At this military base’s Pinewood Derby garage, they’re making more than cars

Guest post by Sgt. David N. Beckstrom, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Reprinted with permission

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – The smell of sawdust wafts through the air. Power tools whine.

It’s mid-February, and inside the Scout Hut on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the boys and parents of Pack 462 are preparing for the annual Pinewood Derby in late March.

The Pinewood Derby, a Cub Scouting tradition dating back to the 1950s, invites boys to build gravity-powered drag racers. With the help of mom or dad, the Cub Scouts build cars from kits that include a pinewood block, four plastic wheels and four small nails to be used as axles.

The first step in building a car is to carve and shape that wood block, but some adults don’t have the proper tools to facilitate this transformation from plain wood into a highly stylized, aerodynamic racing machine.

That’s where Pack 462 steps up. At the pack’s two Pinewood Derby garages, Cub Scouts and their families gather at the Scout Hut and create their vehicles.

“These garages help build bonds between the Scouts and their families,” said Pack 462’s Assistant Cubmaster Sean Fitzgibbon. “As the Scouts work with their parents to come up with designs and mold cars, we see their faces light up.”

Labor of love

The leaders of Pack 462 have donated their time, tools and equipment to give the boys and their families an opportunity they otherwise might not have.

The result: Cub Scouts have more fun and build better cars. And the parents? They benefit as well.

“I am not mechanically inclined, so his derby cars may have suffered from my ineptitude in the past,” Fitzgibbon said. “But I was able to learn new tips and tricks to create the car better this year.”

While some Cub Scouts show up because they don’t have access to power tools, others are there for the camaraderie. Like Cub Scout Richard S.

“Even though my dad has the tools I needed to build my car, I wanted to come to the garage and build my car with my friends,” he said. “I traced the design I wanted and had help cutting it out so I could sand and paint it.”

Growing up fast

The Pinewood Derby car-making process allows Cub Scouts to use hand tools but not power tools. As the Cub Scouts get older, they get more control over making the car.

“Scouting really helps the boys mature. They start with parent participation and gradually move on to fully independent, hands-on work,” Fitzgibbon said. “Scouting assists boys along the path to adulthood by gradually adding responsibility and more advanced skills.”

Richard, the Cub Scout, says Scouting has offered father-son opportunities he couldn’t get elsewhere.

“I have gone camping with my family and worked on science projects with my dad because of Cub Scouts,” he said. “Every time we do a Scouting event, my dad and I have a lot of fun together.”


  1. Perhaps not pertinent to Pinewood Derby, but I got to attend the 2001 National Jamboree with my son. A very special father-son experience.

  2. Thanks Pack 462 for sharing your talents. Now of the three pictures, it is an Adult working on the car. The looks on the boys in pic #1 is disheartening. Pic #2 says a lot. If we want to teach our youth to learn we must place the tools in their hands. A Coping Saw is a wonderful tool for young hands. Our hands placed on theirs can help guide them. No power tools are needed, simple inexpensive hand tools and some sandpaper can be used to transform a block of wood into a dream derby car can be had for under $25 and will last a lifetime. Remember, what a tiger scout visualizes his completed car to be can be far different than what is and can he will be excited about it, yet an adult will try their hardest to make it exactly as they visualized it. Think back to your own learning process’, we build on what we are able to do with our current abilities. What message I we trying to achieve with this activity? And don’t forget to cheer on the slowest cars.

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