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21st Century Changes Pinewood Derby Racing
By Randy Davis

During the pinewood derby season I receive many calls asking for
assistance in selecting products for an upcoming pinewood derby race.
Quite often the customer will state something like, "Wow, there sure
is a lot to choose from. When I did this back in 19xx there wasn't
anything available".

There certainly are a lot of products to choose from today. Whether it
is tools, weight, software, tracks, etc., the pinewood market really
exploded during the first decade of the 21st century. Sifting through
all of the new offerings, I believe there are several key products and
technologies that created a step change in competitiveness and in race
management. Let's take a look at these key developments and how
they have made a huge impact on pinewood derby racing.(1)

Although not specifically related to pinewood derby racing the
introduction of e-commerce, opened up the opportunity to offer a wide
variety of pinewood derby products directly to the user. Maximum
Velocity began selling on the Internet at the end of 1999. Prior to
that (to the best of my recollection), there was one mail order
company (Hodges Hobby House) offering an assortment of products, and
another company (Winning Edge) offering a speed tip booklet. By
the end of 2001, there were a few additional companies offering a
broad assortment of products. Now there are numerous companies
offering either a wide or a unique selection of products. Regardless
of the new products that have been developed, if it were not for
Internet retailing, the pinewood derby builder would continue to have
only a limited selection of products.

I believe Maximum Velocity was the first retailer to offer tungsten
weight for pinewood derby building. The first product was a tapered
tungsten cylinder, which was actually a golf putter weight. There is
an interesting story behind these weights.

In 2000, I received a call from a tungsten sales rep (who was also a
pinewood derby dad), asking if we had considered offering tungsten.
He had used tungsten for his son's car, and thought that it worked
great. At the end of the conversion, the sales rep offered to send me
some samples. When I received the samples (an oddball set of parts),
the only part that seemed interesting was a tapered tungsten cylinder
(the thought of having custom made tungsten parts did not seem
reasonable at the time). When I asked the sales rep about buying some,
he stated that he didn't mean to send me that part, as it was a
proprietary part from a particular customer. Oh well.

But the part intrigued me, so I went looking on the Internet. The
sales rep had indicated that they sold parts to golf club
manufacturers, so I specifically looked at golf club dealers.
Amazingly, a Ping putter was shown on a particular site, and it looked
like the putter used the tapered tungsten cylinders for weighting.
Ping is based in our area (Phoenix, Arizona), and I happened to know a
manager at Ping, so I showed him the part and explained that I wanted
to offer the part for pinewood derby racing. He said, "No problem, we
will sell them to you." So, for the next several years, we purchased
the cylinders from Ping.

Now, the use of tungsten for pinewood derby racing is quite common. It
allows for much more effective weight placement, and for extremely
low-profile cars. Not only are cars more unique today, but the weight
placement and aerodynamics have greatly improved performance.

Prior to 2002, the only readily available pinewood derby tool was the
wheel mandrel. But then in the summer of 2002, Bill Launius contacted
Maximum Velocity regarding a prototype tool he had invented, the Pro-
Hub Tool. That tool was introduced in September 2002, and was quickly
followed by the Pro-Body Tool and Pro-Axle Press. More tools followed,
and now there is a broad selection of pinewood derby tools available
from DerbyWorx. There are also some unique tools from other
manufacturers as well, such as the Wheel Balancer, Axle Extraction
pliers, and the Axle Install Support.

Now that these tools have been available for many years, it would be
difficult to make a competitive car without the tools. Just like
other types of technology, we have become accustomed to having the
right tools for the job. By simplifying the building of accurate cars,
pinewood derby specialty tools have increased the competitiveness of
all pinewood derby races.


Although some software packages were available before 2002, in that
year Lisano Enterprises introduced Grand Prix Race Manager (GPRM).
With the ability to create "perfect-n" and "partial perfect-n
schedules", this package helped to convert many race leaders away from
elimination-style racing. Coupled with certificates, sound effects,
and many other features, GPRM dramatically improved the quality,
accuracy, and entertainment value of pinewood derby racing.

Prior to 2002, an aluminum track surface was only available by
covering a wooden track with aluminum plating. But this changed when
BestTrack introduced an all-aluminum track in mid-2002. Piantedosi
(now Microwizard), followed soon after with an all-aluminum version of
their Freedom track. Now aluminum tracks are much more prevalent
than wooden tracks.

The common use of aluminum tracks has resulted in faster times (for a
given track length) and generally tighter races. This adds to the
excitement of the event, and has further increased the number of
organizations that hold pinewood derby events.

Although the Rail Rider alignment technique(2) was developed by Jay
Wiles several years ago, it became popularized in 2008 with the
introduction of the DerbyWorx Pro-Rail Rider Tool. The Rail Rider
technique greatly improves the consistency and performance of pinewood
derby cars. Because it is relatively easy to implement, the Rail Rider
technique is now commonly used not only in the highly-competitive
adult race leagues, but in most pinewood derby races. No other
technique has so quickly become a standard that is virtually required
to have a competitive car.

A major step forward for Cub Scout pinewood derby builders was the
introduction of the improved BSA wheel in 2009. By using internal
injection, this wheel did away with the mold mark on the tread,
reduced the weight, and improved the accuracy of the wheel. This
served to improve the competitiveness of Cub Scout Pinewood Derbies.
Now there are fewer cars which don't cross the finish line, and races
tend to be much closer, increasing audience interest.

Not involved in a BSA-sponsored derby? In 2010, Maximum Velocity
introduced a highly accurate light-weight wheel for their MV Car kit.
This wheel also uses internal injection to eliminate the mold mark and
improve concentricity. In races using this kit, cars are much faster
and are much closer at the finish line.

Certainly, the first decade of the 21st century has significantly
changed pinewood derby racing. I for one am anxious to see what the
current decade will bring. Hopefully it will be as exciting as the
first decade, and pinewood derby racing will continue to grow in
popularity and excitement.

(1) This is my list of pinewood derby step changes. If you have one
or more additional items that that you believe are 21st century step
changes, please send me your input and I'll collect and publish them
in a future newsletter.

(2) If you are not familiar with the Rail Rider technique, please
Click Here. You can find the Pro-Rail Rider tool Here.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 11, Issue 9

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