Recent Comments

How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

Packs nationwide are gearing up for their annual Pinewood Derby. There are a variety of ways to make your Pinewood Derby car go faster. Explore the following tips to optimize your car’s performance and gain a competitive edge in an upcoming race.


The possibilities are endless when it comes to picking a shape for your Pinewood Derby car. Before you begin, consider the following general guidelines:

Avoid Pointed Noses: A pointed nose will make it difficult for your Pinewood Derby car to rest on the pin at the starting gate. It may also cause your Pinewood Derby car to get bumped around when the pin drops, and it can create problems for electronic timing systems at the finish line.

Weight Distribution: Leave ample wood in the rear of the Pinewood Derby car so you can place additional weight there. Concentrate the majority of the weight in the rear for optimal performance.

Maximum Weight: Aim for the maximum allowable weight, typically limited to 5 ounces in most races. If your car falls short of this weight, strategically add coins or other weights to meet the requirement.

Clarity in Orientation: Clearly distinguish the front and back of your Pinewood Derby car. In many races, the race officials — not you — will actually place each Pinewood Derby car on the track. Sometimes the officials put the Pinewood Derby car on the track backward because they can’t tell which end is which.

Aerodynamic Design: Select a design that facilitates smooth airflow over and around the Pinewood Derby car body. Pinewood Derby cars with aerodynamic profiles go faster.

See photo galleries of hundreds of Pinewood Derby car designs.


You don’t have to strive for the fastest Pinewood Derby car to have fun competing in your Pinewood Derby. But if you and a helpful adult are willing to put in the extra time and effort, these tips are for you.

1. Bake the Block: Start your Pinewood Derby car project by baking the wood block at 250 degrees for two hours. This removes moisture and lightens the block, allowing you to place more weight at the rear of the car where you actually want it.


2. Crafting the Design: Outline your Pinewood Derby car on paper, cut it out, and affix it to the wood block.

Remember, a rectangular car is not an aerodynamic design. The most basic aerodynamic design is a simple wedge. If you don’t have time to design a complex car, a wedge will work just fine.

Download a Pinewood Derby car template PDF to help you create your design.

3. Rough Cut the Design: Use a coping saw or enlist the help of a responsible adult with a power tool to cut out the rough shape of your Pinewood Derby car.

4. Shape Your Car: Smooth edges and shape your car using sandpaper. An adult can assist with a rotary tool or other shaping tools.

5. Sand and Paint Creatively: Reduce friction by smoothing the car’s surface and paint an awesome design to make it look great.

How to paint your Pinewood Derby car to give it a shiny finish.

6. Axles and Wheels Alignment: Make sure they are aligned perfectly straight. You can test the alignment of your axles by pushing your car across a smooth floor or table. It should roll smoothly in a straight line.

— Consider a Three-Wheeler: Raise one wheel about 1/16 inch higher so it never actually touches the track. Less friction = more speed. Rules vary from pack to pack, so make sure to check your pack’s Pinewood Derby rules to make sure three wheelers are allowed in your race.

— Extend the Wheelbase: Maximize the distance between front and rear wheels. Again, make sure this is allowed in your race.

Learn about polishing Pinewood Derby axles and wheels to reduce friction.

7. Secure Axles with Glue: Glue the axles firmly in their holes to ensure that they stay perfectly placed, but make sure you don’t get glue on your wheels.

8. Strategic Weight Addition: Remember to make your Pinewood Derby car as heavy as the rules allow. In general, it’s best to place weight to the rear of your car because a heavier rear increases speed.

Learn scientific Pinewood Derby speed tips from a former NASA engineer.

9. Use Graphite: Add graphite or another dry lubricant to reduce friction. The less friction between the body and wheel, the better.

10. Have fun! And finally, remember the most important rule of a Pinewood Derby is that it’s supposed to be fun. While you should always strive to do your best, don’t get caught up in winning or having the fastest car. Just enjoy the ride.

Adapted from the book “Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets,” DK Publishing, $12.95 softcover.

Submit a Photo of Your Project

Important Note: Please only upload photos of your project. Because of privacy rules, we can't post any photos that show people's faces. Always ask for your parent's permission before uploading anything to a website.

