A comparison of Pinewood Derby
Track construction materials
While Pinewood Tracks can be made from many different materials
and many different designs are possible, this comparison deals
only with the most common and general materials. ABS Plastic
Pinewood tracks are available from only one vendor (SuperTrack),
Wood tracks are available from a number of vendors including
build-it-yourself plans, complete (needing only painting) and
"kit" form. Metal tracks are available both in metal only
complete designs and metal to cover an existing wooden track. In
this comparison, a metal only design is assumed since a metal
over wood design is generally used only to rescue older tracks.
Other designs include kitchen counter top material supported by
a steel frame, formica covered wood, etc.
While many have chosen the build-it-yourself method, it's
important to understand that you are building more than a racing
surface. You need a stand, a starting gate, a stopping
mechanism, a method of joining the sections, smooth joints,
smooth guides, a way to store it all for next year so that
someone else can put it together, etc. etc. Unfortunately,
several "manufactured" tracks have a very large
"build-it-yourself" requirement. Read carefully, especially when
it comes to building a storage case.
For all practical purposes Wood is the only material that can be
used in a build it yourself Pinewood Track. While a track could
be made at home from ABS Plastic or Aluminum, the tooling
required generally makes the cost prohibitive and the skills
required are not commonly available.
ABS Plastic is about half the weight of wood or aluminum for an
equivalent number of lanes and length. The SuperTrack Pinewood
Track design uses a two lane wide by seven foot long basic
section so it's very easy to handle weighing approximately three
pounds. Aluminum, because of the thickness required to keep it
from quickly looking like a dented garbage can, is surprisingly
heavy. Wood is notoriously heavy. Storage containers also add
weight that needs to be considered. SuperTrack is the only
commercial track that is stored in the shipping container which
is also very light weight corrugated Polypropylene Plastic. The
other commercial tracks are either stored in pieces or in a
heavy box you have to build.
Resistance to damage
This is probably the most surprising result. Think for a moment
what happens if you hit a track with a hammer. It's a tough test
to be sure but guess what happens? The ABS Plastic Pinewood
Track will show no damage (absent some incredibly brutal force).
Wood tracks will dent slightly but can usually be patched,
unless the damage is on an edge. Aluminum tracks will be ruined
and can be repaired only with great difficulty. The instructions
for one aluminum track specifically state, "Do not stand or
climb, or allow others to stand or climb on the track." Feel
free to stand (or even walk) on SuperTrack.
It's no accident that the bumpers on your car are made from ABS
Plastic. Or, consider the lowly trash can. Probably no item in
your house takes as much abuse on a day-in, day-out basis. When
is the last time you saw a trash can made of wood or metal? If
you're old enough to have seen a metal one, what did it look
like? Did you know that a major ultra-high quality refrigerator
manufacturer has all of its extruded parts made from the same
material and by the same manufacturer as we do? Still worried
about the durability of our Pinewood track? Look at these
We ran over a section of our Pinewood track with a
MOTORHOME! After we cleaned off the dirt, there was NO
DAMAGE. And, of course, it's NOT a Hot Wheels track! For
those not familiar with Hot Wheels (a Mattel trademark) the
picture shows a thin strip of a Hot Wheels track on top of a
significantly thicker section of SuperTrack. Click here for what these pictures
Initial surface and joints
All three materials, when properly designed and assembled, can
produce a superb initial racing surface. However, the
instruction manual for one Aluminum track includes warnings to
file sharp edges, watch for bare timer wires, keep all guards in
place to protect against sharp edges and that you may need to
ream out some guide pin holes to achieve alignment.
Long term surface and joints
Because of Wood's lack of strength at the edges and Aluminum's
tendency to get dinged on the edges, the long term quality of
their joints is very questionable unless extreme care is taken
during handling and storage. In addition, bare aluminum will
over time develop pitting. It doesn't "rust" but it does
corrode. Just think of the surface of inexpensive screen doors
or 'triple-track' windows. The solution to pitting is to anodize
the surface. This is an excellent solution to the surface
pitting problem, although not to the dinging problem, but is
unfortunately very expensive.
Ease of storage
The ABS Plastic 4 lane Pinewood SuperTrack comes in a corrugated
polypropylene plastic box that's only seven feet long, eight
inches wide and eight to 10 inches high depending on the length
of the track. For a look at
our box, watch the beginning of our 5 minute SuperTrack
assembly video. 6 Lane tracks use two boxes identical to
the 4 lane box. The shipping box is the storage box. This
is not the case for any other major vendor. Other tracks
come in "UPS-able shipping cartons". For storage other
manufacturers encourage you to build you own box, an
extra expense. You can, of course, store and transport these
other tracks (and all their little pieces) without using a box.
By the way, the problem with any track box is that the box is
necessarily larger than the track section length, so you can't
stand an 8 foot track up in an 8 foot room or get it into most
vehicles without great difficulty. A track with a 7 foot basic
section, like SuperTrack, can easily stand up in an 8 foot room.
