Friday, September 19, 2014


Chilly Willy - Rob & Blake Overton

Attached is a picture of my son, Blake's ice cream sandwich car which he named "Chilly Willy". It won crowd favorite and took 3rd place in speed. We had to take the photo from the right side to see the bite (which is actually from Blake). He bit into a piece of foam and we traced it to the wood.

Photo Finish - Gary Kranston

This car competed in my daughter's Indian Guide Pinewood Derby last year. Since my daughter is getting older and she likely won't do this many more times, I wanted to create a special keepsake for her. I used clear acetate, and applied a decal I created to look like a filmstrip with some special pictures of our camping adventures together. Also, I used some small watch batteries to power a flashing yellow LED light at the front of the car and two white LED lights beneath the filmstrip. Not only was the car fun to look at, we raced it with outlaw wheels and won!

Flex Car - Tom Bybee

I compete in the open class in our pack which was designed mainly for adults and has very few restrictions. However, there is still a restriction of no external springs. Since we use an older wooden track that is pretty rough in places, cars lose a lot of energy because the entire weight of the car has to go over every bump. This year I tried a flex design. By doing some clever cutting and a lot of sanding, the car has four-wheel independent suspension -- each wheel can flex and move more than 1/4 inch. With this design I was able to move the weight further back on the car (the wide area at the back is filled with lead) without fear that it would "pop a wheelie". It also absorbed track bumps without losing much energy. Although from the picture it may look fragile, it is actually quite strong and won every race by well over a car length.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 6

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Highest and Longest

We had heard about the upcoming World's highest and longest Pinewood Derby track event, so we decided to go. We picked out some cars from my son Patrick's, collection, and I took him and his friend downtown to the museum. Patrick chose the car that he made as a Tiger Cub, an Indy-style racer. His friend, Bryce, picked out a car loosely based on the Dragonfire car plans that were part of a design booklet we had purchased. I got greedy and took two cars, a car based on a 60's Indy Watson Roadster that I made for myself when Patrick was a Cub Scout (so I could keep my hands off of his car), and a vintage "skinny wheel" car made in the 1960's.

We had seen the track on TV, so we knew it was going to be high and long, but it was even more impressive in person. There were lots of friendly volunteers helping out with the racing. We quickly got our cars inspected, and were ready to roll.

The aluminum track was four lanes suspended from the ceiling. The starting gate was perched over the second floor railing, and the track made a graceful arch down to the main floor and the finish line. The scoring results were recorded and displayed on a big screen TV near the finish line. Each car was allowed three timed runs. The fastest ten cars would be eligible to compete for one of the top five trophies that were being awarded for the event.

All of our cars ran nicely, but not near the top ten times. The top times were in the 4.5 second range; the best any of ours did was 4.6 seconds. Still, it was awesome to see the cars from below, rocketing down two stories of Pinewood Derby Race track right down to the finish line. You don't always have to win to have a good time.

I was surprised to see the vintage Pinewood Derby car, made in the 1960's, holding its own racing against the newer models. It brought back fond memories of my son's Cub Scout enjoyment of the Pinewood Derby. I found this reflected in the faces of all the kids who were having the time of their life racing their cars on this day.

In addition to the kids, there were several "Old Timers", like me, who brought their boyhood creations down for one more taste of Pinewood glory.

Two kids that we met that day stood out the most. One boy was there with his Mom. The boy's dad was out of town, so Mom got Dad's old Pinewood car for the young man to run. It was probably a seventies car. The builder used the wider 70's tires for the back and a couple of older skinny wheels in the front. It gave the car a very distinctive look. The son was having the time of his life "driving" daddy's car.

The other youngster who caught my attention was probably 6 or 7 years old. His car was one that he had made "All by himself"... with a little help from Mom. The car, was nicely painted silver, and had a Lego driver in the cockpit, with horns on it's helmet, and he had found a matching sticker to decorate the back. It was really neat to see the joy and pride on the face of that little boy -- it brought back lots of fond memories of Pinewood Derbies past.

All in all, we had a really great day taking part in a bit of Pinewood Derby History. I heard from one of the volunteers that they may make this into a yearly event. I sure hope so.

Bob & Patrick Henderson

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 5

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014


To the Rescue - Chris & Kaycie Tufaro

This is the car my daughter, Kaycie (age 10), and I built for her 2008 Powder Puff Derby. It is a basic wedge design with a few special add-ons. In front is what is left of a car after a large "boulder" had fallen on it. Behind are emergency vehicles coming "to the rescue". The "Falling Rocks" sign was another creative touch. Although she did not win a ribbon for any of the "best of themes" (most colorful, favorite food, sporty, girl scout values, etc.) the car ran fast and we had a blast making it.

