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Pinewood Derby

Any boy that has spent any amount of time in the Cub Scouts (the little brother of the Boy Scouts of America) has fond memories of the major event at the end of the year – the Pinewood Derby.

Regardless of how anyone finishes, boys (and their parents or grandparents) are always going to remember the process of building, shaping, and designing the car that they were going to stack up against the rest of the competition.

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These are the kinds of memories that last a lifetime, the kinds of memories that so many boys look forward to sharing with their own children and grandchildren when they grow up.

Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts of America have reported that attendance in the Cub Scouts is getting lower and lower each year. This means that a lot of boys are missing out on the opportunity to create their own Pinewood Derby vehicle, and missing out on the opportunity to create lifelong memories along the way.

Hopefully this trend will reverse in the future – but only time will tell.

The Past

The very first ever Pinewood Derby was held in Manhattan Beach, California on May 15, 1953.

Cub Scout Pack 280C (now Pack 713) Cubmaster Don Murphy cooked up the idea after learning that his own son was going to be too young to compete in the Soap Box Derby races. Because his son was so heartbroken over the news that he wasn’t going to be able to embrace these oversized wood “cars”, Murphy decided to come up with a miniaturized version so that all boys his age – and even younger – would have the opportunity to race.

Thousands and thousands of brochures were sent out worldwide after the first Pinewood Derby race was hosted at the Harmer house, and interest in this activity exploded exponentially. Boy Scouts of America made it an official part of the Cub Scout experience, and by 1954 thousands of Cub Scout packs across the country were rolling out their own versions of the Pinewood Derby and their gravity powered vehicles.

The Present

For the most part, the Pinewood Derby remained unchanged from its original concept idea: Small wooden cars that the Cub Scouts themselves would build (with help from their parents or grandparents) with material that was provided by the Cub Scouts themselves.

However, in 1980 there were small changes to the actual design of the wooden blocks that were provided to Scouts. Instead of a cutout block that looked a lot like a front engine Indy 500 car from the 1940s, Scouts were provided with a rectangular solid block so that they’d have the opportunity to shape and craft it in any way that they’d like. The tires were also change from narrow hard plastic tires to “racing slicks” that were a little bit wider for improved performance, stability, and speed.

Today, Scouts are given a block of pine, four plastic wide wheels, and four nails with which to build their vehicle.

Scouts are required to use all nine pieces in the construction of their vehicle, though there also able to use other outside materials as long as the vehicle does not exceed 150 grams or 5 ounces in weight, isn’t any wider than two and three-quarter inches, and isn’t any longer than 7 inches.

It must also fit on the track that has been created for that particular Cub Scout pack.

The blocks can be shaped, whittled, or transformed using any variety of different tools, and decals or paint is also accessible for Cub Scouts that want to really customize their racecar. Cub Scouts are also able to attach extra sources of weight usually in the form of coins, lead pieces, and other heavier objects) to bring the car just as close to its maximum weight as humanly possible – though they must be careful not to go over, as they will be disqualified from the race.

On race day Scouts will bring their vehicle to the race location, will be separated into “racing heats”, and will have the opportunity to compete for an award. It’s generally a bunch of fun for all involved!

The Future

Unsurprisingly (when you’re talking about a group of competitive boys and their parents), the future of Pinewood Derby racing is really about enforcing the rules as they have been established.

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Aftermarket car kits are being sold on places like eBay for anywhere between $100 and $500 – and though they are “legal”, they have been designed and over engineered to give Scouts a competitive advantage and aren’t really in the spirit of the event at the same time.

As mentioned above, enrollment in the Cub Scouts is down across the board but hopefully that will change in the future to keep the spirit of the Pinewood Derby alive.

For those that weren’t able to get in on the action, Revell has been licensed by the Boy Scouts of America to produce kits available for sale if you’d like to cook one up on your own!