Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
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 overwhelmed.
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 principles.
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 guidelines.
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 myself):
- 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!