How to run a pinewood derby race

Pinewood Derby Race Planning Guide

When I ran the Pinewood Derby for my son's Cub Scout Pack 468 in Trumbull, CT, I created the activity list below to help me (and the next race manager) organize the activities we needed to manage our race. This plan assumes the race will be held the fourth week of January.

As the race manager, you get to delegate! I found that most parents were happy to help in this fun event. Instead of trying to manage every task yourself, break up the tasks into sub-teams and appoint a leader for each sub-team. For example, I had a “track team”, a “food team”, a “Pit team” and an “activities team”.

Then create a task list for each sub-team which you can discuss with the sub-team leader. This engages the parent so the feel empowered to use their own ideas.

The Track Team is pretty straightforward. Their job is to pick up the track, set it up and test it with the pinewood derby race software to be sure everthing is running. They would also be responsible for track break down when the race is over.

Since our races usually spanned dinner time, we would have someone pick up pizza and drinks to sell at the race. This is the job of your Food Team. Their job is to get the pizza and drinks, handle the money and clean up afterwards. Again, petty easy but critical for creating a fun pinewood derby event. Every kid loves pizza!

The Pit Crew is essential for every pinewood derby racing event. The Pit Crew pre-weighs cars and helps with last minute adjustments so the checkin process can go smoothly. Checkin is always a bottleneck, so anything the Pit Crew can do to help get cars checked in faster is a big plus.

Last but not least is the Activities Team. Their job, perhaps the hardest of all, is to keep the kids busy while the race is going on. Cub Scouts tend to be excitable at pinewood derby races. This high energy causes them to run around a lot. As a result, things can get chaotic. We created a series of activities to channel this energy into something fun, like building a car stand, taking pictures against a race car backdrop, or even doing creative things like painting balloons.

Once you have your Race Team, get a meeting together to review the race activities and review your Pinewood Derby Rules. Every pinewood derby race has their own set of rules. Be sure your entire team understands and agrees to the rules. Feel free to simplify the rules, if they have gotten too restrictive, or tighten up the rules if your team feels racers are taking liberties.

Below is a breakdown of the race activities and who is responsible for them.




  September Activities  
Reserve gym at school Start of school year Cub Master who sets yearly schedule
  November Activities  
Order car kits 3 weeks before Dec Pack meeting Race Manager
Pre-announce race date at meeting Nov Pack meeting Race Manager
Sign-up volunteers to help with the race Nov/Dec meeting Race Manager
  December Activities  
Copy race rules and Pinewood Derby info sheet. Insert into car kits   Race Manager
Get track reserved 3-4 weeks before Race Manager
Hand out car kits to Den leaders – at end of meeting so kids don’t open boxes and spill contents! Dec Pack meeting Race Manager
Annouce Pinewood Derby Workshop to teach how to build a pinewood derby car. This is especially helpful to Tiger Scouts. Dec Pack meeting Race Manager
  January Activities  
Pinewood Derby Workshop first week of Jan Race Manager
Race committee meeting – select people and sign up for activities. Fill in names for sub-team leaders Jan 13 Committee team
Order trophies Jan 10 Race Manager
Order ribbons for Den winners, 1st, 2nd, 3rd place in Den Jan 10 Race Manager
Give gym layout to Janitors. Order TV and stairs for stage Jan 15 Race Manager
Make 30 copies of “Best in Show” ballots Jan 25 Race Manager
Race Day    
Setup track starting at 3 for 6PM race Jan 25 Track team
Setup check-in table with official scale, post rules Jan 25 Track team
Setup computer, enter contestant names Jan 25 Track team
Layout stage with trophies, ribbons and car holders Jan 25 Track team
Food Ordering    
  • Order 35 pizzas for 75 kids
  • Order liter bottles of soda
  • Buy 400 cups, plates, 900 napkins
  • Get pizza warmer box
  • Get change $1, $5, .25
Jan 20 Food team leader
Car Repair Pit    
  • Two hot glue guns
  • Lead strip and cutter
  • Graphite
  • Two postal scales
  • Screw drivers, wood chisel, extra wheels, axles
  Car Pit team leader
Race night activities
Fun stuff to keep scouts and siblings busy while race is going on.
  • Balloon shaving
  • Ring toss
  • Limbo
  • Car stand building
  • Face painting
  • Patch trading
  Activities leader

Race Management Tips

  • Each car should have a unique number sticker that is attached to the car for identification. the number can also be or painted on the car.
  • If you have a lot of kids, divide them up by age. You could start by racing the Tiger Cubs, then move up the ranks. When the Cub Scouts have finished races, you could do a siblings race or have an open class race for the adults.
  • Set up the track a day or two before the race so that the kids can make a few practice runs. Bring the scale too so that they can weigh their cars.
  • Consider holding an open class race, or unlimited race (with no rules!) after the official Cub Scout Pack race where the adults (and kids) can race unofficial cars.

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      Pinewood Derby
      Tips & Hints

      The stock BSA "nails" that come in your kit are mass produced. These nails have burrs, crimp marks and can also be crooked, all of which severely limits your car speed. An Axle Polishing Kit and Axle File are essential to fix your axles and increase your car speed.

      Pinewood Derby
      weights Tip

      Tungsten weights are ideal for pinewood derby cars. Tungsten is about 1/3 smaller than a zinc piece with the same weight. Therefore, you can pack Tungsten weights in a smaller area to optimize your center of gravity to maximize inertia giving you greater speed at the finish gate.

      Pinewood Derby
      building Hint

      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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How to Run a Pinewood Derby Race