A Father, a Son and the Pinewood Derby

Feb 04, 2015

  By Chuck Fuqua
 Executive Director, Strategic Communications

 As 2014 was wrapping up, I took my son to the monthly Cub Scout
 pack meeting.  These are apart from the monthly Tiger Scout den
 meetings and other activities.  At the conclusion of that meeting, we
 were all handed a small box, which were described as our Pinewood
 Derby cars for the races to take place in January. 

Some of you out there may be veterans of this process, and in my defense, I was not a scout growing up.  So, all of this is new to me as I “guide” my son through his first year of Tiger Scouts. 

I took the box home and put it aside for later.  Over the Christmas break, we did a number of fun family things together.  On the final weekend of the break, I told my son “we need to put your car together today.”  Let that phrase soak in for a moment.  We need to put your car together today.  Looking back, I now know how ridiculous this sounds.  As the phrase left my mouth, I reached for the box and opened it.  In my mind as I opened it, I expected some sort of parts to be assembled.  Imagine my surprise as I muttered to myself, “it’s a block of wood?”  Uh oh.  We’re not putting his car together today.  Today, I’ve got to figure out how I’m supposed to make this block of wood into a car that can survive a race amongst his peers. 

I started by looking on the internet for how to make a Pinewood Derby car.  This was as successful as trying to diagnose a rash by looking for your symptoms on the internet.  Immediately I was overwhelmed with information, tactics and an obvious culture of people that had been refining their techniques for years to shave tenths of a second off their race times to build, race and win at such scouting competitions.  Where are the cliff notes for how to simply cut the block into a car, attach wheels and hope it can race?  To borrow from the great Mel Brooks, “Oy vey!” 

At that moment, my goals were clear:  (1) learn enough to build something with my son that he will be proud of; (2) don’t get disqualified; and (3) don’t finish dead last.  Over the next three weekends we worked together to make a car he would be proud of.  I give my six-year old a lot of credit, being involved in each stage along with me. He drew the shape he wanted (it had to have a cool scoop in the back).  He picked out the colors and stickers.  And together we got it cut (thanks to Ace Hardware in Alexandria); sanded it; painted it; readied the axles and wheels; applied the stickers; and installed the weights to reach the critical 5 ounce weight limit.  (Goal #1 – check!)

The night before the big races, we checked his car in and it qualified under the rules.  He ran it through a practice round and I breathed a sigh of relief.  (Goal #2 – check!) Race day was great fun and such a joy to see my son so excited.  He didn’t win, but he didn’t finish last either.  (Goal #3 – check!)  He did win Most Patriotic car, for obvious reasons (see photo).

Just as life is a journey, it is the process that brought us the reward of seeing the fruits of our efforts together.  Sure, my son wanted to win the big trophy…who wouldn’t.  But, he had such fun watching his car race and showed great sportsmanship after not winning to stay involved and enjoy the rest of the races with his friends.  Today, his car is proudly displayed on his dresser.  That block of wood now looks like a real race car, and is a reminder of the fun we shared to make it so.  That is his trophy.  He loves it, and I love him.