Pinewood Derby

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Everyone who was a Cub Scout has memories of the Pinewood Derby. Michael Ellis was a Cub Scout and his memories of the annual rite are none too warm.

The Pinewood Derby was a very big deal when I was in the Cub Scouts. You buy a kit of a block of raw wood, some wheels and then you carve out your a race car, stick on the wheels and sand and paint it and then on the big derby night you race them down an official track. Awards are given to the winner of the race and also for the best finishing job.

So I brought my kit home and started slowly hacking away on the wood with my pocket knife. It was slow going to free my image of a race car from that hunk of wood but I was doing it. I asked my dad for a little help, that was part of the deal. He took the block of brutalized wood out of my hand and that was the last I saw of it for two weeks.

He took in to the giant fabrication and maintenance shop that he supervised for Union Carbide Corporation. Million dollar pieces of machinery and skilled hands apparently took over. When I got it back, the car was absolutely perfect, no blemishes, a glistening white paint job with the number 54, it even had specially created titanium axles. My father had carved out a hole under the car and melted lead into it to give it additional weight to carry down the track.

On the night of the Derby he just dropped me off and headed over to the Elks Club to drink with his buddies, he'd pick me up later. Upon check-in I found out that my car was overweight and I was disqualified. I went into a corner and started quietly weeping. Greyson Strang's dad saw me and came over and he managed to carve out enough of the lead for me to qualify. I proceeded to win every heat and the entire derby that night at Glenwood Elementary School in 1961.


I was embarrassed. I also probably would have won the best looking car, but it was clear to everyone that I hadn't done the work.

My dad was late picking me, everyone else was long gone by the time he arrived. "How did you do?" he asked. I told him that he had won the Derby, the car was number one. Nothing more was said on the long ride home.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist living in Santa Rosa.