Encounter: Pinewood Derby

Est. 2008

Spanning from one entrance to another, a two-story racetrack sends cars zooming through the atrium of the Indiana State Museum. Kids and their families travel from all over the state to compete in the annual Pinewood Derby here; several have been through this drill before.
Flames, stripes, and Batman decals adorn the 101 handcrafted entries. As each car crosses the finish line, an official scoops it up and sends it back to the top of the track by way of toy blimp. Children and adults alike line the railings to watch closely as each round ensues. The final contests consist of the top 24 participants, until the last four cars and “Best In Show” take home awards.
Pinewood Derby was meant not only to be a fun, family-friendly community event, but also to encourage STEM skills in kids. You have to figure out what shape you’re going to make your car and how much it weighs, because there’s a max. There’s also a specific height, length, and clearance. “In addition to learning how to work as a team,  the design process focuses on the math and engineering that go into building each car,” says Megan Mance, the museum’s  manager of public programs.
That may not be what draws kids from all over Indiana to spend months building these autos, though. “My favorite part is getting to see the cars race,” says Vincent Sorah, 10, of Cambridge City. “And, if you win, winning.”