We conducted the 2021 Pinewood Derby on Saturday, 6 March at Steppingstone Museum, located within Susquehanna State Park. We reserved the studio for our event which is located at the North West corner of the parking lot. The event was scheduled to run from 10:00 – 12:30 with specific times allocated to each den and the outlaw race. The indoor room at the Studio is 32′ wide along the front wall and 29′ deep. It is equipped with folding tables and chairs, a single stall restroom, a sink, a television, and a large garage door.
Scouts were required to complete their cars and turn them in for impound by Tuesday, 2 March 2021. Race officials checked the weight of each car and added weight as required to ensure each car was as close to 5oz as possible. Scout cars that were submitted with a weight between 4.95 and 5.05 were accepted as is. Scout cars that exceeded 5.05oz were required to be modified to reduce the weight (e.g. grinding additional material from the bottom of car). Once the cars were checked in at weight, they were photographed so they could be added to the online voting website. Not all scouts added graphite to their car before impound so on the morning of the race a race official carefully applied graphite to every scout car.
- Establish clear written rules for impound process
- Greater delegation of derby tasks to improve race efficiency
- Establish derby committee to manage event and results reporting
- Individual car drop off for impound
- Require scouts and adult partners to manage car weight
- Require scouts and adult partners to manage graphite
- Provide workshop opportunities to help scouts build cars
- Emphasize the team mentality for pack competition
- Numerous opportunities for both performance and voting awards
- Online voting was a huge time saver
- Scout photos at derby
Our typical process for the derby usually starts in December when we hand out the pinewood derby kits to each of our scouts before they go off to winter break. Next, we usually conduct one to two build events in January where we gather numerous supplies, tools, and helpful adults to assist scouts build their cars. Historically we perform the build events at our chartered organization and have had as many as half of our scouts attend to get some assistance with their cars. Once the cars are built, we prepare for the racing by scheduling the equivalent of two different pinewood derby race events. The first pinewood derby event is the preliminary race where each scout in a den races against only those other scouts in his or her den. This gives the scouts an opportunity to compete within their own den for the top places in the den but also allows us to seed the cars for the main race. The second event on our main race day is the pack competition where one scout from each den competes against a scout from every other den in a seeded race. This creates a more balanced competition because the number one seeded cars in each den are only racing against the fastest cars in each other den. Likewise, the slowest cars in each den are only racing against similarly seeded cars. Since all of the scouts are usually present for the duration of the main event, we have also supplemented this event with craft stations (e.g. pinewood derby neckerchief slides), pinewood derby themed snacks and desserts, and a voting station where scouts get to vote for their favorite cars in about a dozen different categories.
This year, our leadership began discussing several courses of action for holding our derby at our December leaders meeting. We ultimately decided on holding the derby in person by limiting the size of the groups in attendance at each time slot. Each group was allocated a time window of 10 to 30 minutes depending on the number of cars racing per den. We had a skeleton crew of 5 adults that setup the track ahead of time in about 1 hour. Our race window started about 1o minutes later than we projected but once we got going we were able to maintain our schedule and finish within 10 minutes of the projected start time. Another consideration we made to further save time was to combine the small group of sibling cars into their sibling’s den race so we could eliminate a whole group for racing. The sibling times were captured and compared following all racing. Finally, we did not want to double the amount of time required to complete the event so we did not execute our traditional pack competition with seeded cars from each den racing against each other. Rather, we used the race times from each car during the den races to rank order the cars in each den and compared the would be seed times to award points to each den.
One of the big reoccurring events that cub scouts look forward to each year is the pinewood derby. Like most of everything else we have done in 2020-2021, we were unable to approach this race with the same tried and true process that our pack has done for years. Pack 802 has a long history of treating the pinewood derby more like a team sport than an individual competition by placing an emphasis on the competition between the dens rather than just each scout for his/her self. Scouts have numerous opportunities to receive individual awards for performance and voting results but the race is not exclusively promoting individual performance. This promotes the idea of teamwork as scouts cheer on their den mates cars in addition to their own with the hope of being crowned top den on our large pack trophy.
Overall the event was very successful and the scouts and parents were glad that we were able to meet in person rather than doing another virtual activity. Even though I consider the event successful, I believe there is room for improvement. Firstly, it was a challenge to help scouts that required assistance without holding a dedicated build event. We were able to help everyone that needed it but we would have been better served by scheduling a couple blocks of time for people to get help rather than proving 1 on 1 help to those that needed it. Additionally, we could have improved the impound process by requiring all cars be dropped off within a specific window. Normally when cars are checked in for the race in a typical year, scouts and parents have the opportunity to add or subtract weight from their cars until they reach 5oz on the scale. This year some of the cars that were dropped off weighed in perfectly between 4.95-5.05 oz but others were drastically under weight. To provide a more equal playing field for each scout I carefully added weight to each car that needed it to bring it within 0.05 of the 5oz limit. While I believe this made the race more fair for all, I recommend that scouts and their adult partners come prepared to modify their own car to make weight at check in for future derbies. Finally, I recommend that we establish a derby committee prior to the event in order to better delegate some of the responsibilities for running the race.
The COVID pandemic has made it more challenging to conduct our scouting activities than in prior years but thanks to the help of our leadership we were able to pull off a fun and exciting event for our scouts. Some of the format changes we incorporated because of COVID including the online voting were successful and will likely continue to be a part of our derbies in the future. Hopefully we can return to our traditional race format for the pack competition in 2022.
Have any feedback from this event? Feel free to add your comments below!