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Cub/Boy Scout Pinewood Derby


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#1 Flat Black 84

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 15:26

The Soap Box Derby thread brought to mind the old Pine Wood Derbys the Cub/Boy Scouts used to put on. (Maybe they still do.) For those of you unfamiliar with this event, every Scout would be supplied with a block of pine wood approximately one foot long, four inches wide and three inches deep. He would also receive four plastic wheels, four nails and wooden axel struts.

The object was to carve/machine a car out of the block of wood, paint it and then enter it in the Derby. The track was a long downward sloping thing with two lanes and a raised wooden section in each lane to keep the cars on track.

Now to my recollection, the Scouts never built these cars; the fathers always did. :lol: My dad used a lathe to carve my block into the shape--roughly--of a 1960 Chevy Impala. Painted it red. Didn't win a dam' thing, but it sure looked sharp.

If any of you ever participated in this event and/or have pics of your Derby cars, please post 'em.

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#2 dretceterini

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 18:03

According to Wiki, the first Pinewood Derby was held by a scout troop in southern california, circa 1953. Eventually it became a national event. It was more than 50 years ago, so I don't have any of the cars I ever built, but they remotely looked like Vanwalls. I think it was around 1958 I won the troop championship, and the car went to the Chicago area championships, but no further...

From there I eventiually got into slot car racing...

#3 TrackDog

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 21:02

Aah, the Pinewood Derby...ran in it when I as a kid, and never did very well...ran the show when my sons were in Scouts and we did a little better(not much). When I was in Scouts, everybody wanted to make their cars look like the STP turbines...they were hot then. When my sons were involved, there were Pine Car kits in the hobby stores, and these were already pre-carved. We attached small lead weights to the bottoms of the cars, one near the front, one in the middle, and one in the rear so the cars wouldn't "porpoise" on the track.

Some of our father/son combos went to the Scout headquarters in Indiananpolis, where past winners were on display...the real trick to building a winning Pinewood Derby car is to build in a little "toe-in" or "toe-out" so that the minimum amount of wheel surface is in contact with the track. Some competitors actually ran their wheels on a lathe and polished them.

Pinewood Derby racing is like any other form of motorsport...the more money and time you spend, the faster you'll be.

I called our troop's meet the Rickyard 400...



Dan

#4 Jack-the-Lad

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 22:35

I built a car and ran it with my Cub Scout den in Lubbock, Texas, in about 1955. I don't have any pictures, but the car was olive green with bright orange trim and black wheels. I think I won a heat or two, but that was all.

Jack.

#5 RA Historian

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 14:03

Now to my recollection, the Scouts never built these cars; the fathers always did. :lol:

Isn't that the truth! Some of the cars that I saw raced had more engineering in them than a moon rocket! I 'helped' my son build three of them and used a sander and other tools to fashion cars that always were somewhat reminiscent of a Lotus 56. Not that streamlining really helped, but it looked good. Added a neat paint job and some decals from other model kits. As I recall, the trick was in the wheels, try to get the least friction and best rolling speed. Never won, but we had fun with my, errr, strike that, my son's creation.
Tom

#6 Flat Black 84

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 15:02

Track Dog,

That STP Turbine design might have been a fortuitous one. I read an article stating that wedge (doorstop) designs usually win.

Jack-the-Lad,

What a coincidence! My scouting days were also in Lubbock (Pack 528). And, as I type, I reside in that same city.

RA,

The wheels in pinewood kit we received had a slight raised ridge around the central circumference, apparently a residue from when they were punched out of a form during manufacture. The instructions suggested sanding the ridge away, which my dad duly did. Interestingly, however, the fastest cars all were ones where the ridge had not been sanded away. As my dad surmised, that ridge raised the majority of the wheel surface from the track and dramatically lessened friction.

#7 RA Historian

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 16:34

The wheels in pinewood kit we received had a slight raised ridge around the central circumference, apparently a residue from when they were punched out of a form during manufacture. The instructions suggested sanding the ridge away, which my dad duly did. Interestingly, however, the fastest cars all were ones where the ridge had not been sanded away. As my dad surmised, that ridge raised the majority of the wheel surface from the track and dramatically lessened friction.

Wow...had I known that I, errrrr, scratch that, my son could have won every time out!

