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Howard Lake Pinewood Derby focuses on fun, family, speed and science
March 6, 2017

By Nan Royce
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, MN – Wyatt Pultz and his dad, Chris, sat front and center at Cub Scout Pack 399’s Pinewood Derby Feb. 26 at St. James Lutheran School in Howard Lake.

Before them, a four-lane race track spanned the length of the gym. Miniature wooden cars whizzed along it, and the people in the packed stands routinely erupted with cheers and applause.

It didn’t take long to figure out the Pultzs are derby pros. This was Wyatt’s fourth year at the derby, and he understands the process begins long before race day.

With eyes on the track, he explained the importance of careful car construction. He shared that you begin by cutting the car’s wooden wedge. This is followed by hours of spray painting and labeling the car, and polishing the wheel axles. The goal is to build the car for maximum speed.

Wyatt and his dad obviously studied how to crank it up a notch.

“There’s two kinds of energy here,” Chris commented, gesturing toward the track. “There’s potential and kinetic.”

From a scientific standpoint, the Pinewood Derby cars convert gravitational potential energy from the sloping track into translational kinetic energy (speed), plus rotational energy from the wheels.

Getting the car’s center of mass in the sweet spot also takes some finesse. The car’s design should place its center of mass down and a little forward of the rear axle. This placement helps the car go straight down the track, and gives it a gravitational boost.

Chris believes he and his son have about 20 hours into this year’s car, dubbed the Techno X Wedge.

“It’s all about time,” he says.

He’s really talking about two different kinds of time. The first is the actual production time of the race car; the second is the precious hours spent with his son.

Scoutmaster Gary Dressel, who watched the races from inside the track, confirmed this. “This is really about the bond between parent and child,” he commented. “They’re working for a common goal.”

Dressel reported there were 32 official cars entered in the competition, and another 20 “open class” vehicles. The open class cars are those made by Cub Scout siblings or parents.

In addition to the races, the family-friendly event featured a smaller race track and cars for little ones, a crafting station, and lots of food and prizes.

Back in the bleachers, Wyatt munched on a hot dog, and carefully displayed two trophies. His Techno X Wedge was voted “Most Futuristic Car,” and it took third in the Webelos II heat.

By the end of the day, Wyatt’s Techno X Wedge ended up second in the Grand Champion calculations.

As he collected his third trophy and prepared for celebratory pictures, Wyatt hugged and high-fived his dad. “It’s not just about getting the trophy,” Wyatt grinned. “It’s fun!”

Nathan Dressel, first; Wyatt Pultz, second; and Tanner Forcier, third.
Cooper Novotny, first; Owen Forcier, second; and Raymond Loebertrmann, third.
Conner Mottl, first; Tanner Forcier, second; and Louden Krotzer, third.
Zachary Moffat, first; Austin Kortisses, second; and Aidan Vogelpohl, third.
Nathan Dressel, first; Ryan Marconett, second; and Wyatt Pultz, third.

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