Friday, March 5, 2010

Pinewood Derby 2010: Start Your Engines!

The pinewood derby comes around these parts about spring time each year and April 1st is currently the official race day for the April Fool's 500. During Scout classes we will be examining a lot of things which will include the history of this classic Scouting event since 1953, a look at different car designs, our rules for the race, then ultimately each participant will design their winning car on a project design sheet.

Although the initial beginning of the

event begins in the classroom it is the moment of actual hands-on activity that everyone anticipates. To a pre-occupied adult the preparation for a race might seem insignificant but in the minds of kids this is a very big event for them. I know because I'm working directly with them and I know for a fact that their brains are on "wide-open". Walking around campus or the dining hall someone is always sharing their new idea for a car design with me so getting them in the woodshop is as exciting for me as it is for them.

Once the foundation has been laid and they understand the basics of what the race is about, many of the kids can come up with some very creative designs. Every year I'm always surprised at what their minds conjure up once they have just a basic understanding of the cars. As seen in the picture above, just last week one of my students had cut out his car then decided to use the scroll saw for some fancy cutting out of a nice tail-end spoiler. I've seen a lot of spoilers glued on to the tail-end of a car but this kid knew how to make the scroll saw work for him and he now has some very attractive detail that stands out from the crowd. That's special.

Some of the students will spend a lot of time sketching out their design as a combination of their own ideas and the designs gleaned from several books on cars that I have available for research. As a beginner woodworker we have all attempted to copy an exact design from a book or magazine to make it ours and that's just fine as part of the learning process. But at some point during the life of a woodworker something begins to "click" inside our heads when we step out of our comfort zones and take a risk. Before you know it we are designing and building things that we never could have imagined just a few years earlier. That's just the magic of woodworking and I love to see it happening right before my eyes... and it does every day in woodshop class.

As seen in some of the following pictures the pinewood derby has mainly been a Cub Scout activity for boys between 6 and 10 years old for more than 50 years and the popularity of the sport is huge in the United States. Strangely it can be just as compelling for the adult leaders as it is for the kids and our troop is no exception so we also have an adults race category so the big kids can have a little fun too.

And even though pinewood derby racing is primarily for the little kids I can honestly say that it has a very broad appeal to all age groups. It's fun, exciting, and contagious! The age group of our troop runs between 11 and 16 years old and it amazes me that more Boy Scout troops don't have annual races... well, except for us of course. Pinewood Derby racing is mostly a Cub Scout activity but don't tell that to our troop!

If you aren't already part of a big race day each year then consider getting involved and working with a kid on a car that might not have one otherwise. Pinewood Derby is one of the most effective parent/son activities around so turn off the video games and the TV and spend some quality time together. You won't regret it.


  1. Hi Dave! Jessica here (Sue's daughter) - I'm really enjoying your blog! I've been subscribing for a few weeks now with great delight! When I was a little girl, I was a girl scout, but I was jealous of the Pinewood Derby event! I wanted to make a car! I remember mom's car from a few years ago with a little fisher price person glued on top - we still have it in the encyclopedia case in my parent's living room (Every young person who happens to be reading this comment is now thinking, "Encyclopedia case? What's that?). I have a blog too - click on my name!

  2. Thanks for the kind words Jessica and I still can't believe that you were the "little" girl I knew way back when. Yes Sue has made some memorable cars over the years but I still like the bite-of-watermelon car the best. Personally I think that all girls should also have a pinewood derby experience and most Cub Scouts do allow sisters and family to participate so that is great. Obviously you never missed out completely since I'm sure Sue has shared her derby dabbling with all of y'all! Sue is the ideal mom for any kid but I guess I don't need to tell you that. :) Thanks for knocking on my door.

  3. dude i got that same ryobi band saw