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Gouverneur, NY, 13642
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Local News

Cub Scout Pack 2035 holds inaugural Pinewood Derby

Dan McClelland

Cub scouts show their enthusiasm as the derby cars cross the finish line during the first-ever Gouverneur Cub Scout Pack 2035 Pinewood Derby on Saturday, March 30 in the Gouverneur Community Center. (Rachel Hunter photo)

Cub scouts show their enthusiasm as the derby cars cross the finish line during the first-ever Gouverneur Cub Scout Pack 2035 Pinewood Derby on Saturday, March 30 in the Gouverneur Community Center. (Rachel Hunter photo)

by Rachel Hunter

The first-ever Gouverneur Cub Scout Pack 2035 Pinewood Derby was held on Saturday, March 30 at the Gouverneur Community Center.

The pinewood derby is a racing event for unpowered, unmanned miniature cars. With the help of adults, Scouts build their own cars from wood, usually from kits containing a block of pine wood, plastic wheels, and metal axles.

The first pinewood derby was held on May 15, 1953 at the Scout House in Manhattan Beach, California by Cub Scout Pack 280C (the present Pack 713). The concept was created by the Pack's Cubmaster Don Murphy, and sponsored by the Management Club at North American Aviation. Murphy's son was too young to participate in the popular Soap Box Derby races, so he came up with the idea of racing miniature wood cars. The cars had the same gravity-powered concept as the full-size Soap Box Derby cars, but were much smaller and easier to build.

The pinewood derby had a sensational first year. Murphy and the Management Club of North American Aviation sent out thousands of brochures to anyone who requested more information. The idea spread rapidly, and competitions were held across the country, mainly with recreation departments and nonprofit organizations including the Los Angeles County Department of Recreation. Of all that early enthusiasm, however, only the Boy Scouts of America made it part of an official program. The National Director of Cub Scouting Service, O. W. (Bud) Bennett, wrote Murphy: "We believe you have an excellent idea, and we are most anxious to make your material available to the Cub Scouts of America." Within the year, the Boy Scouts of America adopted the pinewood derby for use in all Cub Scout packs.

In its October 1954 issue, Boys' Life publicized the event and offered plans for the track and a car, which featured "four wheels, four nails, and three blocks of wood." In 1980, the design of the block was changed from a cutout block, consistent with a 1940s style front-engined Indy 500 car, to a rectangular block. The tires were also changed from narrow, hard plastic, to wider "slicks."

The force accelerating a pinewood derby car is gravity; the opposing forces are friction and air drag. Therefore, car modifications are aimed at maximizing the potential energy in the car design and minimizing the air drag and the friction that occurs when the wheel spins on the axle, contacts the axle head or car body, or contacts the track guide rail. Friction due to air drag is a minor, although not insignificant, factor. The wheel tread can be sanded or turned on a lathe and the inner surface of the hub can be tapered to minimize the contact area between the hub and body. Polishing the wheel, especially the inner hub, with a plastic polish can also reduce friction. Often one front wheel is raised slightly so that it does not contact the track and add to the rolling resistance. Axles are filed or turned on a lathe to remove the burr and crimp marks and polished smooth. More extensive modifications involve tapering the axle head and cutting a notch to minimize the wheel-to-axle contact area. Packs can establish additional rules for what, if any, modifications are allowed. In some areas, no changes can be made to the axles or wheels.

A second consideration is the rotational energy stored in the wheels. The pinewood derby car converts gravitational potential energy into translational kinetic energy (speed) plus rotational energy. Heavier wheels have a greater moment of inertia and their spinning takes away energy that would otherwise contribute to the speed of the car. A standard wheel has a mass of 2.6 g, but this can be reduced to as little as 1 g by removing material from the inside of the wheel. A raised wheel can reduce the rotational energy up to one-quarter, but this advantage is less with a bumpy track.

Another consideration is the track itself. A track that is mostly sloping, with little flat at the end, can allow cars with minimal mass in their wheels to shine. However, a track with a steep slope and then a long flat section can penalize such cars due to the quick loss of energy they experience once they have reached the bottom, when all potential energy has been transferred to kinetic and rotational energy. Such cars will take a lead on the downslope, but may be passed by cars with more energy "stored" away as rotational energy on the flat.

A proper lubricant, typically graphite powder, is essential. Wheel alignment is important both to minimize wheel contact with the axle head and body as well as to limit the contact between the wheels and guide rail as the car travels down the track. There are 32 friction causing surfaces on a pinewood derby car. These include the surfaces of all four wheels which touch either the axle, the body or the track and the surfaces of all four axles which touch the wheel. Neglecting to polish and lubricate any of these 32 surfaces will result in degraded performance. The center of mass of a typical car is low and slightly ahead of the rear axle, which helps the car track straight as well as providing a slight advantage due to the additional gravitational potential energy.

Considering all this, the cub scouts in Pack 2035 worked hard to perfect their cars in the weeks leading up the big race, and each scout proudly brought their entry to the pit display area in advance of the race last Saturday afternoon. A crowd of spectators amassed alongside the track area to see the derby cars race. At the announcement of Cubmaster Chris Gates, the Pinewood Derby commenced with the help of many adult volunteers and cub scouts. The Hermon-DeKalb Cub Scout Pack 144 donated their old three-lane pinewood derby track to Cub Scout Pack 2035, which was utilized at the inaugural pinewood derby. The judges deliberated for a few moments after the pinewood derby, and then the award ceremony commenced.

The trophies were created by Cubmaster Gates, and featured a slanted top to display the winning derby car. The trophies were announced as follows: Jax Spicer (First Place Trophy), Mason Hilton (Second Place Trophy), Gregory “Junior” Haines (Third Place Trophy), Eliot Haines (Most Original Trophy), Carter McGill (Most Creative Trophy), Qhuin Langille (Raddest Rod Trophy) Damian Travis (Judge’s Choice Trophy), Nathan Zeller (Slowest Roller Trophy), Abel Halladay (Coolest Paint Job Trophy), Mitchell Romans (Most Outrageous Trophy). Also, from the friends and family competition, Aubree Spicer won the Scouts Choice Trophy, and Pack 2035 Committee Member Linda Gilbo of Richville won the Best of Show Award.

The cub scouts also received patches for their participation in the pinewood derby.

Great applause sounded at the announcement of all the trophy winners. Good sportsmanship was displayed throughout the entire event.

Much gratitude was extended to the Town of Gouverneur and the Village of Gouverneur for allowing Cub Scout Pack 2035 to utilize the Halford Brothers Community Room at the Gouverneur Community Center for this event, and special appreciation was given to Dave Spilman, Jr. of Gouverneur for all of his assistance throughout the event.

The cub scouts enjoyed pizza and refreshments at the conclusion of the pinewood derby, and had the opportunity to get their pictures taken with their winning trophies and derby cars. Many impromptu derby races were held following the event.

All participants in the Gouverneur Cub Scout Pack 2035 Pinewood Derby qualified to participate in the district pinewood derby, which is to be held on Saturday, April 6 in Hermon.