Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Streamlining the Weigh-in
By Randy Davis
(An update of an article originally published December 1, 2004)
Have you been to a weigh-in/check-in that seemed chaotic? Did there
appear to be a lack of organization or control of the event? All too
often little thought is put into the organization of the weigh-in,
which leads to irritated participants, and stressed officials.
Fortunately, steps can be taken to transform the chaos into a
In today's article I have provided information for race organizers to
help the check-in flow smoothly. Of course, I have not exhausted this
topic. If your organization has a smooth-running weigh-in, please e-
mail your tips to me, and I will include them in a future newsletter.
In this article, I am assuming that the number of cars in the event
will be reasonably large (greater than 50). If you have a smaller
event, then some of the stations can be combined, and fewer officials
will be required. However, all stations, equipment, and items
mentioned in the article still need to be considered and accounted
To lay the groundwork for a smooth flowing weigh-in, two preliminary
items are required. Don't set yourself up for failure by skipping
these crucial items.
1. One or more workshops - By having the official scale available at a
workshop, many of the participants will be able to adjust the weight
of their cars which will minimize the amount of adjustments that will
need to be made at the weigh-in.
2. Clear and complete rules - A good set of rules minimizes problems
at the weigh-in. Unclear rules lead to confusion, arguments, and
unnecessary stress on all involved. Make sure that all items specified
in the rules will be inspected, and no inspection will occur for non-
Organization does not happen without preparation. If you want the
weigh-in to go smoothly, then the event must be carefully planned, as
should the race itself.
So who will do all this planning? Don't just ask for a volunteer, and
certainly don't pick someone that has never experienced a pinewood
derby! Instead, find someone that has good organizational skills. The
person does not have to be an expert car builder, nor do they
necessarily have to be a club official (unless your organization rules
require it). But they do need to know how to plan, how to lead, and
how to delegate.
Now that the leader has been identified, they need to get on with the
planning. Good planning should include identifying the best foot-
traffic flow, recruiting and training of weigh-in officials,
acquisition of the needed materials, etc. Plans would include a sketch
of a floor layout, a list of materials and a list of weigh-in jobs,
and a time-schedule to make it happen.
One point on recruiting; don't make the mistake of recruiting too
little help. The weigh-in leader should not plan to run a weigh-in
station themselves. The leader will have enough to do with
coordinating, answering questions, etc. If they run a station, that
station will become a bottleneck.
Here is a list of required equipment. I am sure you can think of other
items as well:
- Weigh scales - I recommend one official scale, and one or more non-
official scales (at least as accurate as the official scale). The non-
official scales are used by racers to adjust the weight of the car.
Then the car is weighed on the official scale before impounding.
- Official measuring devices - To check the car for compliance. These
usually include a car body gauge and possibly a wheel gauge.(2) Make
sure that gauges are available for checking all specifications
identified in the rules.
- Tools - small screwdrivers (for removing and attaching underbody
weight plates), 2 or more drills (for adjusting weight), pliers (for
breaking weight plates), hacksaw (for cutting zinc rods), level (to
make sure the scale is level).
- Supplies - lubricant, extra wheels, extra axles, weights (possibly
screw-on zinc plates - these can be sold to parents as needed), and
stickers (or permanent markers) to number cars. We use a black and
silver permanent markers, and write the car number on the bottom-front
of the car (black for light-colored cars, silver for dark-colored
- Tables - Enough for each weigh-in station and for holding the
impounded cars. Make sure the tables are stable and solid. The
impound tables should be isolated so that only inspection officials
- Car Immobilizers - The impound tables need something to prevent the
cars from rolling. Inexpensive commercial solutions are available,
such as the DerbyStop(3), or you can create your own solution using
thick cords or wood slats taped lengthwise on the table (cars are
placed perpendicular to the cord or wood).
Here are the basic stations (in sequence order):
- Registration Station - To register the owner (or verify the pre-
- Inspection Station - To verify the compliance of the car to the
- Repair Station - For owners to fix non-compliance issues.
- Weight Adjustment Station - For making gross weight adjustments - A
non-official scale is located at the station for use by car owners.
Using this non-official scale reduces congestion at the Weigh Station.
Since car owners may be drilling lead at this station, it should be
located in a place where lead fragments can easily be collected for
- Lube Station - For applying lubricant - Since graphite will be
flowing, it should be located outside if possible.
- Official Weigh Station - Location of the official scale (make sure
it is not under an air duct or in a draft) - Once the car passes
weight, the car is impounded.
Trained workers will greatly streamline the weigh-in, so make sure
each person knows what to do. Specifically:
- Inspection station - The worker(s) need to be familiar with the
rules, with the appearance of the wheels/axles in the car kit, and the
use of the inspection devices. They also need a list of items to
- Official Weigh Station - The worker needs to be familiar with using
the scale, and have a procedure to follow (e.g., blow debris off
scale, zero scale, weigh car). Also, a time duration should be
established as to how long the car will sit on the scale before
declaring it is compliant (some scales fluctuate, so I recommend a 5
second count before the weight is considered official).
A dad told me about his experience with their weigh-in. The child had
done a lot of work on the car, and he was very proud of the result.
However, they were novices and did not understand the importance of
weight. At the weigh-in, their car weighed only 3.5 ounces. Without
being asked, or given permission, the official took the car to the
Weight Adjustment Station and proceeded to drill holes in the back of
the car. The child was very upset and started crying as he watched
the "destruction" of his masterpiece.
The moral of the story? The job of the inspection official is to
verify that the car meets the specifications, not to correct problems.
Any adjustments to a car (weight, lubrication, etc.) should be done by
the owners, unless the owners need help and specifically give
permission to the officials to render assistance. This policy helps
reinforce that the owners are responsible for their own car, limits
the risk of an official damaging a car, and minimizes the number of
required weigh-in officials.(4)
As you plan your weigh-in this year, spend the time to organize it
well. You will find that planning will streamline the event, making it
more enjoyable for car owners and officials.