Open for Debate: Who really made that Pinewood Derby car?

There’s something fishy about Hunter’s Pinewood Derby car.

The paint job is a little too professional, the edges a little too perfect. While other cars wobble down the track, this thing’s a rocket every time.

And for some reason, when Hunter picks up his first-place trophy, Mom and Dad seem more excited to hold it than he does.

My verdict? It looks like a classic case of “Mom and Dad did all the work.”

This phenomenon, already prevalent in science fairs, often rears its ugly head in Cub Scouting’s friendly competition, the Pinewood Derby.

Like all Cub Scout activities, the Pinewood Derby is meant to encourage a bond between a boy and his parent/guardian. The two should work together to build a car that looks cool and goes fast. All that while still keeping the focus on fun and growth — this is, after all, Scouting.

That’s the vision. But is it reality?

I asked our Facebook friends, now numbering nearly 15,000, to tell me how it works in their packs. Is too little boy involvement an actual problem? If so, how do you ensure that car-building is a shared experience? Here are a few of my favorite responses:

Yes, it’s a problem

In Stephen K.‘s pack, “there are some Scouts who do not see their car until race time.”

Ken D. said he “actually had a Scout who couldn’t tell me which car was his to take home after the Derby! I think as a boy goes through Cubs, the car should look worse each year as the youth does more and more of the work himself.”

How can you tell who made it?

“There seems to be a strong correlation between who built the car, a parent or the Cub Scout, depending on who was carrying the car into the Pinewood Derby area,” says Carl B.

“Carl, I do a lot of the check-ins, and if an adult comes up to the table carrying a youth’s car, that’s a big red flag. I tell the adult to give the car to the youth, and then I deal with the youth,” adds Pinewood DerbyDen.

What about those super-competitive parents?

Like many packs, Jose B.‘s unit chose to “have a Dads divisions so the dads can make their own Pinewood Derby car. It helped a little, but it didn’t fully keep other dads from doing their son’s car.”

“We started a Pinewood Derby for the parents as a fundraiser,” says Maureen H. “We charged $5 per adult entry. This way a parent could make a car and race it. It was a big hit! We used the proceeds to do fun things for the kids so it was a win/win situation!”

“I think if the youth wants to make their own car with adult supervision that is best,” adds Sue A. “But I also do agree that having both Mom and Dad participate in the races with their own cars also will show the parents that we need and appreciate them. Remember these parents are the future of Scouting leadership. Keep them coming and helping out.”

How to strike the perfect parent-son balance

Getting a trophy at the Pinewood Derby surely feels better when a boy has put his own time and energy into the car.

“We actually have a Pinewood Derby car-building day in our pack so that dads and boys who are new to it can get some pointers,” says Angelina C.

Jimmy W. writes: “The way my dad and I did it was I would pick a design, and he’d be the one to use the band saw and other power tools too dangerous for an 8-year-old. Then I’d get to sand, attach weights and wheels, etc. I’m proud to say I worked hard on my cars and so did my younger brother. [Actually], maybe he worked harder than me because he ended up winning back-to-back pack championships.”

Here’s how Damon E. thinks it should be broken down: “Tigers do about 20 percent of the work, 40 percent for Wolves, 60 percent Bears, 80 percent Webelos, and by the time they’re a fifth-grade Webelos, the Scout is doing almost 100 percent of the work with just a safe guiding hand of a parent or adult.”

“Our pack treats the Pinewood Derby as a family event,” says Bill H. “We encourage the use of parent-son time in the planning and building of the car to develop stronger family relationships.”

“Cars are graded on a scale of 1-10 in four categories: Originality, Craftsmanship, Finish, and Boy-Made. If a car gets high scores in Craftsmanship because it’s dad-made, it will score very low in Boy-Made. In the end the dad-made cars don’t average out with good scores and Scout-made cars get the win,” says Jennifer R.

“Our Pack has an award for the ‘Car Most Likely Made by a Parent,'” says Sharon B. “No one wants that one.”

A final thought

Let’s finish with these words of wisdom from Mark H.: “Building a Pinewood Derby car can be tricky; it’s often beyond the skills of a 7- to 10-year-old boy. Parent involvement is necessary. We encourage parents to allow their son to do as much of the work as he is capable of, and help only when necessary. It’s impossible to enforce this, so we tell them the rules and remind them that a Scout is Trustworthy. We also emphasize that the Derby is not about winning, it’s about the parents and Scouts working together on the project, learning sportsmanship and learning respect for one another.”

What’s next?

  • Learn how to host your own Pinewood Derby workshop by reading this recent Scouting magazine article.
  • Find dozens more great comments on this subject by clicking here to visit the original Facebook post.
  • Chime in: How does your pack encourage the right parent-son balance at Pinewood Derby time? Leave a thought below.

Opening photo from Flickr user woodleywonderworks; smaller photo from Flickr user PDub.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.