By Douglas W. Motley
The Pinewood Derby harkens back to 1953 when Don Murphy, a North American Aviation employee, wanted to create a Cub Scout activity he could do with his son. The idea of racing miniature cars came to him while thinking of his company-sponsored soap box derby races.
“I’d made models of airplanes, cars, boats and any number of other structures and remembered the pleasure I got out of it,” Murphy 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.”
Murphy’s notion came to fruition on the afternoon of May 1 when 14 Cub Scouts from Lake Arrowhead-based Cub Scout Pack 264 had a chance to demonstrate their engineering and craftsmanship skills learned while constructing, practically from scratch, their own wooden, model race cars.
The moment of truth came around 3 p.m. when they began competing against one another as their homemade, miniature cars, propelled by gravity, sped down a 40-foot ramp set up at the Twin Peaks Community Center. Parents and siblings cheered as the colorful, individually designed race cars slid, three and four at a time, side-by-side, to the finish line.
Cubmaster Justin Wood explained to The Alpine Mountaineer that the whole process of building the cars begins with a kit containing a small block of pine wood, along with four plastic wheels and four nails, which are used as axles. “The kids, with adult supervision, construct the car, which must not exceed five ounces. A lot of the cars are outfitted with tungsten or lead weights on the back end and graphite is used to lubricate the axles.”
A den mother added that many of the kids get fresh ideas and inspiration from watching YouTube videos about building a winning pinewood car.
Payten, a 9-year-old fourth grader, who has been a Cub Scout for three years, was asked how many pinewood derbies he had raced in. “This is my first time,” he said, explaining that the derby had been canceled the last two years due to the pandemic. “It took about four hours during a week to make my car, and I did it all by myself,” he proudly proclaimed.
According to Pinewood Derby rules, there are usually as many heats (rounds) in a Pinewood Derby competition as there are cars entered in the race, which in this case was 14 heats. At the end of each heat, the winning car advances to the next level of the winner’s bracket while the other cars are entered into the loser’s bracket. Those cars then race against each other, with the winners of each heat advancing. The final car of each of the two brackets competes with the other for first place.
As it turns out, following about an hour and a half, Bennett DeBruyn captured the first-place ribbon, followed by his brother, Wyatt, in second place and Owen Spraul, who finished third.