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SeattlePioneer

Pinewood Derby as a Cub Scout Activity --- Or is it an Adult Activity?

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It's hardly surprising that the only Hollywood Movie about Cub Scouts is about cheating and bad behavior in a Pinewood Derby.

 

In my view ADULTS create problems with Pinewood Derbies by making them too complex and too competitive --- to suit their own needs, not those of young boys.

 

The problem with Pinewood Derbies is USUALLY that of adult egos.

 

The way to a better Pinewood Derby is to make things simpler so that boys are in control of races and building their cars, and competition is low key and on a level that boys enjoy without high stakes winning and losing.

 

I've designed and been running that kind of Pinewood Derby for seven years, and it works very well, in my opinion.

 

I'll describe that in the days ahead.

 

 

But I invite other comments about Pinewood Derbies as a Cub Scout activity.

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I really do like the idea of getting the box the day of and spending a couple of hours working on the car then having the race. I have had no luck getting that to happen.

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From wikipedia...so much fail

 

The idea behind the pinewood derby is for the parent, usually the father, but occasionally the mother or grandparent, to spend time helping the child design, carve, paint, add weights, and tune the final car. However, it is often the case that the parent takes over the construction of the car, an aspect of the event that was lampooned in the 2005 film Down and Derby, and also in a 2009 episode of South Park. The quest for a fast car supports a cottage industry that supplies modified wheels, axles, and blocks as well as videos and instruction books. While a pinewood derby car kit costs around US$4, a set of modified wheels and axles can sell for more than ten times that amount. Each pack sets its own rules under the guidelines set forth by the BSA[10] and their particular local district. The aftermarket items are legal under some Pack rules since the parts originally came from an official Boy Scouts of America (BSA) kit. Complete cars can be purchased on eBay and elsewhere for around $100 to $200.[11] Although these cars violate the spirit of the event, if not the rules, enforcement can be difficult.

 

Model manufacturer Revell was licensed by the BSA to produce pinewood derby kits with a release in December 2009.[12]

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We created: 1) a Parent's Division; and 2) a panel of outsiders who decided, after looking at the car and talking to the Cub, if the car would race in the Cub Division or the parent's Division. There was some conflict but FAR less than before.

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I'm saddened that someone thought it was worth their time to do all that research and post it on Wikipedia. Sad. But it was interesting to read.

 

Back when I was still closely involved with PWD, we had the 'official' races for the boys and afterwards we had 'open' races for anyone who wanted to trot out their jalopy and give it a run. Those were almost as much fun because you could see the wheels turning in the heads of the boys who paid close attention to the fastest cars of all.

Of course about an hour after the derby was over, most of those boys had their attention distracted toward some other diversion.

 

Edited Part: You know, there is a pesky side of me that just realized that the Wikipedia article is a chance to have some fun. So the article is already there. But anyone can add to it. We should all flesh that thing out with our experiences about 'legality' and how we've addressed problems. I bet we could make that article into an extensive record for all to read and learn from. I'm going to give it a shot.

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The Pinewood Derby I designed while rebuilding a Cub Pack has endured now for seven years without much in the way of modification.

 

Boys arrive about 10 AM and register, receiving a PWD car kit and a colorful Pinewood Derby Driver's License.

 

Adults are invited to bring what hadn woodworking tools they have for use by any of the boys.

 

Parents are invited to supervise and assist their boys in building their car, and boys are welcome to seek assistance from any other adult while building their car. So the single mom with no woodworking tools or experience can draw on the tools and experience of other parents in helping her boy build his car.

 

Similarly, parents who have some expertise in polishing axles or whatever are invited and encourage to make that expertise available to any of the boys who are interested.

 

After an hour or so, boys are usually ready to start racing. They are free to pick any other boys they want to race against, and they put their cars on the race track. The winner of each racing heat receives a sticker they can put on their PWD Driver's license or on their car, if they prefer. The boys are welcome to race as many times as they wish.

 

At the peak of the races, we probably have 2-3 races PER MINUTE.

 

There is no effort to pick out the boy with the most stickers for special recognition. Each boy is encouraged to take satisfaction in the number of wins they have, whatever that number may be.

 

We do make an effort to identify boys who aren't winning at all. They may have some defect in the car that can be corrected or we can set them up to race against other boys with slow cars. And they can look forward to next year.

 

 

If the Webelos Den Leader wishes, he can have car building workshops before the PWD giving those older boys greater opportunity to design and build cars.

