Pinewood Seasons 80, 81 and 82

1953. Manhattan Beach, California. Don Murphy organized the first Pinewood Derby on record; for his son who was too young to compete in the bigger league Soap-box Derby. A spring tradition was born as tracks sprung up through-out the nation’s gymnasiums and kids and their folks carved, painted and prayed their cars would beat the pants off that other kid and his dad who refused to help organize the last camp-out when it rained and somebody forgot the ground covers for the tents. 


Our factory racer from 1980. Super-low, longest hood in its class.. driver over the rear axle. For all of the advanced styling and engineering of my first Pinewood contender it failed to place in speed.. OR design; Losing to some kid who epoxied a wrench to the basic block of wood (“Mr. Good Wrench”) and destroyed the field with his painfully simplistic scheme.

Replete with Wyoming license plate and, both, Porsche AND Ferrari insignia; A first-ever joint effort between the two super-powers.

Classic lines.

So sure were we the car was five ounces- we sealed and painted the weights into the body making for a slippery aero-undercarriage; A queue taken from a 1959 Citroen DS 19.


Back to contest the title in 1981 with a less-nonsense, cab-rearward sedan (a tail-dragger! see below) My second attempt that spring would bag a trophy for Best Design. Lessons learned from the previous season would pay off in craft and finish- not necessarily in technical upgrades. 

Simple forms complemented with a clean graphics package; Porsche the solo sponsor this go-round.

Part-lines removed, sanding the wheels smooth for minimal friction contact patch with the track.

Undercarriage aerodynamics abandoned for race-day access to additional weight stowage. Note spot of glue just forward of weight stowage: I don’t know what that is. It’s probably (for whatever reason) why the car wasn’t fast. Also note the hour-glass plan view. Many a day spent with a rasp and fifty grit eating away at that block.

Best Design.


1982: The year it’d all come together. A super-slippery shape paired with the cleaned-up undercarriage/ integrated five-ounce weight; a form so advanced it would predate The Mercedes CLS class by almost 30 years. 

Signature-worthy, the hour-glass plan view carried over from the last season. A large diameter weight placed behind the rear axle; no tests were done to explain why.

1st in Design, 2nd in Speed.

Three Seasons and I’m out! I had bigger and better things to do than placate gravity.. Blade Runner and Tron had just released: It was to be a fine summer.


7 Responses to “Pinewood Seasons 80, 81 and 82”

  1. Jacqui Says:

    Jay! More amazingness from that head of yours! I could’nt imagine what you could have generated even remotely worthy of knocking papa Stu out of the A-spot, and magically he’s still there. We’re going to have to find you a man-sized eagle scout uniform. Maybe one of the Pixar interns will confess his clothier (sans hazing)? I do remember you in that uniform, even if was just a photo on a mantle at someones parents place…

  2. Dave Chow Says:

    I knew your geekage/genius extended far and near and this is just more proof of it.

  3. Dave Boyle Says:

    Oh this brings back memories. I was in scouts all the way up to Eagle. The most memorable times were Pinewood Derby, Raingutter Regatta, and Space Derby!

    I’ll have to have my parents take some pictures of my pinewood cars. My dad and I made some pretty sweet cars. The trick is to add balsa wood to the sides so you can have fenders! We made a batmobile that way, complete with wings and a toothpaste cap jet on the back.

    Awesome stuff Jay!

  4. shublog Says:

    Sweet. I was an Eagle with two bronze palms. It’s all about the palms. Balsa wood cladding? Awesome. You’ll have to visit Pixar if and when I get a company-wide pinewood derby thing to happen.

  5. jeffreysnodgrass Says:

    Hi Jay, I saw your presentation at the Art Directors Club of Tulsa last night. I thought it was great!

    Anyway, I saw this post and had to comment. I was in Cub Scouts and I won Best Design in the Pinewood Derby as well one year. I almost wan for speed, but was beaten by a heavier and ugly car. Oh well.

    Just wanted to comment. Thanks for coming to Tulsa!

  6. Pops Racer Says:

    Those are sweet pics of some classic cars. Thanks for posting, i am glad I bumbled across your blog. Liquid grahite seemed to be the key to my success in a pine wood derby race 37 years ago or so. Our kits had thinner wheels back then. I recall the best looking car was disqualified because they used their own block of wood rather than the one provided in the kit. All 3 of your cars really look good!

  7. Ron Says:

    Just went through the Pinewood Derby experience with my son – I still have my car from around 1980 or so. Wish I’d found this blog before the race!

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