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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.


Build-it-yourself


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
No Yes No


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.


Weight


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Light Heavy Heavy


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


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Excellent Good Poor


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 pictures.

Pinewood Track  Pinewood
          Track

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 really mean.


Initial surface and joints


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Excellent Excellent Excellent


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


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Excellent Fair Fair/Poor


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


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Excellent Poor Fair


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 longer.


Resistance to the elements


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Excellent Fair Poor/Excellent


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


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Excellent Fair Poor


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.


Ramp design


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Exponential curve
Linear curve
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.


Guide method


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Edge Center Modified Center


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 of it! 

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.


Stop method


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Foam Garage Raised Rail Raised Rail


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.

Cost


Mfgr
SuperTrack Piantedosi Wood Freedom Aluminum
Freedom Anodized
Best Track Aluminum
Cost
$750
no
$880
$960
$827
Shipping
$100
longer
$84-$125 $84-$125 $115
Total
$850
made
$964-$1005 $1044-$1085
$942


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


SuperTrack Freedom Best Track
No time limit No time limit 30 days


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


ABS Plastic Wood Aluminum
Now ? ?


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?

(revised 9/15)


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