The first Pinewood Derby race was held on May 15, 1953, by Cub Scout Pack 280C in Manhattan Beach, California.
The Cubmaster, Don Murphy, had a son that was too young to participate in the popular Soap Box Derby races, so he came up with the idea of racing miniature wood cars. In a Scouting Magazine article, Mr. Murphy recalled "I'd made models of airplanes, cars, boats, and any number of other structures and remembered the pleasure I got out of doing it," he said. "I also wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition."
Since 1953, the race has grown tremendously in popularity with the Cub Scouts. Pinewood Derby racing also caught on with several other organizations like Awana, which calls their version the Awana Grand Prix. The first Awana Grand Prix took place in 1964 and by 2004, approximately 200,000 boys and girls competed in race events in the US. For more information on the history of the Awana Grand Prix check out this Awana article.
Pinewood Derby, Awana Grand Prix, and other similar races are now held in various countries around the world and involve boys and girls working with their dads, moms or other adult partners.