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Riley 500 Pinewood Derby Coming to Indy

Eagle Scout creates unforgettable event for Riley children.

Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Brian Brosmer

For many of us, the month of May in Indy means a trip to the track for qualifications, Carb Day or the big race. For many Riley children, the closest they’ll ever come to celebrating our city’s most famous event is watching it on TV.

Lawrence North High School junior and Eagle Scout candidate Robbie Bruner decided to bring the race to the kids instead. Sifting through all the traditional Eagle award projects, like building a shed or barn or beautifying a school or park, Bruner decided he needed to find an idea that was outside the box.

“I wanted to do something that was memorable for all involved and exemplifies the part of the scout law that calls upon scouts to be friendly,” Bruner says.

During camp in 2016, Bruner began brainstorming ideas. Being a devoted scout since around the age of 7, Bruner thought of the old Boy Scout favorite, the Pinewood Derby, a race of cars hand crafted out of pine wood. As he began to flesh out the idea, he thought of a tie-in with the Indianapolis 500.

So, in Bruner’s initial Eagle proposal, he suggested the Riley 500, a Pinewood Derby for Riley Kids during the month of May. His Scoutmaster and other Eagle coordinators initially thought the idea was too simplistic. But Bruner didn’t give up on the idea and soon involved the help of family friend and local artist Walter Knabe who had a special connection at Riley. Knabe, who has contributed his talents for posters for the Indy 500, connected Bruner with Riley Hospital’s Event Coordinator. Sexton loved the idea, and ironically, already had an Indy 500 race party planned for the kids.

The final proposal submitted in August 2016 laid the groundwork for a Pinewood Derby race of around 70 handmade cars and 150 guests with race car drivers in attendance. Bruner has reached out to all troops in the Central Indiana Northeast District of Crossroads of America to ask for their help in making and donating the 70 cars so that the Riley kids can each have one to race and keep as a memento of the event.

A Westfield scout troop heard about it and plans to make and donate at least one car. Bruner also reached out to the National Art Society and National Honor Society at Lawrence North to ask for their contributions. Both clubs will be providing crafts for the Riley kids to make and keep. To make the event even more memorable, Bruner will give trophies to the winners. Thinking of everything, Bruner has arranged for those too to be donated.

Now, what was once a small Indy 500 party for the kids at Riley Hospital has turned into a big event with Bruner’s Pinewood Derby Eagle project being 75 percent of the party’s agenda.

“I didn’t start out expecting to make the event over the top, but it just turned out that way,” he says. “It’s been 10 months in the works and there’s still a lot of work to do. I’m really jazzed about all of it.”

But if anyone can handle the load, it’s Bruner. At Lawrence North, Bruner is in the International Baccalaureate program, plays on the Varsity Tennis Club, he’s captain of the Men’s Volleyball team, a member of the National Honor Society, plus he leads a few extra-curricular clubs at school. On top of all that, he’s running for next year’s Senior Class President. To balance all those commitments while doing an Eagle project would be tough for most high schoolers to juggle but not for Bruner.

Bruner says scouting has called him to lead. It wasn’t until high school that Bruner began to take on more of a leadership role when he became responsible for 20 to 25 fifth and sixth grade scouts. His role was to get the kids through their Tenderfoot ranking and their first campout.

Soon enough, he became Senior Patrol Leader (SPL), where he is responsible for planning the meetings and campouts for a group of 100 scouts. 

“I’m a here-and-now person,” Bruner says. “I don’t get lost in agonizing over the responsibilities, I just do it and it helps me stay organized and focused.”

Bruner says going forward, he’ll likely pursue opportunities in college and beyond that focus on his strong skill set of leadership, organizing people, fundraising and delegating.

Bruner’s Scoutmaster, Dave Hoyt, a powerful role model who has led 90 scouts through their Eagle project, says he couldn’t be more proud of Robbie for doing what he calls “The project of a lifetime.” Hoyt says that out of the 90 scouts he’s guided through their Eagle projects, Robbie’s project has encompassed more time and energy than 10 or 15 of the other Eagle projects combined.

He adds that Bruner has been an outstanding role model.

“As SPL, Robbie guided our first-year scouts as they crossed over into our troop,” Hoyt says. “All the kids absolutely loved, respected and admired Robbie. Instead of Webelos, we called the kids Robbie-los.”

In the meantime, Bruner is staying focused during the final push for the event. With a long check list of items to do before the event, there’s little time to stop and consider what kind of legacy he hopes to leave by the event. But in true form, Bruner has already decided that.

“I hope the kids get lost in the experience, and I hope the event creates a long-lasting memory for these kids,” he says. “Scouting has done so much for me in terms of leadership and building lasting friendships. I hope this event promotes that about scouting, the friendship bonds and so much more.”

Besides working hard to execute a successful Riley 500 Pinewood Derby on May 16th, Bruner is hoping this event lays the groundwork for a legacy to bring this event to the kids every year, or maybe even bring the event to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, too. Whatever happens in the future with the event, Bruner has some words of wisdom for future scouts who might want to organize a similar event.

“Be passionate about your project and organized,” Bruner says. “Above all, be nice and kind because these days, those types of simple manners and gestures get lost.”

About Suzanne Huntzinger

Suzanne Huntzinger has a journalism degree from IU and has lived in the Geist community for 18 years.

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