 

Racing usually goes on for another hour to hour and a half, and to stop the racing when boys are starting to get bored with the activity.

 

My idea of a good Cub Scout contest is one that uses boys natural competetiveness to spark their interest and enthusiasm, but not so competetive that it leads to much in the way of disappointment or unhappiness. With this event, boys get the opportunity to learn the joys of compettion. They have a lifetime to learn about the disappointments.

 

 

Sharper competition is fine for older boys --- perhaps Webelos age or older. But suffer the little children to be able to enjoy simple competition they do among themselves, just for the [pleasure of winning, losing and competing with their friends and buddies.

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The problem with Pinewood Derbies is USUALLY that of adult egos.

 

I agree with SeattlePioneer here.

 

Having been my pack's Pinewood Derby Chair, and having helped run our district derby for the past several years, I agree that most of the problems come from the adults. And I think part of the problem is that the cubs aren't really allowed to make the cars anymore.

 

Back when I was a cub scout, we actually made our own cars. I remember using the jig-saw and power sander to shape the car. Then I used a chisel to carve out the voids for the weights. I then spray painted it and added decals and some other bits for looks. The weights and paint I bought myself at the hardware store (went there on my bicycle), and the decals at the local hobby shop (again went there on my bicycle). My Dad was looking over my shoulder when I was using the tools and spray paint, and offering advice, but it was my project, I did it myself.

 

Of course today Cub scouts are barely allowed to even touch tools, let alone use them. Nor can they use spray paint (or little red wagons - must be 14*). And letting your 9 year old leave the house without adult escort can get you arrested. So the new model is the reverse of the old one - the parent makes the car with the cub scout looking on and occasionally helping. Since the adults are actually building the cars, we get more adult egos involved. And we wonder we have problems?

 

*See: http://www.scouting.org/filestore/healthsafety/pdf/680-028.pdf

 

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I agree with SeattlePioneer here.

 

Having been my pack's Pinewood Derby Chair, and having helped run our district derby for the past several years, I agree that most of the problems come from the adults. And I think part of the problem is that the cubs aren't really allowed to make the cars anymore.

 

Back when I was a cub scout, we actually made our own cars. I remember using the jig-saw and power sander to shape the car. Then I used a chisel to carve out the voids for the weights. I then spray painted it and added decals and some other bits for looks. The weights and paint I bought myself at the hardware store (went there on my bicycle), and the decals at the local hobby shop (again went there on my bicycle). My Dad was looking over my shoulder when I was using the tools and spray paint, and offering advice, but it was my project, I did it myself.

 

Of course today Cub scouts are barely allowed to even touch tools, let alone use them. Nor can they use spray paint (or little red wagons - must be 14*). And letting your 9 year old leave the house without adult escort can get you arrested. So the new model is the reverse of the old one - the parent makes the car with the cub scout looking on and occasionally helping. Since the adults are actually building the cars, we get more adult egos involved. And we wonder we have problems?

 

*See: http://www.scouting.org/filestore/healthsafety/pdf/680-028.pdf

 

Those rules have nothing to do with a boy building his car as they have no bearing in my garage,

 

 

 

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When my son became a Tiger (more than 15 years ago now) and Pinewood Derby time was approaching, it was immediately clear to me that my son's pack had gone way in the wrong direction. We were definitely one of those packs where the PD was more about the adults. The adults took it way too seriously, and I mean the winning aspect, not the fun and sportmanship aspect. The trophies were huge, and expensive. A couple of years later, a new CM and ACM (me) were on the scene, and we we agreed that things were out of control. We managed to gradually move things in a more reasonable direction. The trophies got smaller and fewer, and some of the mania over winning was reduced, but there was a lot of resistence from the remaining "old timers." I am not sure how things went after I left, and it's been more than 10 years since then.

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It's hardly surprising that the only Hollywood Movie about Cub Scouts is about cheating and bad behavior in a Pinewood Derby.

 

In my view ADULTS create problems with Pinewood Derbies by making them too complex and too competitive --- to suit their own needs, not those of young boys.

 

The problem with Pinewood Derbies is USUALLY that of adult egos.

 

The way to a better Pinewood Derby is to make things simpler so that boys are in control of races and building their cars, and competition is low key and on a level that boys enjoy without high stakes winning and losing.

 

I've designed and been running that kind of Pinewood Derby for seven years, and it works very well, in my opinion.

 

I'll describe that in the days ahead.

 

 

But I invite other comments about Pinewood Derbies as a Cub Scout activity.

