Rail Rider Pinewood Derby Car

How to make a rail rider car

How to Make a Rail Riding Pinewood Derby Car

Why would you want to make a rail rider (also known as rail runner) car?


The assumption is that when a car races down a track that has a center guide rail (some don't!) the car's wheels will inevitably hit the center guide rail. When it hits the rail, the car loses speed due to friction against the rail and drag on the wheel's rotation.


This is not good.


Even cars that "steer straight" could hit the rail once or twice as it speeds down the track. Rail Riding, if done correctly, addresses this "Rail Banging" by guiding the car gently into the rail, making it ride the rail all the way down the track. It sounds counter intuitive but the idea is that you are trading off constant friction on the one wheel that is riding the rail for potentially multiple speed losing bangs on all four wheels.


But be careful! Rail riding is not the "be all, end all" for creating the fastest car. There are dangers! I don't recommend it for everyone. See important reasons to NOT make a rail rider at the end of this section.


How do you build a rail riding pinewood derby car?



What do you need?

  • Assume the right front wheel is your dominant wheel (the one that will ride against the rail).
  • One 1.5 Degree Bent Steering Axle for the right front dominant wheel.
  • Two 2.5 Degree Bent Axles to cant the rear wheels.

  • Prepare the Block

  • Cut the right front of the car body back 1/16". This moves the right front wheel, your rail riding dominate wheel, closer to the center guide rail. This insures the right front wheel hits the rail first, keeping the rear wheels away from the rail because you don't want more than one wheel riding the rail.

  • Steer the Car

  • Insert one of our 1.5 Degree Steering Axles into the right front wheel and into the block. Align the screwdriver slot in the axle head vertically, so the steering slot is straight up and down.

  • Next, you need to measure the car's drift to steer it for rail riding. You will need a long table or wide board to roll the car on. Put something under the table legs or the board to lift it about 3" to make an incline for rolling your car. Create a "lane" for your car by putting two pieces of masking tape about 6" apart. You will use this lane to see how far your car steers to the left.

    Now, place the car on your incline in the center of the two pieces of tape and release it so it rolls. Observe the cars drift. Adjust the steering axle left or right so the car drifts gently to the left no more than 1" over 4' (or about 2" over 8' if you have a longer "track"). Your car is now configured to drift into the rail.
  • ….but you are not done!


    Cant the Rear Axles

  • Insert 2.5 Degree Bent Axles into the rear wheels. Again, start with the axle slot in the axle head vertical. Turn the bent axles until the rear wheels migrate toward the axle head when you roll the car down your simulated track. This canting reduces friction of the wheel against the car body and moves the rear wheels away from the center rail so only the front wheel is riding the rail.

  • When your car is adjusted properly, glue the axles in place with a good epoxy so they don't get knocked out of alignment during the race.

    Added advantage of Rail Riding

  • Riding the rail stabilizes the car as it runs down the rail, which allows you to bias the center of gravity further back. So instead of COG being 1.25" in front of the rear axle, you can get away with 1" or even a little less. Moving COG further back converts more potential energy to kinetic energy. Basically, your car goes faster, longer.

  • IMPORTANT! DON'T Make a Rail Riding Car if…

  • If your track sections do not mate perfectly! If a lower track section sticks out, even slightly, your rail riding dominant front wheel will slam into the lower section potentially damaging the wheel or knocking the wheel out of alignment. In the worst case, the car could hit the bump and jump off the track. If your track sections don't have clean transitions where the sections meet, don't make a rail rider car!

  • If you don't make all the modification above! You must make ALL of the modifications above for your car to ride the rail properly. For example, if you ONLY steer your front wheel into the rail, your car will actually be slower than if you just adjusted your car to steer straight! The reason is that the other wheels will hit the rail and cause more drag than if you made the car run perfectly straight.

  • If your track does not have a center guide rail! This may go without saying, but it doesn't hurt to double check that your track has a center rail. Some plastic tracks, home made tracks and even professionally made tracks just have left and right lane guides so the car rides freely down the middle of the lane. It would be too late to change your car on race day if you made a rail rider and there is no center rail to ride!


  • Bottom line: Rail Riding works if the car is adjusted properly and your track sections match perfectly when it is assembled. If you don't have a test track, I suggest running the car dead on straight. If you have a test track, or access to one, run your car as a rail rider several times, then run it straight several times. Use whichever is fastest.

    Do you need to raise a front wheel to make a rail rider?
    No. Raising a front wheel is another proven speed advantage (see Triple Threat in my Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets book) but is not required for rail riding.





    Rail Rider is a registered trademark of Warp Speed Derby, Inc.


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        Be sure any decorative parts are super glued into place! If you lose a piece off your car it will affect the weight of the car, resulting in loss of inertia, decreasing your speed.



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