02/21/10 — Pinewood rivalry can't stop friends

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Pinewood rivalry can't stop friends

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 21, 2010 12:42 PM

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John Avery Sasser, left, congratulates his best friend and fellow Cub Scout Braxton Jones, first place winner in Saturday's Pinewood Derby at Camp Tuscarora. The boys joined Pack 28, Mount Carmel Church, when it was formed last year.

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From left, Pinewood Derby winners Braxton Jones, first place; John Kinsey, second; and Seth Daniels, third. The annual event, held at Camp Tuscarora on Saturday, started out with 500 cars raced in local packs around the county, and had been pared down to 60, the top three from each pack.

John Avery Sasser, 7, and Braxton Jones, 8, are best buds.

They have been friends since first grade, said Braxton.

"Since we were babies," corrected John Avery.

But on Saturday, the members of Pack 28 were pitted against each other in the biggest competition of their Cub Scout year -- the Pinewood Derby.

"They're excited," said Joy Sasser, John Avery's mom.

Both had worked hard with their fathers on their entries.

"We try to let the kids do as much work as we can," said Rudy Sasser, John Avery's dad. "I don't let mine cut the wood out, but I let him sand it and paint it.

"It's something kids and parents can do together, bond and share good memories."

Going into it, Sasser said he laid out the options for his son.

"I told him, 'You can either build it for speed or build it for looks but it's hard to do both,'" he said.

The boys had a need for speed.

But that didn't mean they shortchanged appearances.

John Avery fashioned a Carolina blue UNC Tarheel car, while Braxton entered a red and white N.C. State car.

"We like those teams," Braxton said. "And we like to race against each other."

Mom also played a role.

"I took pictures," Mrs. Sasser said with a smile.

Despite the heightened atmosphere at Camp Tuscarora Saturday morning, the boys laughed and played while awaiting their next race. The only hint of anxiety was John Avery's gum-chewing and foot tapping whenever he was handed his car to place at the starting gate.

But sure enough, the inevitable happened -- the two friends came up against each other.

"We promised we would still be friends no matter who won," Mrs. Sasser said as the boys awaited the countdown.

In the first heat, the race was a tie and judges ruled a do-over.

Everett Jones, Braxton's father, paced back and forth between the finish line and the starting point.

"It bothers the parents more than it does the kids," he said.

The second time, the State car edged ahead of UNC.

John Avery, smile still wide, retrieved his car.

"Now I see why they call the Tarheels losers," he told his parents.

"That's the only thing the Wolfpack can win," Jones said.

As the double-elimination tournament of 60 cars -- the top three each from earlier heats held by packs around the county -- whittled down to three cars, Braxton remained unbeaten.

John Avery landed in fourth place.

Two remaining cars vied for the other spots in the final race, against Braxton.

"I'm a nervous wreck," said Jones, his son calmly chatting nearby with his friend. "I feel like I'm in a maternity ward."

The red and white State car emerged victorious.

And before anyone else, John Avery made his way to the finish line to give Braxton a congratulatory hug.

The annual contest is the biggest "day event" for the Cub Scouts, said Mark Metzler, district executive for Wayne County's Torhunta district.

"We started out with about 500 racers at the pack level," he said. "They start picking up their Pinewood Derby cars back in November. That kind of builds up to the excitement."

In some cases, it is also a generational event. Chris Daly, pack leader for Pack 34 out of Mount Olive Presbyterian Church, was running Saturday's bracket board, keeping up with each leg of the race.

His son Christopher, 9, had competed earlier in the Pack's event but lost, while son Carson, 7, made it to Saturday's finals.

"His mom said he was so excited, he couldn't eat this morning," said Bryant Daly, the boys' grandfather and Chris' dad.

Bryant, a former Boy Scout himself, recalled helping Chris fashion a car as a child and how things have changed over the years.

"It's exciting to see the difference in early '80s racing versus the racing now," he said. "The car designs are much better."

The day evokes good memories of father/son time creating more than just a painted wooden car.

"It's a great opportunity for the son and the father together. Even though you have a project, the son has to do a lot of it," he said. "They have a lot of time together plus it teaches them how to lose or how to win properly."

The challenge comes in making sure the car is the right weight -- it must be under five ounces -- and be able to go the distance.

"You don't have a track to test it on. You build a car out of the box, try to make it be legal, be within the Scout rules and that's the main thing," he said. "Scouting is a great opportunity for them to experience things that they normally wouldn't run across."

Other winners in the race included John Kinsey from Pack 2, in second place, and Seth Daniels, Pack 9, in third.

"We have never come this far before," said Rebecca Kinsey as son John posed for pictures with his trophy.

The 9-year-old has been in Scouting for three years, she said. John said he had enjoyed racing and working on the project with dad, Jay.

The trick, he said, was in the wheels.

"We polished the axles and wheels real good," John said, quickly adding, "And I'm a good Boy Scout."

Metzler did not have names for the Best in Show winners, but announced from which pack each originated.

For the Tigers, first place came from Pack 92, second from Pack 10 and third from Pack 8. Wolf category winners were Pack 10, first; Pack 96, second; and Pack 11, third. For the Bears, first place came from Pack 9, second from Pack 92, and third from Pack 14. Webelos winners were from Pack 28, first, Pack 258, second and Pack 8, third.