This article was published in Maximum Velocity's Pinewood Derby Times, Volume 2, Issue 10, on February 5, 2003 and is reprinted here in its entirety.

Race management software can make running your pinewood derby1 event easier. It can help manage tedious tasks such as registering cars, generating race schedules, tracking the race results, and determining award winners. But finding the race management software package that will work best for you can be a challenge. The various free and commercial packages each have their strengths and weaknesses, and a package that may work well for one organization may not be the best for your organization.

Investigate So, before settling on a race management software package, you will need to investigate the available packages to see which one will best suit the needs of your organization. Information about each software package can be found on the website providing the package and in the program’s documentation. You can also contact the software provider to ask specific questions. Make sure to give yourself enough time to do the investigation. This is not something you want to do with your race date close at hand.

Questions To Ask

  1. Will the software work with our track setup? The first thing to check with any race management software is if it will work with your track, hardware and computer setup. Specifically:
    • Number of Track Lanes - The number of lanes supported by race software varies. Some will handle from 1 to 8 lanes, some 3 to 8 lanes, and some will only support 4 lane tracks.
    • Hardware Compatibility - If you already have or will be getting electronic hardware for your track, check if the software will support that hardware. The general types of electronic hardware used for pinewood derby races include timing systems, solenoid activated start gates, and drag racing style light trees.

      The race software documentation should specifically state the brands of electronic hardware devices that have been tested to be compatible with the software. For do-it-yourself or off-brand devices, further investigation will be needed to see if the software will support it. First, find out what computer port the hardware device uses, and then see if the software will accommodate that device and port combination. If you are not sure what computer port that your device uses, you can usually tell by the connector. If the connector on the device has 9 pins, then it is a serial device; and if it has 25 pins, it is usually a parallel port device.
    • Computer - The computer that you intend to use during the race may limit your choice of software. Some Windows-based software packages will only work on Pentium or equivalent machines and some DOS-based programs may only run in DOS mode and not in a DOS window.
  2. Will it work with our way of running races? The second key consideration is whether the race management software will let you run the race in your preferred way. Not everyone runs their race the same way and you will find that race management software also varies as to which race scheduling methods and racing schemes are supported.

    In fact, you may not find a software package that allows you to run your race exactly the way you want to, so you may need to compromise. You may even choose to use an alternate method supported by the race software if it seems better than your own.

    Here are some race management features to consider:
    • Race Scheduling Method - There are a variety of race scheduling methods that exist and no one software package will work with all of them. Some people are adamant about which race scheduling method to use. However, if you are not sure, you should do some research on race scheduling methods before investigating software packages. A good starting point for this research is to do a web search on "pinewood derby race methods".
    • Racing Scheme - Do you want to run multiple rounds of racing to select the winners, or do you want the top finishers to race against each other in an overall final race? Or do you have another preferred scheme? Some race software will only run the race in a particular scheme while others allow more flexibility.
    • Scoring of the Results - If you have a timing system or will in the future, you will want software that can score by average or cumulative times. The software should also allow you to score by points if you do not have a timing system or if your timing system "conks-out" during the race.
  3. What is the cost? - Cost is usually a consideration, especially for non-profit organizations, but it should not be the primary consideration. It is better to invest in software that will meet your needs now and into the future than to settle on something that you may end up replacing later. Currently, the cost of race management software varies from "free" upwards to $94.
  4. Does it have the reports I need? - The software package should provide reports with at least the race rosters, race schedules, and the final standings. These are the reports that you will likely need during the race to help you identify racers, know who is racing, and who gets an award. Additional reports on the individual heat results, race statistics and others are also helpful.
  5. How does it display the results? - If you plan to use a projection system or large TV for the audience to view, you will want software that shows race results and standings information with very large fonts.
  6. Is the software easy to use? - The software should ease your burden on race day, not make it more difficult. Considerations include:
    • Setup - Can you easily setup the software for use in your race? Can you easily test and use your electronic hardware devices?
    • Ease of entering racer information - Does the software support importing names from an existing spreadsheet or database file? Can you assign your own numbers? Is repetitive information defaulted to minimize typing? Can you preload your roster before race day?
    • Race schedule generation - Does the software easily generate race schedules?
    • Heat management - Are heat results simple to enter (or automatically entered from your timing system) and to display? Is it easy to run test heats or tie breakers?


Test Time Now that you’ve narrowed the possibilities down, you should test out your top few choices. For commercial software packages, a demo version may be available on the Internet. For shareware or freeware, you will be able to download the software, from the Internet, to test. Take the time to setup and run a simulated race. This will help you see the pros and cons of each software package.

With testing done, it is now time to make your decision. Since it is hard to find a perfect fit you may have to compromise on some issues. However, you should end up with a race management software package that will fit your race needs now and into the future.

After the Selection No matter which package you chose, I would not recommend using the software in a race, until you have had sufficient time to practice using it. You certainly don’t want to run into a problem in the middle of the race.

If you purchase a commercial software package and decide you’ve made a mistake, you can return it. The current commercial software packages generally come with a 30 day return policy, so you can return it if it will not work for your race. However, you may end up paying some shipping and handling charges.

Conclusion Race Management software can certainly enhance your pinewood derby event. But to get the most benefit, you will need to select carefully.

Software Packages Here are the most common software packages available on the Internet.

Commercially Available Software: Shareware/Freeware:


Randy Lisano is the author and supplier of GrandPrix Race Manager software. He is also the webmaster of these sites:
GrandPrix Race Central: http://grandprix-race-central.com
GrandPrix Software Central: http://grandprix-software-central.com
Derby Talk: http://derbytalk.com

1The phrase "pinewood derby" is used as a generic term for races sponsored by BSA, Awana, Royal Rangers, Royal Ambassadors, YMCA, and others.

Search

Login Form