#8 jjordan

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Posted 13 October 2009 - 12:15

Actually we filed the wheel ridges into a point to reduce the contact area, soaked the axles in a graphite solution for days before assemble, and built some camber in so one or the other front wheel didn't actually touch the ground. The lead weights were always imbedded in the wood close to the nose. then plugged with dowel and sanded very smooth to "hide" their installation. If you google it there are several websites dedicated to the "tricks" that work.

#9 Jack-the-Lad

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Posted 13 October 2009 - 13:19

Actually we filed the wheel ridges into a point to reduce the contact area, soaked the axles in a graphite solution for days before assemble, and built some camber in so one or the other front wheel didn't actually touch the ground. The lead weights were always imbedded in the wood close to the nose. then plugged with dowel and sanded very smooth to "hide" their installation. If you google it there are several websites dedicated to the "tricks" that work.



No wonder I lost!

#10 Stoatspeed

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 13:40

This thread brings back memories of the time I lived in the Detroit area while my sons were of Cub Scout age. As sugested above, there "may" have been a certain amount of parental assistance with some of the cars, but our troop in Farmington Hills got atround this to some extent by having a dad's race on the side of the main event. This meant that the dads were WAY too busy making their own cars to have any time to interfere with the kids creations! There was also the ritual of a run-off between the winner of the real Derby and that of the dad's race ...... the result normally went in favor of the kids!
Across a period of a few years, I perfected the art of adding material to the sides of the standard block (we were not allowed to use Pine Car kits - had to be based on the official BSA kit) so that the shape could be carved into a sports car body form. Among the creations were "by eye" renditions of McLaren M8B and Ferrari P4 - two of my favorite race car shapes. The boys mainly stuck with simpler shapes - pick ups were very popular, as were a range of military vehicles! One of the other dads was actually employed as a modeler in the Ford styling studios ..... it is rumored that his cars had spent time in the scale wind tunnel, but for all their beautiful looks, they were always dog slow ....
As a couple of the other posters say, the secret is all in the wheels. Highly polished axles, profiled wheels, and a bewildering variety of "secret sauce" applied as lubricant were the order of the day, and of course the trick of trying to make the car run in a stable straight line wit only 3 wheels touching the track ....
Sadly I have now lost track of cars and my pictures of the events, but it was a great way to teach kids a little about how to follow a set of rules and make something cool. Must have done some good, since my oldest son is now studying motorsports engineering at university!

#11 jjordan

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 13:57

My kid was never in the Scouts (tho I am an Eagle myself), but I am just reporting on things I saw first hand when I worked at a Motorsports company and several Pinewood derby cars were built back in the engineering lab! I feel so ashamed....or maybe not.

#12 WDH74

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 22:55

Actually we filed the wheel ridges into a point to reduce the contact area, soaked the axles in a graphite solution for days before assemble, and built some camber in so one or the other front wheel didn't actually touch the ground. The lead weights were always imbedded in the wood close to the nose. then plugged with dowel and sanded very smooth to "hide" their installation. If you google it there are several websites dedicated to the "tricks" that work.


Didn't they weigh the cars? I only did one Pinewood Derby event, but I definitely remember someone having to go find a power drill to drill out the melted lead fishing weights lots of kids had poured into holes in the body. My friend Adam just drilled holes and screwed wood screws into it, making it much easier. Weight was something that I didn't think of when I put my car together* so I went all Colin Chapman and made sure my car was lightweight. Dead slow.

-WDH

*I speak with complete honesty when I say that I built my Derby car myself. My Dad's sole involvement was in helping me put a new blade in the power saw, buying a new can of WD-40, and driving me to the event on race day. Which is why my car had the Lotus Turbine look. I do remember being right torqued off when a majority of the cars appeared to have been turned on lathes, run through bandsaws, and airbrushed. No way kids our age were doing that, and I felt it was outside the spirit of the competition.

#13 Jack-the-Lad

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 00:36

*I speak with complete honesty when I say that I built my Derby car myself.


Same here. I don't think the "technology" or the attitude existed in the Texas panhandle in 1955 to do it any other way. (Now a couple of hours down the road, in Midland, things might have been different!)

Jack.


#14 jjordan

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 13:47

Oh yea they weighed them, but it didn't say where the weight had to be distributed. They go against the Lotus turbine look and put all the weight on the front, the rear is just enough to carry the wheels. There apparantly are rules (?), about ballast, hence the dowel plug and meticulous sanding before paint.

#15 Flat Black 84

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 15:09

Amazing the complexity of engineering and ingenuity that goes into a block of wood, a couple o' axels and some wheels. And there's not even a pot o' gold on the line!

:lol: