(KXAN) — It’s a rite of passage. A long, curved track that takes wooden cars crafted with care down the hill of glory, letting gravity carry it for just a few seconds.
But those seconds … those seconds are some of the most exciting for kids at the Pinewood Derby.
With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on just about every event involving groups of people, the Boy Scouts of America have come up with a Texas-sized event without all the people physically in the space.
It’s the appropriately-named Pinewood Derby 500.
On Sept. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, the all-virtual event will be broadcast on Facebook Live with NASCAR driver — and Eagle Scout — William Byron as a special host.
Gina Circelli, digital editor for the BSA’s magazine Boys’ Life, said the derby will be held in conjunction with a larger virtual event called Family Fun Fest, and it’s open to everybody, not just Scouts.
“We’re inviting all families for this one, you don’t have to be a Scout to participate,” Circelli said. “Everyone is welcome to send in a car and see it race live on the track.”
The Family Fun Fest features other events to showcase Scouting, and how it has adapted to social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 restrictions, but the main event is the derby.
It’s not replacing the local derbies, Circelli said, it’s just an extension to show the public what Scouting is all about, and maybe even gain a few more Scouts along the way.
“Pinewood Derby is a legend on its own. We can’t stop it,” Circelli said. “People get super excited about it, and I think it’s going to happen forever.”
The event itself is pretty straightforward. Like Circelli said, anybody, and she means anybody, can sign up to enter a car in the race. It’s typically reserved for Cub Scouts, but this is a way to showcase what all BSA does.
All of the forms, along with rules and car specifications, are on the event website, and people can start from there to build a car. Don’t get emotionally attached to your car, either. Once you send it off for the big race, it’s not coming back, so if you’ve got a hot ride you want to use for your local race, don’t send it to the speedway.
In order to be in the event, your car has to be at the track by Sept. 8, and the race organizers will only take the first 500 cars.
Kits can be bought through the BSA site, and folks can come up with whatever funky or functional design for a car they want (as long as it meets specifications), mail it to BSA officials and tune in to the Boy Scouts of America Facebook Live channel to see if their car made the show.
Preliminary rounds will take place throughout the day, and the finals of the one category event will be streamed live. Circelli said Facebook is the platform most popular with parents of Scouts, and it’s easy to use and share links with others.
Byron, one of NASCAR’s rising stars and now a full-time racer in the NASCAR Cup Series, isn’t far removed from Scouting. At 22 years old, the Eagle Scout will help launch the race on Facebook, and then he’ll pop in from time to time during the broadcast and check in with fans.
Circelli said BSA’s partnership with NASCAR is very strong, and it didn’t take much to get Byron excited to be involved.
“He’s been featured in Boys’ Life a few times,” Circelli said of Byron. “He’s got a strong connection to Scouting. He’s family, so we definitely had to have him on.”
The local level
Local Scouts will have representation at Texas Motor Speedway, said Charles Mead, the director or marketing and public relations for the Capitol Area Council. As mentioned earlier, this race doesn’t replace the activity that is the highlight of being a Cub Scout. Ever since the first Pinewood Derby held at Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 1953, the derby is the highlight of the year for packs of Cub Scouts in grades kindergarten through fifth.
With COVID-19 guidelines against large gatherings in place, Mead said the Scouts have been able to adapt most of their activities without having to cancel or postpone them. While the local derbies for packs won’t start to take place until around November, there’s still a little time for local leaders to see what happens in the community with COVID-19, and Mead said that’s how they are approaching staging the local derbies.
“In a normal time, the Pinewood Derby is the highlight of the Cub Scout’s year,” Mead said. “It’s a timeless activity. And now when things are decidedly not normal, I think it becomes even a little more important.”
Mead said that of course making the car and racing it is the fun part, but the process of building it with family, and having adult mentorship throughout the build is critical — especially now.
“Kids are dealing with a lot of unusual things in their lives, online school and not being able to participate in some other activities they would like to,” Mead said, “but this is something they can very much do and enjoy, and get a lot of benefit from.”
The timeline to make the call to hold the derbies in person, or perhaps make them virtual like the big national event, is still up in the air. If the community helps drive down active cases of COVID-19 and lowers to the risk stages set forth by Austin Public Health, the better the chances Cub Scouts can see their creations zoom down the track with all their friends, and not on Zoom.
“The key is how the rest of the community continues to respond to COVID-19,” Mead said. “Regardless, we will certainly find a way to make everything happen.”