PokéMobile takes 1st place in den, 2nd in pack

A personal diversion from weather and climate. Readers may recall my earlier reference to this:


I’m proud to say that team Watts did pretty well today: William won first place in his den, and second overall in the pack where he competed with cars made by boys older than him.

I think the ears made the difference. Too much wind loading.

Watch the race below:

This is the final den race, the PokéMobile is of course the bright yellow one.

Here’s the final pack race. William is pounding the floor with anticipation, rooting his car on.

The PokéMobile takes a close second place.

Our secret: properly aligned and polished axles, plus graphite saturation and working it into the axle surface so that it stayed on during the race.

My son was beaming. So was daddy.


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That looks way more fun than sitting around with a bunch of geeks discussing the state of the climate science. 🙂

Congrats! Brings back great memories of pinewood derby races with both my sons, roughly 20 years ago.

Martin C

Congratulations, Anthony !
My sons have their derby in about three weeks. Just got their car kit today. Maybe I’ll copy your design . . .! 🙂 🙂


Congratulations to you both! Keep building the memories.

Douglas DC

Yep it’s the ears, too much parasite drag, in aviation terms, I made the mistake of
putting a ski rack on my old Geo Metro and it wouldn’t to 45mph with a headwind….
Don’t remove them, streamline, give him a more aggressive look too!
I miss those days…

John Whitman

Congratulations to your son.
I noted he was in the same track (of the four parallel tracks) for the two races shown in the videos.
Too bad we don’t have all the time data and car IDs from all the heats and finals. We could do some statistical analysis to see if we could determine whether any of the 4 tracks are the faster.


Wonder if it would be possible to completely avoid metal-to-metal (or solid-to-solid) contact between the body and the axles by using strong permanent magnets. And they DO sell some strong miniature permanent magnets at low prices these days.

Amino Acids in Meteorites

So close to first! Could you tell your son congratulations from a commenter! And to you too Anthony!
This is the kind of day that I’m sure he will remember that dad laid off the web site and spent special time with him. And I’m sure it felt better for you to be with him than seeing the usual negative comments—or even the good comments—in the threads!

I think I still have my old pinewood car around, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive. I’m pretty sure I made it all by myself, but I think I’d have a lot more fun doing it as an adult.
In 50 years they’ll certainly have pinewood robot battles.

Evan Jones

Go, team!

Thanks. That brings back very fond memories of doing this with my 2 sons. Now it’s real cars, which cost a lot more.

Ed Fix

As you can tell, you’ve brought up a lot of happy memories for some of us fathers of former Cub Scouts.

This is something you might be interested in. Hex-boron nitride is ultra slippery.
REPLY: Interesting, but graphite is the only lubricant allowed. Thanks though – Anthony


Martin C says:
January 29, 2011 at 7:34 pm
Maybe I’ll copy your design . . .!

Naturally, you meant, maybe your boys will copy Anthony’s design, right?

Great job William and awesome looking car … and while you Dad may object to the ears due to wind loading, they are major style points in my opinion! 😉
Thanks for sharing Anthony. I went through this a few years ago – some pics at http://www.komar.org/cub-scouts/2008_03_15_pinewood_derby/ – tons of funs for the kids … and the Dads! 😉


Congratulations and Mega-Watts!

Lonnie Schubert

My boys and I enjoy pineblock cars now too. (12 and 8)

Roger Carr

Was William setting up sympathetic vibrations? This could stand some deep scientific study and modeling…
     Many thanks for a pleasant Sunday afternoon interlude down here in olde Melbourne towne, Anthony and William.

Lots of fun memories, thanks

Martin C

wobble says at January 29, 2011 at 8:33 pm – – –
You’re right – it would have been better said ” . .I’ll copy it for THEM to build . . .”
. . .though they do get some of Dad’s help in some of the cutting of the block to start the car shape . . .


This post brought back memories and a smile to my face. In 3 years of competition, my son and I never placed better than middle-of -the-pack for speed. But every year,we got first prize for “Appearance”. Our cars couldn’t get out of their own way, buy they sure looked neat. I was proud of our achievements. My son, back then, not so much
Now, 20years later, we look back over a beer and we laugh about it. And by the way,he still has all 3 of those cars.

David Falkner

Gotta love the parental bragging. Good to see you are getting that family time Watts. Don’t blink, because he’ll be asking for the car keys when you open your eyes.
My 6th grader was in the spelling bee against a bunch of 8th graders, and she would have won 2nd place and moved on to the next round, but she was so excited to get an easy word that she misspelled it. It was mortifying to see, but I was proud nonetheless, and we turned that into a good opportunity. She understands how pressure can screw you up now. And that is a lesson that is just invaluable.


