Forget the Big Rigs, Tiny Truck Races Draw Crowds

March 02, 2016 by Seth Sparks, @sethbsparks

While vehicle-smashing monster truck races fill stadiums, the true trucking cognoscenti get excited about a much smaller event – a Boy Scout-style pinewood derby.

That’s why on the eve of his biggest race of the year, truck industry consultant Lynn Buck was fretting over a solo test of his miniature big rig on the wooden racetrack at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council conference in Nashville earlier this week.

Pinewood Big Rig Challenge Mackay Company Truck

MacKay & Co’s entry (Photo: Seth Sparks/

The contestant in TMC’s 6th Annual Pinewood Big Rig Challenge isn’t happy with what he sees.

“See how it’s hugging the rail?” said Buck, an analyst at MacKay & Co. “Any amount of friction slows you down.”

The trucks in the competition are required to resemble Class 8 tractors. They have 18 wheels just like their mammoth counterparts.

Unlike a big rig and trailer, which fully loaded can weigh 80,000 pounds, the tiny wooden vehicles aren’t allowed to weigh more than 4 pounds. They have a maximum length of 20 inches, can be only 5.5 inches high and can’t be wider than 3.75 inches.

The trucks must be equipped with wheels approved by the Boy Scouts of America.

At just a little more than 2 pounds, Buck’s truck weighs about half the maximum limit, though he isn’t too worried that it will be a competitive disadvantage. He said it is faster than a heavier truck he ran last year at an industry conference in Las Vegas.

Not every contestant takes the issue of weight so lightly. Roger Maye, national service manager at truck parts manufacturer ConMet, once snagged rocks from the garden of the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas right before a race to increase his truck’s weight.

Maye liked racing in Las Vegas so much that he persuaded organizers of the TMC conference to add their own event.

ConMet sponsors the prizes, including plaques and cash winnings of $100, $50 and $25 for the top three spots, respectively, in two categories – fastest truck and best- appearing truck.

Maye is the returning champion in the fastest-truck competition. When it comes to specific details of building a successful truck, Maye keeps his methods to himself.

“It’s where you put the weight,” Maye said. “It’s what you do to your axles.”

Contestants take the competition seriously.

Perry Propst, director of marketing for Ervin Equipment Inc., worked on his truck for four weeks in preparation for the race.

He jumped in after seeing the races last year.

“They actually were straight across from our booth,” Propst said. “And we were sitting there like, ‘We gotta do this.’”

Competing Trucks at Pinewood Big Rig Challenge

The competing trucks must meet multiple requirements in order to qualify. (Photo: Seth Sparks/

About 30 minutes before this week’s races began Tuesday, Buck and Propst huddled to evaluate their competition.

They’re discussing the wheels on a BorgWarner truck. It appears only the front and back pair of the wheels will make contact with the track, a quality that sets it apart from the other vehicles in the competition.

“It looks like it jacks up a little bit,” Buck said.

“I’m not sure which one of the front wheels are actually touching,” Propst said.

The truck is one of two belonging to Rich Harrold, a sales manager at BorgWarner. Harrold is a regular fixture at big rig pinewood challenges.

Before the weigh-in, judges look at each truck to determine the winners of the best- appearing truck category.

The trucks speak for themselves in the beauty competition, said Winston Minchew, judge and training manager Old Dominion Freight Line Inc.

“Just good looks,” said Minchew. “If it looks like you want to take it out on a date on the road.“

Entries at the Pinewood Big Rig Challenge

The winners in the appearance category.

Propst’s Ervin truck takes top prize in the appearance category. Harrold’s BorgWarner truck takes second. Jon Taylor’s EkoStinger truck comes in third.

Pinewood Big Rig Challenge Contestants

The winners in the speed category.

At weigh-in, judges find that the BorgWarner truck is slightly over 4 pounds. One judge points Harrold in the direction of a Phillips-head screwdriver, which he uses to make last-minute modifications to his truck.
“I’ve got loose weight at the back of both of them,” Harrold said. “Some coins and stuff like that. I just had to take a penny out.”

With the BorgWarner trucks cleared for competition, races begin on the three-lane 50-foot-long wooden track. Winners of each heat move on to the next round until only three trucks remain.

Buck and Propst bow out early.

One of Harrold’s trucks makes it into the final round, where it will compete against Brice Link’s Automann truck and Brandon Whitfield’s Accuride truck.

The race is run twice to ensure that no truck has a lane advantage. In both heats, Harrold’s BorgWarner truck is the fastest. Link finishes a close second, and Whitfield comes in third.

The competitors collect their trucks and head back to their companies’ booths. Maye is happy with the contest, even if his ConMet truck didn’t successfully defend the title.

“We had a good turnout,” Maye said. “We had some new trucks and some good winners.”