LEGO Pinewood Derby Car

Geek Culture

[Reader John Graff writes in with a fun project he did with his son Matthew (7). Here it is, in guest post style.  -ca]

Starting kit:


LEGO Car Winner–Best Original Design:


Pinewood Derby is a Cub Scout tradition dating back over 50 years.  The kids are given a basic block of wood, four wheels, and 4 nails to serve as axles.
There are restrictions on weight and length, but other than that the kids are welcome to do whatever they want in building their cars.  This was my son Matthew’s first Pinewood Derby (he had watched his older brother race the previous 3 years).  Prior to a business trip I asked my boys to think about what kind of design they wanted for their car and we’d start working on it the following weekend.  Matthew stated clearly that he already knew what he wanted, announcing he wanted to do a LEGO car. 

I’ve seen photos online where people carved the block of wood to look like a standard 8 stud
LEGO brick and that’s what I thought he wanted.  Instead he wanted to use standard LEGO pieces to build his own customer car.  We cut the block of wood down to serve as the base, and from there my son took over designing and prototyping what he wanted for his car.  I set up a scale for him, and over the next week he would try out a design, and then weigh it to see if he was over the weight limit of 5 ozs.  Once he finished his final design, we glued the pieces together (just in case of an accident during the race). 

The Pinewood Derby is a great chance to not only work with my boys on the project, but also to discuss a variety of concepts that affect the car, including friction and where the various friction points are located, and potential energy and the importance of not only maximizing the weight but also taking into account where the weight is located.

A big issue that has been raised up the last few years is that in many cases the Dads often take over the design of the cars from their children.  A Wall Street writer wrote an article about this which is now frequently handed out to all Cub Scouts prior to the Derby.  With the LEGO car, it was quite clear to everyone that it was my son who had done all the design work (his many, many hours with LEGO bricks gave him good training).  I think this combined with the uniqueness of the car added up to my son winning the Best Original
Design award for his Pack.  (I should mention that the car was also quite fast coming in 5th place overall out of 60 kids – his brother was the overall fastest car).

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