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A parent helped build that Pinewood Derby car? Yes, that’s the point

Dalton had built the most beautiful Pinewood Derby car in Pack 123 history.

It looked like an expensive sports car — perfectly rounded edges, a high-gloss finish and a paint job that made it look even faster than it was. In a stunning display of craftsmanship, the rear wheels were set into the body of the car!

Some parents were suspicious. “There was no way that Cub Scout made that car all by himself,” they whispered.

So that Cub Scout brought over his mom’s phone. “See?” Dalton said, swiping through the visual evidence.

There’s Dalton watching his dad at the table saw. Swipe. There’s Dalton sanding the car’s edges while Dad looked on. Swipe. There’s Dalton’s dad showing the boy how to apply the first coat of paint. Swipe.

The protesting parents were right: Dalton hadn’t made the car alone. His dad had helped. A lot, in fact.

And isn’t that the point of Pinewood Derby?

Let’s set aside the fact that Cub Scouts shouldn’t be using some of the tools needed for Pinewood Derby car-making anyway. The point of the process is for a father and son or mother and son to bond over the shared experience of building something.

But too often when a photo of a cool-looking Pinewood Derby car gets posted online, commenters quickly point out that “it looks like that Scout had some help!”

Let’s hope he did!

The Dalton story — which was adapted from a true story — suggests you can’t assume that all nice-looking cars were the work of an adult alone.

Sure, occasionally a parent does all the work. I’ve heard of Cub Scouts not being able to identify their own car after the race. Not good.

But overall, we should encourage parental involvement in making Pinewood Derby cars. And we should give Cub Scouts the benefit of assuming they were involved in the process of building them.

What do you think?

Do you think we’re too quick to assume a nice-looking car was built solely by a parent? I’m interested to read your comments on this.

68 Comments on A parent helped build that Pinewood Derby car? Yes, that’s the point

  1. Brian,

    Really love your blog, but I think that you’re way wrong on this one. Let a boy do most of the work and have a car that is less than perfect. Can still have the fun of working with dad on that one; lot more fun that watching dad and doing a little sanding.

    • The kid did help if you read the story. Brian points out that a cub scout shouldn’t be using some of the power tools that were being used. The dad showed the kid how to apply the paint. Didn’t know teaching wasn’t part of the process. A good paint job doesn’t always mean the kid didn’t work on his car. Learning to do it and then teaching a kid to do is a very easy to do. It’s also known has the edge method of teaching in scouts. There is nothing wrong in this story. It’s a kid and his dad building a car together. The dad doing the hands on stuff that isn’t safe for the scout. Showing him how to lay down to a smooth paint job. With the first coat.

    • You need some consideration here. Not everyone owns their home, many rent. They don’t have tools, they can’t paint in the apartment. I dealt with it for years, and finally accepted that sometimes ou have to adjust your expectations to what a family can do.

      • But isn’t that the entire point of the entire Cub Scout experience? As the motto says, “Do your best.” Not the best of some other kid in another situation.

        The only thing that would make the story better is if it really happened that Dalton’s dad invited a family or two who need it most for next year. (Keeping the boy’s parent(s) involved and the boy looking up to his own parent.)

        Life isn’t fair, but all should do the best they can with where they are at.

        • We had a guest at our derby this year who may join. One of our dads took the boys kit home (he lives nearby) and cut a basic shape for the boy to sand and paint. That’s what Scouting is all about.

      • Then don’t use or allow power tools on Pinewood Derby cars. My son cut his with a coping saw. The problem we had was that most boys had so much “help” with their cars that we couldn’t compete outside of our den so we (adults) had to step in to “help” the next year. Unless all packs have to comply with how much help is given then it will just get worse and worse because it isn’t an even playing field.

      • I disagree on most points Tom. Sure, some scouts shouldn’t be handling the tools needed to do the work such as cutting out the car. However, that doesn’t mean they cannot without proper supervision. Our pack’s Tigers even take part in cutting out at least part of their car on a bandsaw. When you get up to the our Webelos, most of them cut out the majority of the entire car. From there, the scouts each sand and paint their own cars. Their parent or parents, who are right there through the entire process, do as little work on the car as is needed of them. So, yes, it is something they do with their parent, but it is not something the parents do for them. While our pack may not end up with cars that look like they are right off the showroom floor, our pack ends up with cool cars that each of our scouts are as proud of as a scout could be. By the way, I have witnessed, more than once, when a scout didn’t even know his own car. During each of those times, the only person I ever saw with the car was the parent, each time, that parent was the father. After a district Derby where two such fathers were there and brazenly bragged, right in front of the “officials” about building the cars at their work, and talking about boring out the hubs and other “illegal” methods, and nothing was done when parents complained, I quit letting my scout enter into the district derby. I could not support such dishonesty.

  2. Reggie Lithgow // February 12, 2016 at 1:49 pm // Reply

    I really wish R/C car obstacle course race would replace pinewood derby. Then the scouts would be directly involved in racing the car

    • Problem would be the cost involved, reg. R/C anything are not cheap, and the more you have the more frequencies you would need. Plus there’d be no way you could assure they all had the exact same gear ratios, since the gears are plastic and none seem to be exactly the same.

      And maintaining them would be harder than you think.

      But I agree that somehow developing it so something other than weight and gravity determine the winner would be nice.

      Of course, back when I was in college we had John Deere and Harvester plants in town and those were the truly competitive parents. Used company tools to cut a groove and insert small bearings between the wheel and axel. There the kid had absolutely no input in his car.

    • Check your local Scout Shop for clearance sale “BSA Blast Car” items. Its a CO2 powered car that runs on a line. Didn’t go over too well.

  3. As a cubmaster, scout, leader, and parent, the Pinewood Derby is my least favorite activity. It brings the worst out of most folks. My boys built all of their cars with minimal help from me. They are very proud, and have never won. Parents destroy the sense of fair play, creativity, and friendly competition in most cases, although not all.

