Pinewood derby speed tips, can be found all over the internet, read in books or by asking derby gurus that are hanging around the derby track. Warning be careful with that information. It may not all be true. What I am trying to communicate to you on this page is give you a brief overview of the most important aspects of making a fast pinewood derby car. Then you can do your own research on these subjects. Now armed with what you've learned begin making the fastest racers possible. There are lots of videos on YouTube that can help you build your racer and make it fast too! I've added a couple of videos from YouTube I feel are worth watching. The "Science Secrets" video the guru narrator shows you how to build a fast car in 45 minutes, enjoy!
Pinewood derby rules, are different from race to race. There are many different organizations that use Pinewood Derby as part of their events. They have different car kits and rules. You will also find different rules within the same organizations. My point is not all rules are the same. The first step to building a fast pinewood derby car is know the rules! It is very discouraging to work hard on your creation only to find out you did something wrong or could have done something more to make your car faster.
Aerodynamics, is the least speed aspect you need to worry about. That being said the effects are not zero. It doesn't hurt to make your car as streamlined as possible, it looks cool too. Racing is all about trade offs. If you make you car too small you may not have enough space in or on the car body to install enough weight where you need it or to reach the maximum allowed. So it would be wise to trade off the smallest car form for optimum weight placement. In other words design your car around the ideal weight aspect. More on weight later, scroll down.
Alignment, just like real cars proper alignment is required for optimum performance. If your axles are crooked or bent there will be more friction going on than you can imagine, it's a nightmare. Most newbies don't know about alignment and wonder why their cars are so slow. They blame others for cheating and so on. Don't do this, find out how to align your car and install the axles straight. Or all the money you spent on those fancy machined axles will go down the drain. This is a pretty deep subject with too much to discuss here. Search the internet,or buy our "How To Book", there is tons of resources out there. Just know you need to address the aspect of alignment. One last note, you will find many pinewood derby blocks have crooked axle slots when purchased. The Derby Gurus know this and fix it. Take a square with you when ready to purchase to check the slots or fix them yourself if you have the skills. Better still, just buy one of our kits. We pride ourselves on cutting the axle slots correctly every time. That will allow you to concentrate on more important "Small Things", Good luck and good racing.
Axles, are the little metal things that look like nails, or in some kits are actually nails or screws. It's the part that attaches the wheels to the car. Whatever you have you need to spend some time on these babies if you want a fast car. There is a lot of friction going on between your wheels and axles. Here is where a little effort will go a long way and a lot of effort brings home trophies! The wheels and axles are your best opportunity to create separation from the rest of the pack. Lets face it, most cars will be at full weight and many of those will be at optimum weight placement. Most people are busy and just put their cars together last minute. They will not spend the time and effort to make fast wheels and axles. Trust me, it's worth the time. Doing a good job on your wheels and axles will put you in the top 10 of 100 cars. First you need to know the rules of your race. They are not all the same, don't assume. Some races are very strict and only allow the car to use the axles that come with the kit. You need to check with the race organizers for your race rules. Generally if the rules are silent on the specifics you can do it. Just be sure to check. You don't want to have to change out axles last minute or worse be disqualified. Modifying the axles range from polishing to machining little slots and groves to reduce friction. You can search the internet for days for methods of modifying axles. Most are good just keep it simple at first. I think a well polished axle is hard to beat. I"m not sold on the grooved type, they are more difficult and time consuming to make. Not sure it's worth the trade off. Only testing will tell you for sure. Axles are but one aspect to making a derby racer fast. If money is no object there are plenty of polished and modified axles on the internet for sale. Good luck and good racing!
Little Things, Many people ask what's the one big speed tip that will make my car fast. Wrong question. There is not just one big thing. There are several, in fact I list 10. But it's really more than that. The 10 I list here in this article are just the basics. The truth is there are many little things that need to be done for each basic tip. It's many "little things" that add up to the 10 big things. Jesus said,"If you want to be trusted with the mighty things of God, you must first be faithful with the small things". Everything in life we do well, we do it well because we had to learn how to do it, little steps, one at a time, building one success after another. Until we become good at whatever the task may be. Or in some cases become professional. No difference in pinewood derby. You need to sweat the small stuff and never say, well that's good enough, because it just isn't. If your goal is to win then you need to put in your all. Pay the price tag, do the research. Learn how to apply what you learned. Master the skills it needs to take to build a winning racer. Trust me it will not be a waste of time. You will be able to use the skills learned in this hobby to good use the rest of your life. Thanks and good racing!
