Tuesday Talkback: 3 big questions to ask before your next pinewood derby

Tuesday-TalkbackEven the most finely tuned pinewood derby event needs an occasional tune-up.

So before your pack waves the green flag this year, ask yourself three questions to make sure your derby doesn’t have any red flags.

With each question, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below. After all, I don’t call it Tuesday Talkback for nothing.

Question 1: Who really made that pinewood derby car?

pinewood-derby-2In Cub Scouter 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!”

Not good. An 8-year-old boy shouldn’t carve and paint the car by himself, but neither should Mom or Dad. The point is to make it a fun, collaborative process that ends with a boy who takes ownership in his work.

Does a dad who built the car from start to finish get much joy out of seeing his son’s car take first place? He shouldn’t.

Carl B. says you can tell who did the majority of the work by seeing who carries the car to the check-in table. “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.”

So how do you strike the perfect parent-son balance?  Have a designated car-making workshop where parents and sons build the cars together and parents bring tools to share. I like Damon E.’s breakdown: “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.”

For more Scouter-tested ideas, read this blog post.

Question 2: What will Cub Scouts do when they’re not racing?

pinewood bassoLike a professional drag race, pinewood derby races feature lots of buildup and a few seconds of payoff.

So how do you keep your pinewood derby from, um, dragging?

Start by adding more activities for boys. Some ideas:

  • Create a tournament bracket that gives each Scout several races, even if he loses them all.
  • Invite Boy Scouts to lead skits, games or songs.
  • Offer a concession stand where Cub Scouts can get a snack between races.
  • Give Cub Scouts (and parents) specific, staggered arrival times to minimize waiting around.
  • Only give Cub Scouts their cars right before their race.
  • Offer secondary tracks for Cub Scouts to play with their cars after racing.

Those ideas and more come from this 10-year-old but still-relevant Scouting magazine article.

Question 3: Does your son’s car have a chance?

coke-car1There’s more to the pinewood derby than winning or losing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help your son create a car with a great shot at crossing the finish line first.

Or maybe your son’s more interested in winning his pack’s awards for Best Design or Most Creative.

The decision belongs with the boy. But whatever path he chooses — or maybe he wants the best of both worlds — you’re not in this game alone. Boys’ Life has plenty of inspiration for both the speed seekers and the design devotees. Find thousands of car photos and dozens of speed secrets at this link.

Your thoughts?

Share how you answer any or all of these questions in the comments section below. And happy racing season!

About Bryan Wendell 2780 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.