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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January 29, 2011 7:32 pm

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

January 29, 2011 7:34 pm

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

Martin C
January 29, 2011 7:34 pm

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

January 29, 2011 7:39 pm

Congratulations to you both! Keep building the memories.

Douglas DC
January 29, 2011 7:39 pm

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…

January 29, 2011 7:50 pm

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.

January 29, 2011 7:50 pm

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
January 29, 2011 7:56 pm

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!

Honest ABE
January 29, 2011 7:59 pm

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
January 29, 2011 8:04 pm

Go, team!

January 29, 2011 8:04 pm

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
January 29, 2011 8:10 pm

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

January 29, 2011 8:31 pm

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

January 29, 2011 8:33 pm

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?

January 29, 2011 8:35 pm

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! 😉

January 29, 2011 8:51 pm

Congratulations and Mega-Watts!

Lonnie Schubert
January 29, 2011 8:52 pm

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

January 29, 2011 8:58 pm

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.

January 29, 2011 9:21 pm

Lots of fun memories, thanks

Martin C
January 29, 2011 9:24 pm

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 . . .

January 29, 2011 9:29 pm

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
January 29, 2011 9:44 pm

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.

January 29, 2011 9:45 pm

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
January 29, 2011 9:47 pm

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.

January 29, 2011 9:57 pm

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

Don V
January 29, 2011 9:59 pm

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:

January 29, 2011 9:59 pm

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.

January 29, 2011 10:03 pm

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
January 29, 2011 10:06 pm

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

January 29, 2011 10:26 pm

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
January 29, 2011 10:45 pm

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
January 29, 2011 10:47 pm

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
January 29, 2011 11:02 pm

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
January 29, 2011 11:05 pm

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.

January 29, 2011 11:26 pm

But graphite is CARBON, isn’t it?

January 30, 2011 12:53 am

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

January 30, 2011 1:08 am

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
January 30, 2011 1:29 am

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

Mike Haseler
January 30, 2011 1:40 am

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

January 30, 2011 2:37 am

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
January 30, 2011 2:56 am

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?

January 30, 2011 3:11 am

Looks like you had a great time Anthony, 😉

Frank K.
January 30, 2011 3:43 am

Excellent! You son is a future professional mechanical engineer!

January 30, 2011 3:53 am

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
January 30, 2011 4:23 am

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

Butch Corcoran
January 30, 2011 5:42 am

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

January 30, 2011 5:56 am

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

January 30, 2011 6:01 am

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

Richard S Courtney
January 30, 2011 6:22 am

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.

January 30, 2011 6:30 am

I think we’re having a facebook moment here.

January 30, 2011 6:37 am

Scouting is still one of the best things you can do with your son.

John Blake
January 30, 2011 7:01 am

Mayhap the crimson circle on the PokeMobile’s left front is intended to represent a rosy cheek. But as observers have long pointed out, it is also the Japanese symbol for Nippon’s classic Empire of the Sun.

Pamela Gray
January 30, 2011 7:27 am

My boys experienced this lifetime event with me as their pitcrew advisor. We kept the front end low and heavy, and well rubbed with pencil lead. We sanded the entire thing to death to make the surface as slick as possible. Then we put in a lego man deep in the seat. Can’t remember where we placed but I do remember the fun we had.

Mike from Canmore
January 30, 2011 7:50 am

Well done Team Watts. Way to keep the old man on the straight and narrow William!!

Mark Wagner
January 30, 2011 8:32 am

yeah, it’s all about the axles and keeping all 4 wheels in straight, true and non-wobbly alignment.

January 30, 2011 8:59 am

Nothing’s too good for our boys in uniform.

mike g
January 30, 2011 9:04 am

The global warming police will be trying to outlaw this sort of gathering in the future. Too greenhouse-gas-intensive, what with the footprint for the transportation, and all. Often overlooked, but soon to be accounted for, is the extra CO2 and water vapor emitted by the fans at these sorts of spectacles due to the increased respiration rates brought on by the excitement of competition. This will, of course, have to be reigned in to save the planet.
Also to be considered is the extra CO2 emitted due to the after-hours work put in by father and son in the days leading up to the event. This led to, not only increased respiration, but to increased energy consumption, probably even a bump up in the demand for evil beef.
All that being said, you’ll probably be in for only a warning and a slap on the wrist. My obsession with travel softball for my two girls, on the other hand, is the death sentence for the planet. God help us.
/sarc off

Green Sand
January 30, 2011 9:35 am

Well done Mr W, nobody can take the time away from you.
And well done William, now get the old man to source some top grade plumbago!
Have fun

January 30, 2011 9:52 am

Woot! You and your son made memories that will last a lifetime! And someday your son will run across a thread like this and proudly comment that, “My dad – *son stands straight and tall* – gave up a trip to Lisbon just so he could watch me compete with my Pinewood derby! And I won!”
!@#$ on Lisbon!
There’ll be another Lisbon.
Count on it.

Rational Debate
January 30, 2011 10:09 am

Congratulations Team Watts!!! Looks like an absolute blast!

January 30, 2011 10:59 am

Great car! Great Race! Great fun! Thank you for sharing the PokeMobile with us all.
Kip Hansen

January 30, 2011 11:27 am

Nice ride
(he’ll know what that means)
and yes, my dad showed me how to drill holes and melt lead…..
(to legal weight, I got a little wild with the wood rasp)
we didn’t realize that WD-40 and graphite powder are a bad combination , turning into a cub car killing goo
I lost but I won from the experience
for all the parents- hint at the kid , wash after done with soap and water, rinse hot
when dry (really dry, not damp) ((wheels to))
buy a tube of graphite lock lube from the hardware store
and kick a$$
protips from the [d]

January 30, 2011 11:34 am

When i was a kid did this sorta thing for shop class. My car won its race even while losing a wheel =D! I gave up my spot in the finals though, you couldnt “fix” your car after the races..so it would of been pointless racing without a back wheel lol.

