HUSAR: Cub Scouts' hearts flutter for the annual Pinewood Derby

Posted: Feb. 7, 2013 9:11 pm Updated: May. 2, 2013 10:15 pm

Whenever early February rolls around, many men and women can be spotted in local stores scrambling to find that "perfect something" for a special date later in the month.

No, silly. We're not talking about Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

We're talking, of course, about the Pinewood Derby -- another February event dear to the hearts of Cub Scouts across America.

As every Scouting family knows, the Pinewood Derby is the Pack's biggest and most glamorous event of the year.

It's where little Cubs -- with some generous assistance from moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grandparents and even neighbors -- take a seven-inch block of wood (pine, naturally) and transform it into a nifty race car.

The Scouts then gather on Derby Day to compete in a series of heats to see whose cars cross the finish line first after rolling down a long, sloping track, powered by nothing but gravity.

The race itself begins and ends in a breathless flash. But it's the building of the cars that really gives this race its luster.

Pinewood Derby veterans -- old hands at crafting these contraptions -- say it's no big deal to help a kid knock out a cool car that meets all the qualifications.

But for newcomers embarking on this journey for the first time, getting ready for Pinewood Derby can be somewhat daunting.

For one thing, you have to come up with an original design for a race car -- a skill that doesn't come naturally to everyone.

Oh sure, a person without much imagination could simply slap some wheels on the bare block of pine and launch it down the track. But that would be tantamount to entering a metal box in the Indianapolis 500. From both a style and aerodynamic perspective, that just won't cut it.

So you have to be at least a little creative.

As a helpful guide, the Internet is bursting with pictures of cars entered into past Pinewood Derbies. Some of the more elaborate examples popping up in a Google search include vehicles resembling the Titanic, toothy sharks, Superman, guitars, a canoe, Hershey bars, Spongebob Squarepants, a slice of watermelon, a tiger, a box of crayons, a banana, a block of Swiss cheese driven by a mouse, a wolf's head, a hotdog on a bun, a remote control, two fried eggs and even a cooked chicken leg.

However, the vast majority of cars entered in derbies feature far simpler designs that, more or less, look something like a standard race car.

In addition to deciding on a basic design, you also have to learn the Pinewood Derby rules, which are very precise. And the most important rule is that a completed car must weigh no more than 5 ounces.

At first blush, the weight rule seems to be no big deal. However, Pinewood veterans are quick to point out that heavier cars tend to go faster than lighter cars. So if you're tempted to enter a 4-ounce car, be prepared to finish back in the pack.

The trick is to add some extra weight, or take off some surplus weight, to get the car as near to 5 ounces as possible.

That's why so many parents and grandparents have been out scrounging through hobby stores, looking for all the little accoutrements needed to get their Scouts' cars suitably sawed, sanded, painted, tattooed, decorated and weighted down, with every step in the process designed to hit that golden 5-ounce mark.

By the time the Pinewood Derby actually takes place, the parents are exhausted while the Scouts are ready to have some fun.

Then everyone gets to start the process all over again next year.



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