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Pinewood preparations
Annual derby is March 27
pinewood group PLEAS1B470E
Scouts who competed in a local pinewood derby hold their cars and trophies. - photo by Jim Dean
Seven-year-old Michael Francis sanded away his block of wood until he had the shape and speed he was seeking.

The Cub Scout then color-coordinated his car to match his scouting uniform.

No matter the shape or the design, however, Francis said his Pack 62 pinewood derby car “just kept on going in first place.”

The top spot will send him to the Etowah District championship on March 27, where he and other Forsyth County Cub and Tiger Scouts will race their pack champion cars.

Pinewood derby racing is a long-standing tradition for the Boy Scouts of America, which this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The first pinewood derby race took place in 1953 at Manhattan Beach, Calif. Don Murphy, father of a Scout, came up with the idea as a father-son activity for boys not old enough to compete in the soap box derby.

Model car racing took off quickly, and the Cub Scouts adopted the event, which has been an annual tradition for most packs since 1955.

The Etowah district, which includes 35 packs from Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties, has been holding a derby since it formed in 2000.

Tiger Scouts, who are in first grade, and Cub Scouts, boys in first through fifth grades, compete in two different age groups. Within each, they compete for the best looking or fastest car.

The district race, now in its 10th year, continues to grow, sometimes drawing up to 200 boys.

The roots of the original race are still in place, though, as the event still has a lot of dad — and sometimes mom — involvement.

Thibault Nichelson, 6, took best in show for Tigers in Pack 62. He designed the “Christmas Cruiser,” but needed help to execute his vision.

“It’s like he was the supervisor and we were the employees, and he gets the money,” said mother Celine Nichelson.

For some of the designs, even the older boys aren’t quite ready to handle the task alone.

“My dad helped,” said Diego Johnston, 10. “He doesn’t trust me with the saws and stuff.”

Though race day is the most exciting part for the boys, the parents can get quite involved in the design process.

Nick Bennett, committee chairman for Pack 39, said he ramped up his son’s idea of a boat with the idea for a Navy battleship.

“I’ve got adults that have made full-scale models of Corvettes and Lamborghinis,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Daniel Victorio, a lifelong Scout and executive director of the Etowah district, said he’s seen some interesting designs during his time.

Boys start out with just a block of pinewood, and from there they can make whatever they can imagine.

Creative designs are more likely to win a best in show trophy, Victorio said, while “the simpler designs are the ones that usually go faster.”

Scouts need to have about 5 ounces of weight in their cars to keep the races fair.

Even then, the times for the eight heats each car goes through are measured down to the thousandth of a second.

Nicholas Bernier, 8, said he didn’t know how his car managed to be the fastest in Pack 8307 Cub Scouts.

Added father Ken Bernier: “He just saw his car winning all the time.”

Benjamin Koerner, who finished third in speed at the Pack 62 race, said he was looking forward to the district event.

The best part?

“The winning,” the 6-year-old said.