We are new to the world of cub scouts with Hunter starting last fall and last week we had his first pinewood derby. For those not in the scouting world – pinewood derby cars are a big deal and people take it far too seriously in my opinion. They gave us a kit weeks in advance so we could start work. I first tried pushing the project on Steve. It would be great father/son time, right?
Hunter was interested in the project, but it wasn’t something he kept pushing to work on. We had a talk with him early on – chances of us building a first time car that won was slim, so we might as well make it look cool. He wanted it to look cool and be fast. He was bound for disappointment.
He started sketching ideas and narrowed it down to one idea – he wanted the car to look like a fish skeletal. After seeing the sketch of intricate cutting, the project shifted back to me because of my mad power tool skills.
We worked side by side. I did the hard cutting. He sanded forever and painted it up real nice. He went to school with his car looking great. I had to drill some holes in it and wouldn’t you know it, just three hours before his car had to be turned in, I broke the thing in three pieces. It was so far past gluing back together because I couldn’t even find one of the pieces out in the grass.
I was sick. I just ruined his first car after he spent so much time working on it. I sent Steve to pick up a new kit at the scout store and then we both looked at the wedge shaped piece of wood and wondered what we were going to do to get it ready in time. There was no way I could cut it out and get it painted again. Hunter was at a friends house after school and I called to break the bad news. His response was quiet, “Why would you break my car?” As if I did it on purpose.
We did the only thing we could think of. We went from trying to build the fastest car. To the coolest car. And then we shifted to the most valuable car: We wrapped it with money. No painting required. Necessity is the mother of invention.
He was happy with it, that’s all that mattered.
The next morning we showed up to the races realizing just how novice we were in the field of Pinewood derbies. Some of these cars were clearly made by experts and were in a different league all together.
The set up of the races had you racing every car at least once, which meant every car would go down the track at least 21 times. Hunter’s car started out a little rocky. His wheels weren’t balanced well and he wiggled down the track. He lost several in a row and I could see him across the gym a little down. I walked over to talk with him and we made some adjustments to the wheels – just enough to help him win a couple races out of his 21.
As I was talking with him, a friend was talking with her son whose car wasn’t doing well at all. She explained he had created the car all by himself with out help from anyone, he was really proud of it. I watched it race down the track several rounds, crossing the finish line last every single time. I could see his hurt and discouragement and yet his car didn’t stand a chance to the semi-professional cars he was up against.
After a short racing intermission, the cars were called back to the track and this boy’s number was called. He didn’t move from his seat. He had lost 12 consecutive races, he didn’t need another race to remind him he was in last place. His mom tried convincing him to get up but he refused and then tears started to roll down his cheeks. It was breaking my heart to see his struggle and without notice, tears rolled down my cheeks too as I talked with his mom. There had to be something we could do – Steve leapt into action and found another car he could race against and win – but it was too late. I caught his mother just as they were walking out and her son was already in the car. He was done.
I walked back in deflated. I’m okay with kids experiencing disappointment – that’s life. But for some reason, in this circumstance – it was far more than disappointment. It was disappointment wrapped with embarrassment, hurt and loneliness. Nothing you’d want your kid to experience. Hunter played football and lost every single game and yet that disappointment pales in comparison to the boy at the race that day.
The pinewood derby was not a race for the boys – it became about who’s dad could make the best car or who had the best connections to have one built or how to cheat without getting caught (evidently the first place winner was disqualified later for illegal wheels or something like that!). If it was really for the boys – they would let the boys create the cars by themselves at an activity and then race them – no need to get the parents involved in the creation of them. The more I thought about the activity, the more frustrated I became. I’m sure part of my frustration was realizing how many of these races are in our future with four boys and I don’t ever want to go to another one. Bah hum bug, right?!
On a lighter note – we asked Hunter what his favorite part was. His response was simple. “Building my car.” He named it “George Franklin” after the George Washington and Benjamin Franklin that were prominently displayed on his car. He didn’t walk away winning many races but he won the “Most Expensive Design” and he was pretty happy about that.
As a Mom of three boys, I can relate to pinewood derby woes. My boys make their cars with almost no help. My husband insists that they do this. They almost never win and it is difficult to watch. Especially when you can plainly see that other Dad’s have made the entire car. It is a race for the Dad’s and not for the boys. I really don’t care for the derby.
I’m so glad to hear of other parents having the kids do it themselves. I think the whole program needs an overhaul!
I had the same experience in CT with the Pinewood Derby. It is all about parents making designs to win and not the kids. Very unfair and depressing for kids who follow the rules and make their own cars.
Who knew there are graphite products and “after market” add-on kits?
I love the drawings/concepts and the fish bone car. Great save with the money car!
It wasn’t until the afternoon of the derby that I even heard of the after-marker add-ons. People don’t use the wheels that come in the kit, they buy special wheels. WHAT!? It was eye opening for sure!
I think it is so sad that this event has been boycotted by little boys in adult bodies.
Could you perhaps get together with other like minded people and have an event for the true little boys where they design and make their own models. Adult supervision purely for safety not for helping. If a design requires power tools it needs refining.
I remember the thrill of designing and making (no adult help at all) a go cart from a wooden orange box, some offcuts of wood, string and pram wheels. Everything begged or scavenged from rubbish. Once made we’d race them until they broke or we got too bruised. 50 years later the bruises have long ago healed but I’m still designing and creating things from “rubbish” and the memories are fresh and good.
I really do think that all parents whose little boys attend these derby’s owe it to their children to teach them the original spirit behind this event. It’s not only about their childhood it’s about valuable lessons (learnt with fun) for their adulthood too.
I love your ideas! They do need to get back to the basics of the event and the whole reason it was started. Its time to change it up!
We are so lucky that we have a leader who loves it. Parents are really hands off and he does all the nit picky stuff, so all the kids are even. But he is good at letting the kids ideas shine.
I would that – and I’m sure the kids love it as well. Takes some of the pressure off us as parents!
i think the elder’s quorum need to have their own pinewood derby so they can show off all their skills there….then the scouts can have their own. the boys should be making the cars and doing most of the work!
Genius idea! It’s time for an overhaul of the derby.
Our first experience with the pinewood derby was horrible. My son’s car came in 30th out of 30th place. He was devastated and embarrassed. We felt so bad for him. The following year, the pinewood derby company brought a ‘dummy’ car that raced with all of the cars. They called it the scout masters car, so none of the boys knew it was a dud. It made it so no boy came in last place. I told them how much I appreciated they did that. I didn’t want any boy to feel like my son did. We did improve from 30th place to 4th place the next year. We’ll see how this one goes.
The leaders had talked about doing a dud car and somehow the idea never made it to race day. It would’ve helped, I’m sure. But good job on some serious improvement for your son’s car – that’s great!