By Brian Mulcahey
For more than 50 years, the Pinewood Derby often has been the highlight of Cub Scout’s formative years in scouting. Just ask Sudbury resident and former
Eagle Scout Curtis Heisey, who’s done the event with his son Austin for the last five years. “When Austin first started Cub Scouts as a Tiger in the first grade, he required a lot of mentoring and guidance. Now, four years later, he pretty much goes off and does the whole thing himself. In fact, he likes making the cars so much that he usually builds a second one out of the scraps.”
The tradition is a simple one: Cub Scouts, with the help of a parent or adult partner, build their own cars from kits containing a block of pine wood, plastic wheels and metal axles. And the rules haven’t changed much at all over the years: the cars must all be 5 oz. or less and have the proper clearance to run on the track. The rest is left to the creativity and workmanship of the individual Scouts. They typically spend long hours carving, sanding, weighting, painting, polishing and perfecting their cars, and they see the fruits of their labors as simple pine blocks are gradually transformed into sleek and stylish pinewood racers.
The Pinewood Derby event was founded in 1953 by Cubmaster Donald Murphy of Manhattan Beach, CA, and it was an instant success. Murphy’s idea for the Pinewood Derby formed out of a desire to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a close father-son relationship while promoting craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition. Murphy was inspired to create the event by the well-known Soap Box Derby. A local Chevy dealer sponsored the Soap Box Derby, but the minimum age to enter was 12 – too old for a Cub Scout. Necessity being the mother of invention, Murphy conceived of the Pinewood Derby as a new event for the younger boys, including his 10-year old son.
The high-profile event has taken some interesting twists on the national stage. In the late 1990s, Car and Driver magazine decided to have their four staff engineers build a Pinewood Derby car and race it against cars built by Penske Cars Ltd. of IndyCar fame, Darrell Waltrip’s Winston Cup team, and Elliott Forbes-Robinson’s 600 Racing. To keep them honest, they used Pinewood Derby rules, were monitored by Scoutmasters, and raced against four Cub Scouts from Atlanta. The result: the car cost $2318 including engineering labor, and it lost to the Cub Scouts!
On a thrilling, action-packed Saturday morning in late January, 43 boys from the Loring Pack 60 Cub Scouts competed at their annual Pinewood Derby. Some of these cars may have smoked the pros as well, while others competed for “Best Workmanship” and “Most Creative Design” trophies. And all of the scouts took home some super-cool racing licenses, along with memories to last a lifetime.
Cars were raced down a sloping, 32-foot, 4-lane wooden track powered only by gravity, with a total of 105 races run over nearly three hours. The fastest car clocked a blazing heat of 2.5258 seconds (the equivalent of 8.6 MPH), with many photo finishes and run-offs won by several thousandths of a second! Thank goodness for the electronic finish line – we’ve come a long way since the original 1953 race, which used a battery-run finish line made from doorbells and light bulbs to identify the winner.
The event showcased sleek racers crafted with skillful workmanship and fancy Spiderman paint jobs; a tank, police car, rocket ship, Mario cart, and Star Wars land seeder; and cars that boasted the ingenuity of their scout builders. But it was a car driven by Snoopy that the judges deemed to be the most creative of all, and a dune buggy that the judges thought exhibited the best workmanship.
Congratulations to the 2010 Pack 60 Cub Scout Pinewood Derby champions:
Curtis Heisey summed it up best, “For me, it is a special time to spend with my son. I raced Pinewood Derby cars in Cub Scouts when I was a kid over thirty-five years ago, and I really treasure the time that my father spent with me building the car together. This was the first project in which I was old enough for him to teach me how to use woodworking tools, though many, many projects would later follow. Even though I never won anything, I had great fun making the car with my Dad, and I still have the cars that I made. As an adult reflecting back, the prize for me now is not the result of the race, but rather the process and cherished moments with my father.” A great recipe for lifelong memories, indeed!