The Scouting History of The Pinewood Derby (PWD Racers)

The Pinewood Derby originated in California during the mid-fifties as a Cub Scout Pack activity. Forty-five years later the PWD is probably the most popular event of the scouting year. A scout activity that can involve the whole family. The race fires the spirit of competition. Inspires creativity, Teaches craftsmanship. Reinforces esprit de corps. The opportunity to experience the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. Post the Colors! Recite the Pledge of Allegiance ! Serve up hotdogs-n-chili at the concession table ! and you’ve covered everything that makes America Great .

The First Race. You and your first year Cub Scout attend the monthly Pack meeting. Everyone is extra hyper cause tonight they past out the Pinewood Derby Kits. Oh, Boy ! Junior and you have one month to build a winner. Later that evening Junior pours the contents of the box onto the kitchen table and hollers “Hey Dad”. You go take a look. A course grain block of wood, four nails, and four plastic wheels. That’s the kind of stuff that’ll get the ol’ creative juices flowing.

The night before Race Day. You’ve done everything a hacksaw, scout knife, and sandpaper can do. So much for craftsmanship. It’s time to paint it ! Up until now Junior hasn’t shown much interest Just as well , you were afraid he would whack a finger off with the hacksaw or scalp his self with the scout knife. However, tonight the pinewood derby car has his undivided attention. He has a death grip on that spray can of plum crazy purple paint and is ready to go. Good! Now, you and Mom can say he made a major contribution to the project. Turn him lose! Paint job complete! It’s beautiful! So is the end of the kitchen table, his left hand and the lens of your glasses. He’s one proud scout. “Hey Mom, look what I did”. Great job, son, we’ll let it dry over night and put the wheels on in the morning and be there in time for ten o’clock check-in


Race Day ! The paint is still a little tacky and Junior ask you for the 10K time “Dad, do you think I’ll win ?” Mom and Little Sis say “YES !”. However, you explain to Junior that winning would just be icing on the cake and that what really matters is the two of you had the experience of painting his left hand and one end of the kitchen table plum crazy purple

Check-in and Registration. After standing in line behind seventy-five Cub Scouts and their dads, You, Junior, and the car are at the check-in table. There you’re told “car weighs three ounces” and “it can weight five ounces, you want to add weight, or what”? It’s “or what” on that one. You say “race it”. After all, how tuff can it be ? Junior runs off to play “catch me punch me” with his buddies. Mom’s selling hotdogs-n-chili. Little Sis is in a tug o war over a beanie baby. Dads are pointing out new cars and design features. Esprit de corps is in the air. And you take a slow walk down pit row to check out the competition. Gee Whiz, a bunch of these cars don’t look like kids built ’em and some look like they were made in a factory. What kind of a deal is this, anyway ?

The Agony of Defeat. Junior is crushed. He’s still sniffling, kicked his car across the floor and threw-up his hotdog-n-chili. Mom is indignant and wants to file a protest and if you hear “it should have weighed five ounces” or “didn’t you polish your axles and turn the wheels ?” one more time. You’re goin’ punch someone.

Your car didn’t have a chance, that is, Junior’s car didn’t have a chance. Okay, maybe Junior went a little over the top when he kicked the car and screamed he hated Scouting. But, this Ain’t Fair ! Who do these guys think they are ? The Scoutmaster has four sons, he’s been though this pinewood thing fifteen times, knows all the secrets, and has two boys racing now. That one kid’s Dad owns a machine shop. How’bout that kid in your den, Junior ? Isn’t his grandpa a cabinet maker ? And all of‘em telling how hard their kid worked on designing and building a winning car.

Another great American trait surface:; “Revenge”

So, with these words “Just wait til next year, Son”, in creeps the first stage of addiction. Craftsmanship, Creativity, Esprit de Corps …….. My Backside! We’re going to get some of that “Joy of Victory”. We’ve got a whole year to work this thing out . You just stand back and watch , Son. ……. Key words here: Stand Back . Little did you know, that within the next few weeks you would become known as just another hardcore “Pinehead”.

There you have it. If scouts want to build pinewood derby cars they can grow-up, become a good parent and see to it that their child joins the Cub Scouts. Because there’re no hacksaw, scout knife, kid built Pinewood Derby Cars in the Winners Circle.

Okay Dads, Uncles, Big Brothers, and Grandpas. Let’s Race! And tell everybody who really built the car

No flaming e-mail, please. It’s not really a bad thing. There is a partial solution. Oh, not for PWD Addiction. I mean in keeping adults from building ninety-eight percent of a scout’s car. It’s this: A Central Oklahoma Scouting District created an Open Class Race for the serious and addicted, adult builder/designer . In “Open Class” Anyone can race: sisters, brothers, mothers, dads, friends, neighbors and scout leaders, you can tape 2oz to a den car and race it. The “Open Class” race is a screamin’, yellin’, cheerin’ free for all to determine:


Just follow two simple rules: 1. Maximum weight 7 oz. 2. Use PWD wheels-n-axles, any modification is okay ! Check here for more: Tips for Pinewood Racers.

