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Pinewood Derby - what's your secret?


Junior Member
Linn County Iowa
So I'm in a father-daughter group through the YMCA called Adventure Guides (used to be called Indian Princesses, but the PC police ended that) and one of the events we do is an annual derby car race. This is my third year doing it with my girls and we are currently in the process of building our cars. The race is on March 4th this year.

The first year I read a bunch of stuff on the web and we finished about mid-pack in the event. Last year I switched my lubricant from graphite to Lemon Pledge and really worked on reducing friction all around. Polished the axles and the insides of the wheels, removed some of the wood where the wheel would contact the car, etc. We ended up finishing second and third overall out of 33 cars. Girls got trophies and all was good but now I am worried meeting their expectations this year....

Here is a pic of our cars over the past 3 years. Far left are the first year, middle are last years, and the ones on the right are the ones in process for this year. This years are a piece of cheese and a piece of pizza. Anybody have any super secrets for success that will keep me in good standing with my girls??? Thx!

Likes: Otto Bock


Senior Member
Centerburg, Ohio
We just did this with scouts. My daughter is in Girl Scouts and then they do a sibling race too. There's a lot of tips online that are useful. I don't know what rules you have but if there is a weight limit make sure the car is at max weight. We drilled holes and filled them with lead but they sell weights or you can glue on quarters or whatever.

The slim cars with polished axles and wheels that were nice and straight always win these. If the car wobbles down the track it will slow down.

My kids never care about winning these things so I just make sure they are happy with the way the car looks and off they go. I've seen kids cry over third place but my son was excited to get a participation ribbon with his very slow lego car that he painted himself. IMG_1166.jpg
Likes: Otto Bock


Senior Member
I remember doing one as a kid. I think We put extra weights in it. I wanted to work on the looks. Dad said looks didn't matter. But winning did. I can't remember if I won or not. But I had the ugliest car there.



Dignitary Member
Supporting Member
Wish I still had mine from scouts. I remember using graphite on the axles and tweaking lead weights, but we never heard of polishing anything back then. My car finished about mid-pack, but it was the best damn looking car on the track. Contoured like a corvette, sporting a sweet ass spoiler on the back, and painted jet black with red flames. What a memory!


Dignitary Member
Supporting Member
NW Ohio
I took a 2nd and 3rd place as a kid. My son was in it for a year or so. We finished mid pack. Tried using the graphite and getting the weights similar to what dad helped me for my son's car. Clearly, my father was a better engineer than I was on Pinewood cars.

I offer "good luck". My advice would not be beneficial. lmao


Well-Known Member
Supporting Member
Mt. Cory Hancock County
I won our local pack competition and finished 2nd in the regional finals when I was a cub scout. Dad machined my car down with the other millwrights he worked with to a flat, sleek machine with it drilled out and filled with lead. I don't really know what all they did to it. I was allowed to paint it basically


Dignitary Member
Supporting Member
Wood Co.
My boys did well early on. Polish the axels, cup the wheels, lift one of the wheels so it rides on three, proper weight, etc.
You don't need a pretty car to be fast. The boy can handle the design. Just make the small tweaks that evey other dad does.


Super Moderator
Super Mod
Hudson, OH
We had the second fastest car this year.

Keep the weight towards the back. If you have the majority of the weight just in front of he rear axle, you will carry more momentum down the track. Hot glue works real well to hold the weights and to add weight...max out your weight and have a drill to bore out some from the back/bottom at weigh in in case you come in slightly over on the "official" scale.

Make sure your nails are straight. Like mike said, racing on 3 wheels is best. File and Polish the nails and use graphite. If there are not rules prohibiting it, extending your wheelbase will result in a faster car.

Sand that sucker smooth and ensure good aerodynamics. Paint and put a nice clear coat on it :)

Here is ours from this year.



Senior Member
With my dad being a shop teacher I took first in my Den and first in the Pack. Imagine that. I just sold my cars and trophies a few years ago in a garage sale 35 years later.

I remember the key components specifically.

1. each wheel sanded and balanced.
2. weight forward as much as possible... bb's mixed with wax (ease of weight adjustment if needed...just dig out a few bb's)
3. powder graphite wheel to axles in between each race
4. aerodynamic as possible


Junior Member
Linn County Iowa
Thanks for the input!

To clarify the rules of our race we need to all start with the same kit. This kit has solid axles any you are not allowed to bend them.
5 ounce max weight, and all 4 wheels need to touch the ground.

The girls design the shape and do the painting of the car. Daddy gets to do the 'go-fast' tinkering.

Here is a pic showing the wheels and axles. You can see I have already polished the axles, but I think I might touch them up again....