Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Sorry, We Will Not Be Participating Because ...
By Randy Davis
Do you have difficulty getting decent participation in your organization's pinewood derby race? Do families make excuses because of fear of failure or intimidation (I don't have the tools and/or skills, or, everybody else is too good)? Do you sell a lot of kits, but many of these kits never get made into a car?
In order to increase participation, race organizers need to eliminate the roadblocks to participation, thus eliminating the common excuses. So let's take a look at the common reasons for not participating.
WE HAVE NO WOODWORKING SKILLS, OR WE HAVE NO WOODWORKING TOOLS
In the not too distant past, virtually every family had the basic tools required to make a pinewood derby car (and some level of skills). But that has changed. Today, many families have virtually no tools, and very few woodworking skills. As an example, I was recently at a house helping with a swimming pool problem. I asked the dad what tools he had, and found that the household tools consisted of a screwdriver and a pair of pliers - not exactly a robust pinewood derby tool box!
So what are families supposed to do when they are confronted with a wooden craft project? Clearly, the event organizers must provide one or more opportunities for the families to use woodworking tools.
At our event, we have an open workshop on two consecutive Saturday mornings before the check-in event. Families can use whatever tools they need - we only restrict access to the band saw (and other powered saws). We also provide as much assistance and guidance as is requested. Generally, we get a good small turnout the first Saturday, and then get swamped the second Saturday (typical procrastination). If we did not offer these workshops, our race participation would be greatly reduced.
THERE IS TOO MUCH WORK INVOLVED
Part of this issue can be addressed with workshops. However, much of this problem stems from the type and quality of the car kit. Some kits require more work than others due to poor wood quality, flawed axles, and/or cheap wheels. Simply moving from nail axles with burrs and crimp marks, to clean axles; and from cheap, out-of-round wheels, to precision-molded wheels, greatly reduces the amount of work required to prepare a car. So, consider upgrading your kits to one of nicer quality(1), or at least replacing cheap axles with clean axles.
THERE IS TOO MUCH TIME INVOLVED
Again, part of this issue can be addressed with workshops, and by providing nicer kits. However, another aspect of this excuse is that many people do not have the time (or want to take the time) to shape the wood block. There are two options to address this:
1. Offer wedge-shaped blocks as an alternate to the regular block (we offer both types at our race). People that want to spend less time can choose the wedge-shaped block, and then just sand and paint.
2. Allow the use of pre-shaped car bodies. In our race, we allow pre-shaped kits, but the resulting cars are not allowed to participate for the design awards. This opens up a lot of options for people that are squeezed for time.
WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO MAKE A FAST CAR
With a little time research, anyone can find the basic tips for making a pinewood derby car go fast. But as the race leader you don't want to leave any excuses available to potential participants. So, provide a list of basic speed tips with the kit. We provide a brief set of speed tips along with the race rules in each kit. Of course, not every family reads then, but they are there for anyone that is interested.
THE COMPETITION IS TOO STIFF, SO WE DON'T HAVE A CHANCE
People don't like to lose, and they certainly don't want to come in last place. But this issue is not so much of a concern with having a slow car, but with having a fast car that cannot win because the event is dominated by one or more families that know all the tricks and take the time to implement them. This is not something that can be eliminated (nor do you necessarily want to eliminate this), however, there are a few steps that can be taken to level the playing field:
1. If your derby has rather flexible car design rules (e.g., allows modified wheel bases, machined wheels, or similar), then likely the event will end up with some high-performance cars leaving the more traditional cars in the dust. Consider tightening the rules to eliminate techniques that are not readily available to most families (extended wheelbases, modified wheels, etc).
2. Alternately, consider offering different entry classes. How about a "Stock" class race for cars with standard wheel bases, unmodified wheels, etc., and an "Open" class race for cars with extended wheel bases, modified wheels, etc? This will require more awards, and a little more time. However, I believe you will find the increased competition and excitement will more than compensate for the additional cost.
There is no excuse! You can increase participation by addressing the common concerns of potential participants. If you have other ideas for increasing race participation, please send me an e-mail and they will be included in a future newsletter.
(1) Maximum Velocity offers a basic block and wedge kit with high quality (unflawed axles), precision wheels, and nice blocks. You can find them here: www.maximum-velocity.com/kits.htm#mv