Pinewood Derby

Overview

One of the most memorable events for many current and former cub scouts is the annual Pinewood Derby! From the time you get your kit until Race Day, you’ll have fun making your very own car! This is meant to be, as much as possible, a boy-oriented activity, and for parents, is an opportunity to work together with your boy. Every situation is different, but the most satisfaction a boy can have is racing his own car, that he designed and crafted himself. Please try to avoid designing the car yourself. Obviously, every situation is different, and boys shouldn’t be using tools that are dangerous to them, but there is plenty of opportunity for boys to work on their own car under the watchful eyes of their parents.

In short: please let the boys design, build, and decorate their own cars.

There are going to be winners and losers, and that’s OK. Part of the joy of Cub Scouting is reveling in “Doing Your Best!”. Teaching a boy to have fun with the competition regardless of whether they win is what we’re trying to do here.

There will be a parent and sibling race too – everyone can get in on the action!

The Rules


If you have any questions at all, please ask any of the Pack’s leaders.

Make sure to print, fill out and bring with your car registration form (at the end of the rules)

Speed Tips

While following the rules, there are still a ton of things you can do to make your racer the fastest it can be:

  1. Avoid designs with a pointed nose. A pointed nose can make it difficult for the car to rest at the starting gate. It may also cause your car to get bumped around when the gate opens, and create problems with the electronic timing system.
  2. Leave enough wood in the rear of the car so you can put additional weight there. You will end up putting most of the weight in the rear of the car.
  3. Choose a design that allows the air to move over the car in a smooth manner. Cars with aerodynamic profiles move faster.
  4. Bake the block, if you choose. This can make it a bit lighter by removing moisture. A couple of hours in a 200 degree oven will do the trick.
  5. Extend the wheelbase: widen the wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) for a faster car.
  6. Add weight as far in the rear as possible.
  7. Weights can be recessed under the car for easier placement and better aerodynamics.
  8. Sand the car before you paint it: this will make it smooth for less friction.
  9. Lubricate the wheel well: the less friction between the wheels and the car, the better.

Design ideas

Here’s a cool site that has some printable designs.

There are also some decent books you can buy with some fun designs and information.

Note that pre-built, or pre-cut designs are not allowed.

Be original, be inventive, and, most importantly, have fun!

Derby History

Don Murphy’s idea for the Pinewood Derby began in the Management Club at North American Aviation where he worked. Mr. Murphy wanted to create a Cub Scout activity he could do with his son. The idea of racing miniature cars came to him while thinking of his company sponsored Soap Box Derby races.

“I’d made models of airplanes, cars, boats, and any number of other structures and remembered the pleasure I got out of doing it,” he said.

He asked the Management Club at his company to sponsor a miniature racing event for his Cub Scout pack, and he named the race the “pinewood derby.” The club agreed to pay for the wood and other materials.

Murphy designed a miniature car that could be carved out of soft pinewood and he wrote the rules. “Pack 280C had seven dens and den mothers,” remembers Murphy, “and totaled 55 Cub Scouts at the time. Originally, the block of wood we included in the kit was carved down in the forward third to a kind of cockpit. We put the wood, wheels, and nails into a brown paper sack with an assigned number. Some Cub Scout fathers built a 31-foot race ramp with two lanes and a battery-run finish line made from doorbells. Light bulbs would identify the winner.”

The derby was an instant success and for a time was copied, with the Management Club’s permission, by the Los Angeles County Department of Recreation. Then word reached the national director of Cub Scouting Service, O. W. (Bud) Bennett, who wrote to Murphy, “We believe you have an excellent idea, and we are most anxious to make your material available to the Cub Scouts of America.”

Within the year, the pinewood derby was adopted for use in all Cub Scout packs. In its October 1954 issue, Boy’s Life magazine publicized the event and offered plans for the track and a car, which featured “four wheels, four nails, and three blocks of wood.”

Little has changed in the derby since 1953. Since that time, an estimated 43 million sons and fathers (mostly) have participated. And today’s generations of Cub Scouts, along with their Moms and Dads, share the same fun, thrills, and rewarding moments.

“I wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition,” said Don Murphy, founder of the Pinewood Derby in 1953, in Manhattan Beach, CA, Cub Scout Pack 280C.