Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby a Competition Between Dads, Not Kids

The Cub Scouts of America hosts pinewood derbies across the U.S. every winter as a friendly competition between boys. However, parents of Cub Scouts could take a cue from the Olympics and learn the meaning of fair games.

This is our first year in the Cub Scouts, and I was excited to find out my son would be racing a pinewood derby car. No, not the kind you sit in but rather a small one you can hold in your hand. It comes as a basic block shaped like a car. You have to assemble the plastic wheels onto what are basically nails that hold the wheels in place. Otherwise, it’s up to you to decorate it how you see fit.

A completed Cub Scouts pinewood derby car

Photo Credit

Perhaps it’s my naivety, but I thought this was supposed to be a an enjoyable, friendly competition amongst the boys. That is, until the “weigh in” date was announced. I’m sorry but why on earth would we need to weigh in our car? It turns out that competitors add weights to the car to make it move faster and sometimes even forgo the car kit (a big no-no) to craft their own body. In the past, they’ve actually had to disqualify people for having cars that are too heavy or not made from the same kit as everyone else. It was beginning to dawn on me that this pinewood derby event isn’t really about the boys but about the fathers who want to win.

The whole idea of hosting a Cub Scouts pinewood derby is to create a fun environment where fathers and sons can work together. Of course, moms can participate. But in this case, it was my dad who helped get the car ready.

My dad (with observation from Vman who is only 7 after all) put on the wheels of the car. Vman did help sand down the car a bit, but how much can a seven year old really do? Vman picked the color he wanted the car and then paid attention to how you spray paint a car to give it a good shine. After several coats, Vman was bursting at the seams to be able to hold his completed car. In reality, however, children this age just aren’t going to be creating this car — it’s the dads. And when you put dads in charge, the competition can get ugly.

Other moms who have already been through this process have told me horror stories of dads who weighted the car down too much. And so, at weigh in, they are forced to dig out chunks of wood out of the car just to get it to fit within the weight guidelines. Seriously? So these cars become mangled messes just to be able to compete.

I find it ironic that the Olympic Winter Games are starting this week. Sure, Olympiads use the latest technology to give themselves an edge. But at the heart of the games is friendly and fair competition. It’s a time for that athlete to shine. Otherwise, doping would be acceptable and we wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the whole Nancy Kerrigan scandal years ago.

The Cub Scouts pinewood derby competitions should be about letting each child shine rather than showing off the mechanical skills of their fathers. Tonight is our weight in for our den. I’m hoping the dads will allow their boys to shine… but I have a feeling there will be some who insist that while they’re cheering on for their sons, they’re really cheering on for themselves.


  1. We did the race cars similarly when I was a kid in Awana. The dads were always super excited about it. My dad helped me but let me do a lot of the design and things.

  2. Very cool. I remember when my son was doing that.

    It is cool, happy for him.

    Great post.

  3. My hubby was in the cub scouts as a kid and he remembered his dad doing all the hard stuff and as a result, my hubby didn’t gain much from the experience. So when we had 3 sons, he didn’t want to sign them up and would rather do sports. Our kids enjoy it and we go to the Lowe’s free building clinics when we get in the mood to build things 🙂 good luck in the race, hope the dads behave themselves and play fair!! 🙂

    1. That’s so unfortunate that your husband had that experience. How wonderful that he recognizes that he wants to do things the kids can participate in. We love the free building clinics at Lowe’s and Home Depot, too 🙂

  4. I am so glad that we are on the Boy Scout part of our journey and that our days of Pinewood Derby are behind us. It was so frustrating to see cars win that were more for the dads than the boys. I hope your Derby goes well and that all of the boys have fun.

    1. It will definitely be interesting and I’m sure they’ll be an updated post from me! The check in is tonight and then the competition is tomorrow morning.

  5. I was my son’s Cub Scout leader for 3 very long years, and had at least one son in Scouts for over 10. Derbies are definitely a contest between the parents, and it’s painfully obvious when the kids had no hand in making the cars. Over the years, this has gotten much worse.
    When my first son won his derby, we went to the next level in a much larger city. That was when I first saw evidence of the parent-built cars, but also heard tales of parents paying big money for professionals to build their sons cars. This is NOT what Pinewood Derby is supposed to be about.
    Thankfully when my sons were competing, the judges took into consideration the cars that were obviously painted by the children. We were all surprised when my son won best design as there were many cars there with much better paint jobs.
    There are weights that are adjustable-they just need to be unscrewed and pieces taken off. There’s no reason to be digging pieces of wood out of a car.
    If you take your car into a post office, they’ll usually be very happy to weight it for you. We always used our cheapo kitchen scale and came very close.

  6. Hi Jenny, I like your post. My son used to be a cub scout, and would probably stay one if he had this activity. I was active as a cub mom too, but my son mow plays football and is also in the earth club.

  7. Oh I think you nailed it when you said “but how much can a 7yo really do?” It’s obvious, painfully so, when the parents do the cars for the kids. I love that it gets the kids and parents doing an activity together but when some of the cars look like a 7yo did it and others look professional – for me, it takes away from the fun of the whole thing. The kids notice and know that it isn’t about them anymore.

    1. Oh. My. Gosh!!! I’ve never heard of this movie before but it is SO true. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. My husband has to do a couple of cars this weekend with the kids. He does involve them but there is still so much that only he can do. I really do not like whoever thought of this activity :).

  9. I remember doing this with my son. there are lots of rules to the derby and I guess some people will cheat on anything.

    1. Apparently there were a couple of people who were disqualified for using “illegal” wheels. It’s a shame that it can’t just be a friendly competition.

  10. I remember those days. I didn’t understand the parental interference part until I saw it in action, too. My son’s car never won, but we had a good time working on it together. Especially since neither one of us knew what we were doing, so there was lots of laughter.

  11. Sir Hillary Bray says:

    Ok, so it’s not your fault that you just don’t get it…I guess… A scout can build a winning car with minimal adult guidance. The rules are there to not give anyone an unfair advantage. It has been this way since the beginning of racing…just accept it. A good parent will let the scout do the work….it will be more rewarding. BTW, I’m a Cubmaster.

  12. Charles Towns says:

    Your dad’s must have not known what they were doing. I “Help” my son with his car (and yes my son and i worked together on his car). They can can weigh up to 5 ounces. Each scale is a bit different, but 5 OZ exactly is what you want. So I got some Tungsten putty. I make the car about 4.8 OZ on my scale (with my son’s help of course). We then bring the putty with us and add or take away whatever is needed for that scale.

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