About this same time each year – and all over the country, an interesting phenomenon occurs as pinewood derby cars race down tracks again. It’s something that Cub Scouts live for and dream of for months before it happens. And for most dads (and a few moms), the big races come around all too soon.
So, “When” – you ask – “did the pinewood derby come into Vogue?” Well, that is an interesting question. You probably all know that I was around when dirt was organized and I have known the pinewood derby races to be around at least as long as I have. And since you can find the answer to almost anything on Google, I decided to see what it could come up with. And was I surprised. According to Pinewood Derby in Wikipedia the first pinewood derby race was held on May 15, 1953. “Within the year, the Boy Scouts of America adopted the pinewood derby for use in all Cub Scout packs.” And, it continues, “In its October 1954 issue, Boy’s Life publicized the event and offered plans for the track and a car which featured ‘four wheels, four nails, and three blocks of wood.’” Well, I told you that the pinewood derby had been around as long as I could remember … and no wonder … that October was the exact month that I began my sojourn here upon the earth! Thanks, Wikipedia!
And so, yes, 63 years later, the pinewood cars are still going strong as each year they race down the tracks again! It might be the one of the few times that father (or mother) and son truly do something together. So for that reason, it truly is a grand tradition as it brings fathers and boys together to create their dream cars.
This year I have a unique vantage point as five grandsons are all Cub Scouts and have their engines revved for their own races. And with that situation, I took the opportunity to talk to each of the five grandsons about their cars, races, and their excitement that goes with it all.
Just this past Sunday night, the Pinewood Derby became a dinner discussion item. My wife and I and my 88-year old father, Russel, were having dinner with our daughter, Kaylea, her man, JD and their six children (five of which – all the boys – are current or former Cub Scouts). JD is an engineer so naturally, he HAS to design the best and fastest cars. And with five sons, that is and has been a challenge. And my father, father also to five sons, has probably made fifteen of the pinewood cars in his day. As the topic came up, Dad and JD swapped war stories about their own cars. It was a great conversation. And hearing them talk, I guess it is all in the wheels. My dad hasn’t built a pinewood car in over forty years but the tricks seem to be the same – but maybe they’ve gotten better with age. JD blew me away as he talked of sanding the wheels with 2,000 grit paper – and then progressing to 5,000 grit. Talk about fine … I can’t even comprehend that degree of fineness.
Then JD went to the other room and produced a bag that was full of the family cars of the past. When lined up together, they looked like the Indy 500. And as each car came out of the bag, each of the sons shared their stories about their cars and their losses and glories. Each car had its own story.
One year JD had to construct three different cars for sons. Wow! He ought to get a medal for that one! He notes – and the boys did too – that in that year, one son took first place, another took second and the third son took third place in the pack race. Impressive.
This year Lou and I got to attend the pinewood race for Brodey and Jett. Our daughter was actually the Cubmaster and JD is her assistant. They had an interesting scenario. All of the seven or so Cub Scout packs in their local church stake – or group of congregations – held their races on the same day. Each pack had its assigned block of time for their own races. This meant that they rented the fancy electronic track but the guy and the poor owner of the track (Steven Peterson – a member of my old Troop 155) had to remain there directing races all day on a Saturday.
And they pooled resources and talents to create a beautiful racing room as well as an awards presentation room – both gaily decorated in race track décor. So, after their race, a new pack would gather in the awards room – getting off the track and out of the room just in time for the next pack to come in. It was a grand scheme!
JD’s engineering skills didn’t do so well this year, however. Instead of getting first place, Brodey and Jett were in last place. This was a shock to poor JD. Of course he had excuses … Anyway, poor Brodey took dead last. His car was the absolute slowest. I asked Brodey how he felt about having the slowest car. His answer surprised me: “It was delicious!” I said, “How do you mean?” He said, “They had a cake (from a bundt pan) decorated as a flat tire and I got the “flat tire award” and the cake was all mine!” Brodey also received the “Sportsmanship” certificate for taking it like a man. Jett was excited about his “Superman” car that he and his dad had created – and which got the certificate for “the best paint job”. And Jett said “I got to sand and paint the car!” “They may not have won, but they looked nice,” said father, JD. Jett said, “I still have my car and Brodey and I race them sometimes.”