Lubricant, this is important! You must lube your axles and wheels to help reduce friction. You wouldn't run your car engine without motor oil or fly down the freeway at 90 miles per hour without grease in your wheel bearings. So don't show up to your race without lubricating your car. If you count on others to loan you some, they may give you something that is slower than what they are using. Graphite has been the lube of choice by most champions over the decades. Graphite is a DRY POWDER that is usually found in a tube. It is very messy and will get everywhere. Your mom will be very displeased with you if you get it on your closes or on the carpet. Use newspaper, rubber gloves and whatever other means to keep containment. DO NOT EAT OR BREATH graphite. Wash your hands before eating. For good results using graphite it takes a little time to apply correctly. That's why adding graphite last minute may not produce the optimum results. Graphite does not flow well and it is hard to coat evenly. Take the time to work the graphite on to all the surface where friction is occurring. Keep re-applying until all the points of friction are coated. Other lubricants that work well are WD-40, Ni-Oil, fishing reel oil(NOT GREASE), Sewing machine oil, silicone spray, Teflon. Oh, Graphite also comes in a grease version(DO NOT USE IT). You want your wheels to spin freely, grease and some oils will slow you car down. Do not mix graphite with oil, trust me not a good idea. If you want to try to come up with your own concoction be sure to test and prove before race day. Testing on race day is not a good idea. Always be ready with your lubricant of choice while racing. Some race officials will allow you to re-lube. Good luck.
Wheels, Alright this is where the rubber meets the road, or the plastic meets the track. Another nightmare here, all kinds of friction going on. Friction is the enemy of speed. The wheels and axles are your best opportunity to create separation from the rest of the pack. Lets face it, most cars will be at full weight and many of those will be at optimum weight placement. Most people are busy and just put their cars together last minute. They will not spend the time and effort to make fast wheels and axles. Trust me, it's worth the time. Doing a good job on your wheels and axles will put you in the top 10 of 100 cars. Wheels are made of plastic by the injection mold process. The wheels appear symmetrical and made well but there not. The important thing to know here is they are not perfect. They need work too, just like the axles they can be improved. Plastic parts have imperfections from flashing to shrinkage and defects. Flashing is little chads and bits of excess plastic that should be removed. Shrinkage occurs when the part is ejected out of the mold and shrinks while it is cooling. Defects are things that happen during or after the part was made that was not intentional. In any case, all of it needs to be addressed. If you have a little money to spend, this is where I would open my purse or wallet. It takes some skill and tools to modify a wheel to make it perform at optimum speed. There are many sellers out there that offer lathe turned wheels at pretty reasonable prices. You can find all the major brands out there, BSA, AWANA, Pinecar, S&W even Outlaw type. However check your rules, there may be restrictions or not allowed at all. Races that don't allow modified wheels usually allow a light sanding and polishing to reduce the imperfections. If they are allowed and you want to try to modify yourself, well good for you! It is a lot of fun and brings much satisfaction doing them yourself. After all this is a craft project intended for learning and fun. Buy extra wheels to practice. Pick the best four to install for racing. Good luck and good racing!
Wheel Base, the distance between the front and rear axle position. If allowed, extending the wheel base is faster than the wheelbase on the standard block. The car is more stable going down the track. Bounces less off the guide strip reducing friction. When the car does hit the guide strip it will do so at a lesser angle of attack, which also reduces friction. Warning, re-cutting your own axles slots can be tricky and not done correctly would slow your car down more than just using the original slots as long as they are cut correctly from the factory. You could avoid the hassle and purchase one of our kits with extended wheel base. Shameless plug.
Weights, I've seen all kinds, fishing, coins, washers, bolts,screws, bullets, rocks, you name it I've seen it. Just a little tip. this is one of the most important aspects to a fast racer. You need to be at the maximum weight limit. A lighter car is not faster when gravity is your motor. Most tracks a tail heavy car is fastest. I talked about weight placement earlier, it is important too. When designing your car plan room for weight and its placement. You want your weight to be as low, as centered from side to side as possible and not drag on the guide strip. You also want the bulk of the weight in back, about 80% on the back axle and 20% on the front. The fulcrum or balance point should be about an 1"to 1-1/4" in front of the rear axle. Weight type, there is lots of options. Use what works best for making your car meet the above tips and budget. I'm not a big fan of tungsten weights. Not sure it is worth the trade off. I would rather spend the money on lathe turned wheels and use a cheaper alternative for weight. If you have a large budget for your racer go ahead and use the tungsten type, after all many "little things" add up to a fast racer. What is important to know here is, Wheels, axles & alignment is the big three to focus on to create separation from the rest of the pack. It is also a good idea to provide some adjustable weight for removing or adding in small increments. Not all scales are the same. You will be held accountable to the official race scale. Have the car as close to official weight as possible and ready to add a little or remove a little as needed. I can't stress enough on being well prepared for the final weigh in. This typically is very frustrating if trying to do this on race day.
Final thoughts. Remember the 10 commandments of a fast racer are, Aerodynamics, Alignment, Axles, Extended Wheel Base, Lubricant, Wheels, Maximum Weight, Weight Placement, "Little things" add up and know the RULES.
We will update these tip from time to time. Feel free to comment. we appreciate feedback and tips. These tips are just guidelines, there is much, much more that could be said, the methods of achieving the basics are many and diverse. We will be adding "how to" videos soon that will go into more detail. Don't be afraid to ask me questions,send me an email.
Good luck and good racing!