Friday, February 20, 2015

Pre-Race Events Add Excitement
By Randy Davis

If you have ever been to a contemporary concert, there seems to always be a "warm-up" act. Why is this done? To build audience excitement, and get the attendees in the mood for the main event.

Similarly a pre-race event serves as a warm-up act for your pinewood derby event. The presence of such an event will generate excitement and encourage people to arrive early. Larry Walser of Pack 436 in Rochester, Pennsylvania points out that if you have trouble getting people to assist in setting up the facilities for the pinewood derby race, holding a pre-race event can also draw additional set-up help.

There are of course innumerable ideas for pre-race events, and I am sure that you can come up with some great ideas. But to help stir the mental process, below are several events that have been held at our
local race, and at the local races of our readers.

Special races are great because they involve members of your group. Here are two popular ideas.

Hot Wheels Race
A Hot Wheels race is a great way to get the little tykes involved. We held this event with great success for two years. Our method was as follows. Each pre-school child was allowed to enter one Hot Wheels car (could be Matchbox or any other manufacturer). The check-in was held fifteen minutes before the Hot Wheels race, which allowed time to collect the cars and the names of the kids. The race was a simple double elimination with a prize for first. We gave a gift certificate to an ice cream parlor as the prize.

To accommodate the cars, we purchased some Hot Wheels track and laid two lanes between the center guide rails on the pinewood derby track. The cars would have run right on the pinewood derby track, but we didn't want to take the risk of marring the wood. Of course, the Hot Wheels track was much shorter than the pinewood derby track, and since it did not reach to the electronic finish line, we used two leaders as finish line judges.

Adult Race
Adult races are quite popular as a pre-race event. Several readers mentioned that adult races are held at their local race. John Hubler of Pack 165 in Round Rock, Texas says that they find an adult race is a great tool to prepare the track workers for the main event. Larry Walser of Pack 436 also mentioned that with an adult race, the parents had their own project, so the kids did more work on their own cars!

We hold an adult (Outlaw) race every year. The rules are fairly open - one year we even allowed (safe) power assistance. The winning car for our adult race was built by yours truly. It was propeller-driven and very fast.(1)

Original Propeller Car

Demonstrations relating to racing are also popular pre-race events. Two demonstrations we have used are listed below, but you might consider another event such as an R/C car race in the parking lot (check with the local hobby store for a local club that might stage the event).

Race Car
One year we invited a local stock car race team to bring a car to our event. They showed the car and started the engine (in retrospect, this was not the best idea as it was so loud that people inside the building had to cover their ears!). But the kids and parents thought the car was cool and they enjoyed talking to the team
and getting photo-ops in the car.

Lester Bowes of Marietta, Ohio used local dirt track drivers as starters for their race. The drivers wore their race suits, and signed autographs during down time. Some even brought pictures of their cars to sign.

Rocket Car
Several years ago we demonstrated the "World's Fastest Pinewood Derby Car." The car used a pinewood derby block, but was equipped with a rocket motor and rubber tires. The rocket car raced on a guide string in the parking lot. We actually had two of the cars racing drag race style down two strings. It was a real crowd pleaser. More information can be found Here.


John Hubler told us that Pack 165 allows the older participants to vote for "Best of Show" before the race. When registered, each car is entered in one of four "Best of Show" categories:

Best Craftsmanship (Original Kit, Paint and Decals only)
Most Patriotic (Original Kit, Paint and Decals only)
Best Car Design (Unlimited Accessories Allowed)
Best Non-Car Design (Unlimited Accessories Allowed)

Each entrant is then given three ballots with the four categories listed. The entrant can fill out all three ballots, or share them with relatives/friends. Awards are then presented after the ballots are tallied.

We used to have an adult team decide on the design awards. But about five years ago we started allowing the entrants to vote for their favorite three cars in each age group. Each entrant is given one ballot (see below). We don't give a ballot to each attendee as that might lead to ballot box stuffing in the case of large clans. The voters then pick their favorite three cars in each group (ordering of the cars was not important). Then after the ballots were turned in, my wife tallies up the votes and the design awards are given to the cars with the most votes.

A final category for pre-race events is special guest speakers. Possibilities include a local policeman, fireman, civic leader, etc. Maybe you can even find a celebrity or a sports star. Encourage the speaker to talk at the kid's level, and discuss a topic of interest to them. A talk on cars, racing, or another transportation-related topic would be even better.

Pre-race events are fun and a great way to generate interest. Hopefully one or more of these ideas will work in your local race. If not, put on your thinking cap and come up with another!

(1)We currently offer a modern propeller car - much faster than the original. More information about the car can be found Here.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 10

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Friday, February 13, 2015


Iwo Jima - Scott Lewallen

We just took 1st place in design in the BSA pinewood derby. The car was inspired by Scott Morill's car, which was shown in a previous newsletter.

Pikachu - Darren Gorman

My 10 year old and I built Pikachu together. It took 1st place, and was the Scouts' Choice winner!

Home Depot - Mitchell Swoboda

Our Home Depot car came in 2nd place. We got the decals from Southern Motorsport Hobbies (

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 10

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Skull Tungsten Canopy

Maximum Velocity is now offering a 2.9 ounce tungsten canopy shaped as a skull to give your car a very distinctive look.

Like our other canopies, the Skull Canopy has a mounting stud.

You can get one today at Maximum Velocity.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Graphite Questions
The Two Most Popular Questions of the 2013-14 Season

By Randy Davis

Each pinewood derby season, there are always a few questions that get asked more than any others. Some years the questions are about weighting, while other years the questions are about alignment. But during the past season, there were two popular questions about lubricating with graphite. So let's discuss these in detail.

Question 1: How do you get graphite to stick to the axles?

The short answer is, "You don't want graphite to stick to the axles", but let's go a little deeper. Graphite is carbon in a unique molecular structure; the carbon atoms are formed into a layered structure. These layers allow the molecules to slide on each other, thus giving dry powered graphite a natural lubrication ability.

Dry graphite does not typically stick to metal or any non-porous surface. So, it does not stick to pinewood derby axles. However, it does stick to porous surfaces, specifically polystyrene, which is the plastic from which most pinewood derby wheels are made.

So, when lubricating pinewood derby wheels and axles, the graphite adheres to the inner bore of the wheel, and the axle slides on the graphite (and the graphite slides on itself). If the layer of graphite on the bore is sufficiently thick, then all contact between the metal axle and the plastic wheel is eliminated, resulting in a significant reduction in friction. Building this layer of graphite can be done in many ways, but all involve repeatedly adding graphite and rotating the wheel on the axle.(1)

There is a way to make graphite stick to an axle. This involves making a graphite paste by adding isopropyl alcohol. The axle is then dipped in the mixture and allowed to dry. Unfortunately, the resulting coating does not lubricate as well as dry graphite because the molecular structure is modified in the process. For this reason, Maximum Velocity does not offer graphite-coated axles. In all of our performance tests, graphite-coated axles were inferior to polished

Question 2: What do you think of that graphite packing video on YouTube?

There are a lot of videos about graphite packing. These can be divided into two categories: wet packing and dry packing.

Wet Packing
Wet-packing involves making a graphite paste as described above. The axle is inserted into the wheel and the paste is pressed into the bore around the axle. After the graphite dries, the axle can be removed leaving a thick ring of hard graphite on the bore of the wheel.

There are two significant issues with this process:

1) There is no guarantee that the graphite ring is concentric with the bore of the wheel. In fact, it would take precision equipment to make a truly concentric ring (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 - Non-concentric Graphite Ring

In one video, after the ring is created the producer of the video spins the wheel on the axle. He states: "This wheel isn't balanced at all; you can see how it wobbles." Almost certainly, the real problem is not the wheel; the wobble is because the graphite ring is not concentric.

2) The ring does not lubricate as well as dry graphite. As described previously, in our testing, graphite with alcohol was always slower than dry graphite. In fact, if you watch the video mentioned above you will note that there is no comparison test between a dry-lubed and a wet-packed wheel/axle. In fact, there is no claim that the wet-packing method is effective other than "it might help you knock off a few thousandths of a second".

Dry Packing
Dry packing involves creating a ring of dry graphite in the bore of the wheel. As previously mentioned, it involves repeated applications of graphite, followed by spinning the wheels on the axles. The purpose of the spinning is to incrementally build up the graphite ring.

There are videos showing many ways to this. I am sure that many of the methods are effective, but I want to provide a few cautions.

1. Be leery of any method where the wheel is rotated at a high speed for an extended period of time. Many people advocate using a Dremel-like tool and a buffing wheel to rotate the wheel. Recognize that on a typical track, the average RPM of the wheel is about 2200. Dremel-like tools generally have settings as high as 30,000 RPM. If a wheel is spun up to 30,000 RPM, the graphite will wear off very quickly, and the wheel will overheat. Remember that the point of spinning is to build up the graphite ring, not wear it off.

So, if you use a Dremel-like tool to spin wheels, set the RPM to the lowest speed (on my tool this is still 5,000 RPM) and just briefly touch the wheel to the buffing wheel, letting it spin down to a standstill.

2. Some videos recommend using a treadmill to spin the wheels. That is, the lubed wheels and axles are installed on the car, the car is placed on a treadmill with a string from the front of the car attached to a stationary object so that the car stays on the treadmill. The treadmill is then started, and at intervals graphite is applied to the wheels.

