For the past three years, Times Square has been home to the Pinewood Derby World Championship, organized by the Greater New York Councils. The 2017 event attracted 276 Cub Scouts — representing 26 different states and 60 BSA councils — along with more than 2,000 spectators.
Chances are, your pack’s or district’s Pinewood Derby isn’t quite that large. But Matt Gaor, who has chaired the New York event all three years, says the lessons he has learned apply at every level. It’s true what they say: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
The Three P’s
Gaor says your Pinewood Derby will be successful if you remember the three P’s.
“Make sure you’ve got the right people, wrap it in process and have the right policies in place,” he says. “You have to think of this like a project you’re managing and break it down into manageable chunks.”
People means having the right volunteers in the right roles. For example, Gaor’s safety chief once ran airport security for John F. Kennedy International Airport. You won’t need that level of expertise in a church basement, but you do need someone who understands the race-management software you’re running.
Gaor formed teams for command, program, logistics, administration and public safety so every task was covered, and he used the Incident Command System structure to create clear lines of communication. Any volunteer who noticed a problem could report it up the chain of command to his or her chief, who would take it to the leadership team.
Gaor also made sure the head of each team had a deputy ready to take over in an emergency (or to move up to the chief’s role the next year).
“By definition, a deputy is someone who can replace the chief if something should go wrong,” he says.
Process means thinking through everything from setup through teardown long before race day. A good example is electric power.
“Where are you plugging things in?” Gaor asks. “How are you doing electric cord management? Are you duct-taping cords to the floor so people don’t trip over them?”
For a Pinewood Derby, Gaor says it’s important to have a sensible inspection process. For example, if a boy’s car is too heavy, the inspector shouldn’t send him away to fix it without completing the inspection. Otherwise, the boy might end up standing in line again only to find out something else is wrong.
“And have an expert,” Gaor says. “If you have two inspectors, one of them should be the guy the other guy turns to and says, ‘Is this OK?’ ”
Policy means rules — especially the rules around what gets a car disqualified and how heats are run. The New York rules weren’t clear enough the first year, and Gaor had to deal with more than 300 emails from parents.
“For year two, we really put our thinking caps on and went nuts with the rule base,” he says.
It’s not enough just to have rules. You also have to communicate them clearly. Rules for the Pinewood Derby World Championship are posted on the event’s website and cover it all: car specifications, the check-in process, the number of heats and who gets trophies.
“The big mission was that it should be as seamless as we can make it for the boys and as pleasant as possible for the adults,” Gaor says.
The Fourth P
There’s one more P — technically, a B.P.: You have to Be Prepared.
“I can’t stress the Boy Scout motto enough,” Gaor says. “We over-prepare for this thing. We may put 500 or 600 hours of preparation into this six- or eight-hour event.”
You probably won’t need that much planning for your event, but Gaor says it’s important not to get complacent, especially if you run the same basic activity year after year.
“If nothing changes, you need do nothing,” he says. “But something always changes, so Be Prepared.”
In 2017, for example, rain forced the Pinewood Derby World Championship out of Times Square, but Gaor already had a rain location lined up in the nearby Marriott Marquis. Another year, a Scout accidentally unplugged power to the racetrack, forcing a delay in racing. Fortunately, a Scouter on hand was also a magician.
“He had all his junk in the trunk of his car,” Gaor says. “He ran over and grabbed it and entertained the boys for the 30 minutes we needed to recover from this issue.”
Thanks to that magician — and the behind-the-scenes magic of Gaor and his team — the Pinewood Derby World Championship was, indeed, a world-class event.