83 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. you should cut your car into a “boat shape” (cut into the bottom of it). It’ll save you fractions of a second.

  2. I can’t wait until the race on Saturday!!!!!! It is my first year racing. Do you have any tips?? I am going to win!!

  3. 1st time caller, long time listener // February 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm // Reply

    Tiger Cub dad here…not mechanically gifted. rounded the axles (took off burrs), rounded wheels put some tungsten weight in the back, graphite…eyeballed the alignment, son did ton of the work and worked together each step of the way. I was just hoping that he would compete. To my astonishment, he did end up winning his pack. Craziest thing I have ever seen. Districts are 3/21/10, I thought it would be funny to see how far it could go. I think we will go just to see.

  4. most original // February 24, 2010 at 5:44 pm // Reply

    I never went for speed I always go for most original because it is easier than speed.

  5. Who says that plain looking “fast” designs can’t be crafted well and be both fast and “cool” looking?

  6. I made a bananna car, and one first place! it was very surprising.

  7. get up and go // February 16, 2010 at 11:06 am // Reply

    Are model rocket engines legal if the car still weighs under 5oz ?

  8. tip for you:dont have your car primered and painted like a real car i did that and i only won a participant ribbon

  9. beat up your car and it will win 8 races i did

  10. how do you make it go 759mph

  11. its all about axle alignment in the end, make a test track ( a piece of drywall works great) raise one end with a 4×4, ensure your car rolls straight and true.

    • I think its about axels and weight. we had our weight in the front then we put it in the back and won by alot more.

  12. i used this tips and won 100 races in a row

    • I used the speed secrets last year on my sons car and he won first place in his den, first place over all and first place at the district race. I also wanted to let evcery one know that attention to detail is what wins the race. we did a test with 3 cars without graphite and with graphite, with graphite all three cars picked up 1/10 of a second in time. Graphite makes the differance.
      Good luck to all racers and have fun.

  13. already have speed secrets i am getting design book

  14. A person told me awhile ago if you want to win speed then go with a wedge and get it as close to the weight requirement as possible. That was the best advice ever. All the other ideas are tweaks but, if you put together a boring old wedge you will be top 3 at least, with pretty much no axel polishing, straightening etc. Another great tip for weigh in is thumb tacks. Easy to place and move off or on. The cars right at the weight do the best everytime.

    • Engineer Dad // January 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm // Reply

      This will depend on how competitive your Pack is. My Pack dads are engineers and builders. If you don’t polish axles, you won’t be a speed contender. Then again, we give certificates for good looking cars, goofy looking cars, and the most obviously boy-made car. It’s about fun.

  15. geo pack 162 // January 26, 2010 at 6:18 pm // Reply

    i cant find stickers

  16. My son just won for the 2nd year in a row. Kept axle space the same per local rules. used tungsten weights which are much heavier and also used a COG kit to balance the car. We made a Batmobile and even put red LED lights in the front. We also won the most orginal design trophy

  17. Last year I went for looks with a sweet looking 1933 Ford Coupe design;AND WON FIRST PLACE!!!!! This year is my first to go for speed points, and my Dad recommended these tips to me.

  18. Axels are not to be moved from the origional markings. And 3 legged cars are not allowed in our rules.

  19. We had a scientist dad in our Pack whose son is now in Boy Scouts that built their own track at home, and made hundreds of minute changes to their car to develop a very fast car. They did this every year and won every race in the Pack and District. The book is simplistic compared to this guy’s secrets. I just wish he had written a book. But if you’re not in an overly competitive pack with alot of kids, it’s great.

    • Engineer Dad // January 29, 2010 at 3:15 pm // Reply

      Encourage the parents who win EVERY year to leave some room for everyone else. My son won 2 years in a row. The third year we made a fun, goofy car that was fast enough for him to win a few heats, but not enough to win overall. Its good to let everyone have a taste of victory.

  20. these tips are the best my son one first place when he raced his first year

  21. We came in first the very first year we entered the race. Every year after that we were dead last. I’m going to try the tips.