CRS, Dr.P.H.
January 30, 2011 11:36 am

*OOO-RAH!* as the leathernecks say! Job well done, Anthony!

January 30, 2011 12:13 pm

Thanks for the update, Anthony. The ‘Pinewood Chronicles’ was a fun diversion from the more typical fare here at WUWT. Let’s see ‘Pinewood Chronicles II’ here next year, eh?
Congratulations to your son (and kudos to his dad, who has his priorities straight).

BobW in NC
January 30, 2011 12:52 pm

Congratulations to you and William, Anthony. Your post makes me look back somewhat wistfully almost 40 years ago to my son’s pinewood derbys.
Sunrise, sunset…
God bless you guys!

January 30, 2011 1:02 pm

Congratulations, Willaim and Anthony. You’ll be glad you got your priorities straight in the years to come. What a pleasant relief from discussing science.

peter maddock
January 30, 2011 3:22 pm

Great! I am 50 with 3 boys, three and a half, two, and 1 week.
I look forward to such great times.

January 30, 2011 4:51 pm

yep. it’s all in the axles and wheels. the ‘show’ part is meaningless in the race, but a lot of fun creating neverthless.
for some reason, my kids’ cars always ran faster backwards. ?? go figure.

Phil's Dad
January 30, 2011 5:17 pm

This is the stuff that matters.

January 30, 2011 9:55 pm

But hex-boron nitride is called ‘White Graphite’.
But that borders on something we don’t need to be teaching the young’n to do.
But I’ve never seen a car racer yet that didn’t, I grew up around them. Rusty, even Mark Martin used to, oh well, nevermind.

Mike McMillan
January 30, 2011 10:35 pm

Moving the ears down in front might have caused cavitation, which would allow the rest of the PokéMobile to travel in the created vacuum, thus reducing skin friction drag.
Case hardening the nails would also help.
Keep that in mind for next year.

January 31, 2011 4:19 am

If you haven’t already seen it, check out the 2005 movie release “Down and Derby” for a humorous inside look at the Pinewood Derby:-)

Larry Geiger
January 31, 2011 5:58 am

Nice car, William!!
You did some good work on that car. I also like the ears. Good design feature.
Larry Geiger
Scoutmaster, Troop 720
Viera, FL.

Mark H.
January 31, 2011 10:30 am

Congrats! I remember placing fourth in the Washington, D.C. area back in 1981. It was funny because in my den trials, I didn’t even finish first. I made some adjustments – added (lots) of graphite and weighed down the car with two quarters and taped them to the bottom. The car weighed the maximum, and with my streamline design and added grpahite, my car killed in the pack finals. Went on the city championship and won every heat, except for the finals. Lots of fun and great memories. Thank you for that blast down memory lane!

January 31, 2011 1:36 pm

Well done, Dad, on many accounts. Being with your son for this event elevates your ranking for many of us fathers. I still remember these derbies from my own Cub Scouting days many many moons ago, back when dinosaurs were roaming the earth. Thanks for sharing.

January 31, 2011 3:29 pm

I built a hot red number back in the day when I was about ten, we put heavy bolts through the body to add “mid engine” weight, and I worked hard for a proper front nose to force that sucker to the track….many good tips above applied.
inexplicably, I lost my first heat. Then my mom saw all the dads lubing up wheeels with WD-40. She grabbed a can, lubed me up and voila, won from there out, first place!
thanks mom…
and job well done PokeMobile

January 31, 2011 8:00 pm

Back when my kids were that age, our local Pack would run an “open” class for dads so the Cubs could get some action on their own, building and running their own cars. My secret to winning the open class was to maximize PE by putting the weight at the back, as someone already pointed out. Another trick (don’t know how effective it really is) is to make the car run on three wheels by lifting one wheel slightly.
The funnest event ever, at least for the twisted adults, was an “anything goes” competition, which included a few electric motors and one Estes rocket motor. Challenge: how to keep a rocket car on the track (and not burn the track down).

February 6, 2011 11:44 pm

A great trick is to sharpen the ends of the spinning axles to points and make needle bearings which reduce friction to zero, like the balance wheel in a clock. cover the end bearings by eliminating the open wheel well, also decreasing wind resistance much worse than the ears….sort of like old school wheel pants like fixed landing gear planes.
As the car is NOT powered, make it LIFT from air over the wing-shaped body, reducing moving car downward force to almost zero, though the car is EXTRA MASS with lead fishing sinkers inside to gain speed down the ramp. Lift must never be enough to lift the car out of the track, of course. Max lift occurs at the bottom of the starting ramp. At that point, lift should make the extra-mass gravity car weigh nearly zero. Great fun to see their faces. Heavy cars go faster at the bottom of the ramp….it’s a delicate balance….like climate!
It’ll come shooting past the finish line like a rocket with enough mass and zero friction clock needle bearings, lubed with a single tiny drop of clock oil!
Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill…..(c;]

Tom B
February 7, 2011 9:40 am

Congrats, like the videos. But I find it extremely strange that after playing them, YouTube links to the 999 video of the song “Homicide”. Maybe because it’s a song included in the latest Grand Theft Auto 4 video game?

February 26, 2011 1:45 pm

And Dremel will sell you tools to make them http://www.dremelderby.com/default.aspx

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