5 Quick & Easy Tips For Improving Your Pinewood Derby Car's Speed (2024)

5 Quick & Easy Tips For Improving Your Pinewood Derby Car's Speed (1)Image via Wikipedia

It's that time of year again. In schools and churches and community centers around the globe, Cub Scouts are gathering to put their building skills to the test in the annual Pinewood Derby race.

Thankfully, our Cub Scout pack has a category just for dads, so I can build my own car. My son -- although I help with the more difficult and dangerous tasks -- is largely on his own. I believe it's important that his car be his own. That's not to say I haven't searched long and hard to find the best performance tips for making my car as fast as possible.

I'm sharing some of them here.

It's my understanding that there are as many different rule sets as there are packs, so what I've tried to do is keep these tips as universal and broad-based as possible. Be sure to double-check your pack's rules before your first cut into your pine block.

  • Put all of your weight in the back. Much has been written about the physics of pinewood derby cars, and this is one rare case in racing where heavy = fast. Aerodynamics have little effect in such a short race, but weight does and putting the weight at the back of the car will make your car faster on the flat of the track. Tungsten weights, in most cases, are best because of their high density.

  • Lube the car at the body/wheel friction point. Do not paint the car on the small semicircle point where the wheels meet up with the body (where the wheel well is on the car in your driveway). Rather, sand this point to a smooth finish with a very fine sandpaper. Next, after masking off the body's paint, gently massage some dry graphite into the wood. This will reduce friction and increase wheel speed.

  • Spend a fair amount of time on axle prep. Using a file and fine sandpaper, make sure you remove any burrs and defects from the axles, near the head of the nail. Some people will put a number of axles in a power drill and spin them to find the axles that are most straight (and eliminate any with noticeable wobble).

  • Make sure your wheels are ready. Depending on your pack rules, polishing (or sanding) the business side of the wheel can improve rolling resistance. You can also massage powdered graphite into the wheel edge to further reduce friction. There are plenty of vendors who sell improved wheels, but if your group is like ours, these are outlawed. You can also polish (with graphite again) the wheel's bore. Once your axles and wheels are finished, a good rule of thumb is that, with a flick of a finger, they should be able to freely spin for 20 seconds.

  • Finally, once your wheels are mounted, check their alignment. Find a long board and mark off a racing lane, about 6 inches across. Put the board on a very slight incline and allow your car to roll a few feet. If, at the end of this test run, your car has moved significantly to one side or the other (or the wheels have moved in or out), move the axle up or down to adjust your alignment.

That's it! These are my quick tips for improving your pinewood derby car's speed. Do you have a speed secret that you can share with us for making your car move? Let us know in the comments.

5 Quick & Easy Tips For Improving Your Pinewood Derby Car's Speed (2)

5 Quick & Easy Tips For Improving Your Pinewood Derby Car's Speed (2024)

FAQs

5 Quick & Easy Tips For Improving Your Pinewood Derby Car's Speed? ›

To go fast, it's all about aerodynamics, and the best shape is a simple wedge. Just like a spoiler on the rear of a sports car, the wedge shape allows as much air to flow over the top of the car without hinderance while keeping the car pinned to the track.

How to make your Pinewood Derby car go faster? ›

Be sure to double-check your pack's rules before your first cut into your pine block.
  1. Put all of your weight in the back. ...
  2. Lube the car at the body/wheel friction point. ...
  3. Spend a fair amount of time on axle prep. ...
  4. Make sure your wheels are ready. ...
  5. Finally, once your wheels are mounted, check their alignment.
Feb 25, 2009

What is the fastest shape for a Pinewood Derby car? ›

To go fast, it's all about aerodynamics, and the best shape is a simple wedge. Just like a spoiler on the rear of a sports car, the wedge shape allows as much air to flow over the top of the car without hinderance while keeping the car pinned to the track.

What are some factors that can affect the speed of a Pinewood Derby car? ›

The following parameters made pinewood derby cars faster: using graphite on the axles and wheels, using lightweight wheels and polished axles, lifting the left front wheel and bending rear axles also raised speed.

Does baking a Pinewood Derby car help? ›

Baking your Pinewood Derby wooden block helps to remove the moisture so that you have more wiggle room to add extra weight at the end. Remember, every little bit of weight in the right place makes a difference! Bake it in the oven at 250° for about 2 hours.

Do fenders make Pinewood Derby cars faster? ›

Fenders can help efficiently direct the air around the wheels resulting in more speed. There are a few different types of fenders: Leading Edge Fenders: These fenders are placed in front of the wheels and help direct air over them, leading to a faster car.

Can you use wd40 on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

No wet lubricant is allowed. (Ex: NyOil, NyOil II, WD-40) Only one lubrication is allowed before the beginning of the first race, and then once again before the beginning of the first race of the semi-finals and finals.

Is a lighter Pinewood Derby car faster? ›

Assuming all other factors are equal, a heavier car will be faster than a lighter car. The Pinewood Derby rules limit the weight of each car to 5 ounces.

Where is the best place to put weights on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

PUT MOST OF THE WEIGHT IN THE BACK

Science says the heaviest part of your car should be about 1 inch in front of the rear axle. The idea is that the farther back the weight is, the more potential energy you have because your center of mass is higher up on the track.

Does a longer wheelbase make a Pinewood Derby car faster? ›

For pinewood derby cars, extending the wheelbase provides an advantage due to the following reasons: On Ramp-flat tracks2, best speed is attained by locating the center of gravity (COG) of the car as far back as possible while still maintaining stability (typically this is about one inch in front of the rear axle).

Why is my Pinewood Derby car slow? ›

Your pine wood derby car moves from the force of gravity and is slowed down from friction. Friction acts like brakes. Reduce friction and your car goes faster. Increase friction and your car slows down.

How fast do Pinewood Derby cars actually go? ›

The Speed of Pinewood Derby Cars

The distribution plot below shows a range of speeds from 177 mph to 229 mph, with most cars exceeding 200 mph.

How to increase the speed of a Pinewood Derby car? ›

5 Tips to Building the Fastest Pinewood Derby Car
  1. Lubricate the wheels with graphite.
  2. Bake the wood block.
  3. Use axle guards.
  4. Smooth the axles.
  5. Choose the right car shape.

Do you glue Pinewood Derby axles? ›

Slide the axles and wheels onto the car and glue into place. Use an epoxy or nonresin glue, and make sure you don't get any on the surface of the axle where the wheel rides.

When should I paint my Pinewood Derby car? ›

Sandpaper and paint can turn a block of wood into a sleek Pinewood Derby racer that looks as smooth as steel. The trick is using the right materials and allowing plenty of time. Don't wait until the last minute! For best results, you'll need to start at least a week or two before the race.

Are heavier Pinewood Derby cars faster? ›

Assuming all other factors are equal, a heavier car will be faster than a lighter car. The Pinewood Derby rules limit the weight of each car to 5 ounces.

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