The Pinewood Derby is a racing activity that has been popular for many years. Young boys who are members of the Cub Scouts, part of the Boy Scouts of America, take part in a race with their own pinewood derby cars that they have made. Each boy builds his own car with the help of his parents. The tradition is for a boy to make a special car with his father, but mothers or grandparents often help. This event is traditionally a father and son bonding activity that many fathers of young boys did with their own fathers years ago. Each member of a Cub Scout Pack or group buys an official car kit that consists of a rectangular piece of wood, wheels, and axles.
Fathers and sons typically work together to design a smooth-running car that will win the race at a monthly Pack meeting. The very first pinewood derby occurred in 1953 in California. The event was organized by a father so that his son could race a car, even though he was too young for another race called the Soap Box Derby. Pinewood derby cars are much smaller and more appropriate for the six, seven, eight, and nine-year old boy.
Kits for the race are often purchased for the entire Pack of Cub Scouts, which could be up to 150 or more boys. Scouts receive their kit from their Den Leader who is in charge of each group’s weekly meeting. There are rules that must be carefully followed to enter the pinewood derby, such as the fact that all nine pieces in the kit must be used. Each car is weighed before the boy is allowed to participate in the contest, and the car may not weigh more than five ounces in most cases. It also needs to be a certain length.
Each boy and his father try to design their car to be the fastest so it will win the race, but they also want it to be the best looking car. After carving the pine block by hand or with a saw, it is sanded and painted. The wheels are attached, and most cars have racing decals to make them look very stylish. Some boys try to replicate actual race cars that have won races. If the car is too light, it will not go fast enough to win the race so most boys glue lead pieces, or even a penny to the bottom of the car to add weight. The rules allow for graphite to be used as a lubricant to make the wheels turn faster. Pinewood derby cars cost about $4 to purchase, but the price can add up when decals and paint are purchased. Fender kits can also be purchased at PinewoodDerbyCars.net.
The day of the race, each boy must have his car weighed before he is allowed to join in the race. Because the rule pertaining to maximum weight is strictly adhered to, most boys weigh their cars before this time. It would be very disappointing for a Cub Scout to be disqualified the night of the race. Some Packs have age groups of Cub Scouts race against one another to make the competition more fun. Tiger Scouts may race against Wolves, Bears, or Webelos, which adds to the thrill of the competition.
Gravity is used to race the cars down a racetrack that is sloped at the top to give the cars enough energy to begin down the race track. There is a long straight pathway with multiple lanes so that four or five cars can race against each other. The Pack usually rents the race track, or they may purchase one to use each year at this annual event. Winners of the race are usually awarded blue ribbons and named as first, second, or third place winners. Boys of all ages look forward to designing and racing their cars, and it is an event that many of them remember for a lifetime.