    • I would guess that 80% or more of our pack’s cars get their substantial start in some form of shared experience. My den always had a meeting to cut out cars and that covered all but a boy or two. A local troop has long had a “Monster Garage” that is used, and our pack uses a meeting that is a rough copy of said troop. Additionally, a couple parents open up their garage workshops.

      Other ideas are Lego Derby. Or arrange a build and race event. Cars must be opened and built on site. There will still be a large variance, but… That is life itself.

    • Here, here!

      One of the ways we have attempted to build scout involvement is by suggesting what scout and parent should each do in terms of building the car each year of Cub Scouts. For Tigers it is lopsided parent over scout. By the time they reach Arrow of Light many (not all) of tasks involved have slowly reversed. It is a growing and learning process.

      We also have a variety of peer judged awards that change every year and are deliberately designed to recognize and award cars mostly built by scouts. We have never had awards for the types of cars seen that are definitely build by parents thus creating a disincentive for the derby to become a parent competition.

      Just to keep things light we have a few silly awards for things like: first car to loose a wheel during a race, first car to jump the track, and what has actually been well received by the scouts… the turtle award for the slowest car in the entire race.

      A neighboring town Pack has a “build night” at one of the parents home out in the garage where those scouts and parent with no experience can learn and receive help or use tools, paint, etc. Build night has been really popular with single moms who struggle with this event as well as parents who were never scouts.

      If a pack is proactive in the message it puts out to both the scouts and parents and creates an understanding climate and culture where the expectation is the derby about the scouts it is actually possible to keep derby from becoming a testosterone contest between dads!

    • You can remedy the situation. Have a car building meeting where the adults cut the rough car shape and have the kids do the finishing job. All adults share their expertise with the pack so that no one has any “secret” advantage. That way all the cars should be pretty equal. Doing the car building in a group should discourage those parents front putting their “personal” touch to the cars.

  4. I agree with you! People look forward to this every year in part because of the time spent together. Plus I think everyone would do well to be nice and not be so quick to judge. Maybe one boy is better off doing most of the work himself yet another boy is happier with the help of his parent. Nothing wrong with that. It takes all kinds. Even in Scouts.

    • My son built his car last year and this year with the help of his grandpa and has never won, he still to this day says that (it’s not about winning its about having fun.) This year’s pinewood derby for him was his worst because his group didn’t even cheer for his car. He felt that he is an outsider in his group. He loves cubscouts and I am proud of my son. He is a good sport even when he gets put down.

      • I think the leaders of your son should have a nice long talk with the kids in his group. A Scout is Friendly. What they are doing is the complete opposit of what scouting is all about.

  5. Danny Helfen // February 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm // Reply

    Do not like pinewood derby. Needs to be replaced with the cub mobile. Get the kids in charge of their own destiny

    • Back up, you ever built cub mobiles with an entire den? If not, you know not what you are speaking about.

      We tried it, I think at webelos 1, we were glad my home was across the street because even if you told parents what they had to have for tools, many did not even own them. I literally saved that den leaders sanity by having resources 30 steps away.

      • We’ve had a wonderful experience with cubmobiles. We just plan on building them at a garage or home to begin with. Then, there’s no problem. My scouts absolutely loved their car and used it many times. I highly recommend it.

  6. I think the pinewood derby cars can also benefit from the “keep it simple make it fun” quote that we so often apply to other areas. Boy designed and painted cars tend to be a little more simple, but the scout gets the pride and ownership in something that is his handy work. Parents are great when it comes to cutting the shape of the cars, putting on the axles and tires, correcting alignment issues and making sure the weight is spot on. These are the mechanics that most scouts are not yet understanding, but parents are great at assisting with and explaining as to why we need the weights and alignment.

    • That was always our input, even from Tigers. My son’s car was never “pretty” or even that cool. In five years he never won a P.D. He did, however, win races in Raingutter Regatta and Space Derby. For both of those he never even bothered to paint them. He was not a crafty kid. But the last two he did on his own. I love how the Space Rockets can be cut with a vegetable peeler!

      But Katie, you hit the nail on the head, IMO. Let the boy design, sand, and paint. The adults use the tools, guide on sanding and painting, and teach the physics behind weight, aerodynamics (but then that never seems to really apply!), wheels aligned, center of gravity, etc. Let the boy do the rest.

      My son is an Eagle Scout and he has thanked us numerous times for not taking over. 🙂 I remember many a car that looked like it just stepped out of a paint booth at a body shop.

      Our troop in IL had an “Outlaw” class for parents and siblings. They had to be the same required weight, but all hands were off on the rest of the details. *This* is where the parents would make super fancy cars. Let them make the one they want and let the scout make the one he wants and races. 🙂

  7. Years ago as a webelos den leader, I worked at a company with a wood shop.

    I brought the boys in with their kits. They drew their designs. I rough cut them on the band saw then I added special angles and shapes with the sanders.

    So a month before the race the part that not all parents have the tools to do were done in just a few hours. Educational experience, safety training, plus they saw a business in action.

    No one would ever think that any of those cars were done by boys. And they weren’t, not completely, but we used our resources to make sure those in single parent homes, without tools, etc. got the hard parts done.

    I see this as an opportunity, not something to complain about.

  8. When I think back to my Cub days I fondly remember the Pinewood Derbys. However there was one Dad who always took the “helping” factor a bit too far. He would take the race as a challenge to his Engineering Degree, so he would refine the design over and over, complete with wind tunnel computer analysis, until every possible issue was resolved. Everyone knew that the Scout had minimal input on the project but nonetheless it was entered as his “car”. Did he win?… Yes, every year, as well as his younger brother when he came up.
    Don’t misunderstand, I love it when a parent gets involved, just not a complete take over. I hope my story gets heard by a few well meaning Dads. Thank you.

    • You should show this guy the movie Down and Derby. It is about how several cub scout dad went overboard with “helping” their sons building the cars. The ending is the “lesson” for the dads.

