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Cheating at the Pinewood Derby!

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After moving into a new pack, my wife and I were asked to be Webelos Leaders. When discussing the upcoming Pinewood Derby, one of the new Webelos boasted that he "always won", and had placed first the last two years.


Well, yesterday my wife heard from another cub mom that this boy's dad had bought an engineered car off of Ebay for $100, and this is how he won. I was a little surprised to hear that you could even buy cars like this off Ebay.


I'm wondering what should (or can) be done. The other boys seem to know, and it dampens their enthusiasm for building cars that have little chance of winning. I don't know the boy's parents well, so I would be reluctant to actually confront them.


Other than making a clear rule about parent/boy involvement in the car building process, and having them sign a form attesting that they designed and built the car, is there anything that can be done?



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Announce loud, clear, and in advance, that the biggest trophy this year will be for the "coolest design" or "best scout spirit" or something - anything - other than the "fastest car." Sure, give a trophy and recognize the winners, but make the bigger deal out of somebody else, and this behavior will be reduced.

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Since it is generally agreed among Pinewoodies that the critical part of the racer is/are the wheels and axles, make sure that one of the Pack/District rules is that "only official BSA PWkit Wheels and Axles are allowed". This can be easily attested to by close inspection. The axles can be polished and trued and the wheels smoothed to a certain extent, but other wheels and axles should be verboten.

Who does the polishing and trueing would be hard to prove, so "Scouts Honor", the car was made by Cub and Parent hands...


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We go with 3 stages of the race:


Speed trial, computer tracked, each car goes 3 times and uses its best score

Shuffle Puck style - the boy pushes his car, and gets points for the closer to the line.

Jump (aka the wheel whacker). The car drops off of a ramp and is measured for distance cleared.


These 3 events added together determine the over all winner.


Awards given:

Best SCOUT design (with multiple judges who are told to ignore cars obviously created by parents, or from pre-built kits).

Fastest car in the den and pack

Overall champ


It helps that we find it easier to pay a local guy to run the entire event, rather than rent a track.

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So he has bought an engineered car off of e-bay for the past two years? Or is he using the same car over and over again?


One rule that is pretty standard is that a boy will have a new car every year.


One pack I know of had a winning category for the slowest car. Others have huge prizes, as Lisabob suggests, for such things as most original design, best Pack spirit (car decorated to show pride in Pack/Den), most futuristic, etc.


I've heard of a couple of packs that place an indelible identifying mark on one of the wheels before handing out the kits to be worked on - the mark must remain visible on the wheel in order for the car to be eligible to run for prizes in the race.


One pack I know of that was having issues with adults taking the competitition too seriously and forgetting that it is supposed to be about parent/child binding and fun was fortunate enough to have a mechanical engineer who put together a "track testing" car using the equipment in his lab. He did absolutely nothing to the body of the car at all, not even paint, so it looked like he had just glued the axles to the blank car block. Except, using his tools, he was able to true up the wheels and axles to perfect rounds. Not a single built car beat that "test car" in speed for the next 3 years.


Unfortunately, there will always be parents who take shortcuts - who forget that Pinewood is about parent/child bonding and fun. All you can really do is be ready with genuine, effusive praise for the lads who, with (or without) their fathers (or mothers), have put in the effort on their car (and it will be obvious) even (especially) if they don't win. In 20 or so years, you won't be on this forum reminiscing about the guy who bought a car off e-bay to win a race, but you can be sure you'll remember the big smile you caused to appear on the face of a cub scout who comes in holding a rudimentary, scout built pinewood car when you have praised him and his car as the best of the lot, and have meant it.



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So does the Pack have a rules for the Pinewood that state no pre-built cars are to be used & a new car must be used each year? If not, no cheating is occurring.


Ed Mori

1 Peter 4:10



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Unfortunately, it can be hard to spot the purchased cars. Many of the ones available for sale on the 'net are made from BSA kits.


The only thing you can do is to publish and advertise your Pack's rules, don't hold elimination races (make sure each Cub gets to race lots of times), and stress over and over again, in front of the boys and their parents, that the PWD is a FAMILY bonding activity with sportsmanship, honesty, and integrity, along with fun, what we are teaching the boys - NOT how to BUY the best car.


The next time your Webelos brags about winning, ask him if he had fun making the cars with his dad, and how he came up with the winning designs. Then remind the den of the above listed reasons for holding a PWD.

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Solution 1: Print out all the pictures of prefab cars and compare. Show the list during Pack meeting prior to check-in.


Solution 2: Ask the cub about how he and his dad built the car. (Oh ... my dad bought ours off eBay ... or ... we re-used last year's car! ... etc.) Kids at that age usually do not tell a fib very well.


Solution 3: Imprint Pack # or any marking on the bottom of the car and asked that space to be left unpainted or at least easily be identified. No print=dq


Solution 4: (my personal favorite) go to www.derbytalk.com and learn all the tricks of the trade and share it with everyone! Then go about and beat the $100 car.


