Building a Better-Looking Derby Car
for a Shape N Race Derby, Pinewood Derby, etc.
Shape N Race Derby, Pinewood Derby, Kub Kar Rally—whatever you call it, a derby is a lot of fun, and it's a great opportunity for learning and for making memories.
This document describes ways to improve a derby car's appearance.
This is the artistic side of building a model car, and like many artistic things, it sometimes defies hard and fast rules. The following guidelines will be helpful, but a truly great design must spring from your own creativity and craftsmanship.
Neatness counts. Don't ruin a great paint job by getting bugs, fingerprints, or dirt on it. If you apply any decals, make sure they're straight and smooth. Follow the written directions of any paints or other products you use.
Before painting, make sure you have sanded your car smooth everywhere that shows. Sand the entire car repeatedly, using finer and finer sandpaper each time. When you paint it, apply several light layers of paint; a heavy coat of paint will often run, drip, form puddles, etc.
Paint Early, Paint Often
Most paints and finishes remain somewhat soft for a while, even after they are completely dry to the touch. Leave yourself time to apply your final finish coat well in advance of the actual race, so that it won't pick up fingerprints when you put on the wheels and adjust the weight.
A single heavy coat will take longer to dry and cure, so be sure to apply several light coats instead. With many paints, you must apply a second coat within an hour or two, otherwise you have to wait two or three days to apply a second coat. If the first coat has completely cured, you can sand it lightly with steel wool before applying a second coat.
Think in Three Dimensions
Do more to shape your car than just cutting the outline of your car with a saw. Think about how your car will look from all directions, not just the side or top. Just rounding off sharp corners with a rasp or with sandpaper can make a big difference.
Try Something Unique
The judges are more likely to notice your car if there is something different about it. Make your car "the car with the realistic (something)", or "the car that looks like a (whatever)", instead of just "car number 42".
Constructing Is Easier Than Carving
It is easier to glue on small pieces of dowel, scrap wood, etc., than it is to carve similar shapes out of the original block. For example, a formula race car has a wing in the back. It is very difficult to carve this wing and its supports in place. It is much easier to carve the wing and supports as separate pieces of wood, and to glue them onto the body of the car later. Small pieces of scrap wood should be easy to obtain at your group's derby workshop.
It is also easier to stay under the weight limit when you build instead of carving. The obvious approach when building a blocky design (e.g., a minivan, a Zamboni ice machine) is to glue another block of wood onto the one you started with, and then to carve this oversized block into the final shape. This almost guarantees that you'll have to hollow out the inside later to get your car's weight under the maximum allowed. It is easier to start by building a hollow car body from thin scrap wood.
After you've painted your car, several products (including floor wax and aerosol clear-coat gloss finishes) can produce a beautiful, shiny, clear finish.