Craig and his father – our son – live in St. George, Utah. Craig had his first car last year.
When I called him to talk of his coming race – less than ten days away, he said that they haven’t yet started on their car. I asked him when the race will be. He said, “I think it is just after Valentine’s Day”. His mother, hearing the conversation said, “The race is actually on Valentine’s Day!” (How’s that for a sweetheart deal?”) Craig – always quick on the draw – said, “Oh, good! Then I can make it a heart and can paint it pink.” I said, “Or red …” He said, “No, it will be pink!”
I asked him about last year’s car and he said, “It was basically the shape of a wave – and the front was tipped like a wave.” (That is so Craig!) He noted that he got 3rd, 4th, or even 5th in every heat of the race. His pack invited any family members who wanted to do so, to create their own car. So, his sister, Savannah, said that her car was a musical car – made in the shape of a piano – and little Jason had a “school bus car” (a man after the heart of his school bus driving grandfather!)”
Also talking of last year’s car, Craig said, “I came up with the design but mostly Grandpa Farr did most of the work. But, I got to paint it!”
Tanner, and his father, Paul, live in Ohio – where Paul is stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB – as a trainer of flight nurses. I call their car the “miracle car”. His race was on a Thursday night in Ohio. And they were visiting us in Arizona – and flew home late in the afternoon on Wednesday. He showed me his car before they headed home – and it was just a plain pine board – cut to shape. But somehow in the ensuing 24-hours, they miraculously created a fabulous scorpion car. (You can read about Arizona scorpions in my recent blog “Our Arizona Fauna is Unique and Different” at https://thescoutingtrail.org/2016/05/19/arizona-our-fauna-is-unique-and-different/)
Tanner said that his car had won first place last year. Then he added, “So, I don’t have to win this year. I’m going more for style!” And boy, did he ever go for style with the scorpion car! Wow! I had never seen anything like it. Amazing, Tanner and Paul! Of his car, Tanner said, “We designed it together. We spray painted it and as it dried, we worked on the wheels. We made the scorpion out of aluminum foil.” He noted too, that he got to sand and paint the car. And he said, “I won five out of six races”. So, he had a FAST stylish car!
Blake lives near our home so we were able to attend his race just a couple of weeks ago. This was his first one. Blake was all decked out in his crisp, clean and complete Cub Scout Uniform. He was definitely a proud Cub Scout.
And I was proud to stand with him at his side. Blake said, “Dad and I designed the car. Then we went to uncle JD’s house and he helped us cut it out. Then we sanded it. Dad and I painted it and put the stripes on it.” And again, “Uncle JD” is credited for his engineering expertise as he told Blake and his father how to do the wheels.
As I entered the race hall, I noted several Spanish-American families. That was a first for me to see them at such a race – but why not? Those boys and their dads had a grand time – and just as much fun as anyone putting their cars together. I talked to Fernando – and he and his son, Saul, loved the opportunity to be a part of the race. Fernando said that Saul had a really fun time. And I think that dad did too!
Blake was bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm over his car. To say that he was excited was a major understatement. I took several photos of Blake but one still shot captured some of that excitement in his face as he saw his car coming down the track. He was animated and so very happy. And what made him even happier was that he noted that his car won every race – but tied the last one. As with many packs, this pack had unique certificates which they presented to each boy. So, Blake did not get any more recognition than did any of the other boys. No one said that his car was the fastest – but his certificate said it all: “Speed Demon”.
So, it has been a fun adventure this year being a grandpa and sharing the Pinewood excitement with my five Cub Scout grandsons – and their fathers. So glad that the grand tradition is still alive and well – as pinewood derby cars race down tracks again! And it is really fun now to enjoy the activity with the grandsons – without having to help produce the cars. This is a pretty good arrangement! I kind of like it!