William's 1st. Pine Wood Derby

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Project by NoLongerHere posted 01-22-2012 10:33 PM 4312 views 0 times favorited 31 comments Add to Favorites Watch
William's 1st. Pine Wood Derby
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”Hi Mauk, it’s William. Um, could you help me make my car? It’s for the Pine Wood Derby Race. I’m in the Cub Scouts and I have to make a race car. Can we make it in your workshop? I want to help too.”
”Sure, come over and we can work together on it. That will be fun.”
Well, this sure brings back memories.
Way back to March 1966
I too was a cub scout at age seven.
I still remember making a pine wood derby car from a block of wood just like the one he has to use.
It’s been an American tradition.

Yes, I’m the goofy Charlie Brown looking kid in the middle. Don’t laugh, I was born with a cleft lip.
So, I went on the internet and looked up pine wood derby cars and discovered the wonderful world of cub scouting all over again.

There were pictures of different cars, kits and decals, long tracks and smiling boys in their cub scout uniforms, covered in badges, holding their handmade race cars. It sure made me smile. This is gonna be fun.

I see that the rules are still the same; It must be no wider than 1 3/4”, by 7” long and 3/8” above the track and it can’t weigh more than five ounces. The rules also state that you can use a band saw, whittling tools and sandpaper. Of course, they encourage the parent to help but, it should be his project.

They had a lot of accessories, like straight axles and fast wheels….$11.99, extra fast wheels….$39.99, and super duper fast wheels – for $79.99. They had graphite lube and precut blocks – ready for sanding, lead weights, spoilers and roll bars and little drivers with a steering wheel.

So many options – all screaming at every dad,

”How much do you really love your son? You wouldn’t want him to LOSE would you?”

Ka ching…..”That will be $49.99 with tax please.”

Wait, the original kit is only $3.99. What just happened?
Poor Dad, didn’t stand a chance. Ha!
It didn’t quite happen that way with my dad.

He was a hard working, traveling salesman and had no use for tools. My mom was the cub scout den mother but she just said, ”Do the best you can. I’m sure it will be just fine.”

So, with my dull cub scout knife and some sandpaper, I made my first wood project.
After it was completed I colored it with crayons. I think it had blue doors and a yellow hood, green and red too. So long ago. At that moment, I remember I was so proud of my little race car.
The big race day.

All of my cub scout den friends were there. I’ll never forget the moment I saw my car sitting in the middle of all those cars on the display table. There were maybe 30 or 40 cars of different shapes and colors.

I couldn’t help notice their rounded shapes, sanded smooth and perfectly symmetrical, spray finished with decals and stripes. Some were long and thin like Indy cars with little men in helmets while others looked like modified muscle cars.

And there, sitting in the middle – my crayon colored creation with no particular body style to be recognized.

I remember I was embarrassed. No matter, nobody said anything so maybe it’s OK.

It’s my turn. I take my car over and set it on the track next to my friend’s slick looking silver bullet car. It felt like there were 100 people in the room watching us. I was so nervous!

The gate drops – Slam! They’re off!

The cars were side by side all the way down the angled track as they screamed down the last stretch.

Everybody is yelling, Go! Go! I’m so excited, my heart is going a mile a minute and I’m grinning from ear to ear.

My car is inching ahead! I’m going to win! I knew it!

Then, all of a sudden my front wheel falls off and the car leans into the rail and comes to a dead stop, right in the middle of the track.

Several of my friends standing next to me burst out laughing and started teasing and punching on me like kids do. I was smiling back I think; but inside I remember, I was devastated.

I’m not a winner – I’m a loser. I tried to smile as I congratulated the other boys.

I remember wondering why my dad didn’t help me like the other dads. Why didn’t he tell me to spray paint it?

Where was he?

I was just a kid but I think I learned what it felt like to lose that day. I knew it was up to me and I had to do better if I wanted to win. After that, I became a pretty good car model builder and eventually, a home builder and a wood worker.
So, with all that in mind, at 54 years old, (47 years later) I have been given a second chance to participate in the longtime cub scout tradition of pine wood derby racing and have an opportunity to help a young friend learn some really cool things with power tools.

