Pinewood Derby

This page is dedicated to the pinewood derby. Here you can find information about the rules and regulations for pack 93's Pinewood Derby Racing.

How to Conduct a Pinewood Derby

Rules: Pack 93 Toro Park Salinas Valley

The traditional rules for the design of the pinewood derby car are included with each official pinewood derby car. Actually they have not changed substantially since Cubmaster Murphy began the derby in 1953. However, as you must know, there are rules, and then there are the rules.

First, there is no national pinewood derby governing body that determines exactly what rules govern the building of any car. Nor are there any rules that determine the official method of running a pinewood derby race (more about this later). Actually this is probably a good idea as each pack is free to make up its own rules to handle local circumstances. For example, not all Cub Scouts are of equal ability and a pinewood derby staged by an other-abled pack probably should be more flexibly governed than one staged by another pack.

Second, if the intent of a Cub Scout pack is to allow winners from the pack to compete in districtwide or councilwide derbies, the cars constructed must be eligible for those higher-level derbies without modification. Of course, not all packs may choose to compete at a district derby and not all districts or councils may even stage derbies. And there are no regional or national derbies that Scouts can further advance to either. But if there is a higher-level derby at which your unit wishes to compete, it is very important that your local pack’s rules, with respect to the car’s construction, are exactly the same as the rules for your district and/or council derbies.
Another aspect to consider is whether the district or council derby requires that cars be submitted in rank classes: i.e. Tiger winner, Wolf winner, Bear winner, and Webelos winner. If it does, it is important to make sure that your staging allows you to determine the Tiger winner, Wolf winner, Bear winner, and Webelos winner.

How much parent participation will you allow in the construction process?

This is a very difficult rule to write and even more difficult to enforce. There is obviously a lot of variation in the abilities of individual Cub Scouts, as well as individual parents. Some parents are professional woodworkers and may have trained their sons in the craft. Some parents could be automotive engineers and have built the cars themselves. It is virtually impossible to tell, from simple inspection, that a car was the product of the parent or the boy.
 The simple description of the intent of the derby—that a Cub Scout learn to work with his mom, dad, or other adult and that the effort be one of the Cub Scout doing his best, should suffice. After all, parents bring their sons to Cub Scouting not to show off their own handiwork, but to give their sons the qualities our program instills. In other words, the Cub Scout Promise and the Law of the Pack should probably govern.

No car should be the product of a professional pinewood derby car builder. (Yes, they exist, and their work product can be purchased, along with everything else you can imagine, on the Internet).

If possible we will hold a (Parent son build night) One way of making sure that only Cub Scouts and their dads (or moms or other adults) have built the car is to require that cars all be built in a single location using common and shared tools. That, of course, will require considerable investment in facilities and equipment, and in scheduling; all of which would probably be prohibitive.

Should we prohibit ready-carved kits?
Yes. They are prohibited. Most people are aware that ready-carved kits are available during the pinewood derby season in local hardware stores, craft shops, and on the Internet. It is clear that to allow these kit cars to compete with the official kits give those boys who have started their car from the kit an unfair advantage. .

What about weight limits?
Weight limits (following your district or council rules) are usually strictly enforced. But you can improve the effect of this strict enforcement by having tools available at the official weigh-in to reduce or add weight as required to meet the rules. Often a set of electric drills with a variety of fairly wide bits will reduce any excess weight violations and inexpensive lead weights can be affixed with screws or even tape to raise the weight. In emergencies pocket change can be taped for a good effect. In these cases, only competent tool users should handle the drills and other equipment.
    Planning the Event Itself
    Let’s face it. The pinewood derby can be a premier event of the pack’s year. It can also be a long drawn-out affair that no one would want repeated. You will have to decide what kind of time to devote to this event. With a large pack, there is almost no structure which will result in a short pinewood derby pack meeting. For a small pack, a short meeting might be possible.
    However, whether you have a small unit or a large one, the best kind of pinewood derby is one which moves along quickly, where excitement is the key, and where recognition follows rapidly upon results. If things are moving, if the excitement is there, even a two-and-a-half-hour derby can be satisfying—although tiring for the derby leaders.

  • Make qualification a separate event.
    If you have a large pack, the qualifying inspection and weigh-in may be very time consuming. Consider making this an event for the night before the derby. Unhappily this will require not only devoting a second night to the event, but also providing a way to store and secure the derby entries over night until the derby itself. On the other hand, the solution may simply be to start the pack meeting half an hour earlier to accommodate this process.
  • Schedule a workshop night.
    Here parents and Cub Scouts can come in with their mostly complete cars and fine tune them with experienced moms or dads. Make sure that you have tools (power drills, screw drivers, coping saws, etc.) and the official pack scale available that night so that adjustments at the derby qualifying and inspection are kept to a minimum.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate. Running a pinewood derby and running a pack meeting at the same time is almost impossible. So it is suggested that the Cubmaster should probably not run the pinewood derby. Besides, running the pinewood derby is a way for the Cubmaster to share the fun.
    He/she should delegate the pinewood derby chairmanship to someone else, and that person should, in turn, delegate to many other parents. You should certainly delegate the following duties (with several parents in some jobs):
  • Craftsmen for the workshop night.
  • Craftsmen or supervisors at the adjustment table next to the Inspection table.
  • Inspectors (at the weigh-in).
  • Car carriers (people who move the cars from the storage area to the track for the race itself, unless you have the Cub Scout move his own car).
  • Supervisors to watch the car storage area.
  • Track officials who make sure that the crowd does not impinge on the track itself and who call out the results of each heat.
  • Scorekeepers who write down the results of each heat or enter them on a computer program.
  • Judges for the other competitions referred to above (craftsmanship, best paint job, etc.).
  • Overall referee.  an experienced leader who serves as a wise peacekeeper and  has the authority to make final decisions if disputes arise
There are probably more jobs that can be delegated. Just think about spreading out the load and the fun. As always, the Cubmaster should run the meeting, but the pinewood derby chair and his/her committee should run the race.
What does the Cubmaster do? The Cubmaster begins the meeting, keeps order, and ends the meeting. There will not be much time for anything else.

If your pack has good den chiefs, they also can play a role in running the pinewood derby. Ideally, the den chiefs should have jobs that have plenty of spotlight time in front of the Cub Scouts, like race starters. Avoid putting younger den chiefs into jobs which would call for subjective judgment and which might involve a dispute with an aggressive parent.
Planning the Planning
Of all pack meetings, the pinewood derby probably requires the most planning. Start at least 60 and perhaps 90 days in advance. You should consider having three meetings.
Initial planning meeting (90 days in advance) at which you:
  • Estimate how many Cub Scouts will participate.
  • Decide whether the pack will be buying the pinewood derby kits or whether parents will get a kit for their Cub Scout. Having the pack buy the kit is preferable because you remove one opportunity for temptation when a parent sees a precut kit at his local hardware store—knowing that he will have to buy a car anyway. Arrange for your pack treasurer to buy a sufficient number of kits, considering whether there is any inventory left over from a previous year’s derby. In some local councils, cars may be provided to units with a good recruiting record or who met certain goals in the council’s Friends of Scouting campaign
  • Determine rules for construction of the derby cars.
  • Arrange to have those rules set out and printed so that each family has a copy, and, if possible, put in the pack newsletter and/or published on the pack Web site.
  • Decide on awards and rewards. If you are building your own trophies, you should set up that committee now. You can recruit these builders at the next pack meeting.
Second planning meeting (60 days in advance) at which you do the following:Determine what tasks you will need performed, and write down who you hope will be helping you. Plan to spend the next 30 days recruiting that assistance.
  • Determine the staging method you will employ in running the derby. See the  section below for information about staging the race.
  • Begin to order recognitions (if you are buying them) based on the number of participants expected and the types of recognition you decided upon.We currently use three trophies. first, second and third, spread across the entire pack. Tigers, wolfs, bears, and Webloos will compete as one unit.
  • If purchasing pinewood derby kits, arrange for kits to be passed out at the pack meeting before the pinewood derby, or at the pack meeting before that. If you hold your pinewood derby in January, the December meeting is an excellent time to pass out the kits, using the winter holiday theme to pass out presents. Make sure you pass out the rules and explain them at this  same pack meeting.
  • Use the next 30 days to determine and write down the specific tasks you want your derby committee member to undertake.
The third planning meeting (30 days in advance of the derby), is the one in which all pinewood derby committee members should be present. Complete the following tasks at this meeting:
  • Assign tasks, pass out job descriptions, and make sure that all members know their jobs and are ready to perform them.
  • Assign one task to the entire committee: Setting up the track and equipment on the night of the pinewood derby.
  • If the track has been in storage for the past year, consider inspecting it to make sure it is still in good condition.
  • Make sure you have all of the equipment necessary for the race itself, including computers (if computer record keeping is employed) and/or large sheets of paper for scorekeeping. A roll of white butcher paper and felt tip markers are always useful for this.
Your trophy building committee will need a separate meeting to design trophies and divide up responsibilities. See the build your own trophies section in the supplemental materials below.

