A Pinewood Derby Birthday Party – for this cars themed birthday activity these pre-shaped wedge kits were decorated by 3 and 4 year old kids! They were provided with a table to choose from a while variety of foam stickers, felt tipped pens and sharpie markers!
With the help of adults they had wheels added to their blocks, and then they got to race them along a track with their friends 🙂
Best of all, they got to take their car home as a memento, along with a piece of cake, a helium balloon and their party bag!
Pupils starting school this year with Primary 1 classes at Cramond Primary School in Edinburgh were invited to participate in a Pinewood Derby! A great opportunity for the young people to show off their creativity and craft skills, building their own car to race with their new friends 🙂
For adults coming along to support their child there was also the chance to meet other parents, some new to the school and others with experience of having older children at the school. Perhaps also comparing notes with other dads, grandparents and siblings who might have been involved in building the cars for the race!
There was a wide range of car designs, with Batman, The Flying Scotsman and “Cars” film characters being represented, as well as Thunderbird 2. Trophies were awarded to the top 3 racers that made it into the final, and there were 2 design awards up for grabs. For almost all of the participants this was the first time they had ever seen a Pinewood Derby, let alone taken part. This was the third Pinewood Derby fundraising / social event organised and run by the Cramond Parents & Staff Council, and we’re looking forward to the next one already!
If the above picture looks intimidating and scary, then ‘join the club’ – but using electronics to monitor the finishing of cars in a Pinewood Derby – now that’s exciting! At times this can also be necessary if there is just 0.01 seconds between cars finishing, which can be tricky to judge by eye.
If the above picture looks interesting, and you have a curiosity for things involving wires, volts and sensors, then read on…
What I really love about Scouting, in my experience, is that you get to meet a wide range of people from different backgrounds, especially in volunteering roles. People investing their time and energy for a whole host of reasons, in such a variety of different ways. So, after floating the idea of running a Pinewood Derby within my Scout Group, it wasn’t too long before I managed to get introduced to a few professional Electrical Engineers who I had found amongst the leadership team within our District who were able to lend a hand!
Essentially, to start with, a Pinewood Derby electronic finish line you have a starting gate microswitch, which tells your processor that the race has started, and an array of sensors positioned under the track at the finish line which “see” the cars as they pass. From this information the processor can tell you the order in which the cars crossed the finish line, and how long it took each of them to finish the race. The sensors that are used might work by detecting a reflection of infrared light (for example) from a source (LED) that bounces off the bottom of the car to the sensor, as it passes. Alternatively, you could use photoresistor type sensors, which can detect a beam being broken, otherwise known as a shadow(!), when it comes to visible light, for example.
There is a lot more detail that can be found on this subject on the internet, but I have enjoyed starting to look into what might be possible with an Arduino and Raspberry Pi!
It is important to be clear what the rules are, so there is a fair competition between participants. If you are taking part then you need to read the rules carefully or you might end up at a disadvantage. Also, don’t assume that all events operate with the same rules!
I’d suggest having a Race Organiser who makes the final decision on what is allowed and not allowed so that there is consistency in the application of the rules. Contact details for the Race Organiser should be available to participants so that participants can clarify their understanding of the rules and ask questions, where necessary, rather than being disqualified on the night.
Rules may be different depending on the track being used, the style of kits, and age or ability of participants. Often there will be iterations of the rules that develop and evolve as participants become more experienced and competitive!
Here is an example of a set of rules that we have used (v2.1), and in a future series of blog posts I plan on elaborating on each of these…
- All items issued in the kit must be used (wood block, axles, wheels)
- The car must have 9mm clearance underneath the body.
- The car must have 44mm clearance between the wheels (width).
- The cars overall weight should not exceed 140g.
- Liquid lubricants are not allowed.
- Bushes (such as washers) are not allowed.
- The allocated race entry number should be displayed on the car.
- The base of the car should be clearly marked with the participant’s name.
- The car should have no moving or loose parts.
- Cars are required to pass an inspection and official weigh‐in before racing.
- Good conduct & sportsmanship is expected of all participants.
- The race organiser and inspection committee’s decision is final.
Here are the instructions that we use, by way of an introduction to this activity:
Participants should design, build and decorate their cars before the race night by carving their desired shape from the balsa wood using a craft knife. Weight may be added and the car finished with paint and decoration. The cars will be gravity powered as they run on our purpose‐built sloping track. Prizes will be awarded based on speed but also design and creativity.
Traditionally, the kits that are used in the US for Pinewood Derby events contain a block of pine wood as part of the car kit. Although there are strengths to use of this material, in my experience, in order to get a good shape and finish, it requires the use of power tools which not everyone has easy access to; such as a bandsaw, sander and drill.
Having surveyed a few people before our first event, I established that the average number of power tools per household wasn’t high in my local area, and there wasn’t a great deal of interest in purchasing such tools purely for the purpose of Pinewood Derby!
The reason why I chose balsa wood for the Block Cars ‘Balsa Racer’ kit is in order to make Pinewood Derby more accessible. Anyone with a handsaw, craft knife and a sheet of sandpaper has a decent chance of producing a car from the kit, on their kitchen table, that looks reasonably close to what they had originally intended! It also means that young people participating can get more involved in the process of shaping and building the car, and given the appropriate amount of adult supervision, it may also be a safer.
Of course, if you want pine for your kits, rather than balsa wood, then let me know and I’ll see what I can do!
One of the most fun aspects of coming along to a Pinewood Derby is seeing all the cars that people have invested time and effort in designing and making!
When we started running these kinds of events it quickly became apparent that participants and spectators alike would congregate around the table where the cars were all placed after ‘registration’ in order to informally inspect and discuss different designs and potential competitive advantages.
The other essential function of this space is to help organise and keep an eye on each of the cars during the event, to help the race organisers collect cars before each race and place the cars in their grid position between times.
I’ve still to come up with a better way of setting this area up than sticking strips of electrical tape onto a table top in a grid pattern!