The News-Times/Chris Ware
From left, Aiden Palmieri, 7; Stephen Pansa, 6, and Conrad Reilly, 6 watch the action at Cub Scout Pack 270‘s Pinewood Derby.
Excitement was in the air Jan. 20 at Middle Gate Elementary School: Cub Scout Pack 270 was in the midst of its annual Pinewood Derby.
With more than 150 people cheering and rooting, it was hard to tell who was more enthusiastic — the scouts or their moms and dads.
The derby has been a Scouting favorite since it was introduced in California in 1953.
"It's open to Scouts ages 5 to 10 years old," said Jeff Timmons, cubmaster of the pack, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. "The Scouts make the cars with the help and guidance of parents. Cub Scout rules are specific about the age of entrants and use of tools. It's OK for parents to help out with tools when necessary."
Participation is not mandatory but those Scouts who do race receive a kit which contains a block of soft pinewood and instructions on how to carve, decorate and adjust what they've made. Reminders that the finished product can weigh no more than 5 ounces and be no more than 7 inches in length and 2¾ inches in width are included, too.
The News-Times/Chris Ware
Evan Grega decorated his car to look like a block of Swiss cheese.
Peter Cochrane, the pack's Pinewood Derby coordinator since 2000, and a team of dads set up the track, organize the heats — three cars at a time — and run the computer that times the races. The race is the first leg in elimination races to the national finals.
This year, there were 57 entries, but only 52 scouts were present for the derby, in which the Scouts "race the clock, not each other," Timmons said.
"There were more cars than kids this year because of a fifth grade concert at the middle school," he said. "We're running the cars for those Scouts who couldn't be here because they built the cars."
For their efforts, each boy receives a Pinewood Derby patch. The top three boys in each Cub Scout level, Tiger, Wolf, Bear and Webelos, get a trophy for fastest car, Timmons said.
There's also a trophy that is annually passed on to the fastest den, a trophy for the Scout with the most creatively decorated car and a trophy to the Scout with the greatest involvement.
The aim of the derby is the same now as when it began: further bonding between father and son or Scout and helper, a sense of accomplishment and learning good sportsmanship and competition.
"It's a great daddy-son thing," said Melissa Kopcik, mother of Nicholas, 8, and Stephen, 6.
"They learn the spirit of competition," said Lauren Samson, mom of Owen, 6. "They're just so excited to make a car."
"The creativity on some of these cars is awesome," said Nick DeBlasio's mom, Audrey, leader of Webelos 2, Den 2. "Did you see the one with the Swiss cheese and mice?"
"It's a great father-son project," she added.
"I spray painted the car and put wheels on it," said Nick's dad, Bob. "Nick did everything else."
"It's one of those guy things," said Joe Crisalli, leader of Tiger Den 1 and dad of Anthony, 6. "The competition, competing cars. I like cars whether they are metal or wood. This is all in fun."
As for the Scouts, they were just plain excited to be in the derby.
"I like to race," said Robbie Wilson, 6½, who was the youngest of three generations of Wilson men at the event: himself, his father, Michael, and his grandfather, Robert.
Jamie Cochrane, also 6½, was a race participant because "my brother, P.J., won in 2000," he said.
Cal Creeden, 6½, who likes being in Cub Scouts "because we do neat stuff," was more than happy to be have a car in the race.
The car was special, he said, "because it has snakes on it."
Jake Dance, 10, who "won the fastest speed car in 2003," lost out to his brother. Malcolm, 7, in 2004. He was, he admitted, "hoping to win again this year."
As it happened, neither brother had the fastest car this year.
But learning to accept the results and trying again next year is something else this event tries to teach: Keep those wheels turning.