  9. Our Pack held an “adults only” competition along with the Cubs

  10. As with all things, there must be balance. Pinewood derby making is about parent and child working together. Yet, the Scout should do the MAJORITY of the work, with more being done by the Scout each hear as they progress.

    It is painfully obvious which parents took on the majority of the task and which let the kids do the work.

    We also offered workshop days at the home of someone with tools and bring in Boy Scouts to help. We got the shapes cut and cars started so they they could be finished at home by the cub and their parents, even in the most basic of homes with no woodworking experience. The kids and parents love these days.

    We finished it off with a weigh in/impound day where we again had experienced Boy Scouts available to help the Cub and his parent put on finishing touches.

    • I agree about the progression. My son’s Tiger year I did more work on his car than I liked. The next year he took over more. When he got his whittling chip he did all of it! Well but sadly his last Pinewood Derby I had to paint it. We had cold weather and so we had to paint it in a well ventilated room and his asthma flared up and he couldn’t handle the fumes at all because of it. He was so disappointed because he designed an amazing car and mom had to paint most of it. I told him we were told they boys should do as much as they were capable and his asthma was why he wasn’t.

  11. My scouts do the majority of the work. Their Tiger year they were sad that they did not win. Their Wolf year the were excited with the progress for the previous year. My Bear this year as seen so much growth in his ability from his first car. I like seeing the progression from their abilities and not mine. Let the kids make the cars! Give them the opportunity to grow and have a distinct record of their growth (their cars). Adults race in the non scout race!

  12. I think there are parallels to Eaglemania in the Pinewood Derby. By that I mean advancement is a means to an end (one of the 7 Methods of Scouting that achieve the Aims of Scouting), but people have perverted Eagle as the goal rather than an indicator that the real aims have been achieved. The race—winning the race—is the motivation to get a boy and his dad to build a car, but the *aim* of building a car is getting the dad and son to spend time together. People have become obsessed with winning the race, so dad takes over and builds the sleekest, shiniest, most technically advanced car he can Google, or goes and buys a prefab body at the craft store.
    My cars were built pretty much the way “Dalton’s” were, but they didn’t look like dad made them because I was in charge. I got a talk from dad about aerodynamics and density (wood:lead ratio), and then I designed the car I wanted. When I was small, we used a coping saw the first year so I could help, the second year a table saw had been bought for another project, so I watched, 4th and 5th grade I did the big cuts and dad did the complicated cuts. He pushed back on some of my designs, but he understood the aim vs. the method, so I made some cars he thought were bad ideas, anyway. He didn’t need a dad’s race because he wasn’t obsessed with winning.
    When I got old enough to recognize what was going on around me, I was proud that my cars had character -and- managed to win against a lot of those ugly, tasteless razor-thin wedges, or machined pencil-cars filled with molten lead, and I felt bad for those kids. My dad has passed away, and I’m proud that I have 4 cars with memories of -him- attached to them, not 4 meaningless objects that went down a track one day.

    • Such a beautiful tribute to your dad. He sounds like he was an amazing man.

  13. Several years ago, our Webelo designed and made his Pinewood Derby car with his dad’s supervision and limited help. The finished product was less than perfect and when he saw all the sleek “professional” looking ones, he was shocked by the other boys abilities compared to his own. But in spite of that, his car tied with a super slick car for the Coolest Car. Amazing!
    The Scoutmaster called upon the Ace Hardware Mgr to break the tie. He announced the winner as the car obviously made by the Scout, much to my husband’s chagrin and my son’s amazement! I went up to the manager and asked him why he chose that car over the other.
    Thinking my son’s car wasn’t the one chosen, he said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry your son didn’t win, but when I was a scout we were told the Pinewood Derby was about my skills, not my dad’s. I still think it ought to be that way.”
    I can tell you I was humbled in more ways than one by his response.

  14. I think Brian was right on point here.

    We encourage Akela to be part of our Scouts’ units. We want them to join committees. We want them to be den leaders. We want them to participate in meetings and events. So why would we tell them not to participate in this one event, especially when it’s the event with which most parents who were Scouts identify?

    What I think Brian is trying to say is that there’s a big difference between Akela making the ENTIRE car and Akela helping the Scout build the car. The former should be discouraged strongly; the latter should be encouraged strongly.

    My pack had a Scout whose Dad was a mechanical engineer… He not only built the entire car, but tested it in the wind tunnels at his work to make sure the aerodynamics were just perfect. The Scout dominated the race, but I guarantee he couldn’t pick his car out of a lineup. That’s obviously unacceptable.

    But no boy in 5th grade (or younger) should be using the tools necessary to build an entire Pinewood Derby car by himself with no instruction or assistance. Our Pack has a “Pit Crew Night” where all the Scouts bring their cars and we have different stations set up with leaders: design, cutting, sanding, painting / detailing, and testing (we have a small section of track that we use to test). This helps Scouts without tools at home and allows us to see that the Scouts are contributing toward building their own car (even if it’s just for show for the leaders for one night).

    In the end, we need to remember why we do this. Scouting is a game with a purpose. I know that’s cliche, but in the case of the Pinewood Derby it is doubly true. It is a game FIRST. It gives the Scouts a chance to let loose and have fun watching their cars race. Secondly, it teaches / reinforces motor skills, use of tools, planning, and sportsmanship. If those are the qualities that are emphasized, I think we’ll all find that the Scouts and their parents will start caring less about whether or not they win.

  15. Laura Mulligan // February 12, 2016 at 3:41 pm // Reply

    Our pack has a build night, open to all scouts, where those who have woodworking tools bring them and any scout can use them with parental supervision. Large tools like power saws are adult use only. Having a build night helps alleviate the problem of kids who don’t have the tools at home to work on their cars.

