By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Riley Hutton is a typical 8-year-old boy.
He likes to play video games and build with Legos. He has two puppies named Lucy and Bailey, and plans to play baseball this summer.
Riley is also a first-year Cub Scout and, as it turns out, a master at creating a pinewood derby car. His racer looks like a yellow block of Swiss cheese being driven by a small mouse wearing aviator goggles. Riley did so well at the pack, district and council races, he earned a trip to the second annual World Championship Pinewood Derby in New York City’s Times Square on June 25.
“The first time I ever raced, I got first place on the first race,” said Riley, grinning.
According to pinewoodpro.com, the pinewood derby was first developed in 1952 by a cubmaster who wanted to create a new father-son activity he could do with his son. The derby soon became a popular event with Cub Scout packs nationwide.
The idea behind the pinewood derby hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. Each Cub Scout is still responsible for carving a car out of a block of wood. The championship derby is hosted by the Greater New York Councils. In order to qualify, a Cub Scout must be a finalist in either their district or council pinewood derby.
Riley, the son of Joe and Anna Hutton of Findlay, finished first in his pack, third in district and first at council in his age division. A second-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, he is a Wolf scout.
“You just get this overwhelming proud feeling when he’s up there (racing),” said Anna. “You’re so proud that he’s not intimidated by it.”
Although boys can join the scouting program as early as kindergarten, Riley didn’t join until this year. He is part of Pack 334.
Riley got a late start on making his car, Joe said.
“I didn’t know about it until about 1 weeks before the race, so we were late getting started,” he said.
They went to the Scout Shop and bought a pre-cut, wedge-shaped car kit. Later, while looking at designs on the internet, they came across a car that looked like a block of cheese.
“It didn’t have the mouse or the windshield or anything on it,” Riley said. “And it was just a plain block of cheese. And then Dad, he thought of putting a mouse in it.”
They commandeered a playing piece from a Mouse Trap board game.
“He just wanted to make it more realistic with the little mouse in it driving it,” Joe said.
Riley helped drill the Swiss cheese holes into the wooden body, then helped attach a windshield taken from a Speed Racer Happy Meal car. Weights were placed at the back of the vehicle.
Joe wasn’t a Boy Scout growing up, so he didn’t have any experience building a pinewood derby car. But he researched the building process online and bought a book on the secrets to making a fast car.
“The only thing we had to test it on was the kitchen counter,” he said. “We kept rolling it back and forth, back and forth, until it would roll as straight as could be.”
They finished the car the day before the pack race, held March 19 at Chamberlin Hill Intermediate School.
“I was scared we weren’t going to get it finished,” Riley said.
“And I was a nervous wreck,” added Joe. “I just didn’t want him to finish last.”
Racing ahead of the pack
Cars must pass an inspection before they can race. Vehicles can’t weigh over 5 ounces, and cannot be longer than 7 inches or wider than 2 inches.
Prior to the first race, graphite shavings may be added to the wheels to make the cars run faster.
A three-lane, 32-foot long wooden track was used for the pack competition.
“All the kids had to race in all the lanes to make it fair because some lanes were faster than others,” Joe said.
The races are timed. The lowest score is dropped, and the rest of the times are averaged to determine the winner. About 15 scouts competed, he said.
Riley won every race and qualified for the district contest. Joe said his average time was about 2.45 seconds, which averages out to about 217 mph.
“It’s nerve-wracking for the parents,” Anna said. “But Riley wasn’t nervous at all. All of his friends were there so it was just fun.”
Riley’s car also was named best of show in paint and design, as voted on by the parents and scouts. He took home a first-place trophy and a gold medal.
The Arrow Wood District competition was held April 9 at Liberty-Benton Elementary School. This time the four-lane track was made of aluminum and measured 35 feet long.
“The track is longer at district. Our times were slower, just a little bit,” said Anna.
Riley competed against about 25 scouts from other towns in the district including Fostoria, Van Buren and Leipsic.
“The kids have to put the cars on the track, and honestly, if you don’t put that car on the track as straight as you can go, it will slow down,” said Joe. “He was first in the race after three races by 1/100th of a second. That last race, his time fell way off and I was like, he’s done.”
But Riley did well enough to take third place, which made him eligible for the council race. He also was one of two scouts chosen for top honors in the best paint and design category. This time the winners were selected by the scoutmasters.
Following the district race, Joe Hutton built a wooden test track at home for Riley to practice on in preparation for the council derby.
“I wanted him to practice making test runs and putting the car on straight and get used to centering it because the kids do it,” he said.
Previously, the scoutmasters placed the cars on the track.
“Now they changed it,” he said. “Now it’s up to the scouts.”
Joe Hutton said he was nervous at the Black Swamp Area Council derby held at St. Marks United Methodist Church’s dock on April 23. Again, a four-lane, 35-foot aluminum track was used. Riley was one of about 15 Wolves from throughout the council, which is composed of six districts and covers 13 counties in Ohio.
“I was biting my nails off and I’m sweating,” Joe said. “And we’re looking over there and there’s kids sitting there goofing around. And one kid, he was running his car on his leg and it went off his leg and hit the floor, and weights busted off of it and the boy put the weights in his pocket.
“I was thinking, ‘Don’t drop your car, Riley. Just don’t drop it,'” he said.
Most of the recorded times that day were 2.610 to 2.620 seconds.
“He was the only car that actually made it under the 2.6 seconds,” Joe said. “His last race was his fastest of the day, 2.590. It was scorching that track. Come to find out he had the third-fastest car of the whole day.”
Riley was nervous the day of competition.
“I was like, I can’t believe I got here,” he said.
But he ended up taking first place in the Wolf division.
Headed to the Big Apple
About a week later, Anna got an email saying Riley had qualified for the world championship in New York City.
“She came running out to the garage. I was getting ready to mow the yard,” Joe said.
“Don’t put the car away. We’re going to go to the world championship,” Anna recalled saying. “I was so excited.”
This time, Riley will compete against Wolves from at least 50 other councils across the United States. If his car is fast enough, he will also be in competition for the top 15 cars out of all of the Cub Scouts there, which is called the championship cup, Joe said.
The family plans to spend the rest of their weekend in the city sightseeing.
“We’ve never been to New York City before, so we’re all excited,” said Anna. “This will be an experience Riley will never forget.”