Staging the Race
It is not intended that this unit of supplemental training explain how to run a race. There are many types of races. Many of these types are available in supplemental materials (not with this training), including internet resources. The following discusses the principal methods you have to choose from:
     First we will run a time trial of all cars, on a single track.
    • Elapsed time methods. Using this method, each car races in each lane by some chart method. But the only recording done is of the absolute speed of each car each time.
    • At the end of the night, the cars with the least time are ranked first, second, third, and fourth. There is no accounting of individual heat victors.
    • In fact, the second place winner in all of its heats could end up the winner because the first place heat winners could have slow results in other heats.
    • This method lacks drama and does cause some confusion among the spectators, but it is the most objective way to determine the fastest car.One last consideration should be made. Who is going to handle the race cars once the race begins? There is merit to several choices.
    • If you have one, two, or three adults (or even Boy Scouts recruited for the purpose, perhaps from den chiefs) handling the cars, putting them on the track at the beginning of each heat, and taking them back to the staging area at the end of the heat, you will gain some efficiency and speed.
    • On the other hand, if one of the parents drops a car, there are all sorts of issues brought up. If you have the Cub Scout who brought the car to bring the car to the track and pick it up after the heat, you lose any blame that could be laid on a parent for dropping a car.
    • But this does take a significant amount of time because the Cub Scout must be announced, then come up, pick up his car, and put it on the track.
    • Plus, there are a lot more Cub Scouts moving around between each heat and that also adds to the confusion.
    The race will be done in a double elimination method
    • Elimination methods. Elimination methods can be quite simple and may not require any record keeping at all.
    • A heat of cars in run with only the top one, two, or three cars moving on to the next heat.
    • Double elimination allows losers to race again, either by winning a race from the losing table.

    The Big Night
    Hopefully, every boy will have come away with something— either a simple participation ribbon, or a plaque, or a card, or even a trophy that he can take home and put his car on. (See the section on build your own trophies below.)
    Addressing excessive competition. If everything does not go right, you may have conflict. Sadly, most of the time, the conflict will be started by parents. Much of the conflict may be due to parent’s expectations for their child, but some could be attributed to some par­ent’s investment in the cars themselves, conflict between that investment and their in­te­rests in their son, and possibly pre-existing conflict between families. Plus, some in­di­viduals simply cannot compete without wanting to be recognized as the best.
    Some actions you can take to defuse possible this situation:
    • When announcing the pinewood derby, be sure to clarify the goals of the activity and to emphasize the fact that this is about and for the boys.
    • Designate a referee with full authority to make decisions about any disputes. Make it clear that any disputes will be resolved that evening at the derby.
    • Consider having a parent’s class or even staging an additional pinewood derby for parents only on another night. (This sort of event should never overshadow the Cub Scout’s pinewood derby.. Sometimes this is even  staged as a fund-raiser with parents who wish to compete and contribute a certain amount of money to cover not only the cost of the car, but also a contribution to the pack.
    • Focus competitiveness into the running of the event, rather than the competition itself. The more parents involved in the running of the event, the less likely they are to object to it. Remember, delegate, delegate, delegate. Another possible use of parental energy is in making the trophies for each boy. (See the section on building your own trophies in the supplemental materials section.)
    The conclusion of any pinewood derby should be a round of applause for all the participants and all those who helped make it possible—the parents on the pinewood derby committee, those who helped make trophies, and every person who helped make the event a success for the Cub Scouts.
    On a following night, the pinewood derby committee should assemble with the pack leadership for a small celebration and an evaluation of the derby, including thoughts on how it could be improved next year.
    There is no question that pinewood derby is an oddity in Cub Scouting: a competitive event in a Cub Scouting program where personal achievement is rewarded rather than competitive victories. That it exists and flourishes is a testament to the fact that, properly done, it is lots of fun. Given that it is fun and flourishing, it is incumbent upon the Cub pack’s leadership to make it as worthwhile, enjoyable, and positively memorable for every Cub Scout that participates.

    Supplement 1.
    Build Your Own Trophies

    As has been pointed out, giving recognitions to each Cub Scout can be expensive if purchased. On the other hand, recognitions can be constructed with inexpensive wood, simple tools, and a little time and effort.
    Organizing such an effort can even be fun for the adults. One possibility is to organize a standing committee of woodworkers to be given special recognition at the pinewood derby itself, setting these adults apart. You can even give these adults a special recognition token for the derby, a ribbon to wear, a handmade medal to pin on. Call the group by a special name like “The Order of the Pine” (alluding to the trophies made of pine wood) or “Order of Woodcrafters,” etc.
    At the pack meeting prior to the pinewood derby, new members of the order can be recruited by announcing its purposes and giving a date for the organizing meeting. At the organizing meeting, a simple design for the trophies should be worked out and drawn up. Make sure to design something easy to build with the tools available.
    An example could be an upright 2 inch x 4 inch mounted on a 5-inch-long 1 inch x 4 inch with two 4-inch- long dowels stuck into the upright 2 inch x 4 inch about an inch from the base. The pinewood derby car can then rest on these dowels after the Cub Scout has brought his car and trophy home.
    Use a simple word processing program to make up a label to be glued onto the shaft of the 2 inch x 4 inch saying “Pack 93, First Place Speed, 2015,” or whatever the trophy is for. All of the award winners (and the second-, and third- place winners) can get a trophy this way.
    Of course, depending on the skill and equipment of your workers, many, many variations can be created—some painted, some merely varnished, some fancy, and some plain. As the years go by, it is probable that the trophies will become grander as the committee (the order) grows more ambitious and more skilled.
    And, even better, because the cost of these trophies is so low, a participant who has won no awards can get the identical trophy to bring home, with his trophy reading something like “Pack 93, Pinewood Derby, 2015.”. The point is that the boy will have been rewarded for his achievement, not in winning a race, but in building a car. And he will have someplace to put his car when he goes home; someplace where he can look at his car with pride in the fact that he built it.
    In the end, recognize your order, and give them their recognitions at the beginning of the derby. After all, their contributions have been completed and are available for all to see, shiny and pretty on the stand waiting to be passed out at the end of the night. If they have fun building these beauties, they will be back next year to help again and will recruit others to join their band.

    Double Elimination Chart Read the page to me aloud!

