Volunteers invent new method of Pinewood Derby car judging

Christie Finch wasn’t the biggest fan of the way Pinewood Derby cars were judged in her pack and district.

So she invented a better way. The new approach includes the youth, rewards Cub Scouts who work hard to design their cars with a parent or guardian, and builds excitement and fun on race day.

This all started when Finch and another Cub Scout volunteer, Casey Crausauz, noticed something in common about all the cars that won Best in Show: They were very obviously designed and painted by a Cub Scout alone — with no help from mom or dad.

In other words, if a car looked “too good,” then the Cub Scout must have received help from his or her parent, meaning the car was disqualified from design awards.

Of course, we Scouters know parent-child interaction is the whole point of the Pinewood Derby. But this judging method ignored that fact.

“We felt it was unfair to essentially disqualify good-looking cars on the assumption that a kid couldn’t do that alone,” Finch said. “We believe that if you see something wrong in the world, you help make change instead of just complaining!”

These volunteers from Pack 148 of Lebanon, Tenn., didn’t complain. They got to work.

How the pack’s Best in Show Award is judged

Here’s the new and improved method:

  1. The Best in Show Award criteria are sent out with the rest of the Pinewood Derby rules, meaning families have plenty of time to create a good-looking car.
  2. Two adult leaders are selected to serve as judges. They judge every car except for the ones created by their own children. For those cars, another judge is appointed at random. You could also have a third, celebrity judge — a local news anchor or the mayor, perhaps.
  3. Cars are judged as they’re checked in. This way, any damage sustained during racing doesn’t matter.
  4. The judges give each car a score using the scoresheet Finch created. (See a PDF here.) Cars get between 1 and 5 points in each of these four categories:
    • Originality: A simple race car design may not score as highly as a pencil or shark car.
    • Craftsmanship: Are there rough cuts or smooth sanded edges? Are any accessories added to the car well thought-out in placement and cleanly attached?
    • Technique: Was the car hand-painted, air-brushed or wrapped? Were there bubbles under a wrap or drips of paint left to dry? Did the Cub Scout and his or her adult partner branch out and use any new or interesting techniques?
    • Judges’ Choice: This category allows judges to allot points for any reason they choose, be it a favorite character or theme or even how exited the Cub Scout was when checking in his or her car.
  5. Judges are reminded not to judge cars against one another. Each car is judged on its own merits.
  6. The judges calculate the top four highest-scoring cars, and record that on a piece of paper. Ties are broken using the Judges’ Choice category.
  7. The speed races are held.
  8. In Finch’s pack and district, speed race winners are ineligible for the Best in Show Award. After first, second and third place are determined in the speed race, those fast cars are eliminated from Best in Show contention. That’s why four cars were identified for Best in Show — just in case the top three best-looking cars are the three fastest, too.
  9. Each pack’s Best in Show car becomes a finalist for the district Best in Show Award.

How the district Best in Show Award is selected

  1. Each pack winner is placed in its own voting display case. (Crausauz and Finch designed and painted the boxes. Their husbands built them and affixed the trim. The women purchased plexiglass tops from Hobby Lobby to finish the look.)
  2. Each Cub Scout and his or her siblings is given a voting token. When a Cub Scout takes a token, his or her hand is stamped to keep track of who has already taken one.
  3. The Cub Scouts place their token in the slot of the box holding their favorite car. “The kids absolutely loved this method,” Finch said. “They were excited to get a token to vote with and happy to be a part of the process.”
  4. The car with the most tokens was named the district’s Best in Show.

Notes and modifications

  • This method works for all derbies, not just Pinewood Derby. Try it for the Raingutter Regatta and Space Derby, too.
  • Finch’s method uses adult judges to select the pack winners and Cub Scouts to pick the district winners. In larger packs, you could use adult judges to pick the finalists and let the Cub Scouts vote on the big winner.
  • Finch says: “When picking the judges for the day, the most important part is picking people who understand that they are judging each car based on the criteria on the ballot, not against each other and without taking into account assumptions as to who built the car.”

Does your pack use a special judging system? Tell us about it in the comments.