Way to go!
Forward and onward! Now that the rules-of-race are out of the way you two can fit him with a hyper-rubber-band propulsion system. Now that’s some fun!
Poké’s Green Monster! (uh oh.. did I say green, well, pick a better name)

kbray in California

Speaking of too much wind loading….
Here is some more wind loading related to Anthony….
“Anthony intensifies to category two cyclone”
This storm must be linked somehow to AGW and Anthony via the carbon footprint of that Pine-wood Derby… since the storm is named “Anthony”, it must be your fault,
clearly the science is settled on this. You exhaled too much CO2 in your excitement today… kidding of course.
Congratulations to you and your son on your wins today. They never name storms after me. Ken.

HA! Thanks for posting this. Brings back wonderful memories.
I guess only some things are going downhill!

Don V

Congratulations William! and respect to you Anthony for supporting your son and making this so memorable for him. My sons found these websites, bought the books, and together we came up with even more “speed tips” that ultimately led to each of their victories as well:


My kid build a racer, and of course I helped….but just for the hell of it, I built one too. All out, balls to the wall, violating every rule I could.
I built a precision car in the machine shop, milled out precision axle slots, made oversize dia wheels with minimal contact area on the track and mounted on jewelry grade bearings. I ultrasonically cleaned the bearings too. Everything was balanced, weighted just right, minimal frontal area…the whole nine yards.
It wasn’t allowed to compete of course, I just wanted to see what an “optimimum” aluminum-framed pinewood would do. The kids were interested too.
It wizzed by everybody’s car…everybody but one kid’s car. I don’t know what he did, but that car blew MY doors off. That was over 10 years ago, and I still wonder what he did! Racin’ sure is fun!!
I tend to think of science in a similar way, it’s racin’. We do it for the love of the sport. We don’t mind losing, as long as it’s fair.

Is it only me – looking at this from a sideways perspective – but isn’t this the Watts family taking advantage of a distinct Hockey-Stick shaped phenomena?
..and no MWP or LIA anywhere in sight as there should have been before the finish line
Glad to see you have your priorities sorted
Real cool results – well done – Andy

David Ball

Good show Team Watts. Graphite was an excellent lubricant choice. Gave you the half a car length advantage! Quality time indeed! Well done!


Grandson won his pack meet. In addition to ensuring aligned and polished axles and sufficently coated graphite, make sure the wheels are deburred and weight is at max allowed. Some claim weight distribution should be forward, but I believe it should be 50% on front and rear. There is probably zero measurable effect in air resistance at typical derby speeds-but that sure is a nicel ooking car.

Bill Thomson

Obviously a very fast car. Congratulations William and Dad!
I had great fun studying the science and helping my son make some winning cars. He provided the styling, and I worked on the speed.
My experience is that there is a small amount of chance in what car comes in first, but mostly speed comes from following scientific principles to make the most of what you are given. The more things you do well, the more likely the car will come in first in a race.
For the benefit of you WUWT dads who will be in the pit crew soon, here are some of the things that we learned, in no particular order.
1) As already noted, graphite powder outperforms anything else we tried for lubricating wheels, including Teflon.
2) After applying graphite, spin the wheels with the car upside down to polish the graphite flakes onto the axles. Unpolished graphite is not as fast. Add more as needed.
3) Roll the car on a flat surface. It should run perfectly straight. If it doesn’t, adjust the wheels until it does.
4) Give it the most potential energy possible at the start of the race. This means make it the maximum weight, and place the weight as far back as possible in the car so that the center of gravity is as high up the track as you can get it. You don’t want the front wheels so light that they jump out of the lane, but it is reasonable to make the center of gravity about an inch in front of the back axles.
5) If your rules allow, make new holes for the axles and make the wheelbase as long as possible. Cars with a long wheelbase tend to run straighter and bang against the center rail less. Also, moving the back wheels to the back allows the center of gravity to be moved farther back while still maintaining a little weight on the front wheels.
6) If your rules allow, spin the wheels in an electric drill and carefully use a pocket knife as a lathe chisel to shape the rolling surface so that it has a slight crown in the middle (like an over-inflated tire). This is probably a job for Dad. A wheel that only touches in the center will not tend to chatter on the axle.
7) (Top Secret) Make the nose high rather than low. A high nose resting against the starting pin will give a distinct advantage because the pin will be removed from in front of it before it is removed from in front of a low nose. It may only be a tiny fraction of a second, but a tiny fraction of a second at the finish line can translate into a few inches.
8) If you are allowed, chamfer the hubs where they touch the car body so that there is only a tiny ring of contact adjacent to the axle.
9) Remove any burrs on the axles until they are flush with the surface or very slightly below. Don’t try to polish the axles. It’s hard to get a better surface than what is already there. The weight of the car rests on the bottom surface of the axles. Make sure that there are no nicks in the bottom surface.
10) If you are allowed, buy an extra set of wheels and axles. Spin then and use the four that will spin the longest before stopping.
11) Make the car aerodynamic, front and back. Actually, we mostly ignored this one, but it will help some. We went for style and put spoilers on the back of our cars. We even put fenders on one. If you do most of the other things you can get away with a little less on the aerodynamics.
12) Keep the center of gravity reasonably close to the track. A very high center of gravity can cause the car to oscillate back and forth hitting the center rail.
13) Before installing the wheels put a little graphite power on a paper and polish the graphite onto the inside of the hub where it will touch the body, and the inside edge of the wheel where it will touch the center rail on the track.
Have fun and remember what’s most important.

