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Pinewood Derby excites children, families

Local kids had a chance to participate in one of the highlights of scouting, the Pinewood Derby.

Homemade derby cars were cued up on the racetrack and ready to go Jan. 14 at Cardinal Joseph Bernandin Pack 300’s annual Pinewood Derby held at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Orland Park.

“It’s family friendly,” said Art Lubinski, committee chairman for the Pinewood Derby. “The Scouts participate. The siblings participate. It’s a great way for the family to have fun.”

This year’s theme focused more on racing-oriented models. From Stars Wars to Super Mario Brothers and hot dogs to Hershey’s chocolate, participants sought to add a personal touch to their cars. The first Scouts to race and build their Pinewood Derby cars dates back to 1953, and the event’s importance continues to ring true for many of the pack.

“We teach the kids about kinetic energy,” said Darryl Tabor, a den leader for Cardinal Joseph Bernandin Pack 300. “Some cars run faster than others. Well, why is that? We want them to learn why that is, [how] kinetic energy works. That’s why the track is sloped like it is, and it planes and comes to the end. So, every car’s going to be a different speed, based on the way they put the weights, the wheels, the axels. We learn about friction. Friction slows the car down. So, lots of kids will learn that in doing the Pinewood Derby, have lots of fun, and [engage in] teambuilding.”

Members of the pack and their siblings, if they elected to do so, had about a month to put together their Pinewood Derby cars.

More than 55 children signed up to compete in the annual event this time around.

Weighing in at no more than five ounces, each car came ready to heat up the racetrack.

Ready. Set. Go.

Oak Forest’s Al Alvarez was watching on as his 7-year-old grandson, Benjamin Miller, and his Pinewood Derby car prepared for take off in its second heat.

“We already got second place, and now, we’re going for another,” he said. “We’re trying to get better.”

Miller is new to the pack and never previously attended a Pinewood Derby. His favorite part, Miller said, is seeing “all the designs of the cars” at the event.

Miller’s car was designed to embody the Creeper, a hostile mob depicted in the videogame “Minecraft.” Alvarez helped Miller to build and design the car.

“It was awesome,” he said. “We had a lot of fun.”

Miller’s car hit the racetrack and outran all of the others this time around.

Miller said it felt “really good” to win first place.

Michael Meyer, 6, of Homer Glen, was watching the races from the sideline with his mother, Alice, and his 4-year-old brother, Max.

“[We came to] have fun, and I think since this is their first year, [we’ve learned] what to do next year,” Alice said.

Michael and his father worked together on the Pinewood Derby car, and it has bulldogs and some flames painted on top of it.

Alice said Michael’s car performed okay, but his brother’s did a little better and went on to say she and her family’s decision to attend the Pinewood Derby was not for naught.

“There’s some kids [here] in [Michael’s] own class that he goes to school with, [and he’s] getting to know the other kids,” she said. “It’s great.”

Alice said she could absolutely see her family returning to the Pinewood Derby next year.

Victory lap

Awards were distributed toward the event’s conclusion to participating children for racing and style. The latter includes categories such as most creative, most imaginative and funniest, just to name a few.

Lubinski said there are many different ways to win.

Tabor said the Pinewood Derby has a way of becoming a staple for many of the children and families on hand, as they come back year after year and added that it has proven to be a successful event over time.

“It’s like a normal race,” Tabor said.