10 helpful tips for planning the best Pinewood Derby ever

The Internet is full of resources for Cub Scouts wanting to make a better, faster Pinewood Derby car.  (Not surprisingly, the best source for this is Boys’ Life.)

But what about parents and Scouters wanting to plan a better Pinewood Derby?

I’ve got you covered with these 10 Pinewood Derby planning tips.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-11. Encourage Scouts to actually build their own cars

Building a Pinewood Derby car is a life-changing bonding experience for parents and their son or daughter.

Cub Scouts aren’t — and shouldn’t be — expected to do it all themselves. But what about when mom or dad (usually dad) takes on a little too much of the work?

That happened in Scouter Ken D.’s pack when he “actually had a Scout who couldn’t tell me which car was his to take home after the derby!” Not good.

Damon E. came up with a breakdown you can try in your pack: “Tigers do about 20 percent of the work, 40 percent for Wolves, 60 percent Bears, 80 percent Webelos,” he says. “By the time they’re a fifth-grade Webelos, the Scout is doing almost 100 percent of the work with just a safe guiding hand of a parent or adult.”

Pinewood-Derby-tips-22. Plan a Pinewood Derby workshop

How do you ensure the Scouts have a hand in making their car? Bring them all under your roof.

Host a designated car-making workshop where parents and Cub Scouts build the cars together and parents bring tools to share. It’s fun, and it’s a great way for the less mechanically inclined to learn a thing or two.

Some of the best Pinewood Derby workshops use the assembly line approach. Parents and Cub Scouts go from station to station working on their car. When they’re done, they have a near-finished product ready for painting.

For more tips on planning one of these workshops, check out our article in Scouting magazine.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-33. Hold side races for parents

Try as you might to encourage Cub Scout-built cars, there are still some ultra-competitive dads and moms out there.

Harness that competitiveness into a race just for parents (and/or siblings). Some packs call these “outlaw” races. In other packs, the “outlaw” moniker is reserved for Cub Scout-built cars that don’t meet the regular race requirements.

In some packs, these parents-only races are used as pack fundraisers. The entry fee — maybe $5 a car — goes into a pot, where the winners get a nice prize and the pack gets the rest to help offset pack expenses. In other words: Everyone wins.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-44. Schedule smarter

Create a tournament bracket that gives each Cub Scout several races, even if he or she loses them all.

How? Start with this Scouting magazine story, which has plenty of ideas for double-elimination, lane-rotation and other formats that you can try.

Scheduling is a decision for you and other Cub Scouters, but you have several options at your disposal.

Elimination-style races, where the first across the finish line wins, are the most exciting for live viewers. But they favor those assigned to “fast lanes” — flaws in some tracks where one lane is faster than others.

Round-robin formats, where every car races in every lane, are great for those with high-tech timing equipment to determine first through fourth. But it’s hard to tell who’s winning that way.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-55. Stagger arrival times

If you know the Webelos race won’t start until 5 p.m., do the Webelos Scouts and their parents really need to show up at 3:30 with everyone else?

Give parents specific, staggered arrival times to minimize waiting around.

You could even hold several awards ceremonies — one after each division is finished — so that families can leave when their son’s racing category has concluded.

Ask yourself: Is it really necessary for every family to be there for the entire event? Remember to leave them wanting more.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-66. Giving siblings plenty to do

Set out a big container of Legos for the sisters and brothers of racers to enjoy during the Derby.

Distribute racing-themed coloring pages and colored pencils.

Invite someone to run a face-painting station or make balloon animals.

Whatever you do, be sure to offer something to keep those nonracers occupied.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-77. Make an event out of it

A maximum of four boys or girls will be racing at any one time. So what will Scouts and parents do between races?

They can cheer on their fellow Scouts with some of these songs and yells.

They can purchase food at the concession stand — operated by a local Boy Scout troop or Venturing crew, perhaps.

Then can race their cars on a designated secondary track for practice and fun.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-88. Check the rule book

Does your local council or district have special Pinewood Derby rules and regulations?

If so, you should adopt those same rules for your pack’s Pinewood Derby.

In the Northern Star Council, for example, only official BSA wheels are allowed. And Cub Scouts (or dads) can’t add springs, glass, hubcaps or a number of other enhancements to their cars.

Following the council’s rule book makes your winners eligible for district- and council-level Derbies. And they ensure a level race field for all Cub Scouts.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-99. Pick teams

Great Pinewood Derbies require great volunteers. I like this site’s breakdown for how to assign the necessary teams for Derby day:

  • Track Team that sets up the track, tests it and runs the race.
  • A Food Team that keeps Cub Scouts and parents happy and well-fed.
  • A Pit Team that checks in the families and weighs and inspects the cars.
  • An Activities Team that handles anything not related the race — pictures, face-painting, skits and songs, and anything else to keep Scouts entertained.

Pinewood-Derby-tips-1010. Make memories, take pictures

A Pinewood Derby will be over in a couple of hours, but the memories will last forever. That’s especially true if you take official race day photos of Scouts and their families.

First, create a fun backdrop. It should include your pack flag, some racing imagery and the current year.

Next, assign a volunteer to take the photos of the Cub Scout with his car and his parents. You could even do close-ups of each Cub Scout’s car.

You can make the photos available on a photo site like Flickr for parents to download and post to Facebook for all the world to see.


Photos: 1 and 2: BSA; 3: Nerdage; 4: Dave Wheeler; 5 and 6: iStock; 7: Flickr; 8: Northern Star Council; 9: Flickr; 10: Flickr