As soon as William and his mother arrived, we sat down and looked at all the derby cars I found on the internet. Then, we drove to the local hobby shop to look at accessories and get more ideas for the design.

Now, the thing is, little William is really into trains, especially green trains. The spinning display stand in the store was full of pine derby car kits and accessories but it was no competition to the long display cabinet full of trains.

There was even a train track set up that ran around the whole store. He was in train heaven.

After thoroughly looking at all the trains, I finally get him back to the thinking about the project.

I asked William,

”So – after looking at all those model cars and pictures of other Pine Derby cars, what would you like your car to look like?... A muscle car like Tom Petty’s?... An Indy car?... A 4×4 pick up?”
”I want it to look like … A Green Train!” – said with the biggest smile possible.
Well, why not?

We decided to make two cars. One would be a Silver Vintage Road Racer and the other would be a Bullet Train.

We would tune up the tires that came with the kit and buy some decals, a spoiler and a little race car driver made of lead to help add weight.

With parts in hand – it’s time to build my, uh I mean, his first Pine Wood Derby Race Car.

First, we drew the design on the blocks and then, I set a bar stool in front of the band saw so he could reach it.
He was a little scared at first but with some encouragement and my hands next to his, he slowly turned the block and followed the line pattern very well.

He instantly became a band saw fan and wanted to cut out more patterns, but I told him he was getting side tracked. One project at a time.


He sanded the train while I listened to him talk on and on about all of the control panels in a train.

”This button opens this door and that button sounds the alarm, the brake is on the right and there is another panel with buttons over here.”

You could tell his dad took him up front for a visit with the train Conductor for several memorable tours.


After much sanding, we spray painted the race car silver and the train white for a base coat. Later, we sprayed painted the bottom half of the train green and added windows with a black magic marker so it looked just like the Lionel train he saw in the hobby shop.

The race will be held on Feb. 3rd. and I have been invited to watch the race.

I can’t help but wonder, Will I have my redemption? Will we win?

Or – will the wheels fall off and poor little William’s friends laugh at him?....Oh No!

Obviously, I’m having fun with this story. Ha!

If they did fall off it wouldn’t be the end of the world; they’re just kids after all.

Besides, learning to laugh at yourself with your friends when your wheels fall off,

and being a good loser is better than being a perfectly symmetrical winner any day.

.... I know.


31 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117234 posts in 3724 days

#1 posted 01-22-2012 10:36 PM

Great team work and super work.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Rick Babwin's profile

Rick Babwin

38 posts in 4299 days

#2 posted 01-22-2012 10:42 PM

A great story and project.

-- Rick

View Jethro80's profile


33 posts in 2490 days

#3 posted 01-22-2012 10:47 PM

Cool story, thanks for putting the time in to tell us about it. I have two boys and will surely be building race cars in the near future. Pine wood derby is a memory that stands out in my childhood as well.

View EyeOfTheJen's profile


205 posts in 2563 days

#4 posted 01-22-2012 11:45 PM

Outstanding! Love the story behind the shot also. I help a friends son every year with his.. the older he gets the less he is interested in the speed as he is the style points… getting rather difficult to do some of the things he comes up with…lol

-- Jen ~ Happiness is being covered in sawdust.

View patron's profile


13630 posts in 3488 days

#5 posted 01-23-2012 12:11 AM

way to go boys

give it your best
then you never lose

here’s to feb 3

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4552 days

#6 posted 01-23-2012 01:18 AM

great posting.
My son and I just completed our derby car for the race on the 27th.
We used a “Big Foot Research Organization” theme, a car used for tracking bigfoots.
Son’s idea.
I wish now I had taken more photos working together on it.
I’m planning a posting showing the car and the experience together.

thanks for this,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View SPalm's profile


5322 posts in 4029 days

#7 posted 01-23-2012 02:34 AM

I have been through this several times in my life, including doing it with my Dad.
Thanks for the memories.

