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Pinewood Derby Race Organization
By Scott Morris & Randy Davis

The Pinewood Derby (Grand Prix, or whatever the title of your race) is an
exciting, but oftentimes chaotic event. Due to the exuberance of
participants, the keen (sometimes pathological) interest of parents, and
the seemingly infinite number of race details, race officials can easily be

After running our local races for many years, we have learned how to
maintain our sanity while conducting a reasonably organized race.
Today's article will share the principles we use to run our local races.
We hope that you will glean some useful information from these


Announce and commence kit sales 6 to 8 weeks before the event - the
timing of the kickoff is crucial. If the kickoff occurs more than two
months before the race, enthusiasm will wane during the long wait.
Also, purchased car kits will tend to sit on the shelf until the event draws
closer. On the other hand, if the kickoff is too close to the race, many
people will choose not to participate, as they will have schedule
conflicts, or will believe that they do not have the time to build a car.


Provide complete, detailed rules with the car kit - Participants must be
given the complete rules at the time of kit purchase. If the rules are not
provided, cars will be built which do not follow the rules, leading to
extreme participant frustration. For the same reason, rules must not
change once kit sales begin.

Scott: I begin selling car kits 2 months prior to the race. An important
part of the kit is the construction rules and speed tips. This gives the
kids and their parents precise rules concerning the construction of the
car, and the race itself - this has proven to be very helpful in removing
questions about car specifications.

Randy: I announce the race 8 weeks before the event, and start selling
kits at 7 weeks. I also provide complete rules, and speed tips and


Provide at least one workshop where builders can rough-cut their car.
Garage workshops are becoming rare, and many car kits will never be
touched unless there is a convenient way for builders to perform the
basic woodworking.

Scott: Immediately after sales begin I hold a workshop where the
participants design their cars, and the leaders cut out the cars using a
band saw, drill press, and disc sander. I then supply the participants
with sand paper and weight to finish their car at home. About three
weeks prior to the race I hold a mini-workshop during one of our club
nights where I help kids with weighting issues.

Randy: I hold two workshops to allow participants to use our wood
shop. Along with two volunteers, we help the single moms, and anyone
else that needs access to tools. I also have a track available for testing
cars. Generally, the people that show up at the workshop end up with
the top performing cars at the race.


Don't try to do it yourself; sign up volunteers - Running a successful race
requires lots of trained volunteers. Get people signed up early. Look for
people with skills that fit the need: 'techy' people for sound and
computers, organized people for registration and inspection, eloquent
people for announcing, providing a devotion, etc.

Scott: Get as many volunteers as necessary to set up, run an
organized event, and to tear down. Usually the leaders fill these
positions, but key parents and outsiders may also be needed. I have the
following positions:

- Two people for registration
- One computer operator
- Two for the pit area and inspection station
- One emcee
- One race judge
- Three design judges

Randy: Over the years, I have found certain people that I know will do a
great job. I seek them out, and then fill in the gaps with new people.
Generally, club leaders are used, but I also bring in a few key outsiders
and alumni with special skills. I fill the following positions (in addition to

- Two people for registration/inspection
- Two workshop helpers
- Three design judges
- One devotional speaker
- One announcer
- One computer operator
- One sound person
- One camera person
- One starting gate operator
- Two car stagers (for younger group race)
- Two car retrievers (for younger group race)


Allow enough time for check-in and inspection, and be prepared - Check-
in and inspection is potentially the most chaotic time. Depending on the
number of participants, up to two hours may be needed to complete this
task. A few things that will help this go more smoothly include:

- Written procedures for helpers.

- Accurate, calibrated official scale. I recommend a scale with 1/10
ounce accuracy (5.0). Scales with 1/100 ounce (or more) accuracy will
lengthen the time requirement as participants try to hit the magic 5.00.

- Separate area for making final tweaks to cars, with a separate scale
(but all cars must be weighed on the official scale).

- Helpers to assist participants with weight adjustments.

Scott: I hold the check-in on the same day as the race - two hours prior
to race time. This gives the kids and parents as much time as
needed for their cars. If the number of racers warrants it, the check-in
can also be done on the club-night just prior to the race.

Randy: I hold the check-in on a club night before the race. This takes
the pressure off getting all the cars checked-in, and allows for a shorter
race night. The cars are then impounded until the race. This also allows
the participants to be entered into the race software, and the race
schedules to be created prior to race night.


Set up early and thoroughly test the equipment - Things never go
perfectly according to plan, so allow enough time for the set up and for
the unexpected. Trust us on this, the more electronic equipment you
use, the more extra time you will need to provide for the unexpected.

Scott: I hold our race in the morning, so I set up the night before the
race. Activities include:

- Set up and fine tune the track and timing systems - fine tune lighting
so the timing system works flawlessly.

- Set up the computer racing system - run a short, mock race to ensure
the computer operator knows how it works before race day.

- Set up the pit area and the car inspection station.

- Set up the racer registration station.

- Decorate with lots of racing stuff.

Randy: I hold our race in the evening, so I set up the afternoon of the
race (cars are already checked-in). I allow five hours for:

- Decorating and room set up.

- Track set-up and testing.

- Computer set-up and software testing.

- Sound and camera set-up.


Be organized, keep to your schedule, and display confidence to
participants - Participants want to feel that the race is properly and fairly
run. The more organized and confident you are, the more confident the
participants will feel.

Scott: A few additional points:

- Arrive early on race day to make any final arrangements and to turn
on any needed systems.

- I run two rounds of racing; each participant races four heats, one
heat on each lane in round one. The top seven racers move on to the
Grand Finals round. In between the two rounds I have a half-time
devotion delivered by one of our pastors.

- After the Grand Finals round, I present three design award trophies
and three trophies for speed. All racers receive a participation ribbon.

- Racers and families stay for hot dogs and all the trimmings.

- After lunch, I run a just-for-fun race for our leaders and parents who
built cars.

Randy: Some points about our race:

- I start with hot dogs, nachos etc. This helps people arrive on time.

- Right after the opening ceremony I have a devotional time. Then I
quickly cover the agenda for the evening, followed by the presentation of
design trophies.

- I run two rounds of racing for each age category. Each participant
races four heats, one heat on each lane in round one. The top racers
then participate in a finals round. In between age categories I have a five
minute intermission.

- After each finals round, I present the speed trophies for that age
category. This allows younger participants to leave early if they desire.

- After the kid's races, I hold an open race for parents and siblings.


There are many ways to run races. But regardless of the particular
format, planning and organization are crucial for a successful event.
Good luck with your race!

Read More at: Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 12

A feature article is a regular part of the Pinewood Derby Times Newsletter. To subscribe to this free e-newsletter, please visit:

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