NUTLEY, NJ — A year-long pandemic delay and then two more weeks of bad weather prevented Nutley’s Cub Scout Pack 141 from racing their cars in the annual Pinewood Derby in person for a long time, but on Feb. 4 Scouts and families gathered at John H. Walker Middle School to crown the winners of the annual race. Milo Reyes’ car sped down the track at 155.87 mph to take first place, while Carter Teese and Dorian Modrzejewski followed close behind to take second and third places, respectively.
“If there’s one event that Cub Scouts remember, it’s the derby,” pack Chairperson Walt Smith said in an interview with the Nutley Journal at the event. “I talk to guys who are in their 40s now, and, if they were a Scout, it always comes up.”
Assistant Cubmaster Jessica Barone said that the pandemic forced last year’s derby to be held virtually, with a few Scout leaders in the Nutley Freemasons Lodge sending the cars down the track and livestreaming it to the Scouts and their families at home. The in-person event, where Scouts get to see their cars compete in front of them and look at how everyone else decorated them, is much more exciting.
“We were able to run the derby and stream it last year, but this is a lot more fun,” she said in an interview with the Nutley Journal at the event. “They work really hard to make their cars awesome, so it’s fun to see them.”
The Pinewood Derby cars are made from a block of wood with four wheels, and each participant can decorate it to look like anything he wants as long as it weighs 5 ounces or less. The goal is to make it move down the track the fastest, and cars compete four at a time in 64 heats to determine the top three fastest cars. Awards are also given to the cars determined to be the funniest, best in show and the one that has the most Scout spirit.
Jessica Barone and her husband, Matt Barone, who is the Cubmaster, took over as the head of the pack this year. The number of Scouts participating throughout the pandemic dropped, likely because of the lack of in-person meetings. But Matt Barone said attendance has been creeping back up again, even as the pack leaders have had to get creative to find a space to hold meetings: the Freemason Lodge, the library and even family backyards have played host in recent months.
“There have been some growing pains, but we want to do this for these kids,” he said in an email with the Nutley Journal. “Being in person is a big part of the camaraderie of Scouts.”
Joshua Barone won the Funniest Car Award, while Jacob Myers took home Best in Show. Gabriel Tischio’s car was named the one with the most Scout spirit. Matt Barone said it was good to be back in the middle school gym, where there is a much better atmosphere for a race.
“It was fun at home — everyone was hooting and hollering and jumping on their couches,” he said. “But it’s a lot better in person with a crowd. You get to see them hyped.”
The Scouts, who range in age from kindergartners to fifth-graders, aren’t the only ones who get excited watching the tiny wooden cars zoom down the ramp. The adults do, too. Matt Barone is one of those former Cub Scouts who remembers his own derby.
“I remember doing this myself,” he said. “Now I have a 40-year-old body and a 7-year-old mind that still wants to race the cars.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Courtesy of Walt Smith