Marathon’s first annual pinewood derby goes off ‘without a hitch’ 

Domingo Mendias of Alpine shows off his T. rex-themed car, which earned first place at last weekend’s Derby. Photo by Tony Drewry.

MARATHON — On July 15, Brick Vault Brewery and Barbecue in Marathon hosted its first-ever pinewood derby race. The pinewood derby is typically a Cub Scout affair, but head brewer Amy Oxenham adapted the event to include all ages and genders. Folks from all over the region flocked to the Brick Vault patio to watch the races, and their organizers hope it will become an annual competition.

Twenty-six different cars went head-to-head for the top prizes. While Oxenham was moved by how the races brought folks across generations together, she was also happy that the top three finishers were “kid-powered.” Youngsters from the tri-county area got the opportunity to make friends and cheer each other on as the afternoon’s festivities progressed. “It went off without a hitch, just like I imagined,” Oxenham said. 

Oxenham and her friends came up with the event as a way for locals to battle the summer blues, but also got excited about being able to teach basic scientific concepts like gravity and velocity. A pinewood derby track is tall and sloped; the cars themselves, which come from a regulation kit, run on the power of their own carefully-configured weight. Derby racers can modify to add or subtract weight from different parts of the bodies of their cars. “The kids could see that there’s a payoff for changing variables,” she explained. 

The only true roadblock was an early monsoon season: the Brick Vault team left the derby track exposed for months on the patio so competitors could come by and test their cars. The track, lovingly constructed by Jason Taylor and Clint Grant, got warped by a number of torrential summer storms. “Our in-house crew was super generous with their time. They helped out with taking everything apart, re-sanding, repainting and refinishing,” Oxenham said. “We put it all back together the two days before the race, so people could come and test out some of their last minute modifications. People started getting more and more pumped about it.”

Folks unfamiliar with pinewood derby rules and regulations were invited to come out for a workshop a month before the event to get basic tips and tricks that would guide their builds. A number of anonymous “derby angels” chipped in to purchase kits and materials for lower-income kids. Cody McCollum donated a one-of-a-kind prize for top-place finishers: a mushroom growing kit courtesy of his company, Big Bend Fungi. 

McCollum bonded with Oxenham over their shared interests — the two make their living in the applied sciences. He also spent his early teenage years in Fort Davis and understands how difficult it can be for local kids to find meaningful things to do, especially in the heat of the summer months. “Fifteen years ago, when I was growing up here, there wasn’t a lot to do,” he explained. “The pinewood derby is something new and positive and exciting. The kids can acquire skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.”

On race day, McCollum’s car, in his words, got “whooped by a young man who really deserved it.” He’s hoping that for kids like Asa Aufdengarten, Vaughn Edwin Ekstrom and Domingo Mendias — third, second and first place winners, respectively — the mushroom kits might spark something bigger. 

“Maybe it will get them interested in mushrooms, which will get them interested in science,” McCollum said. “For all these young kids who may live here and think that they’ve gotta leave for opportunities, that’s not the case with science — with being an explorer and a life-long learner.”