The smell of sawdust wafts through the air and the whine of power tools assaults the ears upon entering the Boy Scouts of America's Scout Hut on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. It's mid-February and the boys of Cub Scout Pack 462 are preparing for the annual Pinewood Derby in late March.

The derby is an event that many Cub Scouts look forward to each year. The inaugural race happened in California in 1952 after Cubmaster Don Murphy's son wanted to participate in the popular soapbox derbies, but he was too small.

During the Pinewood Derby boys, and in some packs, their families, race against each other in a gravity-powered drag race with vehicles they have created from kits which include a pinewood block, four plastic wheels and four small nails to be used as axels.

These vehicles start as plain blocks of wood that need carving and shaping, generally by the boys with the help of an adult. However, some adults don't have the proper tools to facilitate this transformation from plain wood into a highly-stylized, aerodynamic racing machine.

This is why Pack 462 held the first of two Pinewood Derby Garages. It was a chance for Cub Scouts and their families to go to the BSA Scout Hut and create their vehicles.

"These garages help build bonds between the scouts and their families," said Pack 462's Assistant Cubmaster, Sean Fitzgibbon. "As the scouts work with their parents to come up with designs and mold cars we see their faces light up."

The leaders of Pack 462 have donated their time, tools and equipment allowing the boys and their families an opportunity they otherwise might not have. This makes the Pinewood Derby more exciting and fun for the children as their vehicles will have a better chance of crossing the finish line faster, said Pack 462's Committee Chair Cassandra Nordin.

"I am not mechanically inclined so his derby cars may have suffered from my ineptitude in the past," said Fitzgibbon. "But I was able to learn new tips and tricks to create the car better this year,"

While some families need to use these garages because they don't have access to the tools, others choose to cut their cars at these events for the camaraderie.

"Even though my dad has the tools I needed to build my car, I wanted to come to the garage and build my car with my friends," said Cub Scout, Richard Souza. "I traced the design I wanted and had help cutting it out so I could sand and paint it."

The Boy Scouts of America program allows Cub Scout-aged boys use hand tools and as they get older the program grows with them. As the child gets older the program becomes more self-motivated and reliant upon the child's drive, according the BSA Rules and Regulations.

The Scouting program has more for boys and their families than just building and racing cars. The program is geared to building future leaders through fun and interesting age-appropriate activities, according to the BSA mission statement.

"Scouting really helps the boys mature. They start with parent participation and gradually move on to fully independent, hands-on work," said Fitzgibbon. "Scouting in general assists boys along the path to adulthood by gradually adding responsibility and more advanced skills."

"I have gone camping with my family and worked on science projects with my dad because of Cub Scouts," added Souza. "Every time we do a Scouting event, my dad and I have a lot of fun together."

Cub Scouts is a child-and-parent program aimed at creating young men who are ready to rise to the challenges of life while learning the importance of family and community, according to the BSA mission statement.

"Scouting allows me and other parents to watch our sons tackle multiple challenges and gain a wide range of experiences," said Fitzgibbon. "I really enjoy watching parent and Cub Scout teams working to achieve the Cub Scout's vision."

The next Pinewood Derby Garage is scheduled March 12 from 12 p.m.-2 p.m. The Pinewood Derby is scheduled for March 25.

For more information about the Boy Scouts of America program go to http://www.scouting.org/ or https://beascout.scouting.org/.

Editor's note:
This story the first in a two-part series about Cub Scout Pack 462's Pinewood Derby.