  16. Our Pack held workshops where any and all boys could come and have access to tools and supplies needed to do everything but finish painting the car. Many had single parent homes and really needed the help afforded by the workshop. The younger they are the more help they need that’s just very basic. As my son got older his design ideas got more complicated and resulted in cooler looking cars each year. 4 out of 5 years his cars were losers in the race but looked cool and he was happy enough with that. His Webelos II car was researched and designed by him and we made it together, it was the Pack winner that year. Winning isn’t whats important, it’s the process and the sportsmanship. We used a very unique race format; no impound, every scout raced a minimum of 10 races, and any race too close to call was simply rerun. After each race they received a score for 1st , 2nd, and 3rd place and it was recorded on a card that was on a string around their neck. After 10 races, we scored the cards, any scout whose score averaged 2nd place or higher for 10 races, raced 5 more in a runoff. The rest were sent to the “Fun Track” to race their friends. The total score for the 15 races determined 1st, 2nd , 3rd place winners for the pack. No winners were announced at the race, results were given out at Blue and Gold, the following month. There were no tears, no anger, no issues of fairness, and every scout had fun because they got to race at least 10 times, nobody was eliminated after 2 races as often happens in Double Elimination method. make the race about the scouts and be sure they have fun, they really don’t care as much about winning as many adults do.

  17. My son and I had a great time building his cars together. He would come up with the design and paint scheme. I would rough-cut it on the bandsaw and he would sand it. We would weigh the car and figure out where to put the weights in. I drilled the holes and he cut the metal rods and glued them in. He did all of the painting. He won one year.

    Do other parents get carried away? Sure, but even that carries lessons you can use to teach your scout. Life isn’t fair, and you need to decide if you are going to do whatever it takes to win or do what your feel is right.

  18. It becomes most obvious to the leaders how much the scout helped build the pine wood car when, as boy scouts, they demonstrate or fail to use simple tools and measures. Yes, we do notice. And yes, it is obvious.

  19. Gary D. McAulay // February 12, 2016 at 4:46 pm // Reply

    I can tell you from personally talking with Don Murphy, the creator of the pinewood derby, that he always intended it to be a “father-son” project (or parent and son). I can also say, having interviewed many now-grown Cub Scouts, that the thing they invariably remember about the pwd is the time they spent with their parents, working on the car. The man who won the grand prize at the very first ever pinewood derby remembered winning a prize, but not that he was the first place overall. He did, however, vividly remember building the racer with his dad. Each parent has to decide how much to help their Cub, and how much to let them do themselves; but the parent-child time, working on a project together, is the beauty of the pinewood derby.

  20. You’re absolutely correct that Cubs don’t need to be using, for example, a bandsaw. My son’s dad would take his power tools to a workshop location and cut cars for all the kids whose dads (or moms!) didn’t have power tools. Sure, some parents get carried away with their vision of what the car should look like but, ideally and as you said, the scout should do what he can, even if it’s not perfect. And so what if Dad is an enthusiastic “helper?” As long as they’re involved TOGETHER! 🙂

  21. My 10 year old does all of the work that he can safely do. He polished his axels and wheels all by him self(with me there) and did all of the sanding. He made most of the cuts on a band saw but some of the cuts had to be done by me because the car design he picked out was very narrow in the middle and we didn’t have time to start over if it was cut too much. We watched about an hour and a half of video and he made all of the decisions with his car. He has won his pack 2 years in a row and has been involve in every process possible. I have done a lot of work on his car in the past but he does everything that is safe for him to do with the attention span that he has. To ask a 7-9 year old to cut/sand a car all of the way and still get a car that they can be proud of at the end is very unlikely. My little guy has done more work over the years and is simply more capable than he used to be. I don’t think that the cars should be as perfect as the one above and I do get tired of him losing at districts to the parent made cars but at the end of the day we are proud of what we did together. After his race this Sunday, he is going to help me frame in a wall in our new family room. Parents please have your child do as much as they can on there cars. If it’s not safe for them to do, please make sure they know what you are doing and that they are present for the work. Please also make sure that they understand the science behind a winning car. This is an amazing experience for them for the project and for sportsmanship. Especially when it comes to being a humble champion and a gracious non-placer. If they don’t win, plan on doing something special for them after the race to reward their hard work and good attitude.

  22. When my scout was a cub, I did help him with his first car. I also made my own car and showed him while I made my car, how to I did things. I was able to show him how and why I did things in building my car. Often the next year he would add features I did the year before, Like a front window from thin plastic package from the grocery store that would be thrown away or recycled. Next hear he wanted a window tool. I wet sanded my primered car body and then painted the top coat, and sanded and painted and sanded… Next year he wanted to do that. I had doors that opened the next year, he wanted a trunk for his “Tucker” with a little wooden motor in the trunk the year after that.

    Demonstrate, and show. Then let them do it. Are his cars perfect. They are to him. He did not need me to do it for him. Sometimes he would struggle with a feature, and we would discuss and build a prototype in some scraps of wood. I may do a lot of that work in the DEMO, while I show and explain. But that was then discarded, and he would build his version for his car. He figured out most things on his own as he got older, It was a matter of seeing the possibilities and that stimulated his curiosity. That drew out his imagination. He made some great cars.

    His skills were exponentially improved by Cub Scouts. I had to travel for work during his last year, and other adults were assisting for his last year of Pinewood derby cars. I received a complement from one adult when they said he was just working on his car, and he did not need any assistance.

    Luckily for me, he wants to do it for himself. As a 12 year old Scout, he still wants to make Pinewood derby cars. Suggesting the troop make some cars. There you go.

    • My exact plan with my Tiger. Yes I did a lot of Internet research and bought speed tuning tools, but I am a tool lover and am also offering their use and some help to other families who are interested. I will be building my own car and demoing what I do then assisting my Son on doing the work himself. We talked about options and he is starting with a simple wedge design with a wet transfer graphic, while I and going to do a full fender shaped body with custom paint. He will get to do an extended wheelbase, Weight balancing, wheel and axle polishing, camber/toe tuning, and 3 wheel rail rider if he chooses to after watching me. I will be teaching him how to do multi stage finishing to have a nice glossy car to put the graphic on. He will see what my work creates then decide how much attention to detail he wants to put in. I also have a set of wheel well hanger weights for mine he will have the option to save for next year if he wants them. He already knows Dad can build or fix a wide range of things, this will give him the chance to see for himself how to build skills and what it takes to get results. He also wants to be faster than me, and I told him he will have to practice and work really hard to get there and that it will probably take a few tries.

