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A 2nd place win is not a first place loss

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For those of you who have a son in Cub Scouts, or remember your own days of Cub Scouts, you know how much fun and sometimes nerve wracking Pinewood Derby race day can be.

Owen is a two-time champion. I was hoping for a three-peat this year. The first year that he won, was his first year of scouts and taking the whole Derby came as a surprise. Then the following year when he won again and dominated the competition, it was a thrill. This year, I felt somewhat nervous. I wanted him to win. But I didn’t want to be a total hog. What would the other parents think? It’s not like we have some super derby car making system set up. We didn’t buy a car on the derby black market. We don’t have a NOS tank set up under the hood.

I don’t want to be greedy in our derby wins. But I still want. To. Win.

Yes, James obsesses over the car. Checking the axles. Weighing, weighing, adding weights. Weighing again, taking off weights.

The car design is a collaborative process between child and father. Months ago, Owen and James chose the Mario Kart theme this year because they knew it would be popular with the fellow scouts. Not only does Owen want his car to be fast, he wants it to look cool. Duh.

With the help of Grandpa and a saw, the shape of the car is made. Then the sanding starts. Lots of sanding. Owen sands and sands. Then paint. A steady hand with the help of dad to apply some decals comes next.

Once the cars are complete (James always makes one for him to race in the siblings league that he enters for Emma) the graphite and weights are applied.

Regulations require it to not be too heavy, and simple physics prove that it needs to not be too light either. It has to have just enough pull down that track. Of course, aerodynamics play a part in this too.

If ever there was an exercise of science and fun together between father and son, this is it.

Previous years the races were officiated by some well meaning dads who visually eyed the finish line and called the winners. The faster the cars, the harder it got.

When neither dad could agree on the winner for the final last year, James had a picture that proved Owen’s victory. I have never been more on edge, or thrilled over a decision!

This year, the Pack paid for an LED finish line that reads the cars coming over the track and determines the winner.

Again, the photo at the finish line was tight. Emma took it this time. If it weren’t for the LED system at the finish line, I don’t think the picture would’ve determined the winner. It was that. Close.

In the end, Owen’s car came in 2nd. He was stunned at first. But the younger, smaller scout who did win was thrilled. He hugged his dad and their was a collective gasp from his parents, not believing their little 8 year old took the prize.

Did my heart sink a little for Owen? Yes. Did it soar at seeing this family’s victory? Yes. I know the feeling, and watching their joy almost brought tears to my eyes.

Within seconds of victory to the other kid, Owen reached over, shook his hand and congratulated him on the race.

And of course, my heart melted right there.

I was proud of Owen for his grace and sportsmanship.

A win is nice. Yes. But I feel he did win. He showed heart and discipline and tact. And I felt like I won as a parent.

Children need to feel the wins and the losses. If we insulate them from disappointment, which face it, we want so much to do, they will never learn how to navigate their feelings. It’s our job to prepare them for the world, not pave their path in bubble wrap.

Of course, the boys are already talking about what to do next year, which will be his last year for the derby with this pack. I’m not sure who enjoys it more, James or Owen! But I love the dedication and passion and am grateful for the outcomes.



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  1. Wonderful story and so nice to hear that good sportsmanship exists. And congrats to your son on his win 🙂 🙂

  2. Good for him! Second is nothing to sneeze at and it’s awesome that he was so gracious. Great kid with great parents. We did Powder Puff Derby in Girl Scouts and my husband used to go CRAZY each year helping the girls with their cars. And every year he complained about it. 😉

  3. The first year my 9 year old was in cub scouts, we had no clue how to build a Pinewood Derby car. His car came in dead last by a mile every. single. heat. He turned to us with this confused look on his face and said, “Why do I keep winning sixth place?” And I didn’t have the heart to say, “Because your parents royally screwed up.” This year, our seven year old has informed us that he is going to have his grandpa help him make his!