How to Host Your Very Own Pinewood Derby, Klein Trails Grand Prix Version

I’m writing to let you know that YOU can do this, too. The girls LOVE to race. The girls LOVE to work with their dads. (It’s not all dads, but heavily leans toward them.) The girls LOVE to earn metals. I’m going to give you a few pointers. If you want more details, email me and I’ll gladly share our spreadsheets, check-in sheets, rules and best practices, standard emails, name tags, etc.

1. You need a track

Our first couple years, we borrowed a track from the Cub Scouts. Find your local Pack. If you are not involved yourself, I’m sure one of your parents is. The Cub Scouts are usually extremely generous with the equipment. Bribing them with some Girl Scout cookies is never a bad idea. We borrowed a track for years until the event, with a generous donation from the community, earned enough to buy our own.

2. You need software

Due to the popularity of the Pinewood Derby, there’s a bunch of options out there. We use the Grand Prix Race Manager. My husband runs the computer aspect of the race. I can tell you that the software tracks the speed of the cars, the place in the finishes, and averages it out for the entire division.

It also automagically puts the girls in random heats guaranteeing that each girl races however many times you determine. We use four because our track has four lanes and we want to make sure if one lane sucks, every car goes down every lane. It’s as fair as we can manage.

3. Rules for the car build

There are strict rules regarding the cars. You can determine which ones you want for your race. The important part to keep in mind is every rule has to be verifiable. If you can’t tell by looking and manipulating the car whether the build followed the rules or not, then don’t use it. We have four pages of rules and guidelines. (Again, if you want a copy, I’ll gladly send you one.)

Ours are identical to the Pinewood Derby standards such as:

  • Each car cannot be over 5.0 oz. We have an official race scale, a simple, glass plated kitchen scale with a 5 oz reference we ordered on line. No matter what your scale at home or your professional scale at your very important engineering job said, the only weight that matters comes from the official race scale.
  • All axles have been thoroughly coated in graphite. Friction is the enemy in these races and we want as many cars to cross the finish line as possible.
  • All paint and glue are dry to the touch. We don’t need the mess on the track.
  • No glitter on the bottom of the cars. We put numbered stickers on the bottom so we can make sure the correct car gets to the correct spot so all the race numbers work. Oddly, we didn’t need this for the boys.
  • The girls MUST make their own car. That does not mean they have to cut out the wood, do the sanding, painting, decorating, and buff the axles, and assemble all the pieces. What it means is the scout must be present for all these processes and participate wherever they can. Each girl at each age will have different capabilities, but it’s HER car, not dad’s, not grandpa’s, not uncle’s, not mom’s, you get the picture.

4. Check-In procedure

Check-in is the most hectic part of the process. We have it as streamlined as possible to keep the pain to a minimum.

First, the racer picks up her packet with the schedule along with a numbered name tag. We take the opportunity to make sure her medical form and permission slip are on file.

Next, her car gets inspected to make sure it’s ready to race. If it’s not, usually a weight issue, we sent her to the “garage” for any repairs. Our garage is stocked with ready-to-go glue guns, pennies for mass, graphite, pliers, and other tools to make sure the cars have the best chance to win.

Once the car passes inspection, it goes straight to impound where it can’t be touched until race start. Our impound is in another part of the church from check-in, so we pad a wagon and place the cars upside down for transport. We typically have an older girl volunteer haul the wagon back and forth.

Side note: While they’re waiting for their big moment, the cars are judged for their individual appearance so we can customize certificates for each girl at the end of the race.

5. Race Prep

Each division has to sit in car number order. (We tape the numbers to the back of the pews so we don’t have to constantly ask, “What’s your number?”) Therefore, when we leave race prep, the girls are in order for picking up their cars from impound.

We take the opportunity to explain the rules for the race and what to expect.


6. Gentleladies, start your engines

We have the girls sit in a box made of tape. One volunteer calls the names of each heat. The girls hand their cars to a volunteer stacking the track. Watching the girls wait at the bottom of the track giggly and unable to stand still are some of the best moments of the entire day.

Sadly, there’s always a few that don’t make it all the way across the finish line. We enlist the help of an older scout to give them a gentle push to make it to the end. (Gotta love those older girls!) The girls grab their vehicles and rush back to the box to await their next heat.

7. Awards

Finally, the girls receive the certificates they earned from making their own cars. The top four racers earn a metal on a ribbon like an Olympic athlete and the chance to move on to the Grand Champion Race at the end of the day. It’s rewarding to watch the girls proudly accept the personalized certificates praising them for the awesome job on their pinewood cars. THIS is why we volunteer.

8. Grand Champion Race

We hold a race with the top four from each division. Watching the girls from Daisies to Ambassadors compete in the same race makes the entire exhausting day worth every sore back and aching foot.

I hope you decide to found a community grand prix! Email me and I will gladly answer any questions!

What fun, non-traditionally Girl Scout activities do you do?

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