Cub Scouts test craftmanship
The Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby was held at the Maxwell Elementary Middle School Jan. 28. (Courtesy photo)
Cub Scouts test craftmanship

by Christopher Kratzer
Air university Public Affairs

2/3/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Maxwell Elementary Middle School hosted the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby race last weekend. Thirty-nine racers competed against one another for the first place prize at the event Saturday, according to Master Sgt. Marshall Brown, the pack leader for Maxwell Boy Scout Troop 23.

Each scout designs a car from a block of pinewood that must meet stringent regulations regarding width, depth and weight limit. If a scout's car meets the requirements, he is issued a "drivers license" and allowed to race. The races are randomized by computer, and winning is based on best overall time.

The event isn't all about winning races, said Brown.

"Cars were also judged in a variety of categories, such as most artistic, best off-road design, most patriotic and best color, to name a few. There were 27 categories this year, judged by a very qualified panel," Brown said, which included Ross Diggs, an Eagle Scout from Troop 23, Melissa Hayes, the principal of Maxwell Elementary and Col. Brian Killough, 42nd Air Base Wing commander.

The cars don't come ready to roll out of the box. Each scout has to work to bring that block of wood up to top racing form.

"I've seen several techniques for bringing the Scouts' ideas onto the wood," said Brown. "A lot of scouts take advantage of the base woodworking shop to have their rough cut quickly and easily completed. Others ask an adult to whittle the design by hand. Then the scouts are put to work sanding and painting their cars to perfection. Just add wheels and some graphite dust, and they're ready to zip down the track."

Even though these cars may look fast, there's definitely strategy involved in making them fast. Over the years, Brown has seen a pattern in the cars that do well in the races.

"I've seen several great cars in my seven years as a pack leader. The scouts have so much creativity and there's no limit to the concept," Brown said. "As for what seems to be the best design for speed, I'd say it's between a very flat car and a thin, round car. Races are typically won or lost by one-hundredths and sometimes even one-thousandths of a second. It's amazing how much aerodynamics and friction affect five ounces over a three-second span.

The event is also a great learning opportunity for the scouts. They get the opportunity to build something which in turn helps build them into future model citizens, said Brown.

"In building their cars, they learn craftsmanship. They get to see what goes into turning a block of wood, four nails and four plastic wheels into their own custom design of a pinewood derby car," he said. "The scouts also learn what it means to be a good sport. Win or lose, it's the fun of it that is most important."

The Pinewood Derby has a long history in the Cub Scouts, according to Boy Scouts of America Museum website.

In 1953, Cubmaster Don Murphy was looking for an activity in which his 10-year-old son could participate after being told he was too young to participate in the popular soap box derby.

"Remembering the cars and airplanes he used to carve as a child, he decided his Cub Scouts could work with their fathers and carve their own race cars," the website stated. "He felt this would foster a closer father-son relationship and good sportsmanship through competition."

As a pack leader, Brown benefits from the Derby. "The opportunity to work with these young minds is a benefit of its own," he said.

"No pack leader is in a paid position. All of us are volunteers. My reward comes from the fun and the smiles I see when a boy succeeds," Brown said.

"This is, in fact, my last year as a cub master, as my twins will be crossing over to Boy Scouts. I would like to take this opportunity to say to all the boys I've had a chance to lead, 'Thank you for the memories! I hope all of you will fly with the Eagles.'"