Seven Principles of Pinewood Derby
On this page, you will find seven principles of Pinewood Derby. A good understanding of each of these will be
helpful in improving the state of the Pinewood Derby in our Pack.
Principle 1: A well run Derby is not an accident.
It takes planning, preparation, and a bunch of helpful people to run a good Derby. The few hours you put
toward attending the derby is multiplied many, many, times over for the people organizing and running the event. Make
sure you recognize that committment, and give them your thanks over, and over again. If you are not happy with the way
the PWD is run, my suggestion to you would be, dedicate your time and effort to making it better.
Principle 2: "Cub Scout can do" implies "Cub Scout should do".
I often tell a story about a man who had a friend who worked in a body shop. He gave his son's Pinewood
Derby kit to the friend, along with a copy of the rules. A few days later, the friend gave him back a finished car, which
he, in turn, presented to his son. The son was not involved in the construction of the car in any way, but it was a grand
piece of work. The car did extremely well in the pack derby for a car built by an adult.
The moral of this story: designing, constructing, and racing a car is a joint effort between a young man
and a mentor. Yes, there are some jobs that can not be performed adequately or, more important, safely. But if the young man
has the skill, can learn the skill, or can learn from you, then let them exercise these skills. Every boy wants to win,
but that is only part of the learning experience that will be gained when you build the car together.
Principle 3: The simplicity of your rules is inversely proportional to the simplicity of the resulting cars.
Having a simple set of rules limits your ability to be precise about what is and is not legal. This increases
the probability that you will see cars with exotic modifications, such as pointed wheels or metal bushings. (This is especially
true when your group is large, or when your ability to control or influence their actions is limited.) Combined with subjective
differences in how folks interpret the spirit of the rules, this has the potential to result in an unleveled playing
field and Race Day controversy. Neither are pleasent, and can quickly kill the spirit of the event.
The alternative is to explicitly prohibit such exotic modifications, thus eliminating any questions as to the
spirit of the rules. You'll still get cars that are visually impressive, but the engineering will be more plain.
Racing success will become a function of how well basic tasks, such as alignment, wheel and axle preparation, and weight distribution,
are performed. And your rules will probably be long and detailed. Many will complain about this specific item, but stick
to your guns, its the right thing to do for your sanity and the boys enjoyment,
A final note: If your event sends the winning cars on to higher level competitions, then those cars will be subject
to the rules of those events. In other words, consider making your local rules at least as strict as the rules at
the next level. Take it from me this is sound advice and will save many hours of unpleasant conversation.
Principle 4: Not all racing methods are created equal.
If your goal is mediocre identification of the fastest cars, or minimal and uneven participation by contestants,
then use single and double elimination ladders at your Pinewood Derby.
The boys worked hard and built their cars to race, not to be eliminated after one or two tries by others that
did not heed Principal #2 above. Use systems such as the Sterns Chaotic Method, which allow every boy to race the same
number of times, regardless of the cars speed. This will keep every boy engaged, happy, and doing the thing he thought
he came to do, RACE. Using this type of method also eliminates the old leave early because my boy lost syndrome.
If you would like a better understanding of some of these other methods, and in my opinion, superior, drop me
Principle 5: Technology is your friend.
The empirical evidence in support of this principle is considerable. For example:
- Modern finish lines work extremely well. Much better than the older ones, and much better than the human eye. No person
can distinguish less than 1/10 of a second, but the electronic finish line can.
- Software is your friend, use it to register, setup the race brackets, and track the results. This will also give
you the ability to run the alternative racing formats listed above.
You can make your Derby hugely successful event by taking advantage of technology.
Principle 6: Performance and appearance are different design goals.
Many kids want simultaneous optimization of both speed and beauty. But, since beauty is subjective, this is usually
impossible. Your Pinewood Derby car should be built either for speed or show, NOT both.
Principle 7: The truth is out there.
Or at least someone's version of the truth.
Seriously, there is a great deal of Pinewood Derby information on the Web. Anyone running a Derby, building
a car, or participating in any aspect of Pinewood Derby should consider doing a bit of surfing. There are dozens of sites
containing tons of information. This is exactly the process I used to put together what you see on this site.