patch

A Brief History of
The Pinewood Derby
George Washington Council
Pack 44 Pennington, NJ

As with most packs, the Pinewood Derby was a major event for Pack 44. At the beginning, since we had nothing, Titusville Pack 1776 allowed us to borrow their track and timer. Later, after Pack 1776 purchased a new track and timer, they gave us their old equipment. The timer was not very precise and acted rather erratically. Sometimes, it would just stop working and several leaders would gather at the end of the track to argue about who won each race. Later, in 1988, I designed and built a new timer. In 2001, the pack brought the timer that it is currently using.
 
The track from Pack 1776 was a simple, single slope, two lane affair that served us well. In 1992, the Webelos den spent most of its meetings of the year building a new, much faster, three lane track. I recall many, many meetings spent sanding, shellacking and polishing the track. Because the track was so fast, in 1998 two additional sections were added to lengthen the track, bringing the track to about 50 foot. We were able to return the favor from Pack 1776 by giving our old track to Pack 71.
 
I think there was much more interest in the Pinewood Derby in the earlier years. I recall one derby, held at the Pennington Methodist Church, that was very exciting. The races were very close and there was so much cheering during the races, we got an imprompto lecture from the packmaster's wife about sportsmanship.
 
One thing, that worked well for us, was to schedule a competition during the race intermission that was open to non-cubs. This allowed parents to build their own cars, rather than working on their children's cars. The only rule was basically don't do anything that might harm the track or timer. I recall one time Carl Moslener built a car that violated all the rules, tapered wheels, sanded axles, molybeum grease, whatever. It was fast. This was just fun, with no winners.
 
We were less concerned about winners back then, just tried to offer a fun event. Since most of the den leaders were mothers, who generally were not familar with woodworking techniques, many of the cubs had problems building their cars. The packmaster at that time, Doug Davis, and I started the practice of pinewood derby work day, where the fathers brought tools and shared their skills with the cubs. This is also when the pack began weighing the cars and adding lead to bring them up to the proper weight. Work day was very effective in allowing all the cubs to compete on a fair basis. No more cars stopping half way down the track.
 
We didn't have medals or trophies back then. The pack winner got a printed certificate that the packmaster filled in after the derby. Perhaps, because the pack was smaller and the derby took less time, we did not need videos or TV as distractions and we did not serve lunch. Families tended to stay for the entire derby to see who was the overall winner. In fact, I recall we did not even have computers. We kept track of the race statistics using pencil and paper, with brief intermissions while we tried to figure out who was winning. I do think we had more fun.
 
Because the first timer was so erratic, the early races were judged using double elimination. Two cars would race, the winner went on to race other winners, while the loser went on to race other losers. Two loses and you were done for the day. This worked well while the pack was small.
 
As the pack grew and the Derby took longer and longer to run, it became necessary to develop new procedures. There were two basic concerns; the competitive parents for whom winning was everything and the non-competitive parents who wanted everyone to win. The committee recommended the procedure which we currently are using. Cubs begin the racing non-competively, two cubs at a time, in a timed race. We do not record who wins the race, just the times for each car. After all the cubs race four times, two times on each of the two tracks, then we sort the cars by the total time. This ensures that everyone races at least four times.
 
The fastest 32 cars go into a competive, single-elimination race. In the single-elimination format, two cubs race against each other twice, one time on each of the two tracks. The faster car goes on to race again, while the derby is over for the slower car. This has proven to be quite successful in creating an interesting event for everyone.

Building the car
How the Derby is organized
How the race is organized
Pinewood Derby Rules
A Brief History
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