Two-wheeler - Bob Weaver

After seeing my two-wheeled car, Bob dropped by Maximum Velocity to show me his version. Modeled after a car that was entered at his pack's race many years ago, it runs on the right-front, and left-rear wheels; the other wheels are off the ground. Unlike my car which is center-weighted, Bob's car is rear weighted (balance point at 1-3/4 inch in front of the rear axle) by offsetting an underbody lead plate to the left. It is possible that this design could be made faster by using tungsten plates and shifting them further back. Nevertheless, the car is very fast; it has taken first in several races.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 5

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Thursday, August 28, 2014


I would share our 2007 cars (not shown is the original prototype of the Velocinator, which was included in Volume 7, Issue 4).

Speeder - Stephen Davis

My youngest son, Stephen, has always liked the Speeder (I do too). This is the second Speeder he has made (the first was in 2002). It was quite fast, taking 3rd place, but not fast enough to catch his sister's 1st Place car.

Detonator - Janel Davis

My youngest daughter built this Detonator. It was extremely fast, easily taking first place.

Wedge SE - Elisa Davis

The extended wheelbase Wedge SE is weighted with tungsten, and is equipped with Outlaw wheels. It was nosed into 2nd Place, behind an extended wheelbase Bolt equipped with Outlaw wheels (built in our shop by a friend).

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 4

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Thursday, August 21, 2014


Big Wheel - John White

I pushed the design envelope this year; after two years of mulling over an idea this is what I came up with. The two front wheels sit just off the track and are there to keep the car going straight. The center wheel rides down the middle of the track and works the kid's legs. My goal was to make everyone at the race laugh. I wasn't sure what was going to happen: would I qualify, would it make it down the track, run into another car, or just plain fall apart? Well -- mission accomplished! He was just a peddlin'. It wasn't fast by any means, but everyone enjoyed watching it race. And it won "Funniest Car".

Awana Tractor - Doug Kile

I'm a leader with our local Awana program at Valley Community Church in Salinas California. Since Salinas is the "Salad Capital" of the world, you see many of these tractors in the fields around here.

Fast Talker - Frank Tonra

I made this car as the Pace Car for Pack 57 in Toms River. I found the idea for this one online and could not resist making it. Someone else came up with idea but it did not matter, they lined up to see the car and laughed all afternoon. I sent the car to the Districts and got the same result. What a joy to see their faces! It was well, worth the hours of sanding.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 3

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Top Fuel Cars - Direct Drive

(The fifth in a series of articles on cars that "stretch the rules")

Last summer I was searching the web for articles and Blogs relating to pinewood derby racing. Most of what I find is not particularly interesting, but occasionally I come across a real gem.

One of these gems was an article written by Eldon Goates, owner of Synthesis Engineering Services. Eldon decided to use PRO/Engineer design software to design a top-performing, direct-drive pinewood derby car for an outlaw race. After designing and building the car, he wrote an article describing the process for Pro/E magazine. You can find the entire article Here

Although I do not have the sophisticated equipment available to Mr. Goates, I decided to make my own version of the car using a pinewood derby block. I do have a lathe to make a few of the key parts, but otherwise, the car was made with basic shop tools.

Figure 1 - My Direct Drive Car

The basic premise of the car is that a string is wound around the rear axle and is attached to a spool mounted onto a motor. When the motor is turned on, the string is wound onto the spool, causing the rear axle to rotate. The length of the string is set such that it runs out just as the car crosses the finish line. So, if the car was used on a track of a different length, the string would need to be adjusted.

The unique feature of this car design is the axle "transmission". To understand how this works, think of a ten speed bicycle. When in a low gear (more torque, less speed), a smaller front "motor" sprocket (the motor is a pedaling human) and a larger rear "drive" sprocket (attached to the rear wheel) is used. But in a high gear (less torque, more speed), a larger front sprocket and a smaller rear sprocket are used.

Now adapting this concept to the direct drive car, at the starting line a low gear is wanted. This means that a smaller motor sprocket and a larger drive sprocket are needed. The smaller motor sprocket is simple; it is just the empty spool attached to the motor. The larger drive sprocket is accomplished by creating a larger rear axle (the right side of the transmission seen in Figure 4). Conversely, near the finish line, a high gear is desired - a larger motor sprocket and a smaller drive sprocket. This corresponds to the nearly full spool on the motor, and a smaller rear axle (left side of the transmission).

To make this work, the string is first wound around the smaller (left) portion of the transmission. Next, the middle portion is filled, followed by the larger portion. When in motion, these are, of course, unwind in the reverse order. The only trick is to make sure to rotate the rear wheel in reverse when winding. Otherwise the car will go backward!

First I needed to collect and/or manufacture the various parts. These included:

- Basic block: This was drilled and milled to hold the parts.

