Pinewood Derby

Local Scouts gather around the racetrack during last year’s Pinewood Derby event at the Lowe’s store in Owatonna. Scouts from around the region will be racing cars carved from blocks of wood on Saturday at the third such annual derby. (Photo courtesy John Schafer)

OWATONNA — The Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Owatonna is preparing to kick off the Pinewood Derby season on Saturday with a little help from local manufacturer Bosch.

The Pinewood Derby is a popular Cub Scouting event in which Scouts are given a block of wood affixed to two sets of wheels, which they cut, sand, paint and decorate into their ideal race car. The pinewood cars are then launched down a ramp to see whose creation takes the gold.

Owatonna’s various Scouting packs usually hold their own derbies in March, but for the third year, they’ll be joining for a joint derby this weekend at Lowe’s. It’s the brainchild of Lowe’s sale specialist John Schafer, who said he got the idea from a series of Dremel-brand woodworking tool demonstrations held at the store. What if, he thought, he enlisted Dremel — and Bosch, its parent company — to give the Scouts a chance to show their own word-working chops?

“I started making phone calls to Dremel … and they were pretty impressed that someone would think to do this at a Lowe’s store, so last year they sent a few tools as prizes,” Schafer said. “This year they sent about $400 to $450 of Dremel products as prizes. They’ve really got on board, they seem to like what I’m doing, and my store seems to really like what I’m doing.”

The first year, there were about 10 competitors racing their cars in the Lowe’s receiving warehouse. Last year, it was closer to 30. And this year, Schafer expects upward of 60 racers, including from packs well beyond the city of Owatonna. Austin, Albert Lea, Waseca and Medford Scouts will all be represented, and unlike the pack-specific derbies in March, the Lowe’s event is open to a wider class of racers as well.

“They’ll bring in cars they made last year, or if there’s a little brother or sister that has a car and wants to race, we let them race too,” he said. “Last year, a little sister actually won first place, and those Scouts complained. She used her brother’s car from the previous year, and he won second place the year before.”

In addition to providing prizes and refreshments, Lowe’s and Dremel also supply the blank cars, which usually run $5 apiece. Ron Heim of Pack 351 in Owatonna said about half of the 30 Scouts in his pack will be participating Saturday.

“It’s always fun to see what they come up with and what they paint onto the cars,” he said. “I’ve seen anything from as thin as a chocolate candy bar to just the plain block of wood. It’s just the luck of the day. You never know.”

The event, which will begin races at 10 a.m. Saturday, is also an opportunity for the Scout packs around the area to mingle and take part in a joint event, using an aluminum derby track purchased together several years ago by the Owatonna packs.

“We appreciate everything Lowes is doing for us,” Heim said. “It’s nice to have some spectators there as well. It should be a good time.”

Schafer said it’s a fun opportunity for the Scouts and way to show support for a good organization.

“It’s doing something great for Scouting, and Scouting is a good thing, so I think it’s good thing for Scouts,” he said.

William Morris is a reporter for the Owatonna People’s Press. He can be reached at 444-2372; follow him on Twitter @OPPWilliam

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