    [Double Elimination Chart]
    Advance Preparation:
    Print the above chart. Photocopy/enlarge onto an overhead projection transparency. Use a pen specially made for writing on transparencies. These are not expensive and may be acquired at a local business supply outlet. Select the variety with "water soluble" ink, so that errors can be corrected and that the chart may be reused later. (Warning. The transparencies produced from Ink Jet printers onto transparencies are themselves water soluble. Don't try to reuse those unless you print on the reverse side in mirror image!)
    Assigning Scouts to the chart:
    • First, count the scouts who are competing against each other. This will be the highest number used in the chart. The rest of the numbers will be "byes".
    • Randomly distribute the chart numbers to the Scouts. (I use 4"X5"X.25" boards with big numbers drawn on them and string attached so that they can hang their number on their chest. Each scout draws a number, which he wears until his tournament has been decided.)
    Running the races:
    • Starting in the upper left hand corner of the chart, call the heats by number. Unless all heats in the column contain "byes", every heat is run, even if it is against a "bye". This is to equalize "graphite shakeout".
    • For each heat, decide which car is to run in which lane by either a "coin flip" for "choice of lane" or by having one of the racers draw a lane number out of a box.
    • In the upper half of the chart, the car which finishes first in a heat is recorded on the line to the right. The car (or "bye") which finishes second (never the word "loser") is recorded in the corresponding line in the lower half of the chart.
    • You may "run the chart" by progressing all the way down column A, then B, etc. Or, you may delay the bottom half of the chart by one round... Top of A, Top of B, Bottom of A, Top of C, Bottom of B, etc. (The latter procedure delays the departure of Scouts from the competition.)
    • Something special happens near the end of the chart: Notice that the survivor of the top half of the chart goes on to a long line. His number goes on to both of the heavy lines there. This is because he must have two second place finishes to be eliminated. On the other hand, the survivor of the bottom half of the chart already has one second place finish and need accumulate only one more to be eliminated.
    • First and Second Place for the tournament is determined in the last race. Third place is determined in the last race on the bottom half of the chart. Fourth, fifth and sixth places may be (somewhat arbitrarily) determined from the survivor heats in the bottom half of the chart.
    Technical notes:
    • The chart may be used "as is" for 8 or fewer racers. If this is done, note that all of the Column A heats contain a "bye" and all can be skipped. Similarly, the "round of 8" on the lower half of the chart are all "byes".
    • The chart may be extended by adding a column to the left. (In those heats, one of the racer numbers will be taken from the number presently shown in the chart. Subtract it from 33 to obtain the other number. (Racer numbers in those heats will total 33.) Then add a second chance bracket of 16 whose survivor will race against the survivor of the second chance bracket of 8.
    • One of the four racers in column C in the top half of the chart will be eliminated! This "put me off" initially. I obtained some other types of D/E charts and did accuracy comparisons using computer simulation. The other charts did not produce overall accuracy equal to this one. So, if I must use a Double Elimination procedure, I "grit my teeth" and use this one! 

