Gentlemen, Start Your Pinewood Engines!

Geek Culture

pinewood derbypinewood derbyIt’s that time of the year again, dads of Cub Scouts! Time to start thinking about preparing for the pinewood derby.

Created in 1953 by a pack leader whose son was too little to participate in the pack’s soap box race, the derby grew in popularity and now is the most recognized feature of Cub scouting for the public at large. In fact, the phenomenon’s popularity has grown to the point where numerous non-Scout organizations hold similar events.

One of the best aspects of the derby is the father-son dynamic. Too tricky for the average 10-year-old to build by himself, a pinewood derby racer is the perfect dad-kid project. On one hand you have Dad’s desire to make the best possible racer, tempered by the a sense that the kid should ideally do some or maybe even most of the work. On the other hand, the kid pretty much just wants to win.

A pinewood derby car is a simple wooden block with grooves for four nails, which serve as axles for the wheels. Those nine elements must be present for a car to be an official derby racer. These days, of course, whole books are devoted to getting your son’s car up to winning specs, with perfectly aligned and lubricated wheels, and a sleek body contour not exceeding the permitted 5 ounces of weight. Apparently the number one factor slowing a car is friction, either from misaligned wheels or parts rubbing against each other or the racetrack.

My own participation in the derby was notable only for my use of decorative decals. I had a plastic Thunderbird model that I hadn’t gotten around to putting the decals on, so I used them for my pinewood derby car.

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