 

Well, I viewed PWD as a cub scout activity with my sons. They always lost, but it was their own product.

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It’s not ego or pride, it’s the natural instinct of competing and it is part of most of us. We can either use this activity and other activities like it to prepare and teach our sons how to control their desires by practicing acts of discipline, or we can teach that competition is bad and make it a taboo. Human nature is very strong, we can either work with it or struggle against it.

 

I look at this cub activity as an opportunity for the family to work together. So when adults create rules intended to separate the parents from their son, it removes that opportunity. While it is true that competition can lead to adults behaving badly, it is also the opportunity for developing boys to practice the character trait of fairness. In fact this is the ideal age to learn that behavior.

 

There are many simple ways to keep the competition fair, but the main objective is not to take competition out of the equation. Instead make it manageable at a boy level so the scouts get a chance to practice self-control at their level of maturity. One way to keep competition fair for young boys is by keeping the rules simple so that the limits are easily recognized. And there are many ways to do this without watering down the competition itself like allowing only the parts in the kit.

 

We use parents and grandparents of scouts as judges. You would think by the trend of this discussion that none of the parents are capable of fair competition. Truth is that only a few loose themselves in this competition. The rest want the boys to have their day.

 

As for how to deal with those heavy handed adults, we have a pinewood derby committee who enforce the rules. These are usually the more enthusiastic dads who work and bring balance by working together and they do a pretty good job of dealing emotional participants.

 

One other thing we do that really helps keep the event fair is do the pre check-in the day before the competition. That gives the committee a day to make sure all the cars are fair, and more importantly a day to fix the cars. The committee members are usually dads who know their way around pinewood derby cars and tools, so they can pretty much fix anything. While this discussion is about the aggressive parents with super modified cars, truth is most cars need a little help getting up to a fair competition setup because their parents didn’t have the skills build a fair running car. If you want to see the best of mans nature, just watch these men in action.

 

Competition is part of life, so the skills of behavior to be fair competitors should be learned and practiced during the developing years of youth. I am not a fan of no-winner activities nor am I of handing trophies to all participants. Life isn’t nearly as compassionate and self-control can only be learned when we are challenged to lose it.

 

I would say that this is one of our packs favorite activities. We have races for the scouts, the family members and an open class. We provide a meal deal of hot dogs, chips and a drink for a bargain price and we do a lot of cheers and chanting. It has become a great family Friday night activity. We try to keep the event under an hour and a half, so we set up two tracks to run all the races.

 

Barry

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Eagledad, I agree with almost all of what you say. Keeping the competition "manageable" and keeping everything in balance is the key. It sounds like your pack keeps everything in balance. If a parent becomes "heavy handed", the pinewood derby committee steps in and maintains the balance. Unfortunately, when I first experienced this event in my son's pack, the "heavy handed" parents (and I am talking mostly about the fathers) WERE the pinewood derby committee. When I saw kids (mainly Tiger and Wolf) crying because they lost, that suggested to me that things were out of balance. When I saw lingering hard feelings between fathers because of whose son won and whose lost, it was clear that things were out of balance. When the new leaders (including me) first took over the pinewood derby committee and were criticized for de-emphasizing the trophies, things were obviously out of balance. (And I am not talking about "trophies for everybody," which we did not do.) We tried to push things more in the direction that they are in your pack, and we made a good start, but after two years of the "new direction," my son crossed over, and I went with him. Hopefully the pack was able to maintain a more balanced approach.

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<>

 

 

Ummm... that's what I said, I think.

 

 

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One other thing we do that really helps keep the event fair is do the pre check-in the day before the competition. That gives the committee a day to make sure all the cars are fair, and more importantly a day to fix the cars. The committee members are usually dads who know their way around pinewood derby cars and tools, so they can pretty much fix anything. While this discussion is about the aggressive parents with super modified cars, truth is most cars need a little help getting up to a fair competition setup because their parents didn’t have the skills build a fair running car. If you want to see the best of mans nature, just watch these men in action.>>

 

 

In my view, if you need this kind of committee, you have a problem, and a pretty bad one in my view. Adults are dominating the PWD and the Cub Scouts are lost in that process. And it doesn't sound simple either.

 

 

In my view Tiger Cubs and Cub Scouts (Webelos a bit different) should be about boys doing projects and activities with parents there to offer some support, supervision and assistance. That's what we achieve with the PWD I describe at the beginning of this thread.

