Stuff You Should Know podcast tells listeners “How Pinewood Derbies Work”

Stuff-You-Should-Know-podcast-logoPinewood derby season may be behind us, but it’s never too early to get ready for next year’s big race.

Especially if you’re a fan of the popular Stuff You Should Know podcast.

The latest episode is all about the pinewood derby, and this is cool for two reasons.

One, the podcast is extremely popular. It’s regularly in the Top 10 most-downloaded podcasts on iTunes and has been download more than 100 million times. That means it’s reaching a whole lot of potential new Cub Scout families.

Two, it’s got some great tips for parents of Cub Scouts who want to make their Scouts’ cars even better.

Read on for some of my favorite parts from the episode, or skip what I have to say and click here to listen to the podcast.

A level playing field

The podcast hosts — Chuck and Josh — begin by explaining the history and rules of the pinewood derby.

“The cool thing about pinewood derby racing is that all of the cars start out the exact same — they’re blocks of wood with the same wheels, same axles. And it’s up to the Cub Scouts [under breath] and the dads and moms to craft this thing to make it slightly different enough that it wins the race.”

The guys also mention Boys’ Life magazine, which in 1954 was the first magazine to report on the pinewood derby and has been covering this Cub Scout favorite ever since.

Then things get gloriously geeky.

How this pinewood derby stuff works

Chuck and Josh touch on aerodynamics, how much the car’s weight makes a difference, the best shapes for pinewood derby cars, proper weight distribution, how to find the perfect axle and more.

One conclusion they come to: “You can either have a really cool-looking car or a fast car.” (Though some of these cool-looking but fast cars seem to disprove their point.)

They also share how to make your regulation pinewood derby car as fast as possible, including tips like:

  • Put the weight at the rear of the car, within an inch of the rear axle.
  • Ride on three wheels instead of four (if rules allow).
  • Try “railriding” — steer your car to the center of the track.

Do those tips sound familiar? That’s because they come from Boys’ Life magazine — specifically, this article. The hosts mention the article by name.

The point of the pinewood derby

Sure, racing cars is fun and a little friendly competitiveness doesn’t hurt.

But really, the hosts say, the derby is “a parent-kid activity of learning about physics, engineering, building, woodworking, sportsmanship, winning and losing — and not throwing a punch when you lose.”

Other notes about the episode

  • Gotta love the shoutout to that beloved 2005 classic film Down and Derby, starring Greg Germann, Lauren Holly and Pat Morita.
  • I thought this was a smart tip: Have your Cub Scouts mark the front and back of their car, so the adult placing it on the track knows which is which and doesn’t send it down backward.
  • Though they don’t mention this blog by name, they do use some quotes from my 2012 post called “Open for Debate: Who really made that Pinewood Derby car?

Listen to the podcast

Ready to listen and don’t feel like scrolling back up? Click here.


Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by pack101

About Bryan Wendell 3182 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.