Pinewood Derby

Each year as January rolls around, parents of Cub Scouts are busily constructing (or purchasing) Pinewood Derby cars for their scouts. As I write this, the Pinewood Derby competition for our pack took place a week ago. The kids all seem to have a good time, but it is something of a farce.

In theory, each scout is supposed to construct their Pinewood Derby car—with the help of their parents for the trickier parts. In practice, I’m not sure that is how it actually works. This was our second year participating in the Pinewood Derby, and in both years, while the concept of the car we produced came from the Little Man, the construction thereof was done entirely by me.

Perhaps this is common in the younger ages. Last year, the Little Man was a Tiger. It made little sense to hand him a saw and have it with the wood. This year, as a Wolf, it still didn’t make much sense to have him sawing away at the block of wood. He might have helped with the sanding of the wood thereafter, but what 7-year old wants to stay indoors and sand wood when there is mild winter weather out? What 7-year old would choose care measurements over going to a friend’s house?

So it was left to me to saw, and sand, and paint the Pinewood Derby cars. And it was left to me to try to get the wheels on in such a way that the axles were moderately level. And of course it was left to me to weigh the car, and determine if more weight was needed to bring it up to the 5-ounce limit.

Each year, we produced what I think were good-looking cars. So did everyone else in the pack who participated. This led to the suspicion that either our pack contains a remarkable concentration of highly skilled woodworking 6-10 year-olds, or that their parents are providing the bulk of the skilled labor, just as I did. That makes the Pinewood Derby less a competition between the scouts and more of one between the parents.

Pinewood Derby Cars
Pinewood Derby cars from 2016 and 2017.

We (I) produced a tank this years. That’s what the Little Man said he wanted. Last year, it was a police car. When performing a trial run on our pack’s newly acquired Pinewood Derby track, our tank barely made it to the finish line. This resulted in some mocking comments from the surrounding scouts, something that wasn’t very scout-like in my opinion. I warned the Little Man that his car was likely to come in last in each of the heats we ran.

Turned out I was wrong. The tank came in last only once in four heats. In the other three heats it took third place, and was a hair away from taking second place in one race.

Perhaps most telling of all about how scouts themselves perceive the event come from a comment the Little Man said to me as we headed home after the morning’s race. “Next year, Daddy,” he said, “you should build a fast car like those ones we saw today.”


  1. The idea is when a Fox little man watches and helps in ways not risky. At each new rank, he takes on a greater role until as a Webelo he does most, if not all, of the work. Some father’s don’t give up the reins because they become transfixed by the competition. It’s the father/son collaboration that is the goal, not the competition at the race.

    Or to use other terms, the plot is the competition. The story is a tightening father/son friendship.


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