There are many tips out there for making a Pinewood Derby car go fast. But how do you know what are the most important to pay attention too? This list will help you navigate through what you may or may not have heard and let you focus on making your Pinewood Racer fast.
Speed Tip #1
Alignment - Make your derby car go straight. This may seem like an afterthought to many, but if your Pinewood Racer doesn’t go straight, the wheels will rub against the track, causing it to slow down. Remember, friction is your enemy.
Speed Tip #2
Weight - It is vital to have your Pinewood Derby car weigh the proper amount. Depending on your race rules, the car may be required to weigh 5 oz., 5.5 oz. or 6 oz. S&W Crafts suggests a 6 oz car, however many groups have a 5 oz. limit. No matter what that weight limit is, it’s imperative that your car is as close to that limit as possible, without going over. Bonus tip: weight placement is also important. Place as much of the weight as you can approximately 1” in front of the rear axle. This is called the center of gravity or center of mass. Your Pinewood Derby car should be able to balance at this point on the car.
Speed Tip #3
Lubrication – Remember, friction is your adversary and less friction your ally. To reduce friction you need to use the right lubricant. There are many Pinewood Derby lubrications on the market and here are some of the best. Graphite is perhaps the most widely used and accepted Pinewood Derby lubricant out there. Molybdenum (Moly) is also used, both alone and more commonly, mixed with graphite. Graphite and graphite with moly are the best lubricants for your car. They are reasonably priced, perform well and are accepted by almost all groups and organizations.
Here are a few more lubrications to consider. Tungsten Disulfide (WS2) is a dry lubricant with an extremely small grain size. It’s not as well known but offers the lowest co-efficient of friction available and is compatible with other wet and dry lubrications. However, it is more expensive then other dry lubricants. That said, a little of this stuff goes a long long way. Oils are generally not recommended and often against the rules. If your group does allow oil lubricants, there is Nyoil II, silicon spray and Krytox. Many Pinewood Racers will say that thin film oils are the way to go, but remember they can and will attract dirt and dust causing your wheels to gum up if not handled with great care or applied properly.
Another bonus tip is to look for ultra fine graphite. It has a smaller grain than flake graphite and is an all around better Pinewood Derby car lubricant. It’s even better if it’s mixed with Molybdenum!
Again, check your race rules to make sure you aren’t using any prohibited lubrications.
Speed Tip #4
Wheels – Polished wheels that spin freely and for a long time is your goal. It’s best to use a polishing kit that is made for a Pinewood Derby car. They contain the right abrasives and will tell you how to properly polish a wheel without damaging it. You can even try tooth paste (not gel) to polish your wheels in a pinch, but the right plastic polish will make all the difference to your car on race day. Bonus Tip: no matter what you use to polish your wheels, don’t over do it. If you do, you’ll open up the hole for the axle too much or make it out of round, causing the wheel to not work well or destroying it completely.
Speed Tip #5
Axles – A polished axle will give you a smooth shiny surface for your wheel to ride on. When combined with a polished wheel and lubrication, your Pinewood Derby car will be performing at the highest level. Ensure all burs or bumps have been removed from the axle by using a small file. Most wheel and axle polishing kits will come with the materials needed to properly polish the axles on your car.
By Greg Kathol