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Pinewood Derby

Originally uploaded by todbookless
Last weekend was Alexander's Cub Scout pack's annual Pinewood Derby. If you are unfamiliar with this tradition, it is a contest where the Cubs get a small block of pine, 4 plastic wheels, and 4 nails to use as axles. They cut out and decorate their cars however they like. The cars are put on a track and race downhill powered by gravity alone. They can't weigh more than 5 ounces, but otherwise the kids can really do what they like with the cars for the most part.

I have a certain amount of bad feelings around this event from my Cub Scout days. My parents never attended a meeting with me, or helped in any way, and when it came time for the derby, my dad kind of left me to it. This is supposed to be a project that the kids do with the parents, but my Dad was busy watching sports on TV or sleeping, and my Mom was reading a book. Needless to say, my car was extremely lame. For decoration, Dad gave me some very old house paint. This was the 1970's mind you, so even new house paint was tacky. There was no effort to get my car close to the correct weight or anything, so my car looked stupid and performed terribly.

I am the first to admit that I am not a perfect parent. My goals are modest - I try to do better than my parents (a pretty low bar, actually), and to not do the bad things that I hated my parents to do. For example, my dad was always trying to freeze me to death with outdoor activities in the winter and I spent a fair amount of my youth in stage one hypothermia. This was not aided by my father's unwillingness to purchase me warm clothing or decent shoes because, of course, I would just outgrow them. I am sure that I am traumatizing my son in new and interesting ways, but I hope that I can at least avoid some of the obvious errors of my parents. When it came time for the Pinewood Derby this year I vowed to do better.

I organized our shop downstairs and purchased a scroll saw and a bench sander. Combined with other tools that I had, we had a pretty good Pinewood Derby workshop. I invited all of the Scouts and their parents over on the 2 Saturdays preceding the race so anyone who needed help and access to tools could get it. Several kids and their parents took me up on that offer. We were blessed by no rain on either Saturday, so I set up a paint station outside with a few kinds of paint. Other kids used markers and stickers. We also had a scale and helped kids add weight so they could get their cars up to five ounces so they would be competitive.

Alex designed the layout of his car. It was a pretty simple design. He was wanting to make an amphibious car so it looked kind of boat-like. I cut it out for him and he sanded and decorated it. Down at the hobby store we bought a little guy to sit in the cockpit and a little engine and exhaust pipes to glue on. It was not that fancy or elaborate, but it was what Alex wanted to make and he was happy with it.

At the race, all of the kid's cars looked great, and all of the den leaders helped all of the kids finish off any last issues with their cars. Some were too light, some too heavy, and some were too low and dragged on the track. We all made sure that every kid could have a competitive run. We talked to the kids about sportsmanship before the race, but I don't think that they needed it. They all cheered each other and were great. Alex won first place in his den, and third overall. His simple design was a good idea. I made a crazy, illegal, car that had a CO2 rocket in it. I thought the kids would laugh and I ran it a few times while the score keeper was tabulating results. It could finish the track in under a second! It seemed like all of the kids had fun and hopefully they will have good memories of the Pinewood Derby when it is time to help their kids race.


Anthogna said…
Oh the Pinewood Derby. I do have many fond memories of those. I think I even won something one year at the Pack level but once we got to the big event at The Mall in Hays I got blown out. We never had anything as organized as you for construction...I remember late-night trips to the post office to weigh the car on the postal scale so we would add only the allowable number of fishing line sinkers to the bottom of the car. I haven't decided if we'll be doing scouts when mine is of age, but it was great fun.

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