The Joys of Pinewood Derby Cars

Have you ever built a pinewood derby car? If not, know that there is something magical about the experience of building a speedy vehicle from a malleable softwood. Building a pinewood derby car is an activity that can be enjoyed by people of all generations, of course — it is the proverbial “8 to 80” endeavor.

But there is a particularly special aura around the father-son pinewood derby car-building experience, around the almost ritualistic passing of practical knowledge from one generation to the next. The Boy Scouts have honed this ritual to a ‘T’ and ensured that the tradition lives on. For those who wish to experience it firsthand, here is a comprehensive look at the joys and practical considerations of building a pinewood derby car.

What Is a Pinewood Derby Car?

A pinewood derby car — often misconstrued as a proper noun — is a wooden car designed for use in the Boy Scouts of America’s famed pinewood derby event. Cars are constructed by Cub Scouts with the help of their parents and raced in annual events held throughout the country. The first pinewood derby event was held in 1953, in southern California; the race and preparation were sponsored by Cub Scout Troop 280A and a local aviation company.

Pinewood derby cars vary considerably in construction and type, but all must meet certain specifications to be considered “race legal.” In most cases, cars must weigh no more than 5 ounces and be no more than 7 inches in length. There’s also a width requirement, typically between two and two-and-a-half inches, though this varies depending on the particular type of track being used.

How to Make a Pinewood Derby Car

Pinewood derby cars are typically fashioned from kits sold in stores, by direct mail, and lately on the Internet. Pinewood derby kits contain all the building blocks necessary to construct a basic car, including nails, wooden blocks, wheels and accessories.

It is important to note that the tracks on which pinewood derby cars run are not included in a typical kit. Individual Cub Scout troops, or groups thereof, typically order tracks and track accessories from specialized manufacturers.

It is equally important, and somewhat controversial, to note that there is a robust market for modified and even aftermarket pinewood derby car parts — just as there is for real modified and aftermarket automotive parts. In recent years, the Boy Scouts have cracked down on particularly egregious violations of the spirit of the pinewood derby, which dictates that scouts themselves spearhead the construction of the car and parents play an advisory role.

The Intangible Benefits of Collaborative Construction

With that in mind, countless fathers and sons — and mothers and sons, it should be noted — have come together over the years to build memorable pinewood derby cars and enjoy the intangible beauty of quality family time. Skills fostered by collaborative construction include:

  • Patience (for both parents and kids)
  • Motor skills (for kids)
  • Problem-solving skills (for kids)
  • Time management skills (for kids)
  • Spatial reasoning skills (for kids)

How will your first pinewood derby car look and drive?