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This great picture from reader JMaz Photo reminds me that most adult men who work with tools have a pinewood derby story and an old racer lying around somewhere, either on film or the actual dusty old roller stuffed in a shoebox atop a shelf. All of them were glorious constructions, full of hope and wonder.

Of course, after race day they were either put on a shelf next to a ribbon or trophy, or strapped to a firecracker propulsion system (with a lit fuse) and left to the automotive gods to decide their fate.

When I saw JMaz’s prototype I thought back to my own derby days and resolved that, while loading holiday decorations into the attic this weekend, I would look for my old rig. Though it didn’t win the competition (like Chuck’s did), I had a great time building it with the old man, which is the point.

Whether or not JMaz’s rig wins any trophies, we hope it turns out to look as much like the Batmobile as it does right now — which is complete sweetness, by the way.

Toolmonger Photo Pool [Flickr]


15 Responses to From The Flickr Pool: Pinewood Awesome

  1. Sprague says:

    That is funny. My son (6) and I are racing this weekend. Last night we packed the wheels full of graphite and i put them on the car. I was really disappointed that we ended up with graphite over our red paint. In fact it ended up all over EVERYTHING. I really don’t like graphite.

    But it has been fun up til that point. I’ve never built a pinewood car before and this is my son’s first time too. I had him doing the spray painting (with a mask of course) and he did a really good job with it.

  2. Dave says:

    Guaranteed fast car-

    1) sand the axles to get rid of any ribs or barbs
    2) sand the wheels smooth
    3) make sure the axles are all at right angles to the front/rear axis of the car
    4) make the car as lite as possible then weight it to the max weight, and place the weight low and **as far to the rear as possible**

    The physics of the situation do support placing the weight in the back as making the car go faster.
    If the car is too heavy in the back, it may wander back and forth in the lane.

    There are some others, but those are the legal biggies.

    I always though there should be a parent division with a special prize for most outrageous cheat…


  3. fred says:

    This takes me back. Was a scoutmaster for 14 years and cubmaster before that. Some cars were obviously made by adults – wheels turned on a lathe – shaved to knife edges (not within the rules) Different axles – not the stock ones – also trued up on a lathe – with bearings at the body. Why do it? Competition is OK – but this should be about the cubbies having fun and learning both use of hand tools – and good sportsmanship.
    Dave has good ideas – but the cubscout should be doing what he suggests.
    A needle file and sanpaper to smooth out under the head of the axle nails will also help – and molycote spray lubricant is better and less messy than graphite.

  4. A.Crush says:

    There either needs to be an outright ban on parents doing ANY of the work for the scouts, or some rules that dictate adult behavior for anything involved with Pinewood Derby. Actually, there should be rules for parents when it comes to scouting, little league, and anything else, and any parent who breaks them gets kicked out, and is never to have anything to do with them again.

    I’m STILL pissed my hand-made corvette (painted with car paint, no less) was ‘disqualified’ at the last minute for both the racing and the showing…by the troop leader. So his kid could win. What a load of crap.

    Exhibition races for the parents or something would be fine…anything goes. It’s when adults bring their baggage and issues between the scounts and having fun..not to mention learning craftsmanship and physics…that it’s a problem.

  5. Patrick says:

    Perfect timing – Lowe’s has us covered this weekend. It seems there should be pinewood derby clinics participating lowes throughout the next month.


  6. metis says:


    yup i was disqualified *after* winning so that a leader’s kid could win. the “winning” car was clearly (at my age) built and painted not by my friend, who felt pretty bad that he “won” despite dad’s cheers.

    after scouting tried to teach me that a square knot was safe and useful i was done.

    my local makerspace (community workshop) recently hosted a “clothes line racer” event open to all ages, and a friend holds an annual derby car birthday party for himself. much more entertaining, and friendly than parents’ toys.

  7. Trae says:

    heh my son is a Webelos II and this year is his last car and is doing it by himself with my supervision of course … even let him use the band saw, drill press and belt sander.

    when he was a tiger he designed the car and we worked together with only hand tools and that was tedious, trying to show a 6 year old to use a wood file.
    he did 100 % of the painting … and he ended up winning best design.

    the next year he decided he wanted a fast car … I did the main cut on the band saw because he was not ready for that and he did the sanding and painting. I did the weights because i pulled an old school trick and bored holes out and poured molten lead in them instead of the preformed stuff.

    Long story short … each year he did more and more of the car until this year where he is doing all of it.

    To me that is how it should be done … one day all of the things I have taught him will be passed to his son’s (I hope) as they were passed to me by my father.

  8. olderthanyou says:

    In 1962 there weren’t to many kids in my town that didn’t have a father. My mom tried to help me, but niether of us had a clue . On race night some of the kids made fun of my (admittedly pathetic) car. I never went to another Cub Scout meeting again. To this day I blame the so called leaders for not stepping in.

  9. Steve says:

    When I was a Scout in the late ’70s, our Troop had pinewood derby building workshops. The boys could only work on the cars during the workshop while everyone was supervised. The cars were otherwise locked up. This resulted in the work being performed by the boys and the race was fair.

    I’ve seen rampant cheating in every derby I have attended since then.

    Let the boys build the cars.

  10. Old as Dirt says:

    Both my boys were cub scouts.The oldest one built his own Pinewood derby car nothing fancy but it wobbled down the track.Adults and some cub scouts though it was funny.My oldest boy took it kind of hard.The next year I assisted my youngest son and he(we) took first place and had the last laugh on all the cars that that were adult built.We weighted the front with lead in the body.It was at the exact weight limit.The axles were ground down and we used graphite on the axle.There was a time when as cub master I would ask each boy if they built the car themselves knowing that a lot of them would lie and say yes. I also disqualified cars for being over weight but not for being constructed by an adult.I think that was a bad example for cub scouts.

  11. kyle says:

    When i was a 2nd year webelo I first won a pinewood derby, after talking to an enginer whose son had won. I built it almost entirley myself including puored lead and automotive paint. I am now a high school freshman and a boyscout we have pinewood races as well, last year I lost because of my father’s rcomendation. That means from now on to take his advice carefully. In fact we should have a race sometime soon.

  12. browndog77 says:

    @ kyle
    You are a HS freshman? I’m pretty sure everything that goes wrong in your life for the next 3 years or so will be at least partially Dad’s fault, LOL!
    (J K , good luck in the next race!)

  13. BigEdJr says:

    I am currently a Webelos leader and we have the pine derby coming up in a couple of weeks. I like how are our Pack Master does it. Every boy races every other boy. No eliminations just a lot (over 200) races in a couple of hours. That way all the boys get a lot of chances and fun. Speed is not the only thing focused on either.

    Also, a few years ago we had an “Unlimited” Pine Derby for the older boys. They could do anything that wanted to their cars, but they had to build them there that night. That was a lot of fun.

    Another friend of mine has an annual “Potato Derby”. Married couples bring a large potato (uncooked) to their BBQ and he provides the axles and wheel. Then everyone carves up their potato and races. That was pretty cool. I made a trike that actually ended up doing pretty well.

  14. Fritz says:

    Some of my best early shop memories are of building pinewood derby cars. Every year I did a little more, until my final year I pretty much built the car by myself – and I never placed out of the top three.

    My son just turned one and I’m counting the years until we can go into the shop together to make cars.

  15. kyle says:


    I actually get along well with my dad. In theory it was a good idea, it just didnt work

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