Scout carves out winning niche with Pinewood Derby

Plymouth Township’s Tom Cousino dubbed his championship Pinewood Derby car “Red Phoenix” — an appropriate choice because it rose to prominence from a small block of wood.

The 11-year-old’s sleek, aerodynamic red racer with gold stripes did more than blow past the competition June 2 at the Boy Scouts of America’s Great Lakes Council Race, held at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn.

It was selected for a year-long exhibit at the Hall of Fame, located next to the Henry Ford Museum.

Several weeks later, the achievement is starting to soak in, although the youngster isn’t one to gloat.

“It’s fun to be in Pinewood Derby,” said Tom, during a recent interview at the Plymouth Cultural Center. “I mean, when you come up with cool designs everyone’s going to say ‘Nice design.’”

Tom’s Hall of Fame-worthy victory followed top prizes won in his age group at the Isbister Cub Scout Pack 1540 and Sunset District races, respectively held in March and April at Redford Thurston. More than 27,000 scouts in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties are represented by the Great Lakes Council.

Fast and sleek

This year’s Pinewood Derby competition was the fifth in a row for Tom, who in past years entered cars featuring a wide array of designs: those included a “Wiimote” (Wii remote control), Super Mario, Landspeeder from Star Wars and Perry the Platypus (from the Phineas and Ferb animated TV series).

Tom said each year’s entry started with a five-ounce block of wood (the standard size in the Pinewood Derby kit as provided by the Boy Scouts of America) and notebook pages of design ideas.

He noted that he made a determined effort to make the 2012 model as sleek as possible in order to help it zoom down the race track with nothing going for it but gravity and engineering.

“All of my cars from the past years … have all these different parts that might catch the wind,” Tom explained. “So this year is really aerodynamic.”

Although he added that there “might be a car that looks like it (Red Phoenix), but probably not. I just wanted to go for an aerodynamic design this year.”

Brainstorming sessions with his dad, Jeff Cousino, jumpstarted the process. Tom’s mom, Sheila Cousino, and his sisters (Claire, 15; Kate, 13) also contributed ideas to the mix.

Just like in previous years, original drawings and sketches were taken down to the workshop. That’s where Jeff’s power tools began recasting the block. Tom followed up by tweaking, decorating and painting it into contest-ready shape.

Of course, Jeff downplays his involvement.

“The ideas have been his,” Jeff said. “And for me that’s the biggest part of it.”

Something tangible

Meanwhile, in the virtual world of 2012, the Cousinos relish the process of an idea jumping off a notebook page and — as a finished product — ultimately landing onto the sloping, six-lane Pinewood Derby track. The Hall of Fame exhibit is icing on the cake.

“That’s where I think it’s the most fun for me,” Jeff continued, “is to see their ideas come to life, actually turn into something that ends up going down the track.

“It’s one thing to build something on a computer. But to actually build it out of wood and nails and turn it into an actual car, and when you see the boys walk around with the cars, they’re very proud.”

Tom’s run of success at official Pinewood Derby events certainly topped the bill for the Cousinos.

But Sheila noted how the entire family enjoyed making cars for a recent “sibling” race.

“It’s nice that our pack allows this special sibling race,” Sheila said. “They’ve done it four the last four or five years when all the scouts are done racing. All the other people can bring their cars and have them race.

“It’s a lot of fun to watch all the crazy cars go down the track because the boys are really creative in their cars, but with the siblings there aren’t as many rules.”

Bottom line

One rule they’ll have to pay attention to is eligibility. Because Tom now is in a Boy Scout troop (1537 in Plymouth) he cannot enter the 2013 Pinewood Derby competition.

With more time on his hands as he enters sixth grade at Pioneer Middle School, Tom said he will look into activities such as soccer, swimming and basketball.

But he won’t soon forgot Pinewood Derby.

“I just thought this was a really good experience to do,” Tom added. “Because if I hadn’t done this we wouldn’t have all these cool cars.

“Plus, I learned a lot of regular engineering things, like aerodynamics. And having a good paint job always is good.”

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