Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winning A Pinewood Derby Race

A post about this came across Facebook that made me recall my Pinewood Derby experience, so I thought I'd share it. When I was a young cub scout I participated in one Pinewood Derby race and I won first place. Not by a nose, but by over a car length. Here was my strategy (thanks dad.)

First and foremost is weight placement. You want to put as much weight as you possibly can on TOP and CENTER of the car (between the wheels.) That means, do NOT add fancy fenders and whatnot. Only carve away from the block of wood, do not add to it! Doing this, you can keep any and all extra weight directly on top center. I used a simple round fishing weight, drilled a hole through it and screwed it on. I didn't bury it in the body of the car, it sat perched right on top. It didn't look super pretty, but it worked. Keep that weight on top. It's even better to put too much weight on top, and remove wood from the bottom center to correct it! Don't add screws or any weight to the bottom! Of course, make sure your car is exactly the weight maximum, usually 5oz. Add this weight once you get your car all carved up and sanded and looking how you want.

Second tip, make sure the axles are straight, and use graphite if allowed. Make sure there are no burrs or spots on your axle that may slow you down. Some people like to sand and polish the axles. It will probably help, although I didn't do it for my car. (Put the axle in a drill and let it spin as you hold sand paper on it. Go finer and finer, then go to steel wool to polish it.) Most important, make sure they are straight and clean. Give them a spin holding the wheel and axle nailhead-side down, see if it spins freely (30+ secs) and doesn't wobble as it slows up. (A young cub scout had dropped my car before the race, and one of my wheels broke half of the plastic away right on the axle and it wobbled as it slowed up. But my car STILL won by a landslide with this broken wheel!)

Those are the two most critical tips. As for the shape of the car, mine was a pretty simple wedge shape. People talk about aerodynamics, but really these cars aren't moving fast enough to figure in downforce and other crazy engineer talk. You certainly don't want to add anything that will cause an air pocket, so just make sure the car slopes front to back.

Next, clear a spot in your trophy case. Have fun :)

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