JOINT COLONIAL AND OLD DOMINION
|Pinewood Derbies are wonderful events. Derbies enable Cub Scouts to
learn new skills, including how to work with tools that will serve them the rest of their
lives. Derbies enable Cub Scouts to share time with their parents or other adults
who supervise their use of those tools. Derbies enable Cub Scouts to follow their
imaginations and to show off what they have created.
Yes, there is a competition, as Cub Scouts see which cars travel down the track in the fasest times or which miniature vehicles efforts earn ribbons for any one of an amazing array of "show" categories. But the purpose of a Pinewood Derby is not to identify winners -- it's to allow all Cub Scouts to participate, to do their best, and to have fun!
Suggestions for Cub Scouts:
Cub Scouts should look forward to their pack derbies and to the joint Colonial and Old Dominion District Pinewood Derby as an opportunity to create, to learn, to explore, and above all, to enjoy. In order to help everyone enjoy the event, however, Scouts need to behave properly. Toward that end, Cub Scouts should remember the following things:
Suggestions for Parents (and Other Adults):
Parents and other adults should support each Cub Scout's efforts, watching to ensure that he crafts his car with safety and care. Help him to do his best so that he can have the most fun possible when he displays or races his car at the Pinewood Derby.
Adults who once were Cub Scouts still look back on their participation in Pinewood
Derbies. Following is a recollection from Scouter magazine by Steve Lange
that highlights some of the fundamental principles that can make a Pinewood Derby so
by Steve Lange
They say smell is perhaps the strongest of the senses when it comes to jogging memory. I know now this is true. Recently I had the chance to smell, simultaneously, pancakes with powdered sugar, sawdust, and horse manure.
I will not mention the name of the restaurant.
But to an ex-Cub Scout who was only an errant-snowball-to-the-eye of-a-den-mother away from Scouting greatness, these smells can mean only one thing - Pinewood Derby race days.
Pinewood derby is an annual event in which Cub Scouts race wooden model cars down a sloped track for fun and camaraderie.
The Cub Scout race days I remember included a pancake breakfast (with powdered sugar), some Scout leaders on horseback of all things, and some sort of orange drink for refreshment.
The competition featured race cars the Cub Scouts had built (with dad or mom assisting) from special kits received a few weeks before. The car's construction is supposed to be completed by the Cub Scout. The parent's role is to guide, explain, advise.
But there always was a group of well-meaning but overcompetitive parents who got caught up in the trophies and the ribbons and the winning. This could result in a competition among fathers the likes of which had not been imagined since Nero's Rome, or possibly Sparta on a bad day. It could become an intense Circus Maximus in which fathers relived entire childhoods in a single day.
The children of these parents rarely got to so much as touch their derby car, what with the constant comings and goings of the outsourced design teams and think tanks of retired Peugeot engineers.
I was one of the luckier kids. I got to put on a coat of primer. I was allowed to affix a decal. But as for the racer's actual design and construction, my father, if it was possible, took everything a step too far.
My dad is an engineer. An automotive engineer. A few years earlier, he had let my older brother handle and even sand his derby car. The son-and-father team was defeated in the finals in a finish so close that my father will dispute it on his deathbed.
"It was so close," I heard him tell my mother, "that he might've won if he hadn't sanded that nose so much."
My brother went home elated to be second out of many. My father brooded for four years. He would not, he vowed, be defeated again.
Our garage was transformed into a workshop. Blueprints were thumbtacked to the wall. Extra electrical outlets were installed. For the first few days of the car-building project, I was out there, holding the light, handing him tools. He used a jigsaw, 1500 grit sandpaper, and something called a lathe.
Despite my lack of input, the project still a learning process. Near the end of week one, my father lost a thumbnail to a chisel and I heard words and combinations of words possibly never before uttered. (At no time, I learned at an early age, is freedom of speech more important than when man hits thumb with hammer.)
Come race day, we arrived prepared. My father and I skipped the pancakes in favor of checking out the race pairings board, scoping out the competition.
It was there we saw my friend Danny. I knew that Danny's dad didn't overdo it on his car. Danny's dad didn't ever do anything with him - his dad was never around. His mom was always working, taking care of the family. And Danny was too proud to ask anyone else for help.
He looked at my car's carrying case, a leather-lined toolbox. He carried a shoe box and opened it to proudly show me his racer. It had been whittled from the wooden block into an oblong shape meant to be a bus. It had no lead weighting, the wheels were off-balance, and it was colored with an orange felt-tip marker.
"I built it myself," he said.
In Danny's first race his bus jiggled down the slope and came to an agonizing stop a yard short of the finish. He had to pick up his racer off the track.
We won our first race by 15 feet.
The format was double elimination, and we checked the pairings board for the next victim. It was to be Danny. My stomach started to hurt.
Having winners meant there also had to be losers. And by winning, my dad would be a step closer to exorcising his demons.
But the losers were supposed to be other dads who weren't as smart as mine, not dad-less 9-year-olds who didn't have access to precision machinery and an aerodynamically efficient painting process.
So I feigned illness, blaming bad pancakes. My father reminded me that we hadn't eaten yet.
We went our separate ways, planning to reunite when our next race was called.
When I moped back to the track, my father was already there, waiting. He didn't have our car carrying case. "Can't race," he said. "I dropped the car and broke a wheel off." I think I actually skipped to our truck to check the racer's condition.
But the car was intact. It hadn't been damaged.
I'm not sure where that car is today, and I don't think I ever took home so much as a ribbon in my next few pinewood derbies.
But I do remember that the next weekend my dad taught Danny and me how to use a lathe.
Steve Lange is a former editor of Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) Evening NewsSault Sunday Edition, in which a version of this article originally appeared.
Copyright © 1997 - Scouter Magazine
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