By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
A Cub Scout staple since its inception in 1953, on Sunday afternoon, Walpole’s Cub Scout Pack 44 brought the famed Pinewood Derby to the barn at Adams Farm. Featuring around 35 racers, while many things about the event were new, the basics of the races were indistinguishable from those that took place between scouts decades ago, when the Cub Scouts created an alternative event for kids too young for the Soap Box Derby.
For Pack 44, one of the major differences from years past was the venue. The Pinewood Derby was usually held at the Walpole VFW, but when COVID hit, they wanted a more social-distancing-friendly space outside. While the weather was perfect on Sunday afternoon, Troop 44’s Cubmaster Kevin Keaney noted that it was pure luck the weather has been so cooperative, and that if COVID is under control, they would like to move back to the VFW as early as next year.
But because some people are still at high risk because of COVID-19, the Troop had a tripod at the end of the track that was recording a video. While you might think that was to prevent cheating or to confirm to the Boy Scouts of America that everything was done according to protocols, Keaney explained that it was actually being recorded because when COVID hit, they created a YouTube channel for grandparents who were too nervy about coming out to events, but still wanted to see how their young scouts did. Other high-tech additions to the derby included a plastic track (they used a wooden one for decades, but changed after it warped), sensors that digitally recorded times, and a projector scoreboard.
The cars, though, are the same. Keaney explained that all the scouts start with a block of wood and the pieces they’ve been given, and then have to create a car using whatever tactics they come up with. While the cars can’t be more than five ounces, that leaves a lot of freedom for both designs and decorations. Keaney said lots of kids will look up different models and tips on the internet, but that some troops go as far as holding workshops for their scouts on how to craft their cars for racing.
While there were fun prizes like “best paint job” and “best design”, so no scout went home empty-handed. For those who won at Adams Farm there were regional, district and even National Finals to move on to.
But for some, the stakes are more personal. When discussing how the rules are essentially the same as they were in the 50s, Keaney noted that when his now-seventeen-year-old son was a scout, he wanted to race against the cars his father had made as a Cub Scout, which his grandmother still had.
An American tradition, in spite of things like COVID-19 moving it outdoors, bolstered by some technological advancements, the Pinewood Derby keeps rolling along.