Every pinewood derby season, I open my shop to parents and children for bonding, creativity and mentorship. As you might imagine, people really nerd out over how to make the best Pinewood Derby car, and a lot of it could make your eyes cross if you don’t have a degree in physics, a ton of power equipment and quality hand tools.
There is an enormous amount of unsure science in pinewood car culture. Should you put the weight on the back of the car or the front? Should you make it so one wheel is off the deck a little bit? Should it be aerodynamic, or does that really matter? Only a handful of engineers know the truth, but only because they have done empirical tests.
What’s great about the Pinewood Derby is that it is one the most memorable activities that a young boy will have … of all the trips and campouts and hikes and things that they get to do in Scouting and growing up in general.
The whole purpose of the Pinewood Derby is to allow the parents and the child to bond through a physical, hands-on, do-it-yourself kind of project, because most kids today don’t have shop class and they don’t have an opportunity to use any tools and materials and work with their hands. I believe it also teaches young people sportsmanship, craftsmanship and safety. The way we handle it in my shop is as follows:
Day 1: Rules and the technical principals behind the physics and Newton’s laws. Then the child picks a theme and design which they draw onto paper explaining how and why the design will work based on the principles taught.
Day 2: Shop safety, personal protection equipment (PPE), with tool and equipment safety. We use scraps to teach the fundamentals on how the design will be built—safely.
Day 3: Build time! We tweak the theme and design based on what has been learned to date– cutting, shaping and sanding. But always, building with PPE is a must!
Day 4: Final assembly. The child gets to sand, paint, attach weights and wheels, etc. Kids are proud to say, “I worked hard on my cars and so did my father.” Actually, maybe it was harder on the parent not working, allowing the children to make mistakes and learn for themselves what live challenges can be.
Pinewood derby racing is some of the most competitive racing in the world, because the modifications are not always applied to just the parts. One child with a huge imagination, One adult with life lessens, One piece of wood, four nails as axles and four plastic wheels. In the end, it isn’t all about winning (though that’s certainly fun!). It’s really about building confidence, taking pride in learning new things, developing good work habits and creating memories in a spirit of fun. Values earned at a very young age that will last a lifetime win or lose…