Our First Pinewood Derby

As I stared at the block of wood, many fond memories raced through my mind.

I remembered the smell of the sawdust, paint and wood glue. I remembered the sound of the plastic wheels racing down the rickety wooden track. I remember the excitement that I felt as I watched my car cross the finish line.

These were the memories I hoped to share with my daughter, Nee, as she prepared to enter her first Pinewood Derby.

Pinewood Derby History

Nee's finished pinewood racer

If you’re unfamiliar with a pinewood derby, here is a brief history of the event:

The first Pinewood Derby race was held on May 15, 1953, by Cub Scout Pack 280C in Manhattan Beach, California. The Cubmaster, Don Murphy, had a son that was too young to participate in the popular Soap Box Derby races, so he came up with the idea of racing miniature wood cars. In a Scouting Magazine article, Mr. Murphy recalled “I”d made models of airplanes, cars, boats, and any number of other structures and remembered the pleasure I got out of doing it,” he said. “I also wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition.”

Cub Scouts, with the help of parents, build their own cars from wood, usually from kits containing a block of pine, plastic wheels and metal axles.

Since 1953, the race has grown tremendously in popularity with the Cub Scouts. Pinewood Derby racing also caught on with several other organizations like Awana, which calls their version the Awana Grand Prix. The first Awana Grand Prix took place in 1964 and by 2004, approximately 200,000 boys and girls competed in race events in the US (Source: GrandPrix Pace Central).

Our church has held an Awana Grand Prix that is open to 3rd and 4th graders for many years. The children look forward to this exciting event each year. Actually, I think the dads are more excited than the kids. I know I was.

The Design Stage

Adding some paint to the freshly cut and sanded pinewood racer

First, Nee and I had to create a design for a racer.

“Hey, Nee,” I said. “You know what would be cool?”

“What?” she asked with anticipation.

“It would be cool if you would glue Barbie doll parts around your car. You could make a Barbie car.”

Nee stared at me with a genuine look of disappointment and then started shaking her head.

“Daddy,” she said. “You obviously don’t know what’s cool.”

We finally decided on a race car design and commenced assembly. After carefully drawing our design outline on the piece of wood, we cut it with a bandsaw.

Next we sanded the car was smooth and chose paint colors. Nee picked pink and silver. Finally, we completed the construction by adding the wheels, weights and accessories.

The Testing Stage

The night before the race, Nee and I went to the church to weigh her car. We discovered that it was above the regulation weight of 142 grams. We worked late into the night making modifications

On the test track

until the car met the weight requirement.

We did a few test runs on the track to gauge our speed. We consistently beat the other cars and felt confident that we would be standing in the winner’s circle on race day.

Race Day

The pinewood derby official places the cars on the starting line

When we arrived for the official race day weigh-in, we discovered that our car had gained weight overnight. Our weight was 146g. Nee and I had to reconfigure our design and remove some weight in order to qualify to compete.

Unfortunately, our modifications made our car slower. In the four heats we competed in, our car consistently came in third place. Our showings eliminated us from competing in the trophy rounds.

Nee was disappointed and so was I.

However, Nee’s had work was rewarded during the design competition. She won a certificate for “Best Use of Accessories” and the third place trophy for overall design (2nd place was a guitar and 1st place was Perry the Platypus). I think winning that award meant more to her than the spee

The Awana Grand Prix Champion (at least in Daddy's eyes)

d award would have because Nee is very creative and has the soul of an artist.

Nee beamed with pride as embraced her trophy in one arm and her car in the other.

“I can’t wait until next year,” she said.

“Neither can I,” I replied.

Stay Strong,

About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at fjgoodall@mochadad.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mochadad

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