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Pinewood Derby time!

Published: March 16, 2015

In many communities, spring is when a young scout’s fancy turns to thoughts of turning a wood block into a fast car. From its inaugural run in May 1953, the Boy Scouts of America’s Pinewood Derby has been widely considered a spring event. But races are held as early as January and run into the summer months.

If Scouts and parents come to your store looking for Pinewood Derby materials, they will probably bring some questions with them. Here is some popular advice you can offer for that racer’s edge:

• Maximum weight = maximum momentum = 5 ounces: Dense weights, such as lead or tungsten, take up less space. Do not underestimate the weight of paint, and don’t wait until the race to weigh the car. Verify weight in advance. (You could make a digital scale available to your Derby customers.)

• Aerodynamic design: A low profile design is faster; make the front of the car lower. Flags and pennants catch air; leave them off. Holes and rough spots also produce drag; imperfections should be filled and smoothed. Don’t bring the nose of the car to a point; it may not line up with the track’s starting pin. (Files and sandpaper are good add-on sales.)

• Prep axles and wheels: By rule, only BSA-regulation wheels and axles (nails) may be used. Sand or file the nail thoroughly; take special care to remove burrs underneath the head of the nail. Be careful sanding the wheels to make sure they stay round. Turning axles and wheels in a lathe or a variable-speed drill can ensure uniformity. (Recommend adult supervision and eye protection.)

• Alignment: Make sure the car rolls straight; if it doesn’t, adjust the axles until it does. If local rules allow it, let one of the wheels ride high so the car rolls on three wheels, reducing wheel friction.

• Lubricate the wheels, but not with regular oil. Graphite is recommended, although one source recommends NyOil II, a very thin oil that won't gum up the works. (Check local rules for usage.)

• Do your best and be a good sport. You’re on your Scout’s honor.

(U.S. Navy photo)

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