Just plain fun! That's the experience of working side by side with my son Blake over the four years he was in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby program. And intermingled were many learning and growth experiences for both of us, as we shared many priceless moments of camaraderie and discovery, moments that will last a lifetime. These kinds of programs provide wonderful opportunities to get to be a better pal with your son at just the right time in your lives, no matter what your age. Also there is some basic technology that can be employed in the derby competition that is not only fun to apply, but also interesting to learn and teach. And, by the way, the latter facilitates the former.
The goal of this book is to impart a number of Speed Secrets that you and your budding racing champion can apply when building his next derby entry. Hopefully these simple but real engineering enhancements will enable your son to shave a few tenths of a second off of his time, take the checkered flag and proudly bring home a trophy for the family to admire. But even if the competitors use enough tricks of their own to garner first place, the working experience of building and competing will strengthen the parent-son bond and increase the feeling of admiration each of you has for the other.
After three winning years of helping Blake with his Pinewood Derby entries, it just seemed appropriate to share the winning secrets that we have learned.
When Blake entered the derby his first year, the odds-on favorite was a friend who was the youngest of three brothers, all having participated in previous derbies without ever losing. This year, however, Blake took the checkered flag, placing first in his Den and first in his Pack. Even though we had carefully worked up the car and incorporated several speed enhancement ideas, I confess that I was amazed at how well they worked. Hey! This is fun, I thought. And Blake was smiling ear to ear. I was already wondering what new and exotic speed enhancements we could come up with to increase the edge for next year? In the glow of the moment, Blake and I felt like we were real smart. But the concepts that I've learned since that first Derby have convinced me that there was still a lot of luck involved.
The last year I was again helping Blake with his car (more than a Dad should) when I noticed that he was working on another block that we had in the garage. It made me realize that I should be coaching more and doing less. So I continued with the car I was working on for the Parent's Outlaw Division, commensurately coaching and supervising Blake's efforts as he built his own car. Just to be clear, Blake was age 10 and I didn't let him use the power tools for safety reasons, but he did everything else from creating the design to painting.
Letting the boys do the work is sometimes difficult and it's always a temptation for us "older boys" to take over to assure that design and assembly is just right. But temptation should be resisted for the most part, in order to give the boys the confidence and pride that results from doing it themselves. My advice is a balance between helping and teaching so that it is a learning experience for the youngster. Also, remember that this whole event is to facilitate spending positive and focused time with your son.
It is important to note that every Pinewood Derby and sponsoring Pack has its own set of rules that may or may not allow some or all of the design tips presented in this book. After reading the general rules from your Pack's Pinewood Derby event, if you have any doubts about the legality of any modifications described in this book, you should check with your event officials.
In our Pack we are fortunate enough to have electronic instrumentation that times the cars to the 1,000th of a second. For perspective and reference, our Pack's winning time has been about 2.79 seconds and the car that finishes dead last will have a time of maybe 3.1 seconds. Think about that. That is a difference of just 3/10ths of a second, hardly the blink of an eye. This understanding is important if the Speed Secrets in this document are to make any sense. There is probably not any one thing that you could do to shave 1/10th of a second (one third of the delta between first and last place) off your time. But when you combine all of them (or as many as you can within the rules of your Pack) you can make up 1/3 of a second, or perhaps more, and this is the difference between winning and losing.
This document is organized into sections, starting with a discussion about weight, because it important to cut the weight slot in the bottom of the car before beginning to shape your block. Then I will talk about the shape of your car, which plays an important role in determining speed potential. This often is a tricky decision for the little guys. Shapes they come up with are often not very aerodynamically efficient. Helping over 15 scouts cut the blocks for their cars the last year, the first question I asked was: "Do you want it to look good or do you want it to go fast?" They always come to the same conclusion. FAST please.
Succeeding chapters will provide information about wheels, axles, painting and finishing ideas.
It is my hope that the information contained here will not only help you to help your son to have the winning entry in your next Pinewood Derby, but also provide a common focus to make you better buddies, and have some just plain fun.