In our pack, I do not think that we have a problem with prefab cars. Every boy's car is very competitive to the point where 1st-10th is separated by less than .02 seconds. We would hold workshop. Would help everyone at check-in.


Good luck!


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Cheating seems more prevalent. I say "seems" as the cheating is in areas that are harder to prove, e.g. lubricants and axles, and there is little time or willingness to have a fair investigation. In my experience, the cheaters have been parents or grandparents and not scouts.


As to the original question, a solution might be to reserve a hall and have scout/parent build and race on the same day. So early Saturday morning: handout the MARKED kits, have a builders workshop, check cars, then race. Many of the balsa sailboat regattas are done this way.


Just wondering. Has anyone held a Pinewood Derby without awards? Do a weight and dimension check-in and forget about trying to verify components and lubricants. No times, no scores. Just races among the cars present. No declared winners or losers. No trophies or medals. Participants get a patch. Nothing to argue over or cheat about.






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We've done "open class" races like what you are describing Schiff. But that's in addition to the "official" race. Some reasons are beyond our control - for example, our district only allows the top 2 or 3 cars from each pack to enter the district race, so there has to be some way to know who those boys are. And one year we just about didn't have the race at all because the previous year, parents behaved so poorly that many adults just didn't want to go through it again. In the end we did hold the race but were a lot more clear about the rules, the expectations, and the PURPOSE of this activity. And it went like a dream that year as a result.


While the "win at all costs" hoopla can definitely get way, way out of hand, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with recognizing winners (hey, that's real life for ya). But the degree to which "winning" is emphasized over other aspects of the race is something we can re-calibrate to reflect the fact that the entire endeavor really is about more than just winning.


By the way - I'm not sure about others' experiences? But I think it would be inordinately difficult to build and race all in one day. And I do know that many boy/parent teams get almost as much of a kick out of planning and building their cars together in "secret" as they do out of racing them. This applies not only to "fast" cars, but also to painting, car design, etc.. I'd hate to forcibly remove that aspect, as long as (again) "winning" doesn't become the over-riding focus.


And yeah - it is the parents, not the boys, who tend to behave badly when it comes to this stuff. Too bad.

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our pack had a single winner for the past few years. from talking with dad, i dont know how much involvement (if any) the scouts had since he only saw them 1 weekend a month and had to build the cars while they were at moms house. (that and a couple other comments made me feel like the scout involvement was minimal)


this year the scout didnt win. OneHour - we used your #4 (Solution 4: (my personal favorite) go to www.derbytalk.com and learn all the tricks of the trade and share it with everyone! Then go about and beat the $100 car. )


he came in 3rd behind 3 cars that were scout built. the top couple were cut with a coping saw and the 3rd cut in a derby workshop with his den by a bandsaw. i shared many speed tips with the pack - even put them on the website - and the top 10 cars were within tenth of a second of each other. sure dads helped with the cars, but scouts did most of the work.


with all of the tips shared - it made for a fun and competitive race.

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  • 1 year later...

Unfortunately, with the exception of the rule "Cars should be built by the Cub Scouts" (which can be difficult to prove at best), there is nothing in the rule sheet included in each derby kit that would disqualify an engineered car bought on eBay. This is why units should always distribute their own official rules well in advance of the race.


I would recommend any unit include the following in their Pinewood Derby rules:


1. Tigers/Cubs/Webelos shall build a new car and shall not re-race a car already entered in a previous year's Pinewood Derby.


2. Tigers/Cubs/Webelos shall not race a pre-built car that was obtained or purchased from someone else.


3. Tigers/Cubs/Webelos shall use the official BSA wheels and axles that came in his car kit.


4. The exterior of the wheels may be lightly sanded to remove material left over from the plastic casting proccess. No other material may be removed from the wheel nor may the wheel surface or hub be modified in any way.


5. The axles may be lightly filed under the nail head to remove the 'burr' material left over from matufacturing process. No other material may be removed from the axle nor may the shape of the nail head be modified in any way.


6. When attached to the car, the distance between the front and rear wheel axles shall be 4 and 3/8 inches, which is the distance between the pre-cut axle slots.


From experience, I'm sure the $100 Ebay car had an extended custom wheelbase, coned wheel hubs (reduced friction between wheel/car) and beveled axle heads (reduced friction between wheel/nail head). All of these would violate the rules above and would be visible when the car was inspected.


Here is a link to the rules of a Council Pinewood Derby that includes some great examples that address the wheels and axles in detail...


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Now is it exactly cheating, depends on the rules presented by the Pack before the race. It is very sportsman like. and very un-scout like.


We used the only parts provided by pack rule. We paint the inside of the wheels a yearly custom mix color and mark the bottoms of the block with a special symbol that must remain visible.


This was after a similar experience with a purchased win.


So what lesson is being learned by the $100 ebay car. That money overcomes most all obstacle. That is not the intended lesson, but a lesson none the less.


Yep the old rich beating up on the poor lesson.


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