The Pinewood Derby celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013. It started with Don Murphy who was the Cubmaster for Pack 280c in Manhattan Beach, California. Mr. Murphy’s son wanted to participate in the Soap Box Derby, but he was too young. So Mr. Murphy took his life-long hobby of building models and combined that with the Soap Box Derby’s concept of gravity-powered vehicles. And the Pinewood Derby was created.
After gaining support from his employer, the Management Club at North American Aviation, Mr. Murphy enlisted the help of Pack Committee members to create and assemble the kits which were handed out to the boys in brown paper bags. Some of the Cub Scout dads built a 31′ race ramp.
The first Pinewood Derby was held on May 15, 1953 at the Scout House at Manhattan Beach. About 55 Cub Scouts raced their Pinewood Derby cars that day. Knowing how exciting the Derby is today, I can’t imagine the enthusiasm that was running through the Scout House.
The Derby was so successful that the Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department asked Mr. Murphy and his employer for permission to conduct Pinewood Derby races at city parks. Two years later, over 300 people attended the Los Angeles Pinewood Derby Championship at Griffith Park.
Word of the Pinewood Derby soon reached the BSA national office. The national director of Cub Scouting Service, O. W. (Bud) Bennett, wrote Mr. Murphy saying, “We believe you have an excellent idea, and we are most anxious to make your material available to the Cub Scouts of America.” Mr. Murphy agreed, and so the tradition we still love today was born.
Mr. Murphy remained involved in his local Pinewood Derby until his retirement in 1978. In 1997, Gary McAulay took over as Cubmaster of Pack 713. When he discovered that his pack was a descendant of Mr. Murphy’s Pack 280c, Mr. McAulay set out to find Mr. Murphy.
Imagine Mr. Murphy’s surprise to find that his creation has been a part of the lives of an estimated 50 million boys! He became involved again in many Pinewood Derbies. Mr. Murphy was 83 years old in 2003 when the Pinewood Derby turned 50. He was the guest of honor at many anniversary events that year.
Mr. Murphy passed away in 2008, but his Pinewood Derby legacy lives on today.
Yours in Scouting,
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