  22. i am excited to race in my first race this saturday, my car is black and sleek, I hope i do well

  23. These tips are really helpful! But i thought it would be much better instead if putting more weight in the front than the back.

    • The longer gravity can push your car, the greater the final speed when your car exits into the flat portion of the track. Gravity; placing the weight near the rear of the car will place it high on the track, providing a longer drive or push into the bottom. Simply stated, having the weight at the rear means it has further to drop. Allowing gravity to push your car a little longer than if the weight where at the front.

  24. Very interesting

  25. last year, I did a banana car and got 1st placee!

  26. dragonpatrol // January 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm // Reply

    anyone ever seen a leggo-themed car?

    • Re: Legos-themed car: Two years ago my son covered his car in Legos. We cut the car wood block in half, and then covered the car with the thinnest-style Legos. We thought it looked ptryy cool, but it didn’t win any “original design” awards…

    • Danthemadhatter // January 16, 2010 at 9:23 am // Reply

      No, we did a Wii remote last year. This year we are doing a solar system with planets and a sun

    • Lego themed cars never win. Make your wheels parallel to each other and make your car aerodynamic; I used those tips and I was in a three way tie for first. p.s. now I’m a boy scout and help out at the races.

      • by the way use the spell checker by right clicking on the red underlined word. this will make it better for everybody.

    • We had two Lego cars this year. One looked like a long flat 8×2 board piece with a starwars character driving, the other was a half-pipe with Lego characters skate boarding in it.

  27. thanks alot! I really needed these tips!

  28. I don’t care about winning. I just like cool cars.

  29. why is it called “boy’s life” …im a girl..and i can assure u that im no boy!!!

  30. I find this very helpfull. My son won 1st place in den race YEA!

  31. less friction = more speed. i got 1st because one wheel never touched the track i won every race i beat the best people.

    • 3 wheelers (one wheel raised) are faster, but banned in many districts. Check your district rules first.

      • also some districts don’t allow baking or lubricating the axels so please check Your district rules before you begin making your car.

  32. TY a lot.
    These tips are very useful

  33. hay i mite trie to go

  34. my sons car won first in pack first in district and first in council finals. his car was undefeated in 2009,after we used secrets or pinewood derby cars..

  35. my car was a bannana and i got 1st place! (same trophy as the one in the video…)

  36. I really like this idea.;)

  37. This is the best idea ever.I got 2 place in the pinewood derby.

  38. chuchukies,. // October 28, 2009 at 10:51 am // Reply

    i like this.! ; )

  39. I would go with a more simple design.

  40. Heres a tip to win best sportsmanship trophy;shake everybodys hand that you race against thats how i won best sportsmanship

    • Great idea, Little Will!
      You know, you can’t make believe about good sportsmanship, so I think you must have been smiling and had a twinkle in your eye when you were shaking hands.
      Good for you!

  41. I beat my whole pack in 2008. Beat about half of District. But didn’t get any rewards.

  42. I will make mine look like a wing of an airplane

  43. PWD Enthusiast // August 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm // Reply

    Speed secrets book, Is a good book! Just keep in mind the rules for your pack’s race! (IT’S NO FUN IF YOU CANT RACE!) As some pack’s have strict rules! When it comes to the mod’s you can and cannot do to the wheels and axels and the car body! Desings and patterns book, Has a great way to walk you threw step by step, If your looking to build a cool car! The different car patterns in this book! Will have first time builders say wow!

  44. i like the tank

  45. on my car i extended the weal base and put the weights on the back and i also put grafite on the wheels (THAT MADE THE MOST DIFRENCE)

    those are my tips

  46. i just build a awsome award-winner. or i used to. im aboy scout now.=(

  47. Gustav Morticai // July 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm // Reply

    I prefer to try to make my cars look cool not just go fast

  48. in my first year in scouts (weblos1), i used similer tips and won against my whole pack!

  49. my son has won 7 races and used these tips

    • killer says // March 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm // Reply

      we have been doing these races for two years and these tips have really helped also I love your magazines

Leave a Reply to love guns Cancel reply

Please don't use your real name.