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Pinewood Derby Tears Up the Track

Arlington and McLean Cub Scouts race their pine cars at the Ballston Common Mall in an event complete with sponsors.

Some miniature hotrods tore up the track at the Ballston Commons Mall Saturday in a pinewood derby for local Cub Scouts.

“This is a tradition that’s as old as scouting,” said Jack Hannon, chairman for the local scouting district.

The Scouts fashioned the 5-ounce, handmade racers from solid blocks of pine, fitting them with wheels and weights to make them fast enough for competition. Designs ranged from streamlined sports car look-alikes to experimental cars like “Homer’s Hot Ride,” created by 10-year-old Brendon Brooks. The added weight of Homer Simpson behind the wheel gave Brendon’s car an edge on the tiny racetrack. Brendon later took home an award for the design.

“We had a Christmas ornament with Homer on it,” he said. “I got the figure from that and put it on the car. It helps to give it weight. Part of the idea I got from my mom.”

In Arlington schools, more than 30 percent of young boys participate in the Cub Scouts, according to district executive Joe Franco. The organization itself is now in its 75th year.

“This race is one of the highlights of Cub scouting,” Franco said. “It’s educational, teaching the Scouts lessons in aerodynamics and engineering. It’s also a lesson in good sportsmanship.”

John Shears, 9, had studied the design of his wedge-shaped car at length before the race.

“I did a science fair project on which would work better, having weight in the front of the car or in the back,” said the student from McKinley Elementary School. “The cars with the weight in the back won. I’ve worked on this for a while.”

Many parents and former Scouts turned out for the event.

“Right now, we have parents and grandparents here who both took part in pinewood derbies when they were Scouts,” Franco said. “It becomes a family tradition.”

ALONG WITH the race and the car show highlighting creative designs, the race was complete with a pit for damaged cars, electronic timing equipment and commercial sponsors. The Scouts also got some support from a real race car driver, Tim Minor, whose son competed in the event. Minor — who races open-wheeled formula cars in the SCCA Nationals — brought in some help from sponsors like Nextel, Mobile and Hoosier Racing Tires.

“I was a Scout, and now my son is,” he said. “I think this is a great tool for teaching hard work and respect for others. That’s what scouting is all about.”

Contestants in Saturday’s race consisted of the top cars from each of the 21 Cub Scout packs in the area, according to Hannon. Each one, he said, was made by Scouts themselves and was run against every other car in the event.

”Moms and dads can help a little, but the car really has to be the Scout’s creation,” Hannon said.

Winners took home prizes in several categories. In the first Webelo - a term for younger scouts - category, racer Matthew Koenig took third place, Sean Fitzpatrick took second and Nicholas Hayes took home first prize. Each one of the three racers is in fourth grade.