Cub Scouts, Start Your Engines!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Don McKinny from Chapel Hill hits the “go” button at the Cub Scouts’ Pinewood Derby to launch the hand-made cars.
Photos submitted

By Jeffery Payne

Special to the Tribune

Gravity was the engine powering the race cars down the sloped four-lane aluminum track at one of Pack 352’s most anticipated annual events, the Pinewood Derby.

Lion Den

On January 28, Scouts and their families gathered at Chapel Hill Church of Christ for an exciting day of racing their hand-made cars.

In the weeks leading up to the Derby, Scouts worked with their parents and volunteer Pack Leaders to build their own customized racers. Scouts started with a block of pine wood, four nails, and four plastic wheels to craft sleek racing machines in a dizzying array of shapes and paintjobs.

On race day, Scouts eagerly loaded their cars into the track’s mechanical start gate, then sprinted to the finish line to watch their cars come blazing down the track. At the finish line, a digital LED track timer displayed finishing times to within a thousandth of second. A computer flashed the results on a big screen and converted the speeds of these 7-inch-long racers to their real-world counterparts. Top speeds often approached a blistering 200 m.p.h.

Tiger Den

But, the Pinewood Derby wasn’t always this high-tech. It all started back in 1953 when Don Murphy, Cubmaster for Pack 280C in Manhattan Beach, California, held the very first Pinewood Derby. Murphy’s Cub Scouts were too young to participate in the annual Soap Box Derby with the older Boy Scouts, so he came up with the idea of racing miniature wooden cars. The cars had the same gravity-powered concept as the full-size Soap Box Derby cars, but were much smaller and easier to build.

Murphy’s idea was an instant success with Packs in the area. The following year, Scouting’s official publication, “Boy’s Life Magazine,” published an article about California’s Pinewood Derby craze. The idea spread like wildfire and became a nationwide sensation. Soon, young Scouts all across the country were engaging in a fun crafting project with their parents and experiencing the thrill of competition on race day.

The original Pinewood Derby track was handmade by the Pack leaders. They used their skills in woodworking and electricity to craft a two-lane, 31-foot race track equipped with a finish gate that used repurposed doorbells and light bulbs to indicate the winner.

Wolf Den

Today, Cub Scouts enjoy the Pinewood Derby as much as they did back in Murphy’s day. While the tracks have become computerized technological marvels, the cars have remained decidedly old-fashioned. And that’s just the way it’s meant to be: a chance for a young boy to build something with his own two hands and cheer as it crosses the line.

Cub Scout Pack 352 would like to invite anyone interested in exciting events like this to attend any of their weekly meetings held every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Church of Christ. For more information, visit us online at and, or call Ronnie Headley, Pack Committee Chair, at (931)364-4647.

Bear Den
Webelos Den
Overall Pack Winners
Best Design Winners