  23. My son, now a WEB2, designed his own car each year and did the majority of the work in building them too. We used it as an opportunity to teach him how to use various tools, the realities that arise when design meets manufacturing, and the value of thinking through the process. Each year the quality of his craftsmanship improved. Each PWD it was obvious he made his own car, but his was selected by the other Scouts every year as either the coolest car or most original design. His was never one of the fastest, but as long as it wasn’t dead last in every heat, he didn’t mind. He also played with his cars every year after the PWD was over. The PWD, as every event in Scouting, is a learning opportunity. No one is going to become a master craftsman simply from building model cars. The boys will learn, however, what we feel is important, whether that is independence, good sportsmanship, and self-respect, or it’s appearance-over-substance, winning-at-all-cost, and valuing a winning car more than a winning experience. Building PWD cars together has been a lot of fun and something he and I will miss next year. When I compare our father-and-son experience with the father this year who wouldn’t even let his son put homemade stickers on “their” car because “it wouldn’t look cool any more”, I just shake my head.

  24. Funny enough my son just completed the pinewood derby race with the Cub Scouts. I am a mother and I witnessed most of the dads taking over their son’s projects completely, for instants ; giving their children a random piece of wood and explaining that they would create their children’s pinewood derby cars.
    My 7 year old son, however, decided he wanted minimal help from me and wanted to work on his car all by himself -designing, sanding, putting the wheels on and painting it-doing everything on his own – besides of course, the cutting, this comment made me very proud. I was proud that he had the courage, integrity, strength and independence to understand that this was HIS project to explore his ability and tenacity . I was there for support and encouragement and available to hammer in a couple of nails if he need my help!
    During the big pinewood derby race… You could immediately tell which cars were hijacked by the dads… To the point where I thought it might be even be a good idea for the dads to have their own track! To our astonishment,,my son’s car came down the track…won first place in the first race and then first place again and again and again … His car won all four races that it was in. My son jumped up and down high fived his friends and felt as though he had succeeded … With hard work and creativity.Three trophies were given out for the three fastest times… Which ultimately did not include my sons time… He came in fourth place and received nothing … The hardest lesson to teach him was that he actually did the right thing taking pride in his work -the Cub Scouts who got the trophies were indeed some of the boys who hadn’t even touched their own cars !!!!!..,A week later he (magically) received a custom-made trophy that said; 2016 Pine Wood Derby- for the car with the most wins – he was extatic! – yes…it turns out… I am that kind of mom, and yes… I did get an offer and propositioned by the Cub Scouts to join the team because I was so passionate about the message behind it !

  25. The rule of thumb I give parents is “you should help but he should be able to call it his own”. A very polished and adult manufactured car could meet this rule in fact but not spirit. One should certainly not challenge a boy on this matter.

  26. Our experience with pinewood derby cars and the races are mixed. Yes our sons had fun building it with their dad and coming up with the colors/design but these parents, almost always the dads are ridiculous. Several of the dads were engineers so year after year we/they (my boys) knew not to expect to win. One parent I know bought books and researched and I think even bought more expensive wheels (not sure this is allowed anymore). Instead of having them all use the same exact kit right down to the wheels, lubricant, etc. and having the Scout do the car themselves with some help from the parent it turns into a dad competition. We had our boys come up with the design, and do all except the cutting. The point is for the boys to learn something not turn into dads competing against each other year after year and trying to one up each other.

  27. When I was Cubmaster of Pack 20 in Cumberland, MD. I had a Cub that had no parental help with his car. As a matter of fact it looked like he took it out of the box and just put the wheels on and a few decals. Not trimmed or painted this boxy looking car won almost every race. True story…..

  28. So many thoughts, so little room to write. In a nutshell:

    1. We rotate derbies (model rocket, space derby, rain gutter regatta, and pinewood derby.) Pinewood derby is only every 4 years, so it cuts back on the issues. The other derbie vehicles are easier to make and tend to promote less competitiveness. (Much tougher to measure how high a model rocket goes!)
    2. We often do our pinewood derby as an ‘egg drop’ type contest. Design a car that can carry an egg down the track without breaking. Speed is irrelevant. (We use an old track, btw.) By the end, we take braces and other contraptions off and let the cars fly with eggs on them. We split the track up so cars have to jump sections, etc. By the end of the night, it’s all about smashing the eggs. It’s super fun. Boys still design a car with a parent and bond over it, but the speed pressure is off. Kids get super creative with it.
    3. In the off chance we do a speed race, we randomly race cars against each other for the same number of heats each. (No eliminations.) We write down race times for each of a scout’s heats on a slip of paper and give it to him at the end. No places are given. If a boy wants to compare times, he can seek out others when it’s over. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t have to. No complaints, no hard feelings, and no tears. It’s worked great.

  29. In our pack the dads (or moms) made there own car for an adult race.

  30. This is where that Wood Badge training comes in handy. Use the EDGE method when building the car and you can’t go wrong.

  31. At the pack my son (and I as a youth as well) came up in, we were fortunate during the time that I was serving as Committee Chair that for several years the parent who volunteered as Pinewood Derby Pit Crew Chief (fancy name for in charge of planning and running the event) worked as a manager for a food chain. Because of that all of our concessions were either free or a really low cost, making the event a money-maker to the tune of about $125 per year.

    Knowing that the majority of families now no longer have a workshop in their home, we chose to invest that profit into tools to allow our pack to be able to hold Pinewood Derby Workshops. The first year we bought a tabletop band saw. The next year was a sander, then a scroll saw, and a shop vac. Also graph paper, pencils & sharpeners, erasers, scissors, tape, sandpaper, coping saws, and of course safety goggles. And power strips and extension cords.

