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History of the Pinewood Derby 

Example of pinewood car
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What is the Pinewood Derby?

The Pinewood Derby is a Cub Scout car race where 7 inch toy cars are raced down a sloped track. The concept originated with Don Murphy.

"I wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition."
Don Murphy,
Founder of the Pinewood Derby in 1953
Manhattan Beach, CA Cub Scout Pack 280C

The Birth of the Pinewood Derby Car Race


Don Murphy’s idea for the Pinewood Derby began in the Management Club at North American Aviation, where he worked. Mr. Murphy wanted to create a Cub Scout activity he could do with his son. The idea of racing miniature cars came to him while thinking of his company sponsored Soap Box Derby races.

"I'd made models of airplanes, cars, boats, and any number of other structures and remembered the pleasure I got out of doing it," he said. "I also wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition."

He asked the Management Club at his company, North American Aviation, to sponsor a miniature racing event for his Cub Scout pack that he had named a "pinewood derby." The club agreed to pay for the wood and other materials.

Murphy designed a miniature car that could be carved out of soft pinewood and wrote the rules. "Pack 280C had seven dens and den mothers," remembers Murphy, "and totaled 55 Cub Scouts at the time. Originally the block of wood we included in the kit was carved down in the forward third to a kind of cockpit. We put the wood, wheels, and nails into a brown paper sack with an assigned number. Some Cub Scout fathers built a 31-foot race ramp with two lanes and a battery-run finish line made from doorbells. Light bulbs would identify the winner."

Catching on like wildfire, the derby was an instant success and for a time was copied, with the Management Club's permission, by the Los Angeles County Department of Recreation. Then word reached the national director of Cub Scouting Service, O. W. (Bud) Bennett, who wrote Murphy:

"We believe you have an excellent idea, and we are most anxious to make your material available to the Cub Scouts of America."

Within the year the pinewood derby was adopted for use in all Cub Scout packs. In its October 1954 issue, Boys' Life publicized the event and offered plans for the track and a car, which featured "four wheels, four nails, and three blocks of wood."

Little has changed in the derby since 1953. During that time an estimated 43 million sons and fathers (mostly) have participated. And today's generation of Cub Scouts, moms and dads share the same fun, thrills, and rewarding moments.

Another event similar to the Pinewood Derby is the Shape N' Race Derby. This derby is part of the Christian Service brigade.

(Parts of this article were reproduced from The Founder and the Finder, By Barbara M. Wolcott, Scouting Magazine)


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