At the Pinewood Derby, everybody goes home a winner
By Mark E. Vogler
About 100 people turned out last Saturday morning in the basement of Cliftondale Congregational Church to watch adults and kids race miniature homemade wooden cars down a 50-foot long, four-lane track at speeds estimated at 200 miles per hour. “This is the highlight of the Cub Scouting program – definitely a capstone event,” Troop 61 Boy Scout leader Kevin Wildman declared as he showed up as a guest for the annual Pinewood Derby sponsored by Saugus Cub Scout Pack 62.
“I think this program is probably the top event that’s responsible for recruiting kids into Cub Scouting. They see the cars and want to be a part of it,” he said.
Wildman loves the event. But he didn’t get to enjoy a derby of his own this year because his troop didn’t have enough young kids and leaders to have a Cub Scout pack.
“In the true scouting spirit, the one reason I’m here is that I get to watch the race – not run the race,” he said.
A friendly challenge
Wildman also enjoys “having fun, talking a little smack with other adults,” as he offers a challenge to an adult leader who works with the Cub Scouts in Pack 62: “I’m going to race Mr. D’Eon in a head-to-head race next year” – referring to Saugus Deputy Fire Chief Tom D’Eon.
“Tom’s son [Jake] was in my pack in 2014 and I helped him run with that car. He loved that car – ‘Frank The Tank.’ It had a camouflaged paint job,” Wildman said. “Frank The Tank” ran so well, it enabled Jake D’Eon to finish in second place a few years back.
In Saturday’s “open race” – which featured some friendly competition from parents and siblings of the Pack 62 Cub Scouts – Deputy Chief D’Eon took second place, using another car that Jake made in a previous year: “the Flame.” The car was also good enough to win Jake a second place award.
“Sure, I did the Pinewood Derby as a kid,” D’Eon recalled. “I did it a couple of times as a Cub Scout. My cars never did well. But using Jake’s car today, I did well. It was a good car.”
But Jake’s “Mash” car, built like a military ambulance, didn’t do very well as he competed in his final Pinewood Derby as a Cub Scout. “I just threw it together, but it wasn’t that great,” he said.
A 30-year-old car
The Cub Scouts with the fastest cars this year were Kyle Souza, first place; Michael Donohue, second place; JJ Zirpolo, third place; and Caleb Karp, fourth place. Billy Ferringo, 12, of Saugus Boy Scout Troop 62, won the bragging rights for having the oldest car of the day. During the “open race,” he used the same car that his dad used in a Cub Scout Pinewood Derby 30 years ago. But the car, which is named “Weasel,” finished last.
Billy took the poor showing in stride. “I kind of expected it to finish last,” Billy said. “Because, when I ran it down the ramp the first time, it was shaking wildly,” he said.
“I finished third place during my Webelo year in 2014. I had the experience of winning, so it’s definitely fun watching other people win a derby for the first time,” he said.
Saugus Pack 62 Cubmaster Bill Ferringo recalled that his old car, “Weasel,” was more competitive when he competed with it. “I remember being in the finals and not winning, but can’t recall where I finished,” Ferringo said.
“Yeah, ‘Weasel’ was my car when I was 12 or 13, so it’s … older than the other cars, lol. (about 30 years old). Weasel was a nickname of mine because I was lanky and slender and could move much faster back then – like a weasel,” he said.
“In the open race Kyle’s mom, Jamie Nolan, won with her “car with no name.” Tom D’Eon finished second with his car “The Flame.” Those cars can get pretty creative,” Ferringo said.
“Lisa Zirpolo made one that looked like a gumball machine, which was neat. Jen D’Eon made one that looked like a pink pearl eraser (e-racer). Brennan Lynch made a Tank with his father, Fran Lynch, fashioning a metal barrel for it. The creativity is half the fun,” he said.
All in all, it was a successful year for the 2018 Pinewood Derby, according to Ferringo. “It’s a fun event. This is the biggest one I’ve been a part of – 27 scout cars and I believe 15 parent/sibling cars,” he said. This year was pretty high tech, too, with a computer working with a laser beam at the top and a laser beam at the bottom at the finish line to determine the winners.
“I remember back when we were kids, there were two dads at the end of the track, eyeballing the cars closely to see who was the winner. And they weren’t always right,” Wildman said.
Of course, it’s difficult sometimes when the cars are zipping past the checkered flags at about 200 miles per hour. “But it’s always a great family event, where moms and dads get to help kids build their cars. Everybody can have a piece in helping out to build the car,” Wildman said.