He is going to win for sure (he already has).

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Bagtown's profile


1739 posts in 3877 days

#8 posted 01-23-2012 02:57 AM

I remember doing this with my son a few times.
Pretty sure we used a scrollsaw.
I was a scout leader for a lot of years, now my son is a Cub leader (Akela), and is expecting his first child any day now. Spending all that time with kids is the best gift you can give them.
Good memories.
Looking forward to the February race updates.
Take some pictures.
Even if the wheels fall off.


-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

View clieb91's profile


3521 posts in 4082 days

#9 posted 01-23-2012 03:52 AM

Mark, A great post and a great story. I remember my dad did help me out with my car but had very little in the way of tools. I truly can not believe all of the parts and pieces available today for cars.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View jonchilds's profile


26 posts in 2714 days

#10 posted 01-23-2012 05:25 AM

I am a huge fan of the pinewood derby. We just had ours on Sat and both of my boys did pretty well this year. Last year they didn’t really want to put in the effort and didn’t do well at all. They both felt pretty bad last year. It was such a good opportunity to learn that if you want to be good at something you need to put in the work. It seems like it is one of the few places left where not everyone gets a trophy. How can you not love it. You get to spend time doing woodworking type stuff with your kids and they get to learn valuable lessons to boot. Good luck, make sure to polish those axles. My son and I learned to hard way a couple years ago to always put a couple drops of superglue in the axle slot to make sure they don’t come out :)

View MsDebbieP's profile


18616 posts in 4307 days

#11 posted 01-23-2012 03:02 PM

I’m nervous – oh the anticipation….

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2823 days

#12 posted 01-23-2012 03:41 PM

Great comments everyone! Thank you!

“I remember…” That’s what it’s all about.

Jen, Little William wanted to add a lot of detail too. It was tricky to get him to think about the the race rather than train control panels, seats and windows. I promised him we would build a bigger train model that has more detail the next time.

Mark, – a “Big Foot Research Organization” theme – that’s a good one! Ha! The things these kids come up with!
Please post a picture! I love it!

Johnchilds, super glue was definitely used on the axles…wouldn’t want to traumatize him for 47 years too! Ha!

Note: We bought lead side exhaust pipes and a motor sticking out of the top of the hood for the race car but they were too heavy by .2 ounces. So, we put the exhaust pipes on the train! He really liked it and it made the train weigh 4.85 ounces – just right.

I’ll be sure to follow up with more pictures of the race and William holding his car with his little friends next to him – just like the picture of me when I was a cub scout.

Good times. Great memories!

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3232 days

#13 posted 01-23-2012 04:03 PM

I went through the Pine Wood Derby with three sons, and there was always an extra kit for dad to make
his own car. I had went to the race previous years and saw cars that the fathers would not even let the
kids carry into the race because it was their car. I had a small workshop in the basement and we each made
our own car, all the axles were polished and the wheels were trued and lubed with graphite, then the cars
were weighted with lead and spray painted and weighed at the post office with their scales at the self
serve station that was open at night. If they were too heavy at the official scout weigh in, a drill was
available to drill out some of the lead weight. Can not remember all the designs, but it was fun for all.
And yes, the front wheel did fall off the car of my oldest son, just after he won first place in the county
wide race. And now there are great grandson’s that I might be able to persuade into my shop with
their fathers.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Jeff's profile


471 posts in 3341 days

#14 posted 01-23-2012 05:26 PM

Way to go! That’s a fine looking car. Get the wheels balanced and good luck. My son made his own cars all the way through Scouts and we built a display case for them. Looked great at his Eagle ceremony.

My own experience from the Dad’s division: make the car as thin as possible ( a wedge) and use tungsten weights instead of lead, they’re denser. The key is always the wheels. If they’re not true and balanced, it’s had to win (not impossible, just hard).

View Seenya's profile


63 posts in 2589 days

#15 posted 01-23-2012 05:42 PM

That’s a great story, Mark. I, too, was a Cub Scout in the mid-sixties and this brings back lots of great memories.

-- Semper Fi

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