Pinewood Derby a rite of passage for moms, too
Updated: March 18, 2013 1:18AM
LA GRANGE — I’m sitting there, just looking at it: a simple block of wood.
I am a grown woman, who has taken care of children, run a business and squashed large bugs. But I have no idea how to turn this block of wood into a car.
I wouldn’t know where to start. And even if I read the instructions that came with the kit and went to a how-to websites, I don’t have a clue how to use the tools to get the job done. Sandpaper is about my level of expertise.
I end up telling my 11-year-old son, that no, I cannot help him make his Pinewood Derby for the Cub Scout race car this year. With my husband, who can probably whip a car together in a matter of minutes, out of the country, I call my dad to help.
He’s actually thrilled.
“I’d love to! I remember when I had my own Pinewood Derby as a Cub Scout!” he says.
He comes over and I hear a lot of noise in the basement, which I take as a good sign. A while later, they come up, smiling, with an actual car.
This is the last year that I have a son participating in the Pinewood Derby and it makes me sad. While none of my sons have won a top prize for speed, we have picked up an award for creativity and one for “Detroit Won’t Build,” which basically means the car is not the most attractive thing on the track that year. (I actually took pride in that, because it meant that we let our son do everything but cut the wood himself.)
This is high season for Pinewood Derbies and it remains a perennially popular event.
“They get more creative every year, just when I’ve think I’ve seen it all,” says Dave Kelly, whose three sons were Cub Scouts who participated in at least a dozen Pinewood Derbies through Pack 83 at St. Cletus School in La Grange. He cites one car that looked just like a Snickers bar in a wrapper.
Even in an era of ubiquitous electronics, learning how to transform a wood block into a vehicle is both educational and fun for boys, from first-grade Tiger Scouts to fifth-grade Webelos.
“It seems like almost every Scout makes the effort along with their parent, be it a father or mother, to participate,” reports Gina Prendergast, committee chair for the Pinewood Derby for Pack 177 at Spring Avenue School.
That’s not say that the Pinewood Derby hadn’t evolved with the times. Prendergast says that Pack 177 invested its funds from its popcorn sales in a new electronic timer to boost accuracy and efficiency, and St. Cletus has switched to a faster software program to calculate and display results, says Kelly.
Bart Zona, field director for the La Grange-based Des Plaines Valley Council for Boy Scouts, agrees that Pinewood Derby is a win-win for scouts and families.
“The kids get to watch their car and get excited about it and also get a chance to work with their parent. It’s a great bonding experience,” Zona notes.
I know that this time next year, I’ll miss looking at that block of wood, if nothing else because it shows the promise and potential of youth, family and community.