How To Host A Pinewood Derby Race At Home


Having a pinewood race track opens up entirely new entertainment options at family gatherings. It's become a staple of our get togethers and everyone has a great time, particularly the six grandchildren. We've had a dozen of these races that taught me several tricks to make then an even greater success.

Of course the first thing you need is a track. While big expensive four lane tracks with digital timers look great, the fact is what works better for family-type pinewood derby races is an inexpensive 2-lane track you can make for $20. To read how to make one, please take this link to my HOW TO BUILD A PINEWOOD DERBY TRACK page. Having more lanes doesn't make a race run faster because each car has to be run on each track. With a 4-lane track that means four runs per heat for four cars. Two lane tracks only race two cars but they only requires two runs, so they end up being just as fast. More importantly, it's somehow more substantial to see only two cars racing. The results are black and white: one winner and one loser. With pinewood derby tracks with more lanes you get into the more complicated results of first, second, third and fourth place. In most races it's clear who the winner is so timers aren't really necessary. Close races evoke lively discussions about which car won and are easily resolved by running additional races.

Next to having a track the most important thing is to fix the race by having a lot of slow cars.

Two cars exceed the height limit for Awana Grand Prix cars but since
they are only for home use it isn't an issue.

Half of the cars in our stable of vehicles were made by our grandchildren. The other half were made specifically to loose races so that every child has at least one race that they are sure to win. Two examples are the "Pony Express" car and the "Bananamobile." They make it to the end of the track but just barely. They also look so silly that the kids always laugh as these ridiculous cars gyrate their way down the track. (I never race my own high performance cars except as an exhibition. Beating little guys will not help them maintain their interest pinecar racing.) This suggestion only applies to pinewood derby races geared to young children. Adult races, and yes... grown ups have fun building and racing pinewood derby cars, should do without "loser" cars.

The next most important thing is to have the children do as much work on their cars as possible so that they feel they really are their cars. For the youngest children I make the cars and let them decorate them with marking pens and stickers. As they get older they get into sanding, painting and even aligning their cars. By the time they are 10 they should be old enough to handling tools well to make most of their cars. If you are an adult please don't assume only children can have fun building a racing pinewood derby cars. Making a high performance car has enough challenge to satisfy individuals of any level of maturity. But don't assume it's easy. A good car will cost over $70 in parts and take many hours to create.

Having a race flow chart, upper right side of the first photo, helps keep children interested because they can watch their names or cars progress toward the grand championship. Children love acting like grownups so we always play the game where before each race the two competitors shake hands and wish each other luck. After the race, once the winner has stopped jumping up and down, we have them again congratulate each other as a race well run. After the first couple of times they really get into this and it becomes part of the play. It also slows down the action so that a race lasts long enough to be interesting. Charging through all the races you can go through 16 cars in just a few minutes. Adding a little pomp and circumstance stretches things out and makes the whole experience more fun.

I found single elimination tournaments worked much better than double elimination. If nothing else the flow charts are much easier to draw. If both tracks run at different times you'll need to race each car in a heat of both sides to make sure one car didn't win just because it had the faster lane.

One thing our oldest grandsons enjoy is being interviewed at the end of the championship race just like reporters interview NASCAR winners after a race.

If the release used on your track has simple enough for children to use, by all means let them take turns starting the races. They love it. Other participation options are to have one child single the start of a race with a green flag, another the end with a checkered flag and a third acting as an announcer.

Small plastic trophies or ribbons can be purchased cheaply on-line. If you go this route by all means have one for each child so they all walk away with something.

This video is from our most recent family pinewood derby race.

A pinewood race at home is a great way to bring together many generations in a family for an afternoon of fun. If there are no young children but there are several adults who enjoy building models, they may find racing pinewood derby cars both fun and rewarding. I certainly do. Either way, give it a try and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.


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