As the Brown Fox edged out the Cheese Car in the final stretch, a row of third-grade girls holding signs that read “Race Like a Girl” erupted in cheers. Such was the scene repeated over and over with 22 creatively designed cars at the first Powder Puff Derby held by Brownie Troop 40165 at Camp Green Eyrie in Harvard last Sunday. The derby is the Girl Scout version of the Pinewood Derby, an annual Boy Scout event that involves racing 7-inch wooden cars, built by the Scouts, down an aluminum track.
Scouts from Brownie Troop 40165 watch as their Powder Puff Derby cars race to the finish. From left: Tess Dirstine, Hanna Wicks, Margaux Hunt, Audrey Slavin, Caroline Charland, Annie Raffa, Isabel Pierce, Elise Knowles, and Libby Bassage (Photos by Lisa Aciukewicz)
Troop Leader Jennifer Charland said the idea to hold the derby was spawned during one of the troop’s winter hikes. A few girls were talking about their brothers who were busy building cars for the Pinewood Derby, and some of the girls wanted to know why they couldn’t build cars, too. The troop leaders thought it was a great question, and they approached the Boy Scout leaders in town about helping to organize a derby.
Charland and the other three Brownie leaders created their own STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program for the girls. “We wanted them to understand the science behind the car race,” Charland said. The girls attended a workshop on the components of car design, such as weight distribution, streamlining, friction, and potential versus kinetic energy. The workshop included an “engineering lab” where the girls built cars out of Legos and raced them down tall ramps to test their design theories. At the end of the workshop, the girls began sketching out their car designs.
Chloe Kennedy’s fox car (number 7) won a prize for most original design.
The second part of the program involved learning woodworking, and Charland said that several parents held classes in their home workshops to teach the girls how to cut out the cars, install the axles and tires, and weight the cars. Volunteer Cub Scout parent Randy Furmanick said the girls came “very well prepared with knowledge about aerodynamics.” He was also surprised at how organized they were, saying, “They knew what they wanted when they came in the door.”
From left: Winners Helen Holzmann (second place), Elise Knowles (first place), and Ellie Pulido (third place) pose with their cars.
The artistic components of the cars were done at home on the girls’ own time, Charland said. Animal designs were well represented, with a leopard, a parrot, and a duck; and both Chloe Kennedy and Melissa Stoddard chose to build foxes. Libby Bassage created the Chihuahua-Mobile in honor of her two Chihuahuas, and Uma Samsi painted a mouse on her car, which was built to look like a wedge of cheese. While most of the cars were brightly colored, one color was noticeably absent—pink. Charland said her daughter Caroline told her that “turquoise is the new pink,” and there was evidence to back that up: Five of the 22 cars were turquoise.
Charland said that, because the girls learned about streamlining their cars, there wasn’t a lot of bling that might have slowed the cars down. Glitter was also absent on most cars. Charland’s daughter wanted to use glitter on her Harry Potter-themed car, but after some research, she decided against it because she learned that glitter can fall off onto the axles and create friction. Instead, she used Mod Podge, a glue that comes with glitter in it.
The Girl Scouts are actively trying to increase girls’ interest and confidence in STEM, according to the Girl Scouts website. There are now multiple badge categories that involve STEM activities, and most councils offer their member troops more than 10 STEM programs a year. Companies such as Motorola and AT&T partner with the Girl Scouts for some of their STEM programs, like robotics. The Harvard troop’s council, Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, offers a wide variety of programs including biology programs at Wachusett Mountain, kite-building workshops in Worcester, and engineering days at local universities, such as the annual “Geek Is Glam” conference, held in the fall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Top Three Finishers
Best Color Scheme: Ashlyn Mara
- Best Detail: Elise Knowles
- Best Girl Scout Theme: Margaux Hunt
- Best Paint Design: Lyla Kendrick
- Best Workmanship: Helen Holzmann
- Most Bling: Caroline Charland
- Most Original Design: Chloe Kennedy
Charland said she was very happy with how the event came together. She especially liked how the event grew out of the girls’ desire to compete “like the boys.” “We are always encouraging our girls to ask ‘why’ or ‘why not’ when they are presented with limitations, especially gender-specific ones,” she said. “Our race theme was ‘Race Like a Girl’, because girls can do anything boys can do, but they do it with their own style.”
On race day, Boy Scout leaders helped to set up the track and timer, and they ran all the races. The rules were the same as for the Pinewood Derby, with multiple heats of six cars each. And while there were some tears as a few cars seemed to lag behind in every heat, the girls were quick to offer comfort. Charland said her favorite part of the experience was seeing how the girls came together for each other. “They cheered as loudly for one another as they did for their own cars, and if a girl was disappointed with her car’s performance, other girls stepped in to console her and offer sympathy.”
As for next year, Charland said that it will be up to the girls. “Girl Scouts is all about empowering girls to take on leadership roles. If the girls are motivated to have the event next year, their leaders will be behind them every step of the way.”
Powder Puff Derby: What’s in a name?
If the name ‘Powder Puff Derby’ sounds like something out of the 1950s, that’s because it is.
The first Pinewood Derby was held in Los Angeles in 1953 by Cubmaster Don Murphy. Murphy created the event for his young son, who wasn’t old enough to take part in a Soap Box Derby, a popular event at that time. Murphy prepared a booklet about the event and sent it to the Boy Scouts, who found a builder to make the kits, and two years later the event went nationwide.
A few Girl Scout troops began holding their own pinewood derbies in the late 1950s, and the Girl Scouts gave it the official name Powder Puff Derby, a name coined in 1929 by humorist Will Rogers for the first women-only transcontinental air race. Many Girl Scout troops today use the name Grand Prix instead, but the participation patch that the girls can put on their sashes is only available with the name Powder Puff Derby.
Pinewood Derby history: http://bit.ly/2o59CJX
Woman-only transcontinental air race: http://s.si.edu/2pttuHL