Tim McHenry

Congrats! My son is presently finishing up his Eagle. His most successful car was his first and most basic one. It was not near as cool looking as William’s but it was a winner. One factor not mentioned by anyone is weight distribution. Our fast car had a hole drilled in it and then was lead filled from a melting pot that was used for fishing lures! You need a little more weight on the back than on the front, but don’t go over the limit. Also, for those who don’t seem to know, graphite is about all they let you use for a lube.

NW Libertarian

I was in Pack & Troop 9 when I was a kid, but that was Mt. Baker Area Council.
Great job by all! Pinewood & the Blue & Gold is certainly the highlight of the year!
Pity my youngest is about out of Boy Scouts, but I have memories of being the Chair & running a couple of Pinewoods.

Richard G

It is the wheels, definitely the wheels and axles that make the difference. We used to run a program that had all cars run against each other, rotating the track assignments. What a great event and great memories. My oldest boy earned his Eagle last summer. Building tomorrow’s leaders one boy at a time.
Congratulations Anthony.


But graphite is CARBON, isn’t it?

Ace! We’re in year three with my eldest. Respectable finishes but this year we go for the gusto! Thank you Bill Thompson above.


Hey William and Dad Anthony,
Fantastic and well done- 1st place in Den and 2nd in the Pack is awesome work.
I’ll be watching out for the go-cart design and race next.

Jimmy Haigh

Brilliant stuff Anthony. Absolutely 100% the way to go.

Scottish Sceptic

Something seems to be wrong with the video
they went down the hockeystick!
It’s all that effort aligning the wheels!


I had a traumatic experience as a youth which now makes me chuckle, because it shows how some Dads become terrible cut-throats, when any sort of competition is involved, even a competition as innocent as the Pinewood Derby.
My Dad was missing, so I had to help my younger brother put together his Pinewood Derby car. He was eight and I was thirteen, and the car didn’t look so hot, however back in those days (1967) no one seemed to know about graphite. I did, and our silly-looking car was beating the others by a good foot.
Then came the finals, and the Dad who was putting the cars down at the top of the track put his own son’s car down gently and carefully, but he sort of mashed our car down as hard as he could. He likely only meant to slightly bend the axels, however he damaged our poor little vehicle so badly that it only made it half way down the ramp.
It’s a pity they didn’t have video cameras back then, because it would have been great to record my baleful expression. The father looked at me with his expression completely blank. I walked from the Pinewood Derby event spitting snakes, and with my little brother sort of patting my hand and telling me not to take it so hard.
I was young and naive, and found it very upsetting that grown-ups could be cheaters, and that cheaters could actually win. After I dropped my younger brother off at home I went for a morbid walk in the falling snow, my hands shoved deep in my pockets and my stomach aching. Then there was an amazing flash of bright pink lightning, and a long, splendid roll of thunder.
That made me feel much better. I had the sense a Higher Power was watching. I felt that, some day, that Dad was going to stand at the Pearly Gates, and that he was definitely going to have some ‘splainin’ to do, about what he did to my little brother’s car.
As will Hansen and Mann, about their actions.

Grumpy Old Man

Dear Anthony. Congratulations on keeping balance in your life. I wish I’d tried harder to give my 4 sons more quality time when they needed it.
Looking at the tales of to say the least, sharp practice, in the reminiscences above, there is obviously a need for an International Pinecar Competition Committee to oversee the sport. As the sport revolves round engineering expertise, maybe a climate scientist should be Chairman?


Looks like you had a great time Anthony, 😉

Frank K.

Excellent! You son is a future professional mechanical engineer!

stuff global warming, this is way more fun 🙂
On a similar note, we had a show in the UK as I was growing up called ‘The Great Egg Race’ – that was all about creating rubber-band powered devices to carry eggs the furthest possible distance – that’s what life should be about, not bloody radiative balances! 🙂 Good job Team Watts!

Pete H

So much more worthwhile that attending Lisbon! Give your lad our congratulation Anthony.

Butch Corcoran

That brings back great memories! Your time was well spent, Anthony.


I like the design of the car. Nice job!!

Alexander K

Congratulations William!
Anthony, that’s massive capital in the family bank.

Richard S Courtney

Thankyou! This thread is joyous. It has made my day.
Congratulations to your son. Please tell him that people around the entire world are congratulating him and his competitors.


I think we’re having a facebook moment here.