Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby time

Episode 440

March 19, 2024

Pinewood Derby Humble Beginning

With help from writer Brian Wendell’s January 21, 2019 article “Fascinating look at the history of the Pinewood Derby” published in Scouting Magazine, I discovered the story of the Derby. The program is one of the longest running Boy Scouts of America (now Scouts BSA) programs for Cub Scouts.

The idea came from Cubmaster Don Murphy, Manhattan Beach, California, when his son desired to race in the soapbox derby run by the Management Club at North American Aviation where Don worked. Unfortunately, Donn, the son, was too young to compete in the soapbox derby since he was only 10 years of age and rules required you be at 12 or older.

In order to cheer up his son, Murphy devised a miniature soap box derby style wooden car that Cub Scouts and parents could build. He remembered the pleasure he got from building wooden models when he was young in LaPorte, Indiana and thought the idea would promote good parental relations and be fun.

Murphy and the other parents in Pack 280C built a 32-foot, two-lane track. Impressively, the track had a battery-run finish line made from doorbells. Light bulbs identified the winner of each race.

Every Cub Scout got a brown paper bag containing four plastic wheels, four nails and three blocks of wood — all supplied by North American Aviation’s Management Club.

For a look at the original plans as submitted by Don Murphy to Boys Life Magazine for publication in October 1954 click below:


Why three blocks of wood? One was for the car’s body, and the other two formed the axles. (Today’s cars are made from a single block of wood, and each axle, or nail, goes directly into the body of the car.)

The first Pinewood Derby race was held May 15, 1953, in Manhattan Beach’s Scout House in California. After publication October 1954 in Boys Life the idea spread throughout not only California, but the nation. (Scouting

Murphy continued with the local Pinewood Derby until his son left scouting. He lost contact with the event until Gary McAuley, Cubmaster of Pack 713 that had evolved out of the original Pack 280C, contacted Murphy. Murphy who was 79 at the time was amazed that in 1997 over 100 million Pinewood derby kits were purchased.

Murphy was the grand marshal for the area derby that year and was looked up to as a hero to most of the Scouts at the event. When Murphy died in July 1, 2008 at the age of 90, the Daily Breeze newspaper obituary called him “The Father of the Pinewood Derby”.

Caribou qualifier Pinewood Derby

Test-and-Tune Day on March 16th at Caribou Community School gave insight into what to expect at Pinewood Derby 2024. Scouts were able to make runs down the prepared track to help not only optimize their Derby car performance but to relieve some of the pre-race jitters that might be expected after spending, in some cases, months of hard work researching and building that special derby car.

On Saint Patrick’s Day or to these youngsters, Race Day, the doors opened at 10 am with racing beginning at 11 am. Most of the event was over in 1 1/2 hours followed by awards. Forty-four Derby racers registered times. The top 35 were separated by a mere ,837 seconds. The top four were separated by only .08 seconds.

Everett Thomas on left and his buddy Zach Treadwell raise their hands before the release of their entries down the track. Tradition has it that the raised hands helped the derby cars run fast. (Jeremy Thomas photo)

Getting his Pinewood Derby racer at the start line is 5th grader Rhyan Markle. Markle is an Arrow of Light Scout who will be moving up to Troop 184 Boy Scouts this May. Visible is the four-wide track which features electronic timing and scoring from Grand Prix Race Manager. (Pack 184 photo)

Pinewood Derby coordinator Lori Clayton awards Sibling Race trophy to Harper Plourde for fastest time. Harper is the sister of overall winner Hunter Plourde. (Pack 184 photo)

These Scouts qualified for the regional race April 13, 2024 at The Sargent Center in Presque Isle. Left to right Lukas Griffin (a Lion Scout) finished 4th, Chase Cochran 3rd, overall winner for second year in a row Hunter Plourde, Parker Stallings 2nd and Trevor Cote voted most creative by his fellow competitors. Two Scouts from Pack 177 in Washburn also competed. (Lori Clayton photo)

Click below for complete results

Pack Standings

Best wishes from UpNorth Motorsports!

Let’s Go Racing

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine