Relay: Day at the Races

We had a genuine battle of the sexes under our very own roof

My son had already begun sketching out his Pinewood Derby car when word came that the Shelter Island Cub Scouts had invited the Girl Scouts — his older sister among them — to take part this year. 

Jasper was not pleased, but Jade was thrilled. We had a genuine battle of the sexes under our very own roof. He immediately claimed it was “not fair” and that she would copy his design. Just as likely, he was worried her car might be better and faster than his. At the same time, he had enjoyed the special attention he got as he talked out his plans with his dad. Jade had plans of her own, however, and they looked nothing like his. She decided right away that hers would be a unicorn car, in spirit if not in appearance. 

To help out, my husband took the lead researching the technical details, and I turned to Pinterest to pull up a vast catalog of potential designs. I tried to give the kids the space to plot out their cars without much interference, because I know my self too well: Once I got the bug, it would be hard to hold back my own strong opinions about how they should form and decorate their cars. I mean, who wouldn’t want to help cut the pine block just so and sand it to the perfect smoothness, paint it with a steadier hand, and carefully attach the wheels for maximum speed? I had so many great ideas!

Scout parents out there, don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. Go to any Pinewood Derby in the country and you’ll see those cars that look too refined to be made by the hands of a 7 or 9 or 12-year-old. 

It was hard, but I resisted the urge to butt in and take over, offering support only (or mostly only) when asked. 

The Pinterest Pinewood Derby boards were astounding. Judging by the array of finely crafted vehicles with professional flourishes and aerodynamic lines, the Pinewood Derby seed, once planted, continues to grow and flourish long after young scouts graduate into adulthood. Many a budding automotive engineer must have gotten his or her start with a simple block of pine. 

In the end, no matter how beautiful the creations, the derby winners are determined by speed. Which of those little cars, weighted just right and propelled only by gravity, will cross the track’s finish line first? 

Looks may not count, but it sure is fun to check out what everyone comes up with. 

It’s tempting to say that this moment of reckoning in America, which has women across industries demanding that their voices be heard on matters far more serious than the Pinewood Derby, had something to do with girls being invited to this year’s contest. In this case, I think it was sheer numbers — or the lack of them — that spurred the inclusion of girls in this generally boys-only arena. There were just eight boys set to take part. Seven girls took up the challenge. Double the fun. 

Boys and girls raced in separate timed heats. The top three boys and the top three girls won trophies. So close in speed were the eight boys’ cars that a mere three-tenths of a second separated the winner from the eighth-place finisher. 

And the girls? The fastest of their cars was even faster than the boys’ first-place winner. 

Next up, an adult Pinewood Derby, something I hear the Shelter Island Fire Department is considering as a fund-raiser this fall. Sign me up!  

Carissa Katz is The Star’s managing editor.