If your Cub Scout pack is looking to hold a Pinewood Derby for the first time, you might feel a little overwhelmed. After all, the legendary Pinewood Derby is one of Scouting’s biggest traditions! Not to fear though. While there is a fair amount of planning and organizing your pack will need to get right, this article is here to help you out! 😃
What is the Pinewood Derby? The Pinewood Derby is a popular pack event where Cub Scouts build and race miniature cars made from a wooden block, plastic wheels, and metal axles. Guided by an adult, Scouts design, construct, and paint their cars, which are then raced on a track. Awards are given to derby cars for speed and creativity of design.
PS. This article is a guest post collaboration between Cub Scouting volunteer Jaci H and Cole 🙂
In this article, we’re going to take a look back at the origins of the Pinewood Derby and learn how to host one of these events in your own pack. We’ll cover the equipment, rules, awards, volunteers, and variations of the event. Finally, we’ll share some general tips to help your pack get started with this amazing Scout tradition!
Did you know that the Pinewood Derby is actually a trademark of Scouts BSA? If you visit the Scout Shop website associated with the race, you’ll see that 2023 was the 70th anniversary of this celebrated Scouting tradition!
Here’s a handy table of contents if you wish to skip to a specific section of this article:
- Origins of the Pinewood Derby
- Overview of the Pinewood Derby
- Equipment Needed for a Pinewood Derby
- Overview of the Pinewood Derby Rules
- Sample Timeframe for Planning a Pinewood Derby
- Host a Pinewood Derby Car Building Workshop
- Running the Races
- Day of the Pinewood Derby
- Pinewood Derby Award Ideas
- Invite Outside Volunteers
- Fun Variations of the Race
Origins of the Pinewood Derby
The Pinewood Derby began with Don Murphy, a Cubmaster from Southern California. He conceived the event as a way for a parent and Scout to work together to build a miniature car suitable for track racing. His pack hosted an event in 1953 and his idea took off so quickly that Boys’ Life (now Scout Life magazine) publicized it the following year!
Fun Link: A Southern California newspaper wrote a wonderful article about the father of the Pinewood Derby!
Murphy’s concept ended up becoming an official part of Scouts BSA only two years later. The Pinewood Derby also spurred the creation of the Raingutter Regatta and Space Derby! What a terrific example of the influence one person can have on the world 🙂
Overview of the Pinewood Derby
Cub Scouts receive kits with a wooden block, plastic wheels, and metal axles. With the help of an adult, the Scouts shape, build, and paint their cars. The Scouts then use a specific track to race. Awards are given not only for the fastest car, but also for things like most futuristic, colorful, unlucky, or funny!
This video (1:06) from Scout Life magazine provides a great overview of the process:
Equipment Needed for a Pinewood Derby
The first thing you’ll need for your Pinewood Derby is a track! You can buy, borrow, rent, or make a track. Best Track sells an aluminum track while The Derby Magic Company offers a PVC track. If you want to borrow or rent, ask another pack or local organization that runs a similar race!
A laptop and software are two other critical components to run the races. In discussing the software, Scout leaders typically recommended DerbyNet, which is free. GrandPrix Race Manager Pro was also a favorite, but it does cost money.
Here’s a great set of videos created by Cub Scout Pack 442 to show the physical setup for a Pinewood Derby. There are 16 videos in total, divided to show different tasks. It’s awesome that the pack took the time to document the setup and share it! As we know from BSA Scout Law, a Scout is helpful 😀
You can always reach out to your local Scouts BSA council for training related to the Pinewood Derby. A quick search in my area brought up workshops for cutting the cars and another for actually getting a car kit and making it. Class B’s website offers an official guide and Scout Shop provides its six steps to planning the event!
Overview of the Pinewood Derby Rules
Many packs have slightly different versions of the rules for the Pinewood Derby. I think what it boils down to is this: some variation is okay, but if you have Scouts who want to partake in council- or district-level events, you’ll want to make sure that you’re aware of the official rules!
Here’s an overview of the basics:
- Cars must meet specific sizes for width, length, and weight.
- Certain materials are prohibited (e.g., bushings, wheel bearings, springs, and washers).
- Lubricating oil is forbidden.
- Car creation is to be led by the Scout with the parent assisting when safety is of particular concern (e.g., usage of certain tools).
If you want a starting point for each of these rules, check out Scout Shop’s official Pinewood Derby rules!
Timeframe for Planning a Pinewood Derby
Schedule your event three months out to give your pack enough time to plan the race. As you’ll likely want it to be an annual event, keep the same general date every year. Each time you hold the event, you will learn things to do and not to do! The number one thing to remember is to divide tasks within the group.
Around three months before the event, you’ll want to accomplish the following tasks: estimate the number of racers, get a track, determine who purchases the kits (pack or parents), post and distribute the rules, and determine the number and type of awards (buy or make).
Approximately two months before your derby, tasks to focus on include the following: discuss how you’ll stage the cars at the race, finalize awards/trophies and order (if buying), set up a workshop date (for families to come together to share tools and work on the cars), and distribute the Pinewood Derby car kits. If you’ve never used your track, set up and test it!
Around 30 days before your race, your committee should delegate who is bringing what to the race (e.g., track, computer, awards) and review the list of other responsibilities and who is handling them. Have the Cubmaster lead the meeting aspects and an emcee keep the race running smoothly!
The day before your event, set up the track and do a test to make sure everything is in functioning order. If your event is late in the day, you can consider doing the set up and test on the morning of the event. Be sure to check the track, timers, computers, and cameras! 😀
Host a Pinewood Derby Car Building Workshop
Bringing each pack together for a derby car building workshop serves three main purposes. First, it builds community to have the pack Scouts and parents working together. Second, it makes it easier for families to work on cars with all the tools in one place. Third, the workshop should minimize the need for adjustments later during race check in!
