I was a year later than the rest of my friends in starting into Cub Scouts. Most of my friends and schoolmates were already Bear Scouts but I had yet to complete the Bobcat achievement. I spent the fall of that year working hard on all my achievements and arrowheads and was just about caught up to the other Cub Scouts in my Pack when the Pinewood Derby was announced. Some of the fondest memories that I have of the Cub Scout and Webelos program are about getting ready for the Pinewood Derby race and of course about the race itself. I remember getting the Pinewood Derby car kit and taking it home and sharing it with my mom. Mom told me that she couldn’t help me, that I would have to wait for my father to get home and that he would help me. My father worked the afternoon and evening shift at one of the local cereal factories, and sure enough, when he got some time on the next weekend he knew exactly what needed to be done to the car because he said that as a boy he also had made Pinewood Derby cars.
Inside a wooden carrying case
I remember that my dad had an X-Acto knife kit that was kept inside of a wooden carrying case. My dad told me that he would do most of the carving and that I would do all the sanding and that we would work together on the rest of the car. I asked if I might also carve but my dad said that the knives were very sharp and that he would rather do that and that I could watch and tell him how to shape the car. My father told me that when you make a Pinewood Derby car you must keep checking the weight as you’re building the car because you want the car to weigh as much as it is allowed but not over that amount or else you would be disqualified from the race. After the shape of the car was achieved with the carving knife my dad gave me two or three different grits of sandpaper and told me that I needed to get rid of the sharp edges and make the car rounded in appearance. I put in many hours sanding that car until it was very smooth and had no sharp edges on it anymore. We painted the car dark green in color with some paint that dad had down on his workbench. After the paint was dry my dad handed me two or three fishing sinkers and we put all the parts of the car on the scale and added two or three of those sinkers for weight until the car weighed just under the maximum amount allowed. He watched me as I very carefully drilled the holes to put the sinkers into the car and then we put wood putty over the openings and painted over those spots until… once again the car was all one color and smooth in size and appearance. My dad had some graphite on his workbench and we made sure that the nails for the wheel axles were polished and had a little of the graphite on them to make the tires spin with as little friction as possible.
The evening of the Pinewood Derby race came, and it was held at my elementary school. As soon as I saw some of the other boy’s cars I was worried because most of their cars were wedge-shaped and mine was rounded and I wondered what difference that might make. The Pack leaders weighed each of our cars to make sure that they were legal for the race and then we were lined up in groups of four and were told that each heat of the race would begin by racing four cars against one another because there were four lanes in the track. I was absolutely amazed and surprised at the first couple of the races, that my car won! In a very short amount of time, the race was down to just my car and one other boy’s car and the Pack leader told us that whoever won this race would win the Pinewood Derby. As soon as the cars left the gate I knew it was going to be super close between myself and the other boy. I remember that race because it was so close that they couldn’t tell who won between the two of us. They decided to let us race again and the second time I clearly won because the other boy’s car wheel fell off his car and his car stopped before it made it down to the bottom of the track. I was declared the winner of that year’s Pinewood Derby and there was applause and I was given a nice trophy. I won the Pack championship in my very first race!! I still have that trophy and all the cars that I ever raced in the Pinewood Derby almost 50 years ago.