McGrew's MiscellaneaDerby

What Is a Shape N Race Derby?
(What is a Pinewood Derby, Kub Kar Rally, 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.

During the past few weeks, the kids have practiced basic woodworking skills, have spent time working side-by-side with their parents and club leaders, and may even have learned something about sportsmanship and other issues of character. The adults may have learned a thing or two also. It's a great opportunity for parents and club leaders to build closer relationships with their kids while working together on a fun project.

The project itself is fairly simple. First, the block is cut to shape and sanded. Then weight is added to bring the finished model as close to 5 ounces (142 g) as possible, and the car is painted. Finally, the wheels and axles are polished, lubricated, and installed.


It all began in 1953, in Manhattan Beach, California. The members of Cub Scout Pack 280C built model cars from wood blocks and raced them down an inclined track. They called the race a Pinewood Derby.

The next year, the October issue of Boy's Life (published by the Boy Scouts of America) referred to the Pinewood Derby. The year after that, the BSA leadership materials included instructions for running a Pinewood Derby, and their supplies division began selling kits.

Literally millions of derby cars have been built. Other organizations have sponsored similar events under various names. Other types of model vehicles have been used with appropriate tracks.

The Shape N Sail Derby

The favorite variation of the standard model-car derby seems to be the model-sailboat race (e.g., CSB's Shape N Sail Derby). Participants build model sailboats. The course is made by blocking the ends of ten-foot sections of raingutter and filling them with water. The sailboats are blown from one end of the raingutter to the other, usually by the participants themselves.

With a Shape N Sail Derby, each race requires more time race than with a Shape N Race Derby. While I have heard of times under 10 seconds, most boats will take at least 30 seconds (and often longer if the participant struggles with the proper blowing technique). Therefore, organizers should select a race method that requires fewer races per participant to produce acceptable results.

On the bright side, participants are necessarily more involved in the race procedings in a Shape N Sail Derby than in a Shape N Race Derby. However, a Shape N Sail Derby doesn't scale to large groups as well as a Shape N Race Derby.

As a side note, I have heard of some groups setting up fans at the starting end of the course. The goal is to remove the advantage skilled sail blowers have. Personally, I'd rather give everyone time to practice blowing their sailboats, unless someone in the group has a physical disability that affects their breathing.

Event Names

Here are some of the different names used by different organizations for their model car and model sailboat races. If you know of any other names used by other organizations, please let me know.

Organization Name(s) Used
Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Pinewood Derby (cars)
Rain-Gutter Rigatta (boats)
Christian Service Brigade (CSB) Shape N Race Derby (cars)
Shape N Sail Derby (boats)
Pioneer Clubs Pine Car Derby (cars)
Sailboat Race (boats)
Awana Clubs International Awana Grand Prix (cars)
Awana Regatta (boats)
Sail On Night (boats)
Lutheran Girl/Boy Pioneers Pine Car Derby
Indian Princesses and Indian Guides (YMCA) Pine Block Derby
Royal Rangers (Assemblies of God) Pinewood Derby
Royal Ambassadors (Baptist) Royal Ambassador Racer Derby
Scouts Canada Kub Kar Rally
Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) Girl Scout Grand Prix

Other Event Types

Here are some of the different names used by different organizations for other model vehicle races. If you know of any other races sponsored by other organizations, please let me know.

CSB's Shape N Sled Derby

Christian Service Brigade sponsors the Shape N Sled Derby. Participants build model sleds. The course is made by packing snow into raingutters, leaving a depression in the packed snow to guide the sleds down the course. This is a good outdoor event during a cold, snowy winter.

BSA's Space Derby

The Boy Scouts of America sponsors the Space Derby. Participants build model rockets with propellers powered by rubber bands. The course is made by stretching wires or strings tautly across a room, and the model rockets are supported by an eye hook at each end.

Awana's Airplane Toss ("Flying Higher Night")

Awana Clubs International sponsors the Airplane Toss. (The meeting itself is called "Flying Higher Night".) Participants build model airplanes from the raw materials of their choice. The Airplane Toss has awards for distance, aerobatics, and design.

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