Scoutmaster Greg Pino has been helping Cub Scouts prepare their Pinewood Derby race cars for about 13 years. He estimates in that length of time, he has probably helped cut out over 1,000 wooden cars.
The tradition of Cub Scout Pack 235 (which meets at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church) is to hold the Pinewood Derby Workshop on New Year’s Day since most families are off from work that day and able to work an hour or so into their schedules to cut out and sand their cars in preparation for the upcoming Pinewood Derby event. This year’s race is set for January 21.
Cubmaster Ryan Apple said that each Cub Scout received his own Pinewood Derby kit. Boy Scouts, and younger and older siblings and others interested could purchase a kit as well for a minimal fee and participate in a separate category on race day.
The Pinewood Derby is an annual racing event for Cub Scouts sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and is one of the most popular events in Cub Scouting. Every year more than a million boys and parents team up to build and race a Pinewood Derby car. Cub Scouts include boys in grades one through five.
Most Scouts begin with the kit which contains a block of pine wood, four wheels and four nails used as axles. The total process of cutting, sanding, and then completing the chosen design with paint and/or decals takes a time investment from child and parent of about eight hours.
The Scouts carve and decorate their car as they choose– as long as they don’t exceed the maximum weight limit (which is approximately five ounces or 141 grams) or the length allowed. The cars are weighed right before they race.
The completed car must fit inside a template box which measures seven inches long and two and three-fourths inches wide with a wheel base of five and three-eighths inches. As for height, the completed car must fit under the finish line arch.
According to the BSA website, the idea behind the Pinewood Derby is for “the parent, usually the father, but sometimes another family member, to spend time helping the child design, carve, paint, add weights to, and tune the final car.”
The boys who attended the workshop came with their designs drawn and ready to cut out and trace onto the wood. (Thousands of designs are available from the BSA and other online websites.) Some of the designs chosen by the Vinton Scouts this year included “The Atomic Wedgie,” “The Pencil,” “Bacon,” and “Flashfire.” Another was a Star Wars design.
Once the design was drawn onto the block of wood, the boys, wearing safety glasses and closely supervised by the adult leaders, used a power saw to cut out the design. According to Pino, one purpose of the Pinewood Derby project is to introduce boys to power tools under supervision, with an emphasis on safety. As the Scouts move up in ranks, they take more responsibility for the use of the tools.
Once the car was cut out and sanded, the boys were to take it home and spend the next weeks decorating by painting, then fine sanding, and adding a clear coat sealer if desired. The wheels and axles would be added carefully as there is always the chance the wood will crack if the car designed is thin in the wheel area.
The cars are powered by gravity, and at the Pinewood Derby event they run on wooden tracks with three lanes, in heats, giving each car the chance to run on each lane. The track is about32 feet in length. An electronic eye at the end of the course determines the winner of each heat, based on the first to cross the finish line. Competition continues until the winner is determined.
The first Pinewood Derby was organized in 1953 in California by Cubmaster Don Murphy and quickly spread across the nation. His son was too young to participate in Soap Box Derby races, so Murphy invented a substitute on a smaller scale.
The Thrasher Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet every Monday night from 6 to 7 at the Boy Scout Building in Thrasher’s lower parking lot and welcome new members.