Photos + Video: Off to the races: Cadets, Gems compete in Pinewood Derby

The annual Pinewood Derby is a tradition of Worthington Christian Reformed Church

There they go!
Spectators young and old watch a heat in the third and fourth grade division of the Pinewood Derby Wednesday night at Worthington Christian School. The annual derby had 40 participants this year.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

WORTHINGTON — From sleek, monochromatic and simple to the elaborately decorated, entries in Wednesday night’s Pinewood Derby at the Worthington Christian School proved strategic placement of weights and aerodynamics — from bunny ears to cotton balls — propelled the wooden blocks quickest toward the finish line.

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The annual derby is organized by the Worthington Christian Reformed Church — a fun, end-of-the-year contest among third through eighth graders who attend the church’s Cadet and Gems programs. The tradition has been going so long, no one seems to really know when it began; decades, even generations, to be sure.

Wednesday night’s contest included about 40 participants, each entering a derby car that could weigh no more than six ounces.

The derby was coordinated by Terry and Shirley deBoom, who have organized the event for the past 15 years. Terry serves as Cadet Counselor, and they get help from other adult leaders at the start and finish lines to ensure the races are fair.

Way to go!
Racers congratulate the winner of a heat in the third and fourth grade division of the Pinewood Derby Wednesday night, March 15, 2023, at the Worthington Christian School.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

The 32-foot wooden track boasted four lanes — one was added in recent years to speed up the process due to growing participation. Though car speed can’t be measured with their set-up locally, Terry said Cadets who choose to compete in the Cadet-O-Rama next month at Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Christian School will get that information.


“They have an aluminum track and a time tracker,” he said. “We have a light tracker that comes through with first, second, third and fourth place.”

The races were operated in double-elimination fashion, meaning each kid raced their pinewood car a minimum of two times. If they lost both races, they were out; if they won, they kept advancing.

“We keep track of what lane they raced on and who they raced against, and we try so that they don’t race against the same car or the same lane,” said Shirley. That’s because some kids decide one lane is faster than another, quipped Terry as he debunked the myth.

At the end of the night, trophies are awarded to the three fastest cars in each division — third and fourth grade; fifth and sixth grade; and seventh and eighth grade. In addition, awards for originality are given to two derby cars per division, an award given in recognition for the most uniquely decorated cars and determined by random people in the audience.

A fun competition

Nine-year-old Aubrey Bosma competed in her first pinewood derby Wednesday night, and was quite surprised to win first place in the third and fourth grade division.

What did she do to make her car go so fast? “I don’t really know,” she replied.

Division winners
Winners of the third and fourth grade division in the Pinewood Derby included Aubrey Bosma (from left), Ava Olson and Kate Flynn.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

Her car was transformed from a simple wood block into something that was supposed to be an axolotl. The idea just came to her, and apparently it was a good one, considering she bested other cars five times before taking the top honors.

“I was really nervous,” Bosma said, assuring listeners she will compete in the derby again next year.


Not all cars were as fast as Bosma’s, and some kids were done competing after just two or three races.

This was sixth grader Kolton Robinson’s third derby, and he says his car never does “too good.”

His plan for next year is to start working on his car earlier. All of the Cadets and Gems receive their block of wood, wheels and axles three weeks before race night, and it’s up to them — with help from adults — to get their derby car ready.

Lining up for the final race
Competitor Ava Olson sets her car on the track in the third and fourth grade division of the Pinewood Derby Wednesday night at the Worthington Christian School.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

Earlier in the evening, the Rev. Chad Werkhoven speculated that some of the cars in the competition were getting their finishing touches on the way to the derby. Robinson admitted he was one of them — attaching the axles on the way to the school.

Lincoln Nordby, 12, created a wedge with his block of wood, strategically adding weights to increase the car’s momentum down the slope. He won his first race, but then lost the next two, pushing him out of contention.

“I didn’t put all my weight in the back, so I might put more in the back next time,” Nordby said, already making plans for next year’s derby.

Fifth grader Charley Widboom, like Robinson, said his cars have never really done that well in competition, but that doesn’t really matter to him.

“It’s just kind of for fun,” he said, showing the detail in his derby car, which featured his name burned into the wood across the car’s top, and lead-like weights melted into holes drilled in the bottom of the car.


“I put some of (the weights) behind the back axle and I put some of it in front of the axle,” he explained, adding that a family friend who works in construction helped shape the block of wood.

Ready, set, go!
Ridley Gravenhof gets a boost from her dad, Mitchell, to place her derby car on the track in the open class division of the Pinewood Derby Wednesday night at Worthington Christian School.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

“Some of the equipment that we use is kind of dangerous, so we have to be really careful,” he added. “I did most of the sanding.”

Jack Behrends, 9, created a funny car for his derby entry.

“It’s not the best car, but I kind of went for designs, not how fast it was,” Behrends said.

Ultimately, he lost a race to his cousin, Kate Flynn, and was knocked out of the competition.

Flynn’s car was painted in bright pink with a yellow lightning bolt sprawled across the top, and ended up in third place in their age division.

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For incidents recorded the evening of March 28 through the early evening of March 31.

Easton Drost painted windows and a racing stripe on his car, and Brayden Soderholm went with racing stripes as well — neon green and black.

“I really like it because I get to build with my dad a lot,” Soderholm said of creating a derby car. “First we cut out the main shape and then we sanded it a lot. Then we had to put in weights — tungsten weights — on the bottom.


“We cooked it so it would be lighter, and you can put more weight in the back so when it goes down, it pushes it forward,” he added.

Soderholm planned to scope out the competition — particularly the winners — to get some pointers for next year on the shape of the car and the location of the weights.

Riley Brunk’s derby car featured a picture of a rooster from his family’s farm and dubbed his car the “Wild Rooster,” just “to be creative,” he said. Meanwhile, Cort Nystrom, 9, made her car into an evil minion and fourth grader Ava Olson went with a Vikings theme, including the number 84 for her mom’s favorite former player Randy Moss.

Lily Bosma’s entry was made to look like a Swingline stapler to follow the school supply theme she’s used in past derby races. The shape, or perhaps weight placement proved successful as she took first place in the fifth and sixth grade division.

“We put different stuff on the wheels than we usually do,” confessed Bosma, nodding in agreement when asked if it was top secret.

“I thought that my design won't be pretty good,” she said, adding that her dad helped her shape it into a stapler.

Bosma offered a “Good job!” to all of her fellow competitors.

Ava Schutz transformed her block of wood into a red and white striped popcorn carton, complete with cotton balls to give the appearance of popcorn at the back end of her derby car. She came up with the idea after doing a Google search, as she’d never competed in a pinewood derby before and didn’t know what her car should look like.


“My dad and my friend’s dad helped,” she said, adding that she painted her car and added the cotton balls with hot glue.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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