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Cub Scouts compete in citywide Pinewood Derby Grand Prix 2006

Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2006

Lizard cars and hot rods sent kids into a frenzy on Saturday at the Nugget Mall.

The Cub Scouts' Pinewood Derby Grand Prix 2006 was the first in years to bring all the packs together to compete against scouts from across the city.

An electronic timer acquired last year made it possible for the borough's nearly 300 Cub Scouts to compete against each other. In previous years the competition was limited to the children at the school their pack represents.

"In the old days it was stopwatches," said Mayor Bruce Botelho, a troop committee chairman and emcee for Saturday's event. "With this we're able to measure to thousandths of a second and I think that instills a lot of excitement for the boys."

Each participant begins days before the competition with an official Pinewood Derby kit that includes a block of wood, four plastic tires and four nails to attach the wheels. The kids are given creative license to construct their vehicle in any way they choose, as long as it weighs 5 ounces or less.

"It's all up to the boy on how he cuts it up, and paints it, and adds weight, and all that sort of stuff," said Ivan Hazelton, Pack 7 den leader at Mendenhall River Community School.

A three-lane track standing about 3 feet tall curved down to floor level and let gravity drive the competition Saturday.

The derby vehicles ranged from a Corvette to a crocodile. Some were built with aerodynamics and speed in mind, while others seemed designed for style and personal enjoyment.

There were divisions that pitted the children from around the borough against kids with their own Cub Scout rank - Tigers, Wolves, Bears, Webelos year one and Webelos year two - with the top three of each rank receiving a trophy. Each vehicle raced three times in its division, with total time deciphering the winner of each rank. The top places then competed with other ranks for an overall Juneau Pinebox Derby champion.

Sam Kurland, the first-place winner for Webelos year one, decided to take the design that has done well for him at the pack level to the citywide derby this year.

"This is my third year with it and it's been quite successful every year," he said. "It's sort of like a wedge except it's got a whole bunch of weight to it. It weighed in almost at precisely 5 ounces, the maximum weight this year."

The Cub Scouts' nationwide annual event began in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 1953, started by Cubmaster Don Murphy because his son was too young to compete in a soapbox derby.

Phillip Martin, a scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 700 and on hand to help with the event, said making the Pinewood Derby a citywide event this year was an excellent idea.

"It gets the Cubs to see who else is in Cub Scouts outside of their schools. It gets them to recognize names and faces," he said.

Dylan Taylor, who competed in the Bear division on Saturday, said the event is fun even when you don't win first place.

"It's like really, really, really, really, really fun to do this and very exciting," he said.

His father, Greg Taylor, said watching the event is also fun.

"They have a lot of fun - they love it," he said. "I think it's good for them. They form friendships early on that last for years."

Botelho said the derby is about more than the competition itself.

"Of course the challenge here isn't simply to win a race, it's the skills that are involved and the cooperation of the parent with the child constructing the pinewood derby car," he said.

Lee Kadinger, the district director for the Boy Scouts, said hundreds of hours went into pulling off the derby this year, from the volunteers setting up the track to the Cubs creating their vehicles. He said the event is a good way to get the kids together, but also a way to get the volunteers and parents together to learn about what kinds of activities the other packs do.

"It's really something," he said. "They get to see what other kids are doing and it exposes them to more than just their area. Kids from the valley are racing against kids from Douglas. It really gets them talking too."

Martin said the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, which are celebrating their 75th year, are instrumental in guiding the youth.

"Like other youth programs it gives them a chance to let off their energy, but also learn how to work together," Botelho said. "They're learning skills that people will use all their lives."

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