PINEWOOD DERBY KITS
Every Spring over 1,000,000 children and adults build pinewood derby cars and participate in thousands of races across the United States. Ninety-eight percent of all of these cars are constructed from one of four car kits: official BSA (Boy Scouts of America) pinewood derby kits, Pinecar kits, AWANA Grand Prix kits and Royal Racers kits.
BSA kit at the top, Royal Racers in the middle, AWANA on the bottom and Pinecar kit on the right.
While all these pinewood derby car kits are designed to make the same 7-inch long, 5-ounce cars, each has it's own unique makeup. This page shows how they are alike and how they differ.
Each kits contains a wood block, four wheels, something to serve as axles, numerical stickers and instructions. Beyond that, they are all surprisingly different.
The Official BSA Pinewood Derby Car Kit:
This is the most-used pinewood derby car kit in the world. Besides being used by boy scouts, it is also used for the Girl Scouts Powder Puff Derby as well as many race venues not associated with the Boy Scout organization. The instructions on the back of the instruction sheet are in Spanish. Kits typically cost $4.00 and can be purchased in BSA stores and on-line.
Pinecar Pinewood Derby Car Kit:
Pinecar kits are the second most common kit used. They are manufactured by Woodland Scenics, a company that specializes in landscaping miniatures for model railroads. Unique among all four kits, they come with the usual 4 nails as well as a pair of straight axles with hub caps to hold wheels on. Pinecar kits also have to most complete set of instructions in both English and Spanish. These $4.50 kits are available in a wide range of craft and hobby stores.
AWANA Grand Prix Car Kit:
The AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) system is a Christian-based, non-denominational youth program. Every Spring thousands of churches of all denominations with AWANA programs host the AWANA Grand Prix, a pinewood derby-type race. Their kits differ from the other three in that instead of nails they have hinge pins. AWANA kits are only available through churches with AWANA programs and cost $3.00. AWANA wheels and axles are available on a few Pinewood Derby on-line sources. The instructions are only in English. The reverse side has the rules.
The Royal Racers program is one of the youth character building activities of the Royal Ambassadors, a Southern Baptist organization geared for steering children toward lives in missionary work. Like the AWANA kit, the instructions are only in English. Kits can only be purchased from the Royal Ambassadors either in person or on-line vis email. While they only cost $4.00, shipping and handling adds another $7.00. Their most unique feature is that you can request a flat treaded tire like the other kits or a more retro-looking round treaded tire.
The instructions supplied with all four kits barely touch on the most basic aspects of making a fast pinewood derby car. Anyone wanting to produce a high performance car needs to do on-line research or purchase a book on pinewood derby car performance. Fortunately, many such web sites and books are available. One source is my own web page: AWANA GRAND PRIX RACE CARS How to build the fastest pinewood derby race car.
From left to right: AWANA block, Pinecar, BSA and Royal Racer
Same order as above.
My experience with pinewood derby-type car blocks is that there is considerable variation from kit to kit. In the case of these sample kits the AWANA block is the widest and thickest but also the shortest. AWANA blocks are different from the others in that the axle slots are more symmetrical about the block's midpoint. If it appears that the ends and slots on the BSA block, third from the left, are crooked, you're right.
While the ends and slots of the other three blocks were very close to perpendicular to their sides, the BSA block was considerably out of square. A block like this would be a nightmare to make into a high performing car. Because these blocks are mass produced, I have to assume that there are probably thousands of similar blocks in BSA stores across American waiting for the unsuspecting buyer. My suggestion: after purchasing the kit open it in front of the cashier and inspect the block. If the slots are angled politely request an exchange and hope the second one is better.
From left to right: BSA wheel, AWANA, Pinecar and Royal Racer retro or round wheel.
The red arrow is pointing at the ring of fine beads around the outside edge of the BSA wheel. These are the tread marks mentioned in rules. Any lathing, a process usually prohibited, removes part these bumps and flags the wheel as illegal to car judges at the check-in desk. However, the limits of the human eye allow 0.005-inch to be lathed off and still pass inspection. This small amount is enough to fall under the light sanding and polishing allowed for wheels and is sufficient to true the wheel to the axle bore. The royal Racer wheel isn't really round. Rather, it's elliptical with a sharp edge.
From the left: BSA, Pinecar, AWANA and Royal Racer.
The BSA wheels weigh in at 2.6 grams while the AWANA wheel is a svelte 2.3 grams after the injection moulding tabs are removed. This is surprising considering that the AWANA wheel looks thicker. The reason is that the AWANA wheel is made from a lighter and softer plastic. Both the Pinecar and Royal Racers wheels are a hefty 3.5 grams each. The BSA wheel is 1.184 inches in diameter, the AWANA wheel is 1.196, the Pinecar 1.160 and the Royal Racer 1.255 inches across.
A close-up of the inside of the BSA wheel.
The BSA wheel is by far the most sophisticated. It has the thinnest wheel surfaces, reducing it's rotational moment of inertia. The edge of the wheel is already smoothed. The axle bore body is rounded and the bore face features a recess that can be packed with graphite to provide a reservoir of lubricant so the car stays lubricated for many more races than the other wheels. It also comes with the best finish of all the wheels.
From left to right: AWANA axle, pinecar, BSA and Royal Racers.
Rather than the nails used by the other pinewood derby kits, the AWANA axle is a nickle plated hinge pin. Although its surface may look rough in this much magnified image, in fact the almost microscopic dimples are very smooth. This axle can be used as is without any polishing whatsoever and still result in a very fast car. I believe this is by design to make building a car that at least can make it to the end of the track easy enough for children working mostly on their own. This is in sharp contrast to the BSA axle nail, which is so rough it might not. Note the razor sharp flanges between the shank and head of the nail (red arrow) the crimp marks from the head forming process (cyan arrow) and the sharp burrs extending out from the edges of the nail's point (yellow arrow.) These are often ignored because the wheel doesn't spin on that part of the nail. The problem with not filing and polishing them out is that as the wheel slides onto the axle these burrs can gouge the wheel bore, creating enormous friction. The already polished end of the AWANA axle (green arrow) eliminates this issue. It's odd the the BSA kit has the best wheel and the worst axle. It would be a big improvement if they adopted AWANA's hinge pin.
The Pinecar axle is the strangest because it appears to be galvanized. The crimp marks on the Royal Racer axle are far enough down the shank of the nail that they don't interfere with the spinning wheel, at least in this kit.
Mention has to be made of the one piece axles provided in the Pinecar kit. While these may be convenient for children building cars to play with at home and for outlaw class racers, no BSA, AWANA or Royal Racer rules, or any others I could find, allow them.
Here's a video presentation of this page.
I had a lot of fun putting this page together. I sincerely hope you found it informative or at least interesting. Thank you for stopping by and please visit my other pinewood derby pages on my site at: http://www.waynesthisandthat.com. You'll find the Pinewood Derby section immediately after the Hobbies section.
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