    We now hold a couple workshops a year in the basement at the church where I serve as SM and CM. Not the same church as that Pack’s (that church doesn’t have a room that isn’t carpeted and we really didn’t want to deal with sawdust on carpet). We invite all the area Cubs, and Girl Scouts as well, to attend the workshops and work on their car kits. Not every family takes advantage, but not every family needs it either. But the ones who do need it definitely appreciate the help. We staff it with a few of us who are versed in using that equipment so that we can help the Cubs and their parents with the rough cutting and shaping, and then the rest is up to them.

    It has worked out for us and we were happy to be able to open up the ability to hold the workshop to all the packs in town as well.

  32. Michael Quinn // February 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm // Reply

    I understand the Cub Scout experience is to involve the family but the Pinewood Derby has morphed into a “daddy-do” event. The competition then in turn becomes which daddy has the most time, best tools and not a cub project. At the end the cub scout is awarded ribbons and trophies for something they did not accomplish. What does this teach?

  33. I have two sons, a little over a year apart in age, so both were in Cubs at the same time. When it came time to build their Pinewood Derby cars I asked them both how they wanted me to help. Both said they could make their own cars so, they did. However, when others, both Cubs and adults, seen the cars oh my the talk! It was so bad that the following year my sons did not bother building cars!

  34. My son was not really interested the first year he attended PWD as a Tiger. His car shape was basic sports car and he spent minimal time preparing it yet it landed in the middle of the pack contestants. Year two he asked me to help more so together we created a wedge that looked like a slice of watermelon. I cut it and he sanded, painted and clearcoated it. He also polished axles with my assistance and used lots of graphite. He came in second in his pack. Year three, he wanted to win the Packs PWD overall racing trophy so I told him he had to design it himself and we would discover as many tips as we could to make it fast. We purchased a speed tip book but found more involved tips and tricks on youtube. The third year car was named “Arrow of Light Speed” and it won the overall trophy that year. In fact, we opened our driveway for a build day so families with no tools or help could come get the basics done and finish at home. We also held a PWD 101 clinic fat the school cafeteria where the Pack meets for new parents and Cubs to ask questions. Year four as a Webelos I he again created his own design (a roller coaster car with 4 lego figures super glued inside) His goal was to get a design award which he did and was in the finals for fastest car even though he did not intentionally try to make it super fast.
    My point in saying all of this is that he and I spent some quality time together and he has since learned that winning is not everything and to do your best no matter what. He also now gives tips to younger scouts on what to do for a good, fast design and how to use a roto-tool, drill press and belt sander safely.
    Yes, I helped a lot but I also showed him that we should help others as well. Since his Wolf Cub year we have helped with other build days and as a Webelos II he, his mother and I helped run the PWD for the Pack. It was very rewarding to see him help others and encourage them about their PWD experience.

  35. My biggest disappointment as a Cub Scout was learning that my father had had someone at General Motors build my Pinewood Derby car. What a poor lesson to teach a child. I still wince when I think of it.

  36. “Hey dad, when are going to get to the fun stuff?” – Down and Derby (movie 2005).
    Here was my experience:
    Year 1: My son did everything, using hand tools for the build. I was by his side but provided only verbal guidance and support. Result: happy son, his car didn’t win a single race; my son loved building the car by himself and he learned many new skills. I was proud of him that he did all of the work.
    Year 2: More than just building a car on his own this year he wanted to win a few races so he asked for more help. We did some research by watching a handful of YouTube videos and bought a bunch of tools and books at the scout store to help, some of which helped. My son did the design and we did most of the work side by side. Result: happy son, the car made it out of the heat races and into the semifinals where it lost to a car that was on a different level, he was excited about the progress, and he talked a lot about learnings and what he wanted to do next year. I was personally surprised that the car did not do better given the extra time work that was invested and started to wonder what it would take to build a competitive car.
    Year 3: We learned through the grapevine that the most competitive cars in our pack used professionally tuned (BSA spec/sourced) axels & wheels, fancy graphite, and tool shop tools to prepare their cars. Have you ever heard of a three wheeler with a front steering axle? There was a handful in our pack. My son designed a very low profile wedge, kept it simple (not a three wheeler), we made sure the balance of the car was in the right place, the axels and wheels were carefully and correctly tuned and aligned, and he spent time running the car on our neighbors treadmill to ensure it ran straight. Result: happy son, great learning experience, his car made it to the finals where it beat a three wheeler. I was happy for the learning experience and was proud of the time and effort he put into the car, but I personally walked away a bit disillusioned.
    In the end all three of his cars are prominently displayed in his bedroom; each one represents something different to him that he learned and is proud of.

  37. As a Cubmaster, I always made a point by building a car at the meeting before PWD – in a couple of minutes in front of the pack. I took a kit, spray painted the block a solid color, stuck on the wheels, and glued some coins on top to weight it. While building it, I said “ANYONE can build a PWD car. It’s not difficult. You don’t need a machine shop. This REALLY is all it takes to have fun and race. I’ll race this car in the family heat on Derby day, and we’ll see how it does.” With those few words, the car was completed – while they watched.

    On derby day, the pack had a table with everything for parents and cubs to work on, or even build their car that day: hand tools, glue, sandpaper, weights, and kits.

    A couple of single parents told me it helped them overcome their fear of building the PWD cars with their cubs. They had no idea where to begin. They had never been scouts, and were intimidated by hearing other engineer-parents talking about high-tech finishes and wind-tunnel tests. The “wheels on a block” cars didn’t win the championship, but everyone had fun cheering, and once in a while it would beat one of the “gee-whiz” cars. (stifle the Cubmaster’s evil laugh)

    The point of the exercise was the message “You CAN-DO it!” Every Cub needs to hear that. Often. We need to be the encouragers. Encourage the Cubs to participate and have fun, Encourage the parents to work with their Cubs. You can-do it!

    “Do your best.” (and don’t sweat the rest!)

    “Do your best.” It’s what Cub Scouting is all about. Be the best “you” that you can be. It’s a simple message, and it’s a profound one. You can do it. Don’t worry about anyone else, just “Do your best.”

