Pull over, Danica Patrick. The young ladies of Troop 64199 are going to leave you in the dust.
Nineteen members of West Deptford Troop 64199, a combined troop of Brownies and Daisy Scouts, participated in the “Powder Puff Pinewood Derby” on Sunday, the first of its kind held in the Hessian Woods service area.
“We’re making history!” said Jordan Cargill, 7, a Brownie and Red Bank student. “We’re the first Girl Scout troop around to do this.”
Mike Messick of Pennsville, who officiated Sunday’s race, confirmed her assessment. “I’ve been working 25, 26 years with the Pinewood Derby, and this is the first time we had Girl Scouts instead of Boy Scouts.”
“There wasn’t much difference, except for the pink T-shirts,” added Messick, the longtime district chairman for the Pinewood Derby.
Just like the boys, the girls–with a little help from their grown-up friends–built a derby car from a 7-inch block of wood provided by the troop. The car couldn’t weigh more than five ounces, using only the axles and wheels provided. Most importantly, the design and work must be the girl’s own. Parents could help in a limited capacity, but the girl had do the majority of the work.
For many of the girls, that meant the first foray into the world of power tools.
“I had a lot of fun sanding my car down,” said Madelein Maule, 8, who attends West End Memorial School in Woodbury. “It broke once, but my mom helped me put it back together with super glue.”
Jenna Miller, 9, of Greenfields School, worked on her Littlest Pet Shop car with her father, Jason Petaccio. “She did most of the work. She wouldn’t let me do much,” Petaccio said. “It was her first time using a saw and grinder. It creeped her out a bit at first.”
“It was scary, but daddy helped,” Jenna added.
Becky Czuba, 7, a Red Bank student, raced a car with a patriotic theme driven by Patrick the Starfish of “SpongeBob SquarePants” fame.
“I call it the Silly Car,” she said, pointing out the American flag sticker she used as a license plate.
“I knew right away I wanted Patrick in it, and I wanted red, white and blue. My dad helped me,” Czuba added.
She said her mother, Meg, was a long-time Girl Scout who saved her vests and badges through the years. “But she never did a derby. I’m so excited!” Czuba said before the race began.
The Powder Puff Pinewood Derby was the brainchild of troop leader Patty Watts, the mom of five whose sons have participated in the derby through their Boy Scout troops. She was inspired while reading about programs for World Thinking Day, which is celebrated each year on February 22.
“The theme this year is, ‘If you empower girls, you can change the world.’ This seemed like a fun way to teach new things and empower them,” she said.
The derby activity also counted toward the Go Go Try-It, the Brownie equivalent of a scouting badge. All the girls received a derby patch and each car was awarded a certificate appropriate to its design. Cargill received the “Most Aerodynamic” award, while Miller’s creation won “Best Use of Sequins.” Brownie Molly Dougherty was awarded “Best Use of Stickers,” while her sister, Molly, a Daisy, went home with the “Most Groovy Car” award. And Czuba’s choice of Patrick the starfish earned her “Best Driver” honors.
Of course, the big event was the race, an elimination event that raced three cars at a time in rotation. The car coming in third each race was given a check, and three checks eliminated that car from the race.
When the final flag came down, the fastest car belonged to 7-year old Erika Arseneau, a Red Bank student who designed a white and green car with an appropriate Girl Scout theme.
“It was fun working on the car. I knew it had to be about Girl Scouts,” she said.
Greenfields student Maddie Watts, 8, finished in second with a purple car she called “The Flame.” She credited her dad and big sister for helping her follow in the footsteps of big brother Chris, who took first place in his derby two years ago.
Miller’s Littlest Pet Shop entry came in third, while Brownie Chelsea Ray finished fourth. The coveted “Best in Show” trophy, voted on by the girls in the troop, was awarded to Libby Lebeau for her car, a hot dog complete with mustard and ketchup.
Watts said Sunday’s race was a dry run for an all-Hessian Woods Powder Puff Derby she hoped her troop could host next year.
Parents in the audience seemed to be in agreement: Each girl who participated walked away a winner. They received patches and certificates, but working on their wooden blocks brought even more rewards than that.
The girls learned that, with hard work and imagination, blocks of wood could be transformed into racing machines–and with those tools, they can set their own course for the future.