And here is the largest collection of Pinewood Racers known to man.

Tips for Building Pinewood Racers

1. If your Dad is interested and good with tools, get him to build the car, under your strict supervision.
2. If your Dad is a klutz and can’t do anything with his hands. Find some other interested adult to do the work
3. If you can’t get #1 or #2 going for you, do what you can to make the block of pine look something like a car. Sand it as smooth as you can get it. Don’t worry, the shape of the car doesn’t matter that much in the overall scheme of things. Although, a low profile is always good.
4. This is the most important part and the hardest part. It requires you to use an electric drill. You should really get an adult to help you with this one.You must remove the flashing from the wheels and burrs from inside the head of the axles. It has to be done very carefully so as not to ruin a wheel or axle. Or hurt yourself.
5. Polish the Axles. Polish the Axles. Polish the Axles. Use fine grit sandpaper then finish with jeweler’s rouge.
6. Place the car body, wheels and axles on a scale add weight until it reads 5 oz. Drill out the car body and stuff in the weight. Place the weight low and toward the rear of the car. Cover the area with wood filler. Sand it smooth.
7. Spray on sand-able primer. Let it dry overnight then lightly sand it with a fine grit sandpaper. Do that 3 or 4 times. Then spray on your favorite color. Use Krylon paint. Other brands of spray paint will run or orange peel and take forever to dry.
8. Place the wheels on the axles. Put some graphite on the axle and in the wheel bearing surface. Spin the wheel on the axle. Do that to each wheel and axle again, again, an again. When you get tired of doing that, do it one more time.
9. Now, push the wheel and axles into the slots. Don’t push ‘em to far, leave about a sixteenth of an inch (maybe a little more) between the wheel and car body. If the car rolls only on three wheels, so much the better.
10. Get a coat hanger and bend it into a “Cheater Bar” (See how the ones
on Pack Spirit and the Engine Car look ) Drill some holes in the car and mount the “Cheater Bar”. Don’t exceed the overall length rule. (You figure that out)

How does the “Cheater Bar” help?

The bar is about one inch above the bottom of the car and extends out about five eights of an inch in front of the car’s nose. As the starting pin moves forward and down, to release the cars, the “Cheater Bar” allows your car to start rolling before the other cars do. Okay ! You’ve built a winner. Go get your trophy!

Check out our page on the history of Pinewood Racers.

Largest Collection of Pinewood Cars Known to Man

Todd tells how he entered the world of Pineheads and assembled the world’s largest collection of PWD cars known to man

Hello, my name is Todd and I’m a pinehead. I’ve been collecting derby cars for 5 years. My addiction began innocently enough with some boxes of my stuff that my parents had packed up when they moved. It was mostly junk. Then I found my 3 derby cars and a couple of trophies I had won. Thank goodness I hadn’t blow them up like most of my other toys.

I started reminiscing about the fun times I had in scouts and how much fun we had during derby season. My mom and dad got a little crazy, and I had to wrestle the cars away from them from time to time. Anyway, after remembering the good times, the cars and trophies went up on the shelf for a couple of years. One day, my mom and I were at an auction and there was a nice old derby car there. I bought it and put it on the shelf next to the others. One day, I was looking at the cars and then it popped into my head that these things would be fun to collect!

I was hooked. After my first year of garage sales, I had about 35 cars. After the second year, I had 75. Then I got on the internet and the hook went in a little deeper. Before I knew it, I was up to 175. My wife told me I had to slow down, so I had my mom buy some for me on the side. My wife wasn’t happy when she found that out. I think she knew I had a problem. Lately, I have let more go than I have gotten. I haven’t gone cold turkey, but I have gotten a little picky with the ones I buy. I’m still a pinehead.

As if the collecting wasn’t bad enough, I started buying kits at the local dime store and building them just for the enjoyment of it. One fun car I built was an Elmo car for my daughter, Hanna. I even built cars out of scraps of wood that I found. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I needed power tools. I now have a scroll saw, band saw, belt sander, disk sander, drill press and a full set of carving tools. My wife put her foot down, so I didn’t get a wood lathe.

My son, Chris, and I built our first car together when he was 4. He loves to work the drill press. He is 6 now and he paints his own cars and polishes his own axles. Another pinehead, you bet. He can’t wait (and neither can I) for him to get into Cub Scouts. We do most of the things that scouts do already. However, when he puts his own car on the track for the first time, I think he’ll be hooked too. That will have to be the next chapter of the story.

PWDRacers_That_Todd_BuiltCars that Todd Built: As you can see, Todd is an imaginative designer and a great craftsman. Just look at the “Silver Streamliner”, the styling of the “Cheetah”, and how ’bout the flawless finish on the candy apple red sprint car ? If you like incorporating animal shapes into your cars, the “Dolphin Car” is as good as you’ll see. As for super hero cars … the “Bat Car” is truly a trophy winner. Thanks, Todd. This ol’ Pinehead is inspired. I’ll have my version of the “Streamliner” done in a few more days. How ’bout it, Scouts and Pineheads, see anything here you like ?