Cub Scouts off to the races in Pinewood Derby

A four-lane, 35-foot aluminum track stretched from the Chilmark Community Center stage to the edge of the foyer.


Cub Scouts from across Martha’s Vineyard squared off in the Pinewood Derby Saturday, an event that puts the theory of gravity and young imaginations, with a little help from Mom and Dad, to the test. The head-to-head competition was a race between miniature wood racecars down an elevated track set up in the Chilmark Community Center.

A four-lane, 35-foot aluminum track stretched from the community center stage to the edge of the foyer. Parents and Scouts lined either side and watched as the cars, propelled by gravity alone, sped down in heat after heat, to cheers of encouragement from the youngsters.

The cars varied widely in color and shape. Some sported aerodynamic fins, and others, tiny passengers. Many were fitted with recessed bolts or other bits of metal, not only to fine-tune balance, but to make it easier to trim the weight should a car exceed the official 5-ounce limit at weigh-in.

“All the cars start from kits that are all the same, containing a block of wood, four wheels, and four nails for axles,” Matthew Hayden, Island cubmaster, said in an email to The Times. “What they create with that block of wood is up to them, and only them. Very little, if any, parent help is allowed.”

“I wasn’t sure I was going to win or not,” said 9-year-old champion Linus Munn of Vineyard Haven. “I kinda thought on my sixth one [race] that I would maybe win it, ’cause I won every race.”

Linus’s winning car was a low-profile, royal blue racer (number 13). His father, Dan Munn, said 13 was Linus’s lucky number. Linus’s car took a week to build. Linus attributed precision sanding, careful weight placement, generous use of graphite, and a strategic hollow on the underside of his car as the technical elements that gave him a winning edge.

Brody Royal, a first grader from Edgartown, who according to his mother Jennifer was named after Chief Brody from Jaws, took second place in the Tiger Den group. He was proud of the first Pinewood Derby car he ever made, and readily described it. “Mine has stripes on it with a big number 2 on the front,” he said, bursting with excitement. “I couldn’t wait until the race started.”

Esther Hartmann of West Tisbury is Tiger Den leader. Brody, as well as her son, 7-year-old Ethan, are both in the den. She said she was proud of how diligently Ethan worked on his car to get it ready in time for the derby.

“Ethan designed, sawed, sanded, and completed his derby car independently with my supervision,” Ms. Hartmann said, “spending two Saturdays in a workshop and some time at home, totaling about 10 hours.”

Before his race began, Ethan admitted, he felt a little anxiety.

“I was a little bit nervous at first,” he said, “but then when I put the car on the track I wasn’t nervous.”

Six-year-old Quin Doyle of West Tisbury, also a Tiger member, crafted the fastest car of the den.

“My dad taught me a lot about following instructions and using tools, but I made the headlight and siren designs my way. It took a long time and a lot of steps to make my car,” he said. “The Pinewood Derby sure was a fun and exciting day. It was the first time I ever went to one, and my car won!”

“What I like about the Pinewood Derby is that from the day we give the boys the kit, they are already thinking about what they want,” said Mr. Hayden. “To see them work and struggle to get a car shape from that block, and then how proud they are when race day comes —the smiles on their faces and this glow of accomplishment — that from that point on I don’t think they care about winning or losing; just to see what they made run down that track is all they care about.”

John Freeman, the unit commissioner for the Cape and Islands Council of Boy Scouts of America, emphasized how enjoyable the derby had been, not just for the Cub Scouts but for their families too.

“It was clearly a fun family event,” he said in an email to The Times. “Families from all over the island took part. Parents had the opportunity to talk with other parents in an easygoing social atmosphere. The Packs’ adult leadership did a great job planning for the event, and then kept things running smoothly. The Cubs and their families had a great time that they will remember for years.”

Ms. Hartmann said scouting is a positive activity. “My inspiration for becoming a den leader was the opportunity to provide my son, Ethan, and other boys his age with an educational program that develops self-assurance, respect for other people and independence,” Ms. Hartmann said. “Cub Scouts is a program filled with adventure, a program that provides exciting indoor and outdoor activities.”

Linus Munn beat racers from four Island dens to win the derby. Oliver Larkosh of West Tisbury fielded the second-fastest car overall, and was the fastest among the Webelos. The other den winners were Eli Friedman of Bear Den, William Thorton of Wolf Den, and Quin Doyle of Tiger Den. Every scout that participated received a trophy, ribbon, or medal.

For more information about the Martha’s Vineyard Cub Scouts, contact Matthew Hayden: 774-563-9694, or