Scouts' racers to compete in Steel City District's Grand Prix
By Matthew Santoni
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
After weeks of work turning a block of wood, two axles and four plastic wheels into lean, mean racers, about 100 Scouts from parts of Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties will gather on Saturday in West Mifflin for the Steel City District Pinewood Derby Grand Prix.
The Steel City District's Grand Prix, in the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics at the Allegheny County Airport, is one of a few regional races being held for top winners of each Cub Scout pack's races, said Cubmaster Kevin Karnack of Pleasant Hills Pack 562, which is hosting the event for the third year in a row.
This is the first year it will be held at the Aeronautics school, thanks to an official there with a son in Scouting.
“We thought the kids would really love being there, racing their cars between all the planes in the hangar,” Karnack said.
After qualifying in local races in malls, schools and church halls, Scouts in the Tiger, Wolf, Bear and Webelo age brackets will send their cars down a sloped track three times each past an electronic timer. Their final time is the average of the three runs.
“The Pinewood Derby is one of the pinnacle events of the Cub Scout year,” said Joe Milharcic, director of field services for the Boy Scouts' Laurel Highlands Council. “Most kids consider it the most exciting thing they do in Cub Scouts.”
Kids from ages 6 to 12 learn teamwork from working with their parents to make their racers and the “pit crews” to make them race-ready; healthy competition on race days; and patience from building their racers and sending them down the ramps in various “heats” that match similar cars against each other to make sure everything is competitive, Miharcic said.
Karnack said the Scouts show a wide range of skill levels and get creative with their racers. He's seen cars shaped like Lego blocks, classic hot rods, tanks, DeLoreans and Batmobiles.
Josh Moore, the first-place winner from Pack 562's qualifying race Jan. 25, built his racer to resemble the slim, silver remote control for an Apple TV, said his father, Scott Moore.
“He wanted it to look like something Apple would design — he's a 10-year-old Apple fanboy — but the blocks we work with aren't the right size for an iPod or iPad,” said Scott Moore, 39, of Pleasant Hills.
The two worked together about three hours the Sunday before the first race to do most of the cutting, then worked little by little throughout the week to sand it down and get tapered edges, prime and paint the silvery metal finish, draw on the circular “controls” of the remote and get the axles and wheels just right, he said. The process helped Josh, a third-grader at Wilson Christian Academy in West Mifflin, learn to use some basic power tools and techniques, he said.
“He was thrilled that it did as well as it did and it looked the way he wanted it to,” Scott Moore said.
Josh said he got to do some of the cutting, sanding and painting himself, and looks forward to pitting his racer against others this weekend.
“I think I'll do pretty good, because I did good before,” he said. “I was really surprised because I didn't think I was going to win… it's been really fun.”
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625.
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