A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker



Every year in Cub Scout Pack 509 we held a Pinewood Derby.

And every year I lost.

By "lost" I don't mean that I finished second or third or fourth. No, sir. I mean I finished last. Dead last. And not a close last. Not a respectable last. Not a competitive last. I was last by a mile. Way last. Mega last. I was to Pinewood Derby racing what Harold Stassen was to politics.

A loveable loser. But a loser nonetheless.

For the uninitiated, a Pinewood Derby is a diabolical little contest involving boys, dads, a little block of pine and a wooden racing track. The object of the event is for boys to work together with their dads to carve their block of pine into a little race car, and then to race these cars against each other to determine the Pinewood Derby winner.

According to my Scout leaders, the event was all about getting dads to spend time working on an interesting project with their boys. But to me and my fellow Cubs, it was all about winning. Especially when you lost.

That's why I was intrigued when a friend at school mentioned that he knew a sure-fire way to win the Pinewood Derby. I begged him for details, and he complied.

"But isn't that cheating?" I asked when he explained the procedure.

"Well, technically, yes," he said. "But that's the only way your car will win."

He had a point there. As father and son, Dad and I were terrific. We got along great, and enjoyed working together on the project. But as car builders, we were barely adequate. I had serious doubts that the purple and black monstrosity we had constructed would make it all the way to the end of the track without falling apart, much less win any races. So on my own I made the decision to make the "adjustments" my friend proposed.

I won't go into any details of those adjustments here (in much the same way that I wouldn't provide a recipe for making an atomic bomb) and I won't tell you my friend's name because I'm not exactly sure when the statute of limitations expires for Pinewood Derby Fraud. But I cheated, pure and simple.

And I won.

I have to admit, it was kind of exciting to watch my little wooden car speeding down that ramp ahead of all comers, winning race after race in impressive fashion. Even my Dad seemed pleased - and a little surprised - at our sudden success. And when they placed that little gold trophy in my hands at the end of the evening, I was thrilled beyond words.

At least, I was until later that night, when I set my car and trophy on the prominent spot I had reserved for them on my dresser. I sat and stared at them, hoping to rekindle some of the excitement I had felt earlier. I was a winner! So why did I feel like such a loser? The fact was, I hadn't earned that trophy honestly. I knew it. And that knowledge - coupled with the gnawing fear that at any time my friend at school could blow the whistle on my fraudulent foray into the winner's circle - dampened any joy I had felt during the Pinewood Derby, and left me feeling empty and ashamed.

So I took the trophy and buried it in my bottom drawer, where it remained until I threw it away a few years later. Some people say that cheaters never prosper. I'm not sure that's true. Sometimes they do. But there's no lasting joy in prosperity that isn't honestly earned.

Even if it turns a loveable loser into a winner.

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--- © Joseph Walker

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." available on-line through and