VINTON–For at least 13 years the Cub Scouts at Thrasher Memorial UMC have kicked off the new year with a Pinewood Derby workshop on New Year’s Day. The race itself is held at the end of January, but the Vinton scout leaders like to build excitement for the project by getting an early start.
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.
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.”
Building a Pinewood Derby car takes at least eight hours start to finish according to Ryan Apple, Cubmaster of Pack # 235.
The scouts at this year’s January 1 workshop each purchased a Pinewood Derby car kit (price $5) which contains a block of pine wood which serves as the car body, four wheels, four axles (round head nails) all “ready to carve, sand, race, and win.”
The scouts are allowed to carve and decorate their car as they choose, as long as they don’t exceed the maximum weight limit (which is five ounces), or the length allowed. The cars are weighed 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.
All of the boys who attended the work session came with their design already chosen and printed, 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 Fonz,” “iPhone,” “Red Racer,” “The Vortex,” and “Lightning Strike.”
Once the design was drawn onto the block of wood, the boys, wearing safety glasses and closely supervised by the adult leaders, used power saws (a band saw and scroll saw) to cut out the design. Some of the younger boys were assigned the task of blowing sawdust off the wood block as the design was cut out. According to Scoutmaster Greg 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 are able to take more responsibility for the use of the tools.
The next step was sanding the car using an electric sander and/or sanding manually with sandpaper.
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. Decals could be “modge-podged” on.
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 about thirty-two 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.
Organizers are expecting about 15 participants in their Derby race on January 30, including siblings and some Boy Scouts. Cub Scouts from two other packs in Vinton and Goodview will also be taking part.
For those who were unable to attend the January 1 workshop and don’t have access to power tools at home, the local district also holds a Pinewood Derby workshop on January 23 beginning at 8 a.m. at the Carilion Helicopter Hangar.
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.
Pino is Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 235. He has been leading the New Year’s Day workshop for ten years along with other adult leaders. He did not grow up in scouting but became active in the program when his oldest son joined some 13 years ago.
Cubmaster Apple has been involved in scouting most of his life since he was 7 years old and joined as a Tiger scout in first grade.
Pino, Apple, and Jannette Sink, the Parent Den Leader, kept the boys engaged during the workshop. Sink, who has sons in both groups, said that both Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts place an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning projects—the building of the Pinewood Derby car is one example.
The Thrasher scouts meet every Monday night from 6 to 7 at the Boy Scout Building in Thrasher’s lower parking lot.
They will be holding their annual Blue and Gold Banquet on February 20. This occasion signifies that the Cub Scouts have earned their ranks and are moving up to the next level with the beginning of the new school year next fall. It is celebrated in February because that is the month when the Boy Scouts of America organization was incorporated in 1910. It gets its name from the Cub Scout colors and their uniforms which are blue and gold.