The range of storage temperatures for all three materials is
more than adequate. On the cold side there's just no reasonable
problem at any temperature. On the hot side, the ABS plastic we
use will start to melt at 277 degrees Farenheit. Wood will start
to burn at about 500 degrees Farenheit. Aluminum will start to
melt (depending on the particular alloy) at about 1200 degrees
Farenheit. So, if you plan to have a fire, aluminum will last
Resistance to the elements
As mentioned above, all materials can be used and stored without
regard to temperature. Humidity is a very different issue. In
many even slightly humid atmospheres, aluminum will pit and wood
will warp. The effects of humidity on wood can be reduced by
using quality plywood and painting the entire track including
the edges. The effects of humidity on aluminum can be reduced by
anodizing (very expensive) or painting (difficult). If you race
in the sun, aluminum can cause burns.
The wood track vendor warns that in no event should a wood or
cardboard carton be stored on a concrete floor that's in contact
with the ground unless a vapor barrier is placed between the box
and floor. The SuperTrack Pinewood Track's polypropylene carton
is moisture-proof and does not have this restriction. Outside of
any electronics, you could store it in your swimming pool!
Ease of assembly
The ABS Plastic Pinewood SuperTrack assembles right side up,
without tools and with a minimum of loose parts. Everthing
simply plugs together. Disassembly time is measured in seconds.
Assembly video. Other
tracks require tools and have a very large number of loose parts
(as many as 126 bolts, 126 nuts, 34 dowel pins, etc. in a four
lane 35' track) and often are assembled upside-down then turned
over. Disassembly, although tedious, is often simplified by
disassembling only partially. That's why other tracks will not
fit back in the shipping container.
|Flat with curve at bottom.
The Starting Ramp launches the car down the track. It's curve
is important. See this link
for starting ramp slope
issues of various track designs.
Center guiding is the 'original' Pinewood Track design and one
of many mistakes in that original design. The guide rail should
be high to keep the car in the lane, but it should be low to
avoid having the car bottom rub. In fact the most common rubbing
occurs on the front or back bumper at the bottom of the hill
where the bend radius of the track is minimum. One aluminum
track manufacturer has changed their bend radius for this very
reason and because the other aluminum vendor made a big deal out
Our ABS Plastic SuperTrack and at least one wood kit design uses
edge guiding to eliminate these problems completely. The smooth
tapered edge of the ABS Plastic guide acts like a "Jersey
barrier" to keep the wheel from climbing the wall. The modified
center guide of the Aluminum tracks helps avoid dragging weights
from slowing the car but doesn't solve the bumper at the bottom
of the hill problem. In addition, the modified center guide
channels the air under the car creating potential "airplane wing
lift" which can destabilize the car.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but center-guided is not a
"Standard". Rather it is a 'convention', long overdue for
change. Anyone who has been around Pinewood Derby awhile has
discovered the GREAT variety in Pinewood Tracks. There are two
different wood track "build it yourself" designs available on
the internet with two different center guide widths! There are
tracks that have a constant slope from start to finish. There
are tracks as long as 64', maybe longer. There are tracks that
LOOP-THE-LOOP!!! (and start 8' off the ground.)
Your car should be designed to run on every track it's likely to
run on. That's part of the challenge and part of the fun and
part of the learning experience at the foundation of the
Pinewood Derby. Each Pinewood track (not unlike the Loudon or
Darlington NASCAR tracks) can influence the performance of the
car somewhat. Even tracks that are made from the same material
and general design may not perform the same.
Raised Rail stopping is another of the 'original' Pinewood Track
design ideas that turns out to be a mistake. It's simple, it's
cheap and clearly the bottom of the car sliding on carpet or
rubber will act like a friction brake and bring the car to a
slow, safe stop. The Raised Rail works great for a few cars but
eventually the rail gets coated with dropped graphite, the
friction disappears and the Raised Rail turns from a stopping
method to a launching method. SuperTrack comes with a 'garage'
constructed of rigid ABS plastic bays with individual die cut
soft "Memory" foam bumpers for each car. It's safe, it's soft
and it's unaffected by graphite.
The above table assumes a four lane, 32 or 35 foot Pinewood
Track. While four lanes is the most common currently used
design, you can of course get a track with fewer/more lanes when
offered and longer length. The comparisons will be slightly
different but in the same general range. The ABS Plastic
SuperTrack is by far the least expensive, not 'the cheapest'.
For even more savings check out our
system package pricing.
Money back guarantee
|No time limit
||No time limit
The ABS Plastic SuperTrack Pinewood Track comes with the
SuperTimer guarantee, "If you ever think you didn't get your
money's worth, simply sent the product back for a full refund."
Best Track comes with a "lifetime warranty!" but only a 30 day
money back guarantee.
Delivery times vary from each vendor depending on different
factors. Check with each vendor if this is important to you
since some quote weeks or even months. The SuperTrack
Pinewood Track currently ships within 1-2 business days on all
orders, the same day on many orders. Time in transit
varies from 1-5 days depending on your location.
What's your choice?