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Failure isn’t bad when it turns out to be helpful.

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It’s Year 2 for the Ketchikan (Silver) Salmon Derby.

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Dorcas Eleanor Dunmire, 78, died on Aug. 9, 2019, in Ketchikan. She was born Dorcas Eleanor Wesley on Sept. 15, 1940, in Metlakatla.
2/11/2019
Scouts caught speeding in Pinewood Derby
Rennan Fullerton, 8, left, and Chase Fullerton, 6, track a race from the sidelines on Saturday during the Totem District Pinewood Derby at The Plaza mall. The two boys are brothers — Rennan is a Bear Scout and Chase is a Tiger Scout. Both competed in the event. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek


By DUSTIN SAFRANEK
Daily News Staff Writer

An original copy of a small rectangular document, crumpled but still legible, reads: “Speeding Ticket Pinewood Derby.”

It is for 197.8 mph.

The ticket was scribbled in pencil by Ketchikan Police Sgt. Mike Purcell, who walked with prominence through the crowd and approached at random any racer wearing a Boy Scouts of America uniform. Purcell said: “I’m gonna have to issue you a citation for speeding.”

To a scout, the mock speeding ticket confirms that his car is fast and possibly the baddest of them all.

Forty-five Scouts from two packs — Pack 4 and Pack 22 — congregated with their derby cars for the annual Totem District Pinewood Derby on Saturday at The Plaza mall. The event was nestled in a corridor next to Silly Munchkins, which supplied eye candy for the restless. It offered an atmosphere for all members of the community to witness children and adults together run an intricate racing event and get a glimpse of some serious speed.

Pack 22 is chartered by the Church of Jesus Christ, while Pack 4 is chartered by Holy Name Catholic Church. The Totem District of the Boy Scouts of America, which encompasses the southern end of Southeast Alaska, including Petersburg to Wrangell, put on the event.

Scout leaders worked alongside scouts from all age groups to work the race. There were three stations —  the race officials, the starters and the announcers. The race officials and the starters were each comprised of one scout leader and one scout. The announcers were both adults who never appeared winded throughout the consistent race chatter.

The track looked like a steel waterslide that could swoop a wheeled object from end to end as fast as gravity permits. The metal structure was 25 feet long, 10 inches wide, about 5 feet high, smooth as a mirror and severely curved downwards at the start in order to set launch. The finish was at ground zero.

Some parents embraced their children. Others let them run free. In between heats, hands raised and feet spun. But when the announcer said: “Racers ready,” all bodies were still, and all eyes locked on the race track.

There were four lanes and one car always occupied a lane during each heat. The race was broken down into two rounds. There were multiple heats within each round. Every car ran in the first round, once in each one of the four lanes. The lesser time of each car was dropped and the remainder three times were used to calculate the fastest 16 cars which would later advance to Round 2.

The backbone of the event was the handwork of race official David Cope-Powell, 14, who operated the “Carhop” duties and was responsible for delivering each car to the correct lane.

Cope-Powell is an older scout and was simply there to help the younger scouts.

“We like to give responsibility to the older scouts and give them the opportunity to be a mentor to the younger scouts” said Troop 4 Assistant Cub Master John Pearson, who was an Eagle Scout about 50 years ago.

Cope-Powell’s eyes fixated on the cars parked in the docking area or the car in his hand. He hand delivered each race car to Scout James Whaley, 11, who was operating the starter's gate under the supervision of Rob Fullerton.

“Software assigns the car numbers and that’s how we keep track of what car is in what lane, and what race,” Pearson said. “It is very important to keep each car in the proper lane of each heat.”

He stressed that a potential hiccup could stall the event.

The starters secured the fourth car in its lane and gave the thumbs up. An audible “Racer’s are you ready?” sounded through the public address system from the announcers. A short silent pause enabled a child’s distant cry to pierce the event. “Go!” bellowed the announcer.

The cars shot down the drop and challenged Newton’s law. The cars bounced forward and backwards — taking the lead, losing the lead. The group created a dance like motion as it darted for the finish, and with all the colors it firmly grasped everyone’s attention.

Round 2 was exactly the same with the best three times used to calculate a champion.

Among those winners was first-year Tiger Scout and 6-year-old Quinn Elledge-Smith, a female competitor who placed second overall in the event, earning both a medal and a trophy.

“This is the first time we had girls in the race and one of them took second place” said John Pearson.

Elledge-Smith’s mother Danielle Elledge always wanted to be in the BSA, but due to gender restrictions she never had the opportunity. Both her father and brother were in the BSA, but she never participated.

Last year a representative of the BSA visited Quinn’s elementary school and informed all the youth about the scouts. When she returned home that afternoon she told her mother: “I want to be in the scouts!” Danielle answered “Yes!”

At one point, her car with no name dashed through the finish line at a top speed of 199.7 mph. Asked how her car was so fast, she said: “I think its because the tip is so pointy.”

The derby car took two weeks to build, and Quinn had a complication with the weight of the vehicle. She was able to correct this issue by melting split shot weights used for fishing line and installing them where needed.

There are many answers an adult comes up with in an attempt to guess what a 6-year-old might have fun with in this event. Quinn noted: “I got to paint it all by myself. … Pink!” she shouted.

Quinn Elledge-Smith is Ketchikan’s first girl to place in the BSA Pinewood Derby.

She plans to enter the race next year with a goal to make her car faster and get first place.

Third place went to fifth-grader Webelos Scout William Hout. His car was named “Rapido.” Hout’s top speed was 199.3 mph.

In first place was Webelos 2 Scout Kalani Hauser, with “Gouda Car” at a top speed of 200.5 mph.

“It looked more like swiss cheese, but he called it Gouda," Pearson said.

Speed is calculated through a formula. The result is a scaled speed. Organizers take the length of track and divide it by the time it takes the vehicle to travel from start to finish. They convert the result to mph and multiply it by 25, because pinewood cars are about one twenty fifth the size of a traditional motor vehicle. This is the formula standard for all BSA Pinewood Derby events.

Each scout gets to create or choose a name for his or her car. This group of scouts came up with names like “The Sizzlin' Bacon,” “Kick Me!” and “Flash Splashy.”

“They have pretty much free reign on their name,” said Pearson. As long as it’s not offensive, we let them do whatever they want."

Some scouts go through challenges during the design process, which sends them back to square one. “Making sure the car goes down the track well is sometimes an issue and sometimes they have to rethink the car’s weight and design,” Pearson said.

Pearson boasts that the derby gives scouts the opportunity to work with hand tools in combination with visual design. An axel press, wheel mandrel, wheel alignment tool, drill, saw and rasp are just some of the tools scouts get hands on experience with during the building process. Eventually, they measure everything around them, but the competition is the payoff.

“Those are all the things from an adult’s perspective, but what the scouts think is that it's just fun!” said Pearson.

Through precise calculation and hard labor the Pinewood Derby leaves us with a tradition of decency that scouts must accept in order to carry on. The scouts of Pack 4 and 22 shined on all levels during this event. They provided entertainment to the community while enjoying their camaraderie. It was an event in which they all have the opportunity to be champions for this one day.