Most boys love playing with cars, whether they’re remote-controlled racers, Hot Wheels replicas or battery-powered ride-ons. In Cub Scouting, the pinewood derby lets boys scratch their automotive itch, but it’s not the only option for racing fun. Many packs find that Cubmobile races offer a low-stress, high-octane alternative to the traditional derby. Like pinewood derby cars, Cubmobiles rely on gravity for propulsion. But unlike those pint-size racers, Cubmobiles are big enough to accommodate drivers.
To learn more about the ins and outs of Cubmobile racing, Scouting talked with two Cubmobile veterans. Ryan Coverstone coordinates races for the Lincolnway District in the Anthony Wayne Area Council (Fort Wayne, Ind.); Jeff Wieters runs races for the Live Oak District in the Los Padres Council (Santa Barbara, Calif.).
It Starts With Cars
Plans for cars appear on Page 207 of the Bear Cub Scout Handbook. A Cubmobile is little more than a seat, four wheels and two wooden axles. The rider steers with a rope connected to the front axle — safety blocks keep him from turning too much — and stops by pulling a simple friction brake that drags on the ground.
Coverstone and Wieters like the design in the Bear Handbook, although Wieters recommends adding a floorboard to force boys to use the brake. Without a floorboard, he explains, “they put their foot down, and their foot’s immediately going to be dragged under the back of the car. It scrapes their knees all up.”
One nice thing about Cubmobile cars is that parts and tools are easy to come by. You can find all the parts at a local hardware store, and you need only a few simple tools. Coverstone recommends buying wheels online for about $30 for a set of four.
Share and Share Alike
Unlike in the pinewood derby, not every boy needs his own car. Wieters’ Pack 93 has a few cars boys can use, and he encourages dens to get together and build their own. Two or three cars per den would probably suffice.
His pack has also assembled kits to cut costs and help families that don’t have a resident handyman. “It’s cheaper to do kits because you’re buying everything in bulk versus going out and buying individual pieces yourself, ” he says.
Coverstone’s pack maintains a fleet of five Cubmobiles. “We have another spare that we take with us, plus we have a couple of frames and other wheels that we use for the Bears to put together for their achievement (Elective 7),” he says.
Coverstone likes to assign cars a couple of weeks before race day so that Scouts can practice, get used to the car, paint it, sticker it, whatever they want to do to it — as long as they don’t destroy the car. “It gives them a little ownership,” he says.
Welcome, Race Fans
To run a Cubmobile race, you need little more than a gently sloping, wide and unobstructed racecourse. Coverstone uses a block-long stretch of Indiana Avenue in Warsaw, Ind.; Wieters uses a parking-garage ramp at the Santa Maria Town Center.
Of course, wherever you race, you must get permission to close the course and then make it as safe as possible. Coverstone lines the center of his two-lane course with hay bales so racers don’t run into each other. Cement curbs keep racers from veering onto sidewalks. Wieters uses borrowed landscaping timbers to slow down off-course racers. “If they’re going fast, they might go over it with one set of wheels, but the other set will never go over it,” he says.
What about the end of the course? Wieters’ course uses hay bales; Coverstone’s has extra room for boys to slow down. “We’ve got volunteers at the finish line,” he says. “As soon as boys cross that finish line, they’re hollering, ‘Brake!’ ”
Two boys race side by side, but they don’t compete against each other since they could be from different weight classes. In Coverstone’s district, boys race twice, once in each lane. “Your total time is your total time,” he says. Wieters’ district gives boys a practice run and three races that count for time. “We actually collect times for all four races, drop the slowest time and add up the other three,” he says.
How accurate is the timing? Coverstone uses an electronic timing system; Wieters relies on volunteers with stopwatches. “We’ve only ever had to redo one heat, so we think that’s pretty good,” Wieters says.
And even if you have to redo a heat, few boys would complain about taking another ride in a Cubmobile.
READ MORE CUB SCOUT CORNER STORIES AT SCOUTINGMAGAZINE.ORG/CUBSCOUTS.