Zooming along

Pinewood Derby championships go virtual in Cranston

Johnston Sun Rise ·

They can’t weigh more than 5 ounces, and some look like they have come off the set of a science fiction movie. Others could be the cars of the future, yet still others are not much more than a block of brightly colored wood with stickers and tiny plastic figurines.

None of them have engines, even though they can travel in excess of 200 mph. And all 150 of them are the fastest pinewood derby racers from 27 Cub Scout packs that are part of the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Usually, the council’s Pinewood Derby championships are spectacular events attracting a crowd of 200 kids and their parents, all straining to get a view of the 35-foot long track and intensely watching the finish line as four cars at a time squeal down the track. There’s no end of screams of excitement and buzz over which of the derby racers is fastest.

Because of the pandemic, this was the council’s first championship derby without spectators. But there will be a show this Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

It was eerily quiet Friday as a council crew prepared for the finals in a lodge at Camp Champlin in Cranston. Strings of black and white checkered flags provided color to the scene. Cars were lined up on tables with numbers corresponding to a list of Cub Scouts and their packs.

Lights lit up both ends on the track – the starting gate on top of a ski jump like ramp that gave the cars their speed before screaming down the track to the finish line with its digital readout. A video camera mounted on a tripod at the start caught the action. Caleb McPhee was the master of the video that will go live this Saturday on the Council’s Facebook page. To one side of the starting gate, Zack Daigle sat in front of a laptop. He was keeping track of the finish times for each of the cars and ensuring each of the cars would get to race on each of the four tracks. The four finish times for each of the cars would be averaged with the car with the best averaged time being the overall winner.

Daigle said the cars complete the 35-foot course in about 2.75 seconds, which equates to about 200 mph.

The cars may be fast, but running the event took more than four hours. That is being edited down to an hour-long show.

The Pinewood Derby has become a highlight of the Cub Scouting year since it was started in 1953. According to Scouting magazine, Don Murphy, cubmaster of a pack in Manhattan Beach, California, came up with the idea of racing miniature wood cars when his son was too young to race in the Soap Box Derby, where kids actually drove their gravity powered cars downhill.

To put the program on track, the Narragansett Council offered virtual Pinewood Derby options for packs across Southern New England. The council provided a track, finish line, software, Zoom account and a trained staff member on site to help make each Pack’s race a success. Pack 7 of Slatersville was the gold standard of virtual Pinewood Derby races, creating an ESPN-worthy broadcast for their Scouts.

This Saturday’s show promises to be as good.

Pinewood Derby, cars
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