Lessons from the Pinewood Derby

“Try your best and be proud of what you create,” says Ryan Klos, 8

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (January 29, 2019) – On a cold, bright Saturday morning, in the basement of St. Ann Catholic School, Cub Scout Pack 247 gathered for a classic scouting tradition—the Pinewood Derby.

They had begun arriving at 7:30am for the official weigh-in. The weight limit for derby cars is 5 ounces, and experienced racers know that the closer you can get to that limit, the faster your car will go. Still, some prefer to focus on other possible awards—Most Humorous, Most Unique, Most Original, People’s Choice, Scouts’ Choice, and Safest Driver are all trophies worth competing for.

Derrien Houston Jr’s car was only 3 ounces when he arrived for weigh-in, and he was talked into adding hex nuts until it reached 5 ounces. He was not convinced that was a good decision, so he will try something different next year. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Today’s Pinewood Derbies are aided by technology; a computer is hooked up to the track, and a sensor clocks the cars as they pass, feeding data into a program that displays the results on a screen for the audience to see. But the manual and mental skills are still paramount—carving, sanding, painting, and experimenting with body shapes to achieve efficient aerodynamics. Or just being creative.

Edward Servin decided that next year his car will not have a rear spoiler. He thinks that change might increase its speed. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Daniel McRoberts modeled his entry after his dad’s truck. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Assistant Scoutmaster Paul Scheppe (far left) addresses some technical difficulties between the computer and the track while the Boy Scout helpers stand by. The Boy Scouts are involved in various race-related duties as a way to earn service hours toward their own badges. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Boy Scout Jonathan Housier lines up cars on the track. He volunteered at the Cub Scouts’ Pinewood Derby to earn hours toward his Communications badge. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

While each race lasts only a few seconds, the derby takes several hours to complete. It’s a complicated system that ensures each entry races in all three lanes against a variety of competitors.

Karie Breitenreiter is Cubmaster for Pack 247. Her son Jason won second place in the speed contest. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

By the end of the day, every Cub Scout is a winner—if not in speed, then in sportsmanship, or creativity, or participation, or new knowledge gained.

Kids can be in Cub Scouts until fifth grade, when they can transition into Boy Scouts. These 17 Cubs all participated in Saturday’s Pinewood Derby, some of them for the first time. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Proud parents and grandparents zoom in to document the accomplishment. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
From fastest (left) to safest: Axel Avila, Jason Breitenreiter, Ryan Klos, Zayin Parran, and Cole Smith. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Cub Scouts Pack 247 meets on Tuesdays at St Ann Catholic School, 3010 Ridge Road in Lansing, Illinois.

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5 thoughts on “Lessons from the Pinewood Derby”

  1. Thank You Melanie for such GREAT coverage of our humble and Life learning event.
    Mrs. Felicia D. Hughes-Hester
    Den Leader – Wolves Pack 247

    • It was good to meet you, Felicia (and Derrien)! I had a lot of fun at the event, and I was really impressed with all the Scouts. I learned a lot!

  2. So awesome. The boys put alot of work in their cars!! We have a clinic the week before were they come and get help with designing and sanding etc. Thanks!

  3. The pinewood derby was first run in 1953 and adopted by the Boy Scouts of America in 1954. My first car was built by me and my dad in 1968 or 69 where we built a total of 5 cars in 5 years. I have since then built cars with each of my three boys producing 19 cars over a period of 9 years. I personally enjoyed the activity so much that I have continued to help and support the boys of Pack 247, St Ann Lansing and Pack 526 Reavis School Lansing, IL. Since I retired as Cub Master at 247 I have been an Assistant Scoutmaster at Troop 276, American Legion, Edward Schultz, Unit 697, Where two of my boys have completed the rank of Eagle and one is still working toward it. Both eagles proudly displayed their Pinewood Derby cars at their eagle ceremony and I hope like me they will have them to show their children when the time comes.

    Thanks Melanie Jongsma it was a pleasure to talk to you.

    • I enjoyed talking with you too, Paul—and the cars you had on display there were beautiful! It’s nice to know that manual skills and craftsmanship are still being taught even as technology enhances the way the races are organized and calculated. 🙂

      Congratulations on your long career in Scouting and the legacy you are leaving upcoming generations.

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