Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cub Scout's Pinewood Derby fast-paced fun

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The last time I carved a block of wood for a Pinewood Derby was in 1966. Turns out I didn't do much carving and the "driver" looked like a Zit on my chin! Okay. Not a pretty sight.

So when my son asked me to help, of course, I didn't tell him about my fiasco craving and then painting my Pinewood Derby entry, and instead, grabbed my suspenders (air suspenders, of course) and then proceeded to give him directions on how to make his block of pinewood a sleek, hot race car. And he followed my directions to a "t" which is probably not something I really wanted.

Aaron worked hard sanding, carving (with supervision) and then sanding some more. We finally got it to a point where it still looked like a block of wood until dad decided he was goign to help and using a plyers and a screw driver to dig out a driver, I broke the wood.


So it was off to buy another entry to try again couldn't mess it up. And Aaron spent the weekend sanding, painting and complaining about how I messed up his original entry.

I then put in the wheels. The box included some aluminum nails to wedge the wheel in to a pre-cut groove.

And then came the big question. "Where do I put the weights, daddy?"

Well, I'm a man. Men don't read road maps and we don't read directions. "Well, son, as the experienced genius of a father that I am, having lived a long experienced life of 56 years and having my share of covering mobsters to mayhem at Chicago City Hall, I would say, well, um, in the back?"

So we put the weights on the back. When it was all done have to say it was sharp looking.

Now, the Pinewood Derby of today is nothing like the Pinewood Derby of yester-year, which as I mentioned was quite a while ago. Orland Park Pack 372 not only has dedicated Cub Scout leaders, but they have hi-tech leaders who know how to make the Pinewood Derby up to today's needs.

I mean, my kid types faster than I do on a computer keyboard. He knows computers and he knows high-tech and low-tech -- I still have the original Underwood Typewriter from the City Hall Press Room from the Front Page Era Days and I love to type on it, although it's not easy finding the little rolls of black ink tapes. (Remember those?)

This track was very cool. Not the contraption we made back in the 60s with long wood boards and rails and soap boxes and crates lifting one end up to create the hill.

(I was sure placing the weights in the back was the right thing to do.)

Anyway, this one not only was made of Aluminum, but the track was computerized and every car's speed was recorded and converted into real-time speeds. The average entry was around 197 MPH on the 24 foot (or so) track. The best were over 200 MPH.

Turns out the weight doesn't go in the back where I thought it would help push the car and not weigh down the front wheels. It goes on the front. And while you could not weigh more than 5 ounces, our entry was 4.7 ounces, which means I probably should have added a weight.

(My wife asked where do you think we can get a scale that can weigh in ounces? My scale weighs in hundreds of pounds. Of course, the only place we could think of was the Post Office, where we ran into other Cub Scout Parents who were weighing their cars there, too.)

Let's just say we didn't win.

But that doesn't matter. My son has his car and he loves it. It's sitting on a shelf with all his sports trophies and achievements (I had one trophy my entire life, for guitar playing!, though I do have my Hiawatha Trail Medal from a Boy Scouts' hike.)

Aaron had a blast and so did the other young kids and their parents who enjoyed the race.

Okay, next year, the car is going to be shaped like a lead pencil and the weight is going to be on the front. No messing around for the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby then.

-- Ray Hanania


  1. The Pinewood Derby was one of the highpoints of my scouting experience...both as a scout and the parent of a scout.

    To give back, for what I received from that experience…I wrote and just released a book about the Derby called "Pinewood-Winning by the Rules" ISBN 978-1-60911-153-3.

    It shows that the “BIG race” can be won by sticking to the rules…Isn’t that what scouting is all about?

    My son was district champ for 3 years in a row and he did that by following every rule and doing his best. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Borders websites…also through my website

  2. I believe the consensus advice is to place the weight in front of the back axel, not 'in front' per se.