Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
PINEWOOD DERBY MEMORY
Pining Over the Derby
By Stacey Parkin
Call me paranoid, but I sometimes suspect that the Boy Scouts of
America was formed as a means to relieve parents of their grip on
sanity. Don't get me wrong, I think there are many positive attributes
to the scouting program, and just as soon as I come up with some, I'll
be sure to list them.
In the meantime, I feel compelled to discuss what I believe is a
subversive attack on harmonious family relationships. This attack is
sly, and innocuous in appearance, yet remarkably effective. One event
in particular often turns normally peaceful and sane parents into
competitive raving maniacs. I speak of course, of the Pinewood Derby.
For the uninitiated, the Pinewood Derby is an event that features
races with small wooden cars. The scouts and their parents are given a
block of wood, a set of wheels and a hearty "Good luck!" before the
scout leader beats a hasty retreat, not to be seen again until the
evening of the race. His disappearance helps facilitate the plot
against parents by depriving them of anyone who can answer questions.
Some people have asked why we must put our sons and ourselves through
this experience. The answer is simple: the Pinewood Derby aids in the
development of our young men, so that one day when they go out into
the world and decide, for whatever reason, to make cars out of blocks
of wood, they'll be prepared.
Once the scout has received his kit, these rudimentary wood and
plastic elements are supposed to be transformed, somehow, into a
sleek, swift race car. While some debate the best method for creating
these cars, I have found that what works well, for me anyway, is to
hide and let Mike deal with it. Last year, when we had our first
experience with the Pinewood Derby, I was innocent and naive. I wasn't
aware that the best way to handle the situation is fleeing the
country.I still remember the look on Mike's face when I handed him the
kit our son's den leader had dropped off earlier. He narrowed his eyes
and looked at it suspiciously. "What is this?"
"It's for the Pinewood Derby! You did this when you were a kid, didn't
you?" Mike looked at me blankly. "You know, you build a little car,
then you race it against other little cars?" He still looked
bewildered. "Okay, we can look it up on the Internet, and you can call
my dad. He can help you."
I have fond memories of the Pinewood Derby. I have three brothers who
were all Boy Scouts. My father was something of an expert on cars in
addition to being very artistically inclined. Each year, he produced
beautifully crafted Derby cars. I was never permitted to actually
handle these little works of art and neither were my brothers. In
retrospect, I realize that preventing my brothers from helping with
these projects probably defeated the purpose.
Making a car for the Pinewood Derby has the potential for being a
great opportunity for parents and their children to spend time working
together on a project. This was not the case at our house, however.
The car was Dad's project. The only responsibility my brothers were
allowed to assume was harassing Dad and sneaking into his shop to play
with the cars when Dad wasn't looking.
After spending a great deal of time doing research by looking on the
Internet and speaking to every scouting father he knew, Michael then
interviewed my father, gleaning advice to help make this rite of
passage as successful as possible. He returned home from work the next
day informed and ready to begin.
"I've got it all planned. I know how to build the fastest and best
looking car ever!" While Michael explained the importance of weight
placement and the best way to carve the car, I indulged in fantasies
of the happy bonding time my husband and our son would enjoy. I
imagined them working in the garage, smiling at each other and having
deep, meaningful conversations. I know I certainly enjoyed the peace.
At least, it was peaceful until they came in the house and shattered
my Norman Rockwell-like visions of father and son working together to
craft a handmade toy.
After my little son stomped up the stairs and slammed his bedroom
door, Michael emitted a sound that registered somewhere between a
frustrated sigh and an infuriated howl. Approaching carefully, I put
my arms around him and asked, "That bad, huh?" Mike sighed again and
sat down wearily. He folded his arms across his chest, tipped his head
back and closed his eyes.
"I think we should withdraw our son from Boy Scouts." I moved behind
him and rubbed his shoulders.
"Oh, come on. It can't be that bad."
"Can't it? You wouldn't believe what he wants to do to that car! He
wants to carve it himself, and he doesn't care when I tell him where
we need to place the weights so it will go faster. Don't even get me
started on his thoughts about aerodynamics."
"He knows what aerodynamics are?"
"Of course not, but I do, and he won't listen." I thought for a moment
about how to impart my thoughts tactfully.
"Honey? You do realize this is our son's project, right? I mean you
need to supervise and advise but ultimately, this is about him."
"Yeah, I know. I just don't want to show up with a stupid looking
I reminded Michael that young boys were also creating the other cars,
so I was certain that the cars would all be equally stupid looking. I
realize now that this was the foolishness of inexperience talking. In
addition to Michael's competitive nature, there was another problem.
Mike is a perfectionist. Anything he produces or oversees must not
only be better than anything else, it must be flawless. Our son, on
the other hand, isn't terribly concerned about perfection. Like many
boys his age, he didn't really care what the car looked like, he just
wanted the wheels attached so he could play with it.
