Cub Scouts have been building their own cars and competing in Pinewood Derby® events since 1953! This year my oldest son and I got to build our first Pinewood Derby car. The experience was a great time for he and I to spend time together going through the whole process of making his car: design, carve, paint, weigh, refine, and race the car! He had a blast, especially since his car won his age bracket (Bears) as well as won the cub scout choice award. He did not win overall best speed… but that is because we forgot a super important step!!! (Read more how to not miss this step before you race!)
My son was immediately excited to start on his car so once we got home from Cub Scouts he drew his first design.
This was of course before he read the rules, performed any research, or in general knew what he was doing except wanting to make a Minecraft themed car.
So, before we went any further we first paused and read the rule book for the Pinewood Derby provided by his Pack Master.
The general rules are:
- Width shall not exceed 2-3/4 inches.
- Length shall not exceed 7 inches.
- Weight shall not exceed 5 ounces.
- Axils, wheels, and body shall be made from the materials provided in the kit.
- Wheel bearings, washers, and bushings are prohibited.
- No lubricating oil may be used. Axles may be lubricated with graphite powder or silicone.
- The car shall not ride on any kind of spring.
- The car must be free-wheeling, with no starter devices.
- No loose materials of any kind are allowed in the car.
After reading these rules we discussed which of the major categories he wanted to compete for out of: Fastest (Rank and Pack), Most Patriotic, Cub Scout Pride and/or Best in Show. He chose fastest and best in show since he believed his Minecraft themed car would be considered awesome by all of his cub scout friends.
Now having some direction we set about researching what mad the fastest Pinewood Derby car.
The first article we looked at was too high level for me to try to walk my 8 yr old son through… so we tried another link which took us to an article about engineering students and their efforts to build the fastest car they could design.
This article had excellent pictures and gave me enough pointers to try and explain some design concepts at a high level to my son such as: aerodynamics, friction, drag, etc…
In the end of that day we were able to move back downstairs and end our day with the deign you see sketched out here. It combines the design elements described in the article to minimize air resistance (aka thin wood design), maximize weight (plan to include weights on the bottom of the car to total 5 ounces), and has an epic design of the Minecraft Creeper.
We spent a few hours each Saturday following working on his car. An eight year old does not have a long attention span so this was broken up between major activity… such as cutting/sanding one week, sketching the design onto the car, painting, final assembly, etc.
To say he was satisfied with his results would greatly under simplify how proud he was of his “Creeper Car”. Keeping him from playing with it and taking it to Church, Co-Op, etc was a challenge… We needed to keep it whole until he could race it at the minimum!!! 🙂
Finally after four weeks of effort he was able to put on his Class A uniform and along with his two other brothers, he and I headed out to the Derby. At the Derby one of his Grandpas was able to join us and give me a hand managing the abundant energy of three little boys mixed with pizza, candy, and fun.
The races were run in a fashion to ensure no favoritism or track variables were applied to how the cars performed and helped to extend the night’s races out so it was a full event vs being over in ten minutes. Each age bracket (Tigers, Wolves, Bears, and Webelos) competed against each other within their bracket. This resulted in 4-6 cars per race competing against each other resulting in 4-6 heats (or rounds) per age bracket. My son’s group had four cars racing, and his “Creeper Car” won every time with a fastest time of 2.313 seconds.
Check out the video of his race against the other Bears!
It was so much fun watching him practically bounce out of his seat as he watched his car speed down the track and cross the finish line. His brothers were right there cheering him on too! His car moved on to the finals where he was convinced he was going to win yet again. Sadly he did not win overall, but he did come in third!
On our way home we realized we had forgotten a critical item in our steps of assembly!!!… Graphite powder… We took the time to sand down our axles (nails) and tires to get rid of unwanted ridges/bumps… but forgot to apply the lubrication… We will remember next year! Check out the video we made when we got home and tested to see if it would have made a difference…
This was an excellent adventure for us and yet another example of the activities we experience together participating in Cub Scouts. He is unlikely to forget this race and is definitely looking forward to next year already!