    The Pinewood Derby and Its History in Cub Scouting
    Like many popular Scouting programs, the pinewood derby began at one unit and spread nationwide like wildfire. The grassroots program—because of its very nature, its inherent merit, and the fact that it is just plain fun—went from one father’s idea at a California Cub Scout pack to sweeping the nation in the early 1950s.
    Cubmaster Don Murphy of Pack 280C, Manhattan Beach, California, had a son who was unable to compete in a local gravity-powered car competition. Murphy came up with a way for his boy and his pack to make and race miniature gravity-powered cars on a small indoor track, and the pinewood derby was born. That first derby was held May 15, 1953. By 1955, the pinewood derby was part of the official Cub Scouting program and, while always optional, has become a key part of many Cub Scout packs’ annual programs.
    Variations of the pinewood derby have been developed over the years, including the raingutter regatta and the space derby, both of which demonstrate the worth (and the fun) of the pinewood derby in a slightly different form. The basic elements of this course can be used in any of these variations.
    The Why of the Pinewood Derby: What Scouting Goals Are Accomplished?
    In general, the Scouting program tries to avoid events with a single winner or even class winners. The Cub Scout standard is, after all, that a boy should do his best. We do not, for example, tie advancement to whether a Cub Scout beats the other members of his den in a foot race, but rather to whether he betters his previous standards. The primary methods of the Cub Scouting program—including the goal of personal achievement—are based on individual achievement and accomplishment rather than individual victory at the expense of another’s defeat.
    The goals of Cub Scouting are not often extended to include competition or competitive sports, though the goals of character development, sportsmanship and fitness, and respectful relationships can easily be seen to give a special perspective on our very competitive world.
    While, in some ways the pinewood derby is a special case (principally because it is so much fun), we can use the pinewood derby to further the goals of Cub Scouting. We can broaden the derby’s simple one-winner perspective to a program all participants can feel good about. At the same time, we need to be alert to the possibility of problems that can spoil the boys’ fun and discourage Cub Scouts and parents. Sometimes these problems have actually caused youth to drop out of Cub Scouting.
    Given that competitive events like the pinewood derby can raise emotional levels beyond what is appropriate, what Scouting goals does the pinewood derby help a Scout achieve?
    • Sportsmanship and good citizenship is taught by following the derby rules and cheering on friends and den partners as they race against others in the pack.
    • Personal achievement comes to any boy who picks up a woodworking tool and shapes raw wood into a sleek design. And, by learning woodworking, he prepares himself to more easily serve in the Boy Scouting's service projects.
    • Family understanding is enhanced because building a pinewood derby car puts the boy and his mom, dad, or other adult partner into a close and sometimes intense learning experience over, potentially, many hours.
    It is very clear that any boy who can cheer on a friend in a derby race, when his own car has been previously eliminated, must be said to have had his character developed, if not his car-building skills. But finally, and probably most convincingly, participating in the derby is fun. This is especially true if participation is stressed, and personal achievement is very broadly defined and rewarded.
    So let’s start to have some fun.
    The Pinewood Derby Competition versus Recognition
    A key element of Cub Scouting is recognition of personal achievement rather than simple victory. We do this by providing a way of recognizing the achievement of each boy rather than simply celebrating the car that was fastest down the track. National Supply has made available a whole host of recognition items ranging from a simple participant ribbon and a racer’s license (that can simply be passed out or used in conjunction with having had the car certified as meeting the derby rules) to individual display stands for each boy. A supplement to this unit includes a list of many of the items available from national supply for pinewood derby competitions.
    Another way to broaden the plateau of victory (so that more boys can stand on it) is to have different ways of competing. Certainly the simple idea of first-, second- and third-place awards in the actual pack speed competition is easy to understand. But you can have more winners by arranging that class winners are also recognized: Tiger first, second, and third place; Wolf first, second, and third place; Bear first, second, and third place; and Webelos first, second, and third place. Here three speed recognitions become 15 winners—class winners plus overall winners.
    And speed is not the only thing to recognize. You can recognize craftsmanship, paint jobs, funny cars (cars built to look like bedsteads or forest animals), stock car racers, Indy cars, or even give the Cub Scouts a ballot and have them pick a Cub’s choice. When you consider first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category, you can see that it is easy to spread recognition as wide as you wish it to be. There are no limits to your creativity in creating recognitions for the Cub Scout.
    One possible thought to consider here. While it can be heartbreaking to see a Cub Scout’s lip tremble because he did not win a trophy, Cub Scouts are not entirely without a competitive spirit. They are, after all, boys first. Life does not provide a prize for everybody that shows up. Therefore, it is probably a good idea not to arrange it so that every boy wins a prize.
    Every boy can receive a recognition, but it is probably a good idea that no more than 50 percent or 60 percent of the boys win awards. Of course, the cost of all this, if commercially produced (even from national supply) trophies or plaques are used can be prohibitive. There are other alternatives, of course, including the pack-made trophy which could be a Webelos craftsman project or an adult contribution to the derby. For an idea to allow adult-made trophies, see the build-your-own-trophies materials section attached as a supplement to this training.
    The important thing is to balance victory and recognition, to award personal achievement, and to promote the goals of Cub Scouting: character development, spiritual growth, good citizenship, sportsmanship and fitness, family understanding, respect for relationships, personal achievement, friendly service, fun and adventure, and preparation for Boy Scouts.

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