- Starting Pin Switch: I used a contact switch (part #275-016 at Radio Shack). It is normally on. When the car rests against the starting pin, the weight of the car closes the switch turning the motor off. Thus, when the pin drops, away it goes. This switch can be seen in Figure 2.

- Kill Switch: A small toggle switch (part #275-624 at Radio Shack) that is used to turn the motor off when not in use. Just make sure to turn it on at the starting gate!

- Batteries, 9V clips and cover: Two standard 9V batteries with 9V clips are located in the bottom of the car, hidden by a cover plate of styrene plastic (see Figure 4).

- Motor: 12 VDC motor, I drove the motor at 18V for more power. This would eventually burn out the motor, but the on-time is so short that the motor doesn't get a chance to overheat.

- Motor Harness: The motor is mounted on a piece of brass, fastened to the block, and held down by a piece of styrene.

- Axles: Front axles are our 4095-Speed Axles. The rear axle (one piece) is a piece of 3/32 steel rod.

- Bearings: Two bearings are attached to the side of the car in the rear (I used small screws to catch the flange of the bearing). Thus, the entire rear assembly (wheels, axle, and axle transmission) rotate as a unit, supported by the bearings.

- Bushings: The axle was a bit loose on the bearings, so I inserted two short pieces of copper tubing between the wheels and the bearings to keep the axle assembly from shifting left or right.

- Wheels: The front wheels are white RS wheels from DerbyWorx. The rear wheels are two inch servo wheels from Pitsco. This larger size was needed so that the string spool would clear the center guide rail (it also helped performance). I had to make bushings of black Delrin so that the 3/32 inch axle rod would press fit into the wheels. You can see one of the bushings in Figure 1.

- String Spool: This piece presses onto the shaft of the motor (Figures 3 and 4). It was machined from Delrin. A hole is drilled through the spool. The string is threaded through the hole, and then tied in place.

- Axle Transmission: This piece was machined from Delrin (see Figure 4). It was then slid onto the rear axle and permanently attached with epoxy. There is a hole drilled into the transmission into which the tip of the string is inserted before winding.

- Wiring: Light gage electronics wire. Positive side of the battery goes to the Kill Switch, then to the Starting Pin Switch, then to the motor. The negative wire goes to the motor. Batteries are wired in series.

- String: I used some strong kite string. It tends to fray, so dental floss, or another type of non-fraying string would be better.

Figure 2 - Front of Car

Figure 3 - Back of Car

Figure 4 - Bottom of Car
Left Photo - String is wound and car is ready to go
Right Photo - At end of run, string is wound around the motor spool

I ran this car on our 32 foot aluminum track, and it was faster than all of my propeller cars (see Pinewood Derby Times Volume 6, Issue 15 - April 18, 2007).

Unfortunately, the car sat a little too high, so it would not go under the timer.

Against a fast gravity-powered car, it wins by nearly two track sections (about 14 feet). Here is a Quick Time Video (.mov extension) of the direct-drive car racing against a fast gravity car.

This was a fun and challenging project. Certainly my car is not elegant like Eldon's, but it got a lot of attention at our race in April 2007 - it confounded kids and parents alike. "How does it go so fast?," was a common response.

By the way, if you build a direct drive car based on this design, or a different design, please send me an e-mail with a description and photos.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 3

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Thursday, August 07, 2014


Ski Racer - Tom Bybee

My 8-year-old daughter took skiing lessons this year and was wildly
enthusiastic about the sport. Her first car design was a natural
expression of her new-found passion. She placed second in the siblings
race at our Pack.

NASCAR COT: Caterpillar Toyota - Brent Whitlow

My father and I take pride in creating full-bodied NASCAR style
pinewood derby cars. Since the COT (Car of Tomorrow) made its debut
last year in the Nextel Cup, we have been trying to create a pinewood
derby version. This year we were able to debut our first ever COT at our
local SAPCAR pinewood derby racing event.

Pink Ghost - Brian & Brianna Fenech

This car is my daughter's submission from her April 2008 Awana Grand
Prix race with Adamsville Baptist Church. The paint is a bright pink with
ghost Lemans stripes. The car features an extended wheelbase wedge
design, offset front wheels, and raised right front wheel. We used flat
black under the nose to ensure instant timing light trigger. All the
tungsten weight is located near the rear axle, precisely at 5.0 ounces.
The wheels are race-ready, graphite-coated slicks. The axles were
smoothed and grooved to reduce friction and utilized Krytox oil rather
than graphite lube. The car raced a total of eight class heats. It sped to
1st Place - Top Speed in Class, then Top Speed Overall to beat all
competition, including parents. The car also garnered 2nd place in class
for design. We're looking forward to starting our 2009 Awana Grand Prix
racer. By the way, Brianna was also the reining 2007 Top Speed Overall,
(See Car Showcase in Volume 7 - Issue 9).

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 8, Issue 2

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