  38. Assistant Cubmaster & Webelos Leader // February 16, 2016 at 10:18 pm // Reply

    First, let me say that I whole heartedly disagree. Cub Scout projects and activities should be for cub scouts (with adult assistance, if necessary) not for adults with cub scout assistance.

    Personally, I (like others in this forum) think that too much emphasis is put on the PWD. I don’t know if its a BSA tie-in with NASCAR or Revell or Dremel or Home Depot. Or maybe it’s always been this way but my Pack when I was a Cub downplayed it. Back in the 70s, it seemed like it was just one month Pack meeting event, equal to the space derby and the genius kit etc. (Personally, I liked the balsa wood space derby as a Cub, because I could do that myself with my pocket knife. But if BSA does not allow Lions, Tigers, or Wolves to use pocket knives, that race is out as a Pack activity.)

    Worse than the overemphasis in that the PWD has in the Cub Scout year is not just the poor sportsmanship of entering a “dad car” in a Cub Scout race, but the emphasis of cheating all around. There is a market for pre-made cars. Even the videos that allegedly show new scouts and parents how to build the car themselves place too much emphasis on how to cheat (or at least bend the rules).

  39. Bryan,
    I agree with you completely. When I first handed my husband the box with the wooden block inside he looked at me with terrified eyes. “What am I supposed to do with this?” came out as a half question and half terrified scream. (He’s a physician.) The only tools we owned at the time were a couple of old screw drivers and a hammer and pliers left over from a college tool kit. I explained that he and our Tiger Cub son were to build a car. The terrified look on his face only grew worse.

    Fortunately he is resourceful and set about learning what tools were needed. Over the next week our carport took on the look of a disorderly work shop as father and son began a journey in what would be some of the VERY best father/son bonding times of their lives! Father learned along side son, and tried his best not to appear too much of a novice. Their first car came in 8th. By the next year our outdoor storage closet had become a small workshop complete with enough tools to share with the Pack, and father and son were a soon-to-be famous (in this area) car-building team! Pack work-days were held in the carport and father and son shared what they had learned and what tools they had with the others.

    Our son always did the work that was appropriate for his age, and each year he was able to build more of the car ‘all-by-himself’. His last and final cub scout /webelos year he built the car that won, completely by himself, from start to finish. (Through the years he had grown into it and learned how to use the tools safely, and was always supervised.) Over the years father and son had learned to always build a ‘spare’ car and even this last year the spare was a joint effort. However, test heats proved that our sons’ car was the faster so it was the one raced at the derby. It won local and regional competitions!

    The shop now sits mostly unused except when our SON has a project he is working on, but the father/son memories will last them a lifetime. Our son has just earned his EAGLE and will enter college next fall as an Engineering student. Despite many happy times since, the Pinewood Derby will always live in their hearts as some of their best shared memories.

    • Bryan Wendell // February 17, 2016 at 1:22 pm // Reply

      This is so great. And it speaks volumes.

      Thank you for sharing.

  40. Why don’t they have a 100% “built by the scout” for each rank, and then a free-for-all “Dad’s” division where the dad’s go at it? Seems simple enough to me. My son built his space racer and was left crying while Dad’s hi-fived and pumped fists over their victories. The kids weren’t even that interested. For most of the racers (not all), there was no way a 7 year old had anything to do with those racers being shaved down to next-to-nothing. I left feeling very disgusted.

  41. I’m all for the boy and parent working together to build a car. As long as they follow the rules, and as long as they don’t buy a winning car or its parts off the internet.

  42. most of you guys are missing the point the whole thing about cub scouting is joining father son mother son brother and brother or in some cases sister and brother it’s all about joining family and cub scout as one yes the car was done by father and son that shows the bond that they have just like camping would you throw your son out in the woods without knowing how to set a tent start a fire or even cook food no i wouldn’t if i have to set up the tent to teach him then i set it up same with life you bring the tools you need and teach a boy how to do it yes the first time around the parent may have more of a helping hand in it but the more time the boy does it the more he learns so by the time he becomes a webelo scout he has his car under control and doing all the work with out no help so before you start thinking that the parent did most of the work think of how old the kid is and what level he is in

  43. This car is why I am glad that my older son is now a boyscout and depressed that my youngest will be a Tiger in 18 months. I get the whole concept of working together as a parent-child team, but I have also seen the disappointment that comes from having a parent who is not nearly as skilled as the one who helped with this car. 🙁

  44. I have always thought that the PWD was a waste of time. It is odd that adults do not turn out with the same gusto for camping trips and other pack functions. I doubt the incentive to spend more time with their child has any sway with their decisions to build the car.

  45. Patricia Williams // April 7, 2016 at 4:13 pm // Reply

    I am amazed by how many parents believe that they should just give their son the car kit and leave him to figure it out alone. When my brothers were in scouts they had a workshop and the boys learned from the parents how to use the tools they needed to bring their designs to life. It is the way I have always helped my son with his Pinewood Derby car. When I hear about a young boy whose car looks sloppy but he “did it without any help at all.” I always feel sad for that child. He missed out on a great bonding and a great learning opportunity.

    But I am horrified at parents who assume that parents did all or even most of the work on their son’s car. The boy who won the race in my son’s pack this year was walking away cradling his car, in the same way my son does his (he is very protective of his hard work) looking so proud… I heard the pack leader who was standing behind him say “Good work dad.” and a bunch of the men chuckled as if it was a forgone conclusion that he had. The boy’s smile faded a little and I felt so bad for him. I leaned over as he passed me and told him. You did an awesome job on that car and he brightened up some but not the beam that he’d had before. Stop assuming that the boys can’t and help to learn that they can! Isn’t that what scouting is all about?

    My son designs his car. Draws a picture of what he wants. This year (Bear) he just drew the shape and described what his idea for the design to me since he wasn’t sure how to draw what he wanted. We went to the workshop so that he and my husband could use the power tools that we didn’t have. They actually cut 3 different cars one for my husband and 2 shapes for my son so that he could decide which one he thought would work better once he had his design.

