Ah, race day…to the Scouts who work countless hours on a simple block of wood and handcraft it into a majestic speedster, built to crush the competition in the blink of an eye (good sportsmanship first and foremost, of course), this day couldn’t come soon enough. The number of hours the young boys dedicate to the activity can range from an hour to weeks but every minute spent is full of pride and anticipation. The Pinewood Derby Race (PWD) was not always an annual event in scouting though. The start of PWD is a story of a man determined to give his son a racing experience he would never forget.
The Pinewood Derby race is a tradition in scouting that may not have started without the drive from Cub Master Don Murphy from Pack 280c. In 1952, his 10-year old son was too young to race in the Soap Box Derby and Murphy wanted a father-son activity they could do while in cub scouts. “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, 1953
Lucky for us, Murphy was a model maker and the idea of a fun, safe activity such as racing small cars down a track came easily for him. The Management Club at North American Aviation, where Murphy worked, already sponsored the Soap Box Derby and he hoped they saw the potential in his idea as well. The Club was excited about the idea and sponsored the first Pinewood Derby Car race by providing a monetary donation to make the car kits as well as donating trophies. From that point, Murphy presented everything to the Leadership and Committee members for the 55 youth Pack and was met with enthusiasm and drive to build the track.
The kits consisted of a 7 3/8 ” block of pine wood with small wooden struts holding the finished nails as axles. These kits were distributed to the boys on April 17th and were completed on the May 15th. After weeks of hard work and effort, the day had come to test their skills- racing day! The Manhattan Beach Scout House was packed with enthusiastic and excited Scouts and parents waiting to see what feat their car would hold. Don Murphy saw the smiling faces of the 55 scouts and knew he created something special but had no idea that over time, those 55 faces would multiply to over 50 million children worldwide!
Don Murphy passed away at the age of 90 on July 9, 2008 knowing his idea spread through Cub Scouts into Girl Scouts, Awana Grand Prix, Royal Rangers, Kub Kar Rally, Shape N Race Derby, WIRL (Woodcar Independent Racing League) as well as the US Military, corporations and many others to “promote relationships, craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition.”
I am grateful for the vision Murphy had and his desire to share an experience with his son. If it were not for his drive, my son and I nor my den and I, would ever know what fantastic experiences and memories we were missing. The look on a Scouts face when his car is completed is one of sheer joy and the parents reflect back with pride. The excitement of race day oozes throughout the building and cheers and chants echo through the room as the race goes on and we have Don Murphy and everyone involved in the startup process to thank for that.
This year at PWD, take a moment to share with your Scouts the story of how and why the race was started. Encourage them to be as adventurous and hungry for new and exciting ways to grow and bond with their parents just as Murphy was. You never know, your Scout may be the one who holds the idea for the next greatest scouting activity!