Again, the wheel spinning is to build up the graphite, not wear it down. So if you use a treadmill, limit the runtime between graphite applications to about ten seconds. This simulates four heats on a standard track.

3. Some videos recommend pressing the graphite into the bore of the wheel (truly packing it). This is probably fine as long as the wheels/axles are spun many times to loosen up the system and shed the excess graphite. If this is not done, the wheels will not spin well.

At Maximum Velocity, we recommend spinning the wheels by hand before they are mounted on the car. This is a safe method, and a "tried and true" method. To make this method easier for kids (and their parents), you can make a simple tool to allow all four wheels to be spun at one time. This speeds up the process and minimizes the risk of dropping the wheels.

Figure 2 - Wheel Spinning Tool
(Not pretty, but it works)

I hope you found this information useful. I certainly didn't mean to disparage any of the folks that post videos on YouTube. But recognize that like any information found on the Internet, it needs to be filtered with careful thought and good judgment.

(1) Our procedure for lubricating with Max-V-Lube Graphite can be found Here.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 9

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Friday, January 23, 2015


Smaug - Holt Family

Smaug was raced at our local race. It is made from light-weight
modeling clay.

Stanley 220 Block Plane - Dennis Bjorn

I built this car 16 years ago out of pallet wood that held granite
blocks from India. My weights are hidden under the lever cap. The
blade adjuster on the back is from a Stanley block plane.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 8

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Shop Talk: The Best Pinewood Derby Rule

Although you can get away with using a cheap plastic ruler for an occasional pinewood derby car, having a nice, accurate rule (not ruler) is a must for any serious craftsman. But like any tool, there is a large variety of rules available on the market. Today, I want to share with you my favorite rule. In my opinion, this rule is a must have for pinewood derby enthusiasts.

The rule I am referring to is the Incra Six Inch Precision Bend Rule. Although this rule wasn't specifically designed for pinewood derby use, I have to believe that the designer was a pinewood derby parent.

Photo 1
Incra Six Inch Bend Rule

The obvious feature of the Incra Bend Rule is the shape. The rule is specifically designed to fit over the edge of a block or board in order to make precise measurement with ease. The rule is marked in 1/32 inch increments, and at each increment is a hole and a slot that allows insertion of a 5mm pencil (standard mechanical pencil size). These holes and slots eliminate the inaccuracy that comes with trying to make a pencil mark along the side of a regular ruler.

Photo 2
Making a Measurement

This feature in itself makes this a nice tool, but there's more. On one end of the Incra Bend Rule you will find measurements that are perpendicular to the rule. These are used to mark offsets from the edge of a block. For pinewood derby cars, the obvious use is marking axle locations, weight hole positions, car thickness, etc.

Photo 3
Marking a 1/8 inch Offset for Axle Holes

But this offset measurement feature is not just to make a tiny dot, but it can also be used for drawing horizontal lines. Just insert the pencil at the desired location, and slide the rule along the edge of the block. Sweet!

Photo 4
Drawing a Horizontal Line

Now the "pièce de résistance". Do you want to locate the center of your block? One half of the Incra Bend Rule is 3/4 inch wide, while the other is 7/8 inch wide. 7/8 inch is a familiar number - it is one-half of the width of a standard block. So to find the center of a block, lay the rule with the wide portion on the top or bottom of the block, and strike a line. Since blocks are not consistent, put the rule on the other side, and draw another line. "Voilà!" The center of the block will be between the two lines (or coincident with the two lines if the block is exactly 1-3/4 inches wide).

Photos 5 & 6
Finding the Center of the Block

I am confident that you will enjoy this rule as much as I do. You can find it on our Web Site or in our Product Showcase.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 8

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Friday, January 09, 2015


Arrow of Lightening - Scott & Derek Bobbitt

For his final foray in pinewood derby racing, my son Derek opted to showcase Scout Spirit and go for the "Lord Baden Powell" award for most Cub Spirit. His entry, the "Arrow of Lightening" succeeded. He won the Cub Spirit award and placed first out the 30 entries in the pack. At the district finals, five cars from each Pack were invited to participate. The "Arrow of Lightening" won every heat and placed second overall by just 0.007 seconds! Most importantly, though, his car won the District award for "Best-In-Show". He was one elated Webelos!

Triangulator - Gerald Scotting

After seeing the unusual triangular tungsten canopy I knew i wanted to design a car around it. The canopy made up most of the weight for the car, but due to the super slim design I was still too light. I ended up using a bunch of the 3/16" tungsten beads. The body was cut out as a side profile, then a rough top profile. All other shaping was done with either a round file or sandpaper, and lots of patience.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 14, Issue 7

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