The next evening, the second battle of the Pinewood Derby car took
place. Hoping to prevent another scene, I gave Mike a pep talk before
he headed out to the garage. "Remember, this is about having quality
time with your son. You can either create memories of working together
that he'll think of fondly, or let him make memories of being told to
sit still while his dad built this car without him. Just remember,
it's his car, not yours." Mike saluted me comically.
"Yes ma'am! I'll do my best!"
It wasn't long before my son came storming into the house in tears,
complaining about bossy, overbearing parents. I went in search of my
husband and found him in the garage muttering to himself. I could see
he was agitated about something, but I interrupted anyway. "Problem?"
"He wants to paint it orange!"
"I see. So do we send him to military school now or should we try
counseling first?" He eyed me in disgust.
"Orange isn't a cool color. It's going to look ridiculous."
"Michael, it's HIS car. If he wants to paint it orange with pink polka
dots, that's his choice." Mike looked at me in horror.
"Pink? How can you even suggest such a thing? We'd be the laughing
stock of the neighborhood!" Despite the drama, on the appointed
evening, we arrived with a completed car. Michael and our son had
compromised by painting the car red, with orange flames on the sides.
I was genuinely surprised by the professional appearance of the other
cars. Some even had little drivers with determined-looking faces
painted on them. One had a license plate that read, "Eat Dust."
All of the contestants spent a great deal of time before the race
applying graphite to the wheels of the cars to ensure higher speeds,
and doing practice runs on the track while Michael and the other
fathers griped about how the cars shouldn't be played with before the
race. I listened absently to Mike's complaining while I contemplated
whether or not to tell him that rubbing his eyes and nose with his
graphite covered fingers had left him with a really cool raccoon-like
quality. (I decided against it when I thought about the photo-op that
would occur after the race. I'm thoughtful like that.)
The races began, and I watched as my son cheered for his car. Michael
was deeply engaged in conversation with the other fathers, speculating
about the importance of weight placement. This only made things worse
for Michael. He returned to my side uptight and concerned. "Now what?"
I asked, even though I really didn't want to know.
"Well, now I'm wondering if we should have placed the weights further
back. Or maybe further forward. I don't know anymore."
"Michael, either relax and enjoy the evening or I'm sending you home,
"Sure, that's easy for you to say, you don't have a car in the race."
"No. No I don't. But I'd like to remind you that you don't either. Our
son has a car in the race, and it might be nice if we focused on him,
don't you think?" Michael had the decency to look a bit chagrined.
Our son's car performed reasonably well. It didn't win, but it wasn't
last either. The important thing, in my opinion, was that our little
boy, despite his disappointment, was able to congratulate the winners.
He had a wonderful time, and in my ignorance, I thought that was the
point. Michael and I congratulated our son on his car's performance
and more importantly on his good sportsmanship, then we watched as he
returned to the racetrack where the other boys continued racing just
for fun.Michael waited until his son was out of earshot. "Is it really
wrong that I wanted my car to win?" he asked. I refrained from rolling
my eyes. Okay, I waited until he couldn't see me, and then I rolled my
eyes. As I gave him a hug and tried to offer comfort, I glanced over
his shoulder to see several wives also comforting their husbands. One
wife was tugging her husband out into the hall to quiet his ranting
and sputtering about an unfair start.
It was oddly comforting to realize that my husband wasn't the only man
struggling with the loss. I couldn't help overhearing one father
comment angrily, "The only reason that boy won is because his father
did all the work for him."
"You mean the way you did all the work on your son's car?" his wife
replied. I decided to make my escape before I burst out laughing.
Over the past year, which I considered an ample mourning period, I
thought Michael had recovered from his disappointment. I had hoped
that he might actually feel a little silly about how emotionally
involved he had become in the Pinewood Derby. Alas, my hopes were
dashed at the last Boy Scout meeting, when the scout leader passed out
seemingly harmless little boxes containing kits for making small wind-
driven boats. "Don't forget" she chirped, "This month is the
I looked about the room and saw determined looks on the faces of the
fathers in the room. I also noted the equally resigned looks on the
faces of the mothers. A year ago, I was new and naive. This year I am
an experienced mother of a Boy Scout. More important, I'm the wife of
a Boy Scout's father. I know exactly what to expect and how to handle
That is why I'm headed to an undisclosed location just as soon as I'm
packed. It's not that I don't plan to help, though. Before I leave,
I'm going to christen the boat. In tiny letters, I shall paint the
name "Titanic" on the little hull. I'm hoping it will help Michael set
his expectations at a realistic level. If nothing else, it might make
the other moms laugh. If there are any mothers present, that is. I've
extended an open invitation to all the moms to join me in my getaway.