Parent Anita P. said her pack in Daphne, AL has been offering a workshop for many years. They set up areas to design the cars; cut (a parent saws while Scouts watch safely); sand with safety glasses and sanding blocks; paint with many colors and paintbrushes; and assemble with wheels and weights.
“We started the workshop because we knew we had some families who didn’t have the tools to cut and shape the cars. It went from just helping Scouts cut and sand to creating spaces for them to paint, decorate, and assemble because they enjoyed working on their cars together!” she said.
Running the Pinewood Derby Races
Your pack will have to decide how to run the races. Typically, cars are grouped and raced by Cub Scout rank. As cars tend to perform differently within the different tracks, ideally each car races in each of the four lanes. The scores are then averaged to determine a winner! 😀
Once you have a winner, there are several ways you can proceed. You can have the one winning car move on and have the other cars go into a consolation race. Or, you can choose to have all cars race in a certain number of heats and average those scores.
Day of the Pinewood Derby
On the day of your Pinewood Derby, be sure that all volunteers arrive early for a final check on all aspects of the race. Section off the area around the track to discourage Scouts from jumping over it. Make sure the flow of your room is logical and easy for the cars to be moved to the track to race.
Have Scouts arrive early too so they can check in their cars. You can set up various stations to inspect the cars for weight and size. Have a “fix” station where any adjustments can be made to the cars, if needed. Assign a racing number when each car is ready, and then store them safely in one area.
Former Cubmaster Corey R. shared that his pack in Brookville, OH opened race day doors at 8:30 a.m. with food sales and the Cars movie playing. Just before 9 a.m., they watched a YouTube video of the National Anthem from a Daytona 500 race, reviewed the rules, and started the derby. A member of the local Optimist Club kept things entertaining, and all was done by 11:30 a.m.!
A master of ceremonies should keep the event flowing. Classb.com suggests a racer’s pledge for everyone to recite at the start of the race: “My car is wood, the wheels are vinyl, we’re here for fun, and the judge’s decision is final.” That’s a fun way to set the stage! 😉
Scouting magazine recommends four teams of adult volunteers for the day of the event. A track crew does emceeing, setup, testing, racing, and scorekeeping. A pit crew does check-in and pre-race inspection. An activity crew keeps the kids busy while not racing, and a food crew provides snacks!
Pinewood Derby Award Ideas
There are many resources for purchasing awards or ribbons for the Pinewood Derby, so I’ll focus on the creative ways packs make awards to give to the Scouts. In one group, a parent made wooden shaped numbers (1, 2, 3) with wheels on them. Another group turned old car spark plugs into an award!
In this video (7:02) below, a mom shows how to make trophies with blocks of wood, Dollar Store cars, and paint!
Seth N. from Fort Scott, KS said his pack added a sportsmanship trophy a few years ago. “It has become the most coveted and cherished trophy because it shows what Scouting is all about: being kind to others, helping people at all times, and doing your best,” he explained.
Invite Outside Volunteers
A great way to involve the community in your Cub Scout Pinewood Derby is to seek volunteers. Ask folks from the fire department, sheriff’s station, city council, or chamber of commerce to be a judge for the fun categories you’ve designated (e.g., the most futuristic car, coolest car, funniest car).
You can also invite former members of the Cub Scout pack — whether they are now in Scouts BSA or adults in your community! Ask for their support to help run different aspects of the event. Inviting folks from nearby Scouts BSA troops would also be a great way for the Cub Scouts to get to know the troops they might join later on! 😉
Fun Variations of the Pinewood Derby Race
According to an article in Scouting magazine (last story at bottom of page), one Scouts BSA troop held an “outlaw” Pinewood Derby with the focus on breaking the rules. “Scouts stacked rolls of quarters on their cars,” the article says. Others “went the opposite direction” and shaved the wood block thin!
Scouting Memory: In my son’s pack, any interested siblings were allowed to create a car. When the main events were over, we had races with sibling cars. I remember the Cub Scouts sitting around the track excitedly watching their races as well as the races of fellow Scouts. There was always a lot of energy in the room!
Seth N. from a pack in Fort Scott, KS helped turn his pack’s Pinewood Derby into a fundraiser. Scouts provided kits to local businesses and invited them to enter for a fee. The “corporate races” had 20 entrants. They could also pay $5 to participate in a grudge race or challenge someone else. The event raised more than $1,000!
As many parents love to get involved in the building of the car, some packs offer a parent race. Parents can make a car alongside their Scout and race in a separate category. Packs could offer this option with a small entry fee to make some money with this event!
Once you participate in a Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, you’ll get what all the fuss is about. A crowded room, racecars, excited Scouts, and a terrific emcee keeping things flowing… what a great experience! If your pack will soon be holding a race, best wishes. Remember that fun and good sportsmanship are the main benefits of your event! 🙂
Thanks so much for dropping by, and for being an awesome part of the Cub Scouting community! If you enjoyed learning about how to hold a memorable Pinewood Derby event for your pack, I’d highly recommend also checking out any of these related articles if they spark your interest:
- How to Win a Pinewood Derby: 6 Science-Backed Tips for Cub Scouts
- Everything You Need To Know About Cub Scout Ranks And Advancement
- The 5 Most Popular Cub Scouting Events (And How To Plan Them)
- Cub Scout Annual Calendars: Monthly Ideas For Pack Activities
- Cub Scout Pack Recruiting: Your Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Membership
That’s all for now! We hope you feel even more inspired to hold an amazing Pinewood Derby. Thanks again for checking out ScoutSmarts. Here, we love all things Scouting and aim to share that with wonderful folks like you. Until next time, we’re wishing you nothing but the best!