    Then since I had no clue how to do what he wanted we got online trying to find ideas. (He wanted to carve the design into his car.) After a lot of research and some imput from me about his skill level with a knife he decided that he wanted to use a woodburning tool to etch the design. I suggested a stencil so that he could follow the lines. I researched ways for him to make a transfer for the pictures and showed him what the sites said so he could decide if that was what he wanted to do.

    Next we looked for pictures for him to stack to make his totem pole. I thought that he wanted realistic animals so while he was sleeping I tagged a bunch for him to choose from the next day. That was when I discovered that I’d wasted over an hour looking for stackable animals – because he wanted the actual Cub Scout Tiger, Wolf & Bear. Then I showed him how to copy and paste the pictures to page and how to print onto the paper. Then he cut out what he wanted until it stacked right. After that he sanded his car for a day or 2 as he went through all the different grits of sandpaper that we had until he was satisfied with the smoothness. I think he just liked the dust that he was creating in the box I gave him to sand over. He rubbed the stencils onto the wood while I helped to hold the transfer in place. (We did a couple of practice ones first since I had never tried it either.) It came out better than I had hoped.

    Since had only used the woodburning tool for burning letters into things I used one of the practice pieces first to try out tips and how to hold the thing as I showed him how to follow the lines and how to make shallow or deeper burns. Then he practiced on 2 of the other pieces before he moved to his car. He did at least 90% of the wood burning himself carefully working on it for hours. When he asked me to please do the fine work around the eyes I was so afraid that I would mess it up but I did that for him since he is only 8 and it was very tiny lines. It turned out amazing especially since the transfers we had made were in color and most of the color remained to highlight the woodburned areas. Then he studied his car to see what else he wanted to do. When he said that he wanted to burn a stripe down the sides I suggested that he use a metal ruler as a guide and I held it in place while he burned. When he said that he wanted a the bottom of the car to be blue I suggested that he use tape to get a straight line and then I helped him put the tape on and after he started to blob the paint, I reminded him that if he wanted to get a smooth look he needed to use long strokes that went all the way from one end to the other of the car. (Unless blob was what he was going for.) He decided that he wanted smooth and he painted the parts of the car that he wanted painted. After it dried he decided that he wanted to burn headlights and tail lights so we looked to see what shapes or letters I had to do that and he added those. Then we took it outside to add the clear coat. I grabbed one of our scraps and showed him how to use the spray can moving it steadily back and forth so that he didn’t get runs and he practiced for a minute before he started on his car. He did an awesome job with me watching over him.

    His daddy helped him with the wheel tool to clean out of any burrs and to polish the wheels and axles with graphite.

    That is when I realized that we had forgotten about weights. 🙂 His daddy helped him drill a couple of holes with the dremel type tool we have and we glued the weight in. Only to realize that he was going to need a lot more weight. He started helping me to drill out a larger area for more weight but it got late and the Derby was the next day I had to finish the last 1/2 and do the gluing. I also painted over the weights with the paint he had picked for the sides and bottom.

    In the morning he and his daddy put the wheels on and made sure that it would go straight. He was so very proud of his car and I was so very proud of him. When we went to the derby he wouldn’t let either of us carry it. When one of the leaders said something that made it clear that he didn’t think a child could have made that car I very firmly told him that he had done almost everything himself with just a little guidance from us. I am pretty sure from the look I got that they didn’t believe me, which totally takes away from all the hard work that my son put into making his car. I am hoping that this story will make adults who think that a child couldn’t have done that realize that with the right guidance, yes they can. And a child with more artistic talent than my son could have done even more. Please don’t take that away from them. That goes for the parents who won’t let their child work on the car too. Your child is missing out on something that he will look back on with pride for a lifetime. My son hid his car because he was afraid someone would break in and steal it. It is one of his most prized items. I am glad that I had a small part in helping him to realize his vision for it because now when he holds it in the future he will have those memories of me guiding and encouraging him too.

  46. If you have to provide photographic evidence like your going on trial that your son helped, it’s kind of a indication of what the quite obvious problem is. In my generation, dad ran the block through the saw and the child put the wheels on, applied the weights, and painted it. Now, dad does almost (if not all) the work while dad pauses a few times and takes some pics of his son holding it like he’s actually doing something.

    Plenty of “how to” tutorials on how to make a fast car that involve some pretty intensive labor and I can assure you almost all kids cannot do. Keep in mind that does not even count the dads that buy the pre-made cars.

    The original point of pinewood derby died a long time ago. There’s a lot of tension and negativity in a room after a race.

  47. I think the problem with the derby is that a child can do 1% of the work, but technically it was a shared project. Any son can bond with their parent over a car that the parent did the majority of the work. My son’s car was not great, but he did pretty much all of the work under my supervision (I only helped him put the axles in because he had trouble doing it himself).

    To avoid any semantics arguments, the cars should be built by the kids with adult supervision only (i.e. parents are as hands off as possible). I guarantee most cars will look imperfect and will race that way, but that’s how you remove a lot of the controversy/doubt.

    At my pack derby, there were some dads with their tools, drilling, sanding, and adjusting cars while their kids were off playing. After looking at some of the cars, it was pretty obvious which dads had spent almost all of the time building it. Guess which cars performed the best? All of the first year scouts finished last with cars that were really basic and looked like the parents has minimal involvement. Parents seems to catch on that in order to win, they just have to “bond” more with their son next time….

    My son’s car was competitive, but was ultimately not fast enough to win and he was a little disappointed. I get it, parents want to win and they want to share that with their sons, but at some point it becomes clear that winning is more important than the kids being able to work with their own hands and imagination and discover things for themselves.

    After the derby, I explained that he should be proud that he did the work himself and that if he wants to learn and do better next year, he needs to analyze and ask questions about what to do differently or better. If it turns out that he really isn’t that enthusiastic about winning the derby, I’m not going to compensate with my competitiveness because I did/do want to win.

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