More than just a racetrack

Published 11:14 am Saturday, March 31, 2012

It had been more than a quarter-century since the last time I’d had anything to do with Scouting.

Long enough that most of the memories from my Scouting experience had become so distant I really can’t tell you much.

I do remember using a real bow and arrow at Boy Scout camp and having to hold an axe out to the side with one hand for 30 seconds to prove you were strong enough to use it; I quickly proved I wasn’t.

I remember coming home from a troop meeting, burning up with fever, and my mother cleaning my room in the middle of the night when the stomach flu got the best of me. And I distinctly remember, in one of my finer boyhood moments, winning the Pinewood Derby.

I cut my car in the shape of a wedge and put so much silver spray paint on it that, even today, you’d leave a fingerprint in if held too tightly.

It had a blue stripe down the middle, and I cut out a little cockpit and super-glued in Yoda as my driver. It was pretty plain, but somehow it was fast, and I won first place in the big district race.

That pretty much sums up the memories of my experience with Scouting.

When my son came home from school last September with a flier announcing Cub Scout signups, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down for joy at the prospect of adding another activity to our family’s crazy schedule. Free time is at a premium, and I’m getting a little funny about holding onto the last little bit.

So I devised a plan of action, which included sitting down at the kitchen table for a serious father-son talk and having him explain why he felt he needed to be a Cub Scout.

I figured that at 40 years old I could easily outsmart a 6- year-old and convince him that Scouts wasn’t something he needed to worry about. The conversation went something like this:

“Whitman, I want you to tell me exactly why you think you need to join Cub Scouts this year.”

“Dad, did you SEE this flier? Canoeing. Archery. Softball. What else do you need to know?”

That was the entire conversation.

Whitman went to his first Cub Scout meeting the next week, and shortly thereafter, his dad was named Cubmaster of the newly formed Cub Scout Pack 211 in Capron, Va. So much for my plan.

Like many other times in my life, I’m better off today because my own selfish plan didn’t work. Because if things had worked the way I had wanted, I’d still have my Tuesday evenings free and probably wouldn’t have known about the Carter Stephenson Memorial Pinewood Derby Racetrack.

When I was a Scout racing in the Pine-wood Derby, we ran cars down a wooden racetrack and relied on a set of grownup eyes to determine who won each race. The Carter Stephenson Racetrack is something else altogether.

A technological wonder to behold, it is a 49-foot-long aluminum speedway as advanced as any in NASCAR. It has an electronic starting gate, and the times and winners of each car in every race are monitored and recorded by a computerized scoring system.

Today’s Scouts, most of whom have never seen a phone that’s connected to a wall, can’t truly appreciate how wonderful and sophisticated this racetrack is. Those of us who have actually dialed a rotary phone certainly can. But it’s not what this track can do, it’s what the track stands for that makes it so truly special.

Carter Stephenson was one of the three Boy Scouts who, along with a Scout leader, died in a car accident more than five years ago while returning home from a camping trip. Carter loved the Pinewood Derby, so his father Kent, who was active in scouting along with his son, bought the track and vowed to donate it and his time to local Scout groups as a way to honor him.

And he’s been doing it ever since. Many will see the name on the track and think of Carter. But I see the track and think of the love a father, has for his son, that five years after losing him he remains giving of his time, not just so that others will remember Carter, but so that as a father that he can stay connected to him.

So, now I think of the night Whitman brought home his first Cub Scout flier, and I’m grateful to God that there’s a plan for me that is infinitely better than the ones I attempt to devise for myself.

I’m grateful for someone like Kent Stephenson and the time and energy he is willing to give to others in memory and honor of his son, Carter. And I’m grateful to once again be involved in scouting because if the last few months are any indication, I think I’m going to learn a lot more the second time around.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at