What’s a Pinewood Derby race?

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Pinewood Der races involve small wooden cars racing on a track using gravity for power. They are typically for Cub Scouts but can be enjoyed by anyone. Cars must meet certain specifications and are inspected before races. Strategies for building the fastest cars include adding weight and using lubricants. Prizes are awarded for both the fastest and coolest cars. The first Pinewood Derby race was held in 1953 and has since become a tradition in Cub Scout packs.

A Pinewood Der race is an event where small wooden cars are raced around a specially designed track using only gravity for power. These events are typically for Cub Scouts and are sanctioned by the Boy Scouts of America, but many other people also enjoy building and racing cars Pinewood Dere could have their own events. Adults often help kids design and build cars like the one seen in the photo below. A car used in a Pinewood Der sanctioned race must meet certain length, width, height and weight specifications. Unsanctioned races may have different specifications or, in some cases, virtually no restrictions.

The first Pinewood Derby race, held in 1953 in the California city of Manhattan Beach, was the brainchild of a Cub Scout leader named Don Murphy. A year later, the program was adopted by the National Board of Boy Scouts of America, and the Pinewood Derrick race soon became a Cub Scout tradition. Any boy who is in a Cub Scout pack is usually able to enter a Pinewood Derby race.

Long before the race, each kid gets a Pinewood Derda kit to take home. Inside this kit is a block of soft pine wood, four nails for the axles, and four plastic wheels. With the help of an adult, each boy designs and cuts or carves wood into a car to official specifications for length, width, and height. The car can be painted and detailed, and accessories can be added as long as the car’s final weight does not exceed the limit, which is usually 5 ounces (141.75 g). Prior to an official Pinewood Derby race, cars are inspected and weighed by the registered leaders to ensure that the requirements have been met.

The track
A Pinewood Derivatives track typically has two to eight lanes, each of which has a guide strip down the center to keep the car in its lane. A three-lane Pinewood Dera track is shown in the photo below. The runway is usually about 30-50 feet (about 9.14-15.24 m) long, with one end off the ground about 4-5 feet (about 1.2-1.5 m). Most tracks are made from metal or wood.

The cars are held in place at the raised end of the track by a lever. After the lever is released, the cars begin rolling down the sloping track, powered only by gravity. After descending a certain distance, most trails level out and have a long stretch of flat trail before the finish line. An example of a Pinewood Derdi race a pack of Cub Scouts can be seen in the following video.

Some tracks are equipped with sensors capable of determining the order of arrival of the cars or even with electronic timers. In the video below, each car’s time is measured to the ten-thousandth of a second, along with the car’s equivalent speed if it were scaled to a full-sized race car. When the track does not have this type of technology, one or more judges are typically used to determine the finishing order of the cars.

Pinewood Dersi competitions are typically held in heats, with the results of each heat recorded and tallied. Cars will usually rotate between lanes for each heat, so that each car uses a different lane each time, to account for sketchy tracks that might have “faster” or “slower” lanes. Depending on the number of cars in the race, the fastest cars in the various heats could advance to more races until an overall winner is determined.

Over the years, many Cub Scouts and their adult partners have worked hard on how to build the fastest cars to achieve victory. Tips and tricks have been researched and tested to find out what works best. Some competitors use streamlined designs and add a precise amount of weight in the right locations, sometimes by drilling holes in the wood and inserting small lead weights. A dry, powdered lubricant like graphite can help reduce friction on the wheels; other types of lubrication, such as oils, are generally not permitted. The following video includes several common Pinewood Derby car building tips.

Other car builders are more concerned with the look of their cars and will try to have the coolest designs and paints. Some may try to make their Pinewood Der cars look like specific makes and models of real cars, but others will create their own designs. Cub Scout packages often award prizes for the coolest cars in addition to those that win races.

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