Pinewood Derby

One of scouting’s all time, old timey traditions came back around the first weekend in February, as the scouts of Pack 44 competed in the annual Pinewood Derby, racing wooden box cars down a four lane, forty-nine-foot long metal racing track.

      Kids competed in a variety of categories, including categories for most patriotic and best sports-themed designs. But the most important asset any car could claim was simple: speed.

      Kids, grandparents and families hooted and cheered as heat after heat unfolded in an event that dates back to a 1953 California-based scouting pack.

      As one Pack leader put it: “It’s a huge event. The only thing that really compares with it is summer camp We get a month to prepare for it and it gets a lot more involvement from parents and grandparents than almost anything else we do.”

      Grandparents were out in force, helping in a process that is at once deeply complicated and elegantly simple. Audience members traded notes all morning, laughing at their efforts to master the basic physics of vehicle design, proper weight placement, and whether they bent the car’s axles.

      A clear pattern emerged, too, between families that had never entered the Derby before and spent six hours or more researching and building the box cars, and families with a previous Pinewood under their belts, who spent perhaps hour or two on the task.

      “It was a lot of fun,” said one granddad, of a Webelo named Santiago. “He was beside me most of the time, and he put the finishing touches on it, tapping a couple of nails in there to get the weight just right.”

      Mike, another granddad, said, “We come down every year for the grandkids and this is the fourth or fifth Pinewood Derby we’ve attended.”

      The event also included food, with a table of potluck dishes there to keep the racers and the audience going, comprised mostly of sweets and pastries appropriate to the morning start time. By the time it ended, with one last race and the blur of the day’s fastest car (winners were announced on Facebook) traveling the equivalent of almost 200 mph if the little box car had been a full-sized race car, a sense of satisfaction permeated the whole crowd.

      “That,” said one dad, as he started helping to put away chairs, “was a blast.”