 

The single moms or those with no woodworking experience or tools still have access to tools, advice and help if needed. And everyone has a similar amount of time to build and decorate their car.

 

Boys who are ready to race after an hour can start racing then. That tends to encourage others to finish up their car and start racing too, and pretty much everyone is racing an hour and a half after starting.

 

 

I don't take competition out of the PWD. But neither do I use competition the way adults use it and experience it.

 

I use competition the way boys use it and experience it, which tends to be low key and informal. Boys may have a chance to race 20-30 times, and each time they are recognized if they win the race by winning a sticker for their car or PWD Driving License.

 

That both recognizes their win but keeps the win low key. Boys may see who has the most stickers, but the Cub Pack doesn't recognize the boy who has the most stickers.

 

That way every boy can take pride in what they achieved, and resolve to try to do better next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I agree that clear rules for the cars are a must. Our pack uses the same rules that the district does so that the cars will also pass district inspection. Our rules are pretty simple:

1) The block, wheels and axles must be official BSA parts.

2) You can't go over five ounces.

3) You can't shave down the wheels (one of the easiest ways to speed up the car is too reduce the mass of the wheels)

4) The car must fit in the sizing box (so it fits on the track - love that 18 wheeler you made, but you can't race it)

5) You must use the existing axle slots.

6) You have to use all four wheels and they must all be in rolling when the car runs.

7) No part of the car can extend forward of the starting post.

 

Our pack rarely has an issue with an over-competitive parent, and the kids all have a blast. We try to keep things ballanced.

 

At the district level, it's more of a challenge. We have an inspection and registration day a couple of days before the derby. There we inspect and weigh the cars, only passing cars are allowed in. We have a workshop set up to help people fix any issues with the cars right there. We then impound the cars until the derby. We also do a late registration for the few cars that needed to go home to fix things on the day of the derby. We have been doing this way for years and don't have too many problems. At the derby, the kids pickup their cars on the way to the track and return them after that heat is run. The reduces the temptation for the adults in the picture to switch the wheels or inject additional weight into the car - as they don't touch the car until after the race is over (occasionally they still try though).

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It’s not ego or pride, it’s the natural instinct of competing and it is part of most of us. We can either use this activity and other activities like it to prepare and teach our sons how to control their desires by practicing acts of discipline, or we can teach that competition is bad and make it a taboo. Human nature is very strong, we can either work with it or struggle against it.

... ...

There are many simple ways to keep the competition fair, but the main objective is not to take competition out of the equation. Instead make it manageable at a boy level so the scouts get a chance to practice self-control at their level of maturity. One way to keep competition fair for young boys is by keeping the rules simple so that the limits are easily recognized. And there are many ways to do this without watering down the competition itself like allowing only the parts in the kit.

 

In our pack we give out small trophies or medals to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place racers (we put the tigers in their own race pool), plus ribbons for a set of design competitions (the kids vote for the winner of each category such as: coolest paint, fastest looking, looks least like a car, etc. We usually have five categories). However, we try not to make too much of a deal about who wins. The point has always been for the cubs to build their cars (with adult help) and to then race them.

 

I agree with Eagledad that competition is not inherently a bad thing, but we need to manage things so the competition is healthy. And if we want our cubs to not value winning over having a good time or playing fair, we need to believe it ourselves when we tell them that. If we say "winning doesn't matter" then spend the next thirty minutes talking about past winners and the best way to build a winning car, the cubs won't believe us.

 

We also need to teach the cubs that not winning (i.e. loosing) is OK. Some of these kids have a hard time learning this.

 

Our society often casts competition into a morality play, where winning is the reward for virtue (and hence loosing is the result of lack of virtue). It's natural, we want the "good guys" to win, and the "bad guys" to loose. We see it in countless movies (including Down and Derby) and books. We see it in coverage of sports where there is lots of talk about "heart" and "drive", and you hear phrases like "the other team wanted it more" - all are placing moral judgements on the winners and loosers. They make loosing a moral failure.

 

I would say that this is one of our packs favorite activities. We have races for the scouts' date=' the family members and an open class. We provide a meal deal of hot dogs, chips and a drink for a bargain price and we do a lot of cheers and chanting. It has become a great family Friday night activity. We try to keep the event under an hour and a half, so we set up two tracks to run all the races.[/quote']

 

It is also one of our packs favorites (along with the water rocket derby). We have four races: tigers, the rest of the cubs, siblings and adults. We work hard to keep things balanced and fun. So far it's worked.

 

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