby car design. Because Pinewood Derby cars are powered by gravity, the main thing holding them back is friction. Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce this, including using graphite to lubricate the axles, sanding your wheels to make them perfectly smooth, and weighing your car to help it reach five ounces, the ideal derby car weight. By following these tips, your car should encounter less friction, making it as fast as possible.
Purchasing your first derby car kit, whether you decide on a pre-assembled car or to develop your own Pinewood Derby car, is a fun and rewarding experience, hence why it has become a time-tested scouting tradition.