Tradition meets excitement at the Pinewood Derby

April 6, 2023

Walking peaceful Walden Street on a serene weekend morning, alongside dog walkers and bikers, you would never expect that just around the corner there were dozens of small wooden cars nearly reaching the posted speed limit for downtown Concord – 20 miles per hour.

Excitement and anticipation filled the Scout House-turned-multi-course-racetrack on a recent Saturday. The sounds of wheels rolling on the ground and drill bits revving for last minute touch-ups and repairs could mean only one thing: Pinewood Derby.

Concord’s Cub Scout Pack #149 hosted its annual Pinewood Derby on March 18. Kids ranging from kindergarten to Grade 5 put their engineering and racing skills to the test. 

Founded in 1953, the Pinewood Derby has since become “synonymous with the Scouts program,” according to Scoutmaster Todd Benjamin. And while at its core competitive, the program strives to make the experience a comfortable one. 

“We want to have an event where everybody of every ability can compete,” Benjamin said.

Each scout starts with a block of raw pine and, after carving and painting, end with a fully functional handheld wooden car to race against their peers. The cars must pass a series of tests for the weight, size and design of the build in order to compete in the five races and challenges of the day. 

The “Speedway” race is the main event, with four cars set in place at the top of the vintage racetrack and released all at once, shooting down the ramp and across the finish line. 

The Scout with the fastest car has the opportunity to advance to the “Districts” and from there onto the National Championship in Times Square, where the contestants race on a larger metal eight-lane track.

Beyond the cheering and excitement, there was also a deep sense of tradition at the Derby. Being among the Scouts, watching their historic wooden track, one could feel the history of the event, past generations engaging in the same day each year for almost three quarters of a century.

Additional competitions at the Derby reward the cars that aren’t necessarily the quickest or technically advanced. Cars are awarded points for being off-balanced in one specialized challenge and are raced backwards in another.

For many local Scouts and families, the Derby and its preparation is a highlight of the year. JT, a second-grader in the pack, brought his car to the Derby for the first time. 

Fifth-grader and veteran racer Julien makes two cars each year and tests them against each other before Derby day to see which is fastest. He advanced to the Districts round of the tournament last year. 

Many parents share the excitement of their kids, breaking out power tools and getting hands-on to make these cars. Scott, the grandfather of two scouts, recognizes the value of the building process— he described a special moment where he was able to help his grandson “overcome the feeling of a saw moving through wood.”

And perhaps the race at the Pine Wood Derby is a means to an end not an end in itself. It seems the resulting parent-child bonding from constructing these wooden cars is even more valuable than the reward of a trophy. It is an opportunity for the kids to learn and practice skills in patience, craftsmanship, creativity and sportsmanship.

Congratulations to this year’s top cars: fourth place was awarded to Ryan Tuohy, third and second to Alexander and Maxwell Moritz respectively, and the first place car was Trey Prebil’s “Dementor,” named after the ghostly creatures from the Harry Potter series. Trey attributed his victory this year to focusing primarily on the speed of his car. He designed the low profile build ahead of time, and it proved to be worth the extra preparation. Good luck at Districts, Trey!