More than 30 young racers faced stiff competition the afternoon of Jan. 23, and not just because their “cars” consisted mainly of wood and plastic. But when the sawdust settled and the last plastic wheel crossed the checkered finish line in the Vogelweh Elementary School gym that was converted temporarily into a four-lane “racetrack,” every boy advanced in his Scouting journey, if not in the “Vogelweh Cup” standings.
A robust “pit crew” of about 60 adult volunteers, Boy Scout mentors, enthusiastic parents, and boisterous brothers and sisters packed a makeshift “infield” for the annual Pack 69 Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.
Inclement weather triggered a morning caution flag, but the derby shifted into high gear shortly after noon.
Cars competed by “den,” with the fastest racing against each other in subsequent rounds. Automotive engineers included parents, sisters and adult volunteers competing in separate categories as well as Tiger, Wolf, Bear and “WEBELO” Scouts.
Prizes went not only to the swiftest but also to those demonstrating unique creativity and skill in craftsmanship, design and decor.
Scouts, “assistants” and adult volunteers created cars from kits that included a small block of pinewood, plastic wheels and thin steel pins employed as axles. Only imagination, the dimensions of the foundational blocks, and supplies at homes and area craft shops limit automotive shapes, sizes, themes, and color and decoration schemes.
With the combination of young Scouts, even younger brothers and sisters, modest attention spans and sweets, derby day invariably featured impromptu climbing and chasing games, assorted hijinks and frequent visits to the refreshment table in addition to the races.
Organizers joined exhilarated young racers for a victory lap in the aftermath of the well-planned event that progressed as swiftly and efficiently as the cars themselves and successfully employed electronic tracking technology.
“It’s all about friendly competition,” said Sara Micciche, a key event manager and Pack 69 leader. “It encourages craftsmanship, design, even physics if they take it that far. But whatever happens with their cars, it’s definitely about teaching good sportsmanship.”
The Boy Scouts who served as event cadre and informal mentors to the young racers also benefited from their tour with the Pack pit crew.
“This is an ideal opportunity to support our younger brother organizations,” said Alvina Cooley, a leading event organizer and half of the dynamic husband-and-wife team that manages the Vogelweh Boy Scout troop. “It’s a way to help out with a key Cub Scout event and recruit. They also set an example for the younger kids. The Cub Scouts see the Boy Scouts playing an important part in this, serving as leaders and experts, and that’s a strong, positive example.”
On a practical level, Cooley added, all parties view the Boy Scouts as “honest brokers” since they have no dog — or car — in the race.
“It eliminates any perception of bias since they’re not racing and they’re not parents of kids who are racing,” Cooley said.
Participating parents applauded the efforts of racers, organizers, officials, cadre and cooks: no “backseat drivers” allowed.
“The kids put an extraordinary amount of work into it this year,” said Mark Brandon, an exercise planner with 21st Theater Sustainment Command Headquarters and proud father of two “WEBELO” Scouts. “We had absolutely terrific cars and a great track. The kids were really into it; they seemed to be having a lot of fun. The whole event was done very well, very smoothly.”
The event, Brandon added, “got on track” well before the first heat.
“The pack and den leaders did a great job of organizing workshops and creating opportunities for the kids to work on the cars over weekends,” Brandon said. “That really encouraged the kids to ‘take ownership’ of the process — designing, cutting, painting, decorating — everything that goes into building the cars. They can take a lot of pride in what they accomplished.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Richard Vandeway, a human resources technician with the TSC’s 16th Sustainment Brigade and proud papa of Wolf and “WEBELO” Scouts, described the derby as an ideal developmental and family opportunity for Scouts, sisters and parents alike.
“It’s a neat event,” Vandeway said. “By putting a little bit of science together with a lot of fun, the kids learn something without even realizing it. And I think having the parents and kids involved in a shared project adds something. It’s that much more meaningful when the parents and siblings participate alongside the Scouts. It builds bonds between parents and kids as well as between the Scouts themselves.
“I like that there’s an opportunity for actual success and failure rather than just the ‘participation trophy’ so common these days,” Vandeway added. “They’re learning sportsmanship — dealing appropriately with victory and defeat in a structured way with the parents involved. It’s better for them to learn these lessons now than to learn it for the first time in their ‘20s.”
For Scouts, the formula was simple: racing plus snacks plus horseplay equals fun.
“I liked that we all got to race each other and that we could go to the finals,” said 8-year-old Wolf Scout Michael Vandeway. “I also liked that we got to play while we weren’t racing.”
Few if any Scouts argued against that assessment.
“I liked the fun,” said 9-year-old Bear Scout Garrett Micciche. “I liked seeing all the different sorts of cars and playing games during the set-up.”
Fellow 8-year-old Bear Scout Jason Vanlangendonck offered a similar and succinct appraisal of derby day, noting that he liked “racing” and “eating.”
The leaders of the pack advance to district level. They’ll face other top competitors from across the area in a district derby slated for March 5 at the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center. Cub Scout Pack 69 and Boy Scout Troop 69 consists almost entirely of military families serving in the KMC. They collaborate with American Scouting organizations across central Europe on major campouts, civics, handicraft and outdoor events as well as Scout Cup circuit races.