Homepage Forums Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby Dispute and advice on how to handle such

This topic contains 7 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  Mark Hollahan 2 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #50263 Reply


    My son and I recently completed in his local Pinewood Derby event. We researched and created a design based loosely on various designs we found in the Pinewood Derby Times. The car design is like the various ones that use a “starter bar.” And example can be found here: http://www.maximum-velocity.com/spoiler.jpg

    We designed his to look like a pincher bug without any starting bar. The front center of the car is cut out about 3/4 of an inch to symbolize the pinchers. We copied a pincher bug pic onto a transparent mailing label and applied it to the top of the car. It looked pretty good.

    The cut out meant that the left and right tips of the pinchers stuck out about 1/2 beyond the starting gate (the starting gate is a single 1/4 inch pipe sticking up from the bottom). We verified via the written rules for our event that the car still met every required rule (weight, length, etc.). There was no rule stating that the car could not stick out past the starting gate (and it should not matter considering the type of track we use as I will clarify below).

    I was not able to be there for my son’s race as I had conflict with an athletic event with my daughter but I arrived there in the middle of it. Upon my arrival, I was told my son was forced to race his car backwards due to the cut out – that it somehow created an unfair advantage. Needless to say, I was rather disappointed with this decision. Regardless if my son wins or loses, I would hope that he could race his car fairly. The Motto is “Do Your Best” and that is what he did.

    A number of points:

    1. Racing the car backwards moved all the rear weight to the front. Regardless of any aerodynamic issues with it being backwards, the weight now has less distance to fall, making it slower.

    2. While the cut out made the left and right side stick out 1/2 inch, it also made the weight 1/2 inch lower than the other cars so the weight had less distance to fall so the car was slower by design.

    3. The sensors on these tracks is in the middle of the track so a cut out of the front of the car actually means it still needs to travel the same distance – the sensor will not go off until it hits wood, so the cut out does not actually provide an advantage.

    4. All of the rules were followed. We also have a rule regarding parents not building the car for their scout. I have never seen a scout punished by either banning or handicapping their car because it was apparent that their Dad did all the work on the car.

    I had voiced my concerns at the event with two of the leaders but I did not want to pursue it further in that setting since the event was still ongoing and I was not aware of how was responsible for that decision. Now though, I feel that I should at least have my concerns heard by the powers that be. My son was so disappointed that he left the event early. He did not even want to stay to the end. For the record, he lost the first race, won his second (racing backwards) and then lost the third race.

    The race is over, nothing can be done about that, but I am bothered by the arbitrary nature of the decision based on unwritten rules.


  • #50378 Reply

    Kernel Mike

    The pinewood derby is a lesson in life, in so many aspects. You should watch the movie, “Down and Derby”.

  • #50387 Reply


    Well, it looks like you now know why the car design has a starter bar!
    My preference would have been either to allow modification to the car (a quick mounting of a racing axle or duct tape would do the trick), or the gate (mount a “drop away” cross bar). But these big races don’t offer big time envelopes to adjust for those things.

    Your son can still be proud of having a really awesome-looking car.

    As to the track, this is one reason why I prefer the photo-finish designs. It’s more fun having an image to judge, and gives us one more memento to share with the boys.

    As to your people, love them. There’s no hierarchy that will settle these disputes for you. Get to know the race leaders and ask how you can help in future years.

  • #50404 Reply


    Yes, not looking to “settle” the dispute since the event is long over. I just was looking for some feedback on my concerns and how it was handled – hopefully so that they avoid such a problem in the future.

    I like the idea of “fixing” it at the event. A quick glue or tape job to the front would have addressed their concerns.

  • #52094 Reply


    I agree with Kernal mike on the pinewood derby being a life lesson as portrayed in “Down and Derby”. We have had several derby’s with no problems except the last one where one of the boys didn’t receive anything even though he finished 4th overall. We had additional awards for such things as funniest, best paint job, best of show, etc in addition to 1st, 2nd, 3rd. I had the father complain rather tactfully that his son should get something. I explained the benefits of life lessons but he was not happy with that remedy. He’s competitive and so are his sons. This year we’re just doing 1st, 2nd, 3rd trophies. I’ll see if this works. We do have an unlimited race for the adults with the only restriction being weight so we don’t bend the track. That’s fun and let’s the Dad’s blow off some steam. I just wish everyone could remember its just for fun.

  • #52205 Reply


    Ah yes, the “hostility” of the Pinewood Derby. I think we’ve all had our share of it. We once had an adult ACCIDENTALLY drop a car when putting it on the track and snapped a wheel off. You would have thought it was the end of the world.


    The only way is to have VERY CLEAR and VERY STRICT rules so that everyone is held (fairly) to the same standards. If something’s not in the rules, then it’s not in the rules. If “it” upsets people, they are free to modify the rules for next year so “it” doesn’t happen again.

    What’s done is done, but that doesn’t mean it can’t become a DISCUSSION so that next year’s Derby is drama free. It’s HIGHLY competitive (almost to the point of being UN-scoutlike) so your pack needs to proactively avoid foreseeable landmines.

  • #60765 Reply

    Mark Hollahan

    Sportsmanship is the most important lesson Scouts can learn, and PWD is a great opportunity – competition, emotion all makes for good teaching ground.
    Last year, we implemented a new award at our ‘race’ events (PWD and raingutter regatta). The Sportsman Award recognizes that Scout who displayed consistently good sportsmanship throughout the event. We use a handful of scouters as “secret sportsmanship monitors” and they grade the scouts on a number of criteria and we award the scout who has the highest score in sportsmanship. Incidentally, it is our largest trophy. Has been a great success and it is rewarding to see the boys congratulate each other and cheer each other and learn to win gracefully and lose gracefully.

  • #69915 Reply


    I hope you have wonderful memories of building this car with your son. Next year, design the car so no appendages are sticking out, and don’t get stuck on this thing — just make a nice car without getting stuck in the past. Live and learn. I’m sorry he had to race the car backward, it’s not what I would have liked to have happen, but onward and upward. Best wishes for your entire Scouting journey.

    It sounds like it was a really cool car!

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