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Cub Scouts Prepare for the Pinewood Derby

This winter break, Cub Scouts and their dads across the US will be constructing race cars for the Pinewood Derby.

“The Pinewood Derby is ubiquitous, a capstone event during each Cub Scout’s year,” explains Bob Lamphier, a JMP Account Executive and the competitive father of Dylan, age 9. “Everyone makes a big deal about it.”

Each year, Cub Scouts receive a derby kit consisting of a bare block of wood, four nails, four wheels and stickers for decoration. It is up to them to create the fastest race car possible. While it sometimes ends up being the dad’s creation on his son’s behalf, the Pinewood Derby is an opportunity for bonding and learning a little science and physics in the process.

You may remember last year’s profile of Nicholas Lifke, the now 9 -year-old Cub Scout who has been using JMP since kindergarten. He took first place in his Pinewood Derby after doing an experiment with JMP to prove that placing weight in the back of the car makes it faster.

Participants experiment with weight distribution, balance and shaping the body of the car into a sleek, aerodynamic style. Of course, the cutting and grinding fall to the dads. Bob says that he takes care of anything that involves tools that “shouldn’t be in the hands of an 8- or 9-year-old.”

Apparently he didn’t do a stellar job of disguising the fact that he put in a lot of the work last year – at least 40 hours. However, it paid off. Dylan placed well in his races and moved on to compete at District Level with more than 30 other scouts in his age group.

They are preparing to compete again in the Pack’s Pinewood Derby at the end of January.

Bob and Dylan use JMP to demonstrate their theory of Cub Scout participation in the Pinewood Derby.

They believe that Tigers, the youngest group in the pack, don’t know what to expect during their first year. Therefore, participation is low and cars are somewhat slower on average. As they grow older and wiser – and become Wolves – the scouts get the competitive bug and participation grows. With each year the cars get faster, although this may be due to increasing paternal participation. By the time a Cub Scout grows from Bear to Webelo, he becomes more independent and confident in his own abilities.

”In our most recent Derby, the data seem to indicate slightly higher average times for the higher ranking Webelos than for the younger Cubs,” Bob explains.

He and Dylan posit that the small drop in participation among the older group of Webelos (indicated by Webelos 2) may be a result of “father fatigue,” as well as a necessary migration of the dads into the “Unlimited Class,” a racing division created for adult participants.

But Dylan and Nicholas’ dads aren’t tired yet. Bob says that he enjoys corresponding with Don Lifke (Nicholas’ dad and a JMP user in New Mexico) in the months leading up to their respective derbies. Don has been known to send Bob top-secret speed tips which “cannot be revealed until after Dylan ages out of scouting.”

But these tips may not matter much because they just don’t make cars like they used to. Bob’s wife Amy participated last year in the adult “Unlimited Class” and won a heat … with the car Bob built when he was 9 years old.

“It was marginally competitive,” says Bob. “It got faster with each run because the rust was polishing off the old axles.”

What you can see graphically is that the differences in average times for each rank really aren’t statistically significant. What is significant is the fun, camaraderie and bonding that goes on between the Cubs, their peers and their parents. And that’s the winning formula.

So dads and scouts, start your engines. The car-building season is beginning and JMP just might give you an edge!

Visit last year’s blog for information on how to optimize your Pinewood Derby race car with JMP.

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Don Lifke wrote:

Great stuff, Jessica. While others at the Discovery conference in Chicago were talking about high-tech applications of JMP, Bob & I were talking about using JMP to make faster Pinewood Derby cars. Our pack has the "Wise Owl" division so Dads can participate as well.

The competition is getting fierce. Nicholas pulled off another narrow victory last year, using one of the "top secret" speed tips Bob mentioned. (Hint: Getting a fast jump off the line was crucial.) This year Nicholas will have to expand his experiment; perhaps a 2x2 is in order. Better yet, maybe he'll venture out and do a custom design. Heck, even a 4th grader can do custom designs using JMP!


PinewoodDerbyDen wrote:

Good Pinewood Derby Info.

Sounds like a good time.