Modified nail axles and wobbly wood and plastic wheels have become a delightful anachronism in today's world of derby racing. For the racer of the 21st century the name of the game is technology. This shift from plastic to polymer, from grease to nano lubricants, has spurred on a small-but-growing cottage industry in making derby cars go faster. Leading the way is Illinois-based Derby Worx.
The company was started in 2002 by Bill Launius Jr., when his son Trey was a Cub Scout. Launius developed a couple of jigs to better align the wheels on his son's car. The jigs came to the attention of Randy Davis of the derby speed shop Maximum Velocity and the rest was racing history. Launius offered an original run of body tools, hub tools and even an axle press. Within a short time Maximum Velocity had sold more than 4,000 units. "People wanted the speed," Launius said. "It was absolutely insane."
Today, Launius has nine online distributors, two large hobby warehouses and the BSA is selling his tools and specialty products. He's also partnered with members of the famed NASCAR Hendrick Motorsports team to lathe super-thin and true wheels, and MAC tools -- one of the largest auto tool suppliers -- stocks and sells his jigs.
Launius said in addition to better materials racers look for directions on how to build to a level of precision early racers only dreamed about. "It's about taking it to the next level," he said. "Instead of the usual 3.3-gram wheels, we sell one-gram 'onion-skin' wheels. They're perfectly round and roll so smooth."
Launius also pushes his patented tracking jigs to give the cars a straight and true ride. "More than anything a car has to be correctly aligned," he said. "That will make it a winner almost more than anything else."
Despite his over-the-top enthusiasm for top-notch tech, Launius said the sport was still about parents and kids coming together. "There is not one thing we sell that can't be used by a father with a son or a mother with a son because that's what the derby is all about," he said.