HED:Pinewood Derby racing

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HED:Pinewood Derby racing

By Christopher R.C. Bosen

Daily Journal

Gentlemen, start your engines!

The phrase most familiar to racing enthusiasts has no place in the motor-free world of pinewood derby racing.

Powered only by the force of gravity as they streak down sloped tracks towards a cushioned finish line, pinewood derby cars are a father-son product.

“I guess the goal is to get the child to do an activity with the dad,” said David Henson, Scoutmaster of Pack 3 in Tupelo. “This is just one of lots of activities.”

Building a Pinewood Derby car is one of the most popular and anticipated events among cub scouts every year.

“We give the cars out a month ahead, in the December meeting,” Henson said.

Some ambitious scouts begin immediately in sculpting the rectangular blocks of pine into sleek racing machines while others hastily put finishing touches on their car the night of the race.

“We bring glue and drills,” Henson said of race night. “There’s all kinds of last minute panic going on because once you weigh the car in you’re through with it. You cannot do any more adjusting to the car.”

The weigh-in ensures that each car weighs a maximum of five ounces. Heavier cars often leave the weighing table looking like swiss cheese after having those excess ounces drilled away.

“We have a set of postal scales that we use to weigh cars in,” Henson said. “That’s a big deal because fathers and sons traditionally try to get as close to five ounces as they can. Even though that’s not proven to be the secret.”

Following the weigh-in process, the race begins with scouts racing within their age group in a double-elimination tournament. Pack 3 races just two cars at a time although the 30-foot long track can accommodate up to four cars.

“I’ve been in packs with 80 or 90 kids that race three or four at time,” Henson said.

After each den has determined a winner, racing continues until an overall pack champion is crowned.

A family affair

Sometimes, family feuds can be ignited in the heat of competition. Such was the case on Monday, Jan. 26, when only two cars remained at the top of the 4-foot tall track at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo.

Taylor Burks, 11, crafted his car to resemble those that compete in the Indianapolis 500 every May and painted it with school spirit in mind.

“My dad said that since the Ole Miss Rebels beat State and won the Motor City Bowl, we needed an Ole Miss Rebel car,” said the King Elementary fifth-grader.

Challenging Taylor’s undefeated racer was Cole Randle, an 8-year-old second-grader at Church Street School and Taylor’s cousin.

Cole’s car, a smoothly curved black and gold creation which conjured images of 1940s roadsters, needed not one but two victories over Taylor’s car to claim the overall championship in the double-elimination format.

As the cars streaked down the track side by side towards the finish line and what the kids call “Pillow Mountain”, where the cars come softly to a stop, the tension mounted.

Boy Scouts serving as official judges at the end of the track determined Cole’s car had won, thus setting up one winner-take-all final run.

One final time the cars were placed at the top of the track. One final time they began their descent. One final time they sped towards the bottom. One final time they crossed the finish line.

“I went over to Taylor and shook his hand and told him congratulations,” said Randle after his older cousin’s car claimed victory. “I’ve still got three more years to race.”

Cole’s outlook after placing second overall may have something to do with Taylor’s success this year.

“Last year, I won second overall,” Taylor said.

Both scouts are now contemplating racing in the District Pinewood Derby Race on Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Mall at Barnes Crossing.

Looks count

Along with trophys for the speed winners, an overall design winner is also chosen. That’s where Scott Slocum concentrates his efforts.

The Rankin Elementary fourth grader expresses his passion for the military in the design of his cars.

“My uncle, when he was a kid, designed a tank car so last year I did a tank and this year I decided to do a submarine,” said 9-year-old Scott.

Complete with propeller and periscope, Scott’s car didn’t win the design competition but Henson emphasized the lessons learned by both winning and losing and being involved with the scouting program.

“I think the kids get exposure to moral and ethical guidelines that the school’s can’t duplicate,” Henson said. “The only reason this thing works is because of parents. If you have a child in first through fifth grade, he needs to be in scouts.”