Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Pinewood Derby: Continuing the Tradition

Back in the early seventy’s when I was in the Cub Scouts; something I always looked forward to was the Pinewood Derby. What is this? Click on the link. The race has been an annual event in scouting since the 1950’s. The scout is given a simple kit which includes a block of wood, four nails, and four plastic wheels. From there it is up to the scout, with the help of his Dad, to construct a car into a fast winning machine.

I can remember back in the day, I cut my block of wood with a jigsaw and did all the body work and paint, while my Dad helped me by melting the lead weights into the body, and lubricating the wheels. Together, we constructed a car that went all the way to win the district championship event in Kansas City. My brother went on to do the same thing. I think it might have been the same car, but I think he painted it. The Chance kids went on to build a tradition in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby in our troop.

Fast Forward 38 years or so, and I have my own son, Braden, in Cub Scouts. When I heard we were having the Pinewood Derby, I got pretty excited. I knew how to put together a bad ass car, and I couldn’t wait to show Braden how it was done. The Tradition must live on.

I soon discovered things have changed a lot in 38 years. I perused the internet and I couldn’t believe what I found, special tools, manuals, videos, etc. Some folks even had internet businesses developed for selling Pinewood Derby products. The secrets were out. I didn’t bother ordering the manuals. I knew how to make a winning car. The problem was, that now, this information is accessible to everyone.

Braden designed his own aerodynamic shaped car and we discussed the concept. I cut it out on the band saw while he watched. He sanded and painted it. I ordered some of the special tools to work on the wheels and got up to 6000 grit sandpaper so we could polish the (nails) axels to a fine shine. He learned how to use the Dremel tool for this task. I drilled holes in the body and placed some tungsten weights in it to bring its weight, axels and wheels included up to 4.9 oz. (5 oz was the cutoff weight limit).

Once the car was complete, it rolled straight. The wheels rolled on their axels perpetually. I knew this car was going to be fast. We made a box lined with foam padding to keep it from damage, and put it away. Unfortunately, the race was going to happen on the last day of Epic Camp. I was going to be in New Zealand. Darn!! Since my Dad is no longer around, I had my father in law substitute for me. I knew he would get into this.

I got updates on the race during my return from New Zealand. Again, in 38 years the technology has changed for the better. Each car goes down each of the six lanes of the track, because some lanes may be faster or slower than others. A digital time is generated and each run and they are added together for a cumulative time to reveal the overall winner. Braden’s time was 18.25 seconds, 3.04 seconds/ run. Some of his runs were under 3 seconds. His car was beaten in one or two races, but we knew he won first place for the den. It took a month for the final results to be tabulated and found out at the award meeting that he was 3rd overall, just 0.15 seconds behind the winner. That ended up being two hundredths of a second per run behind the winner. I guess next year we have a new goal to shoot for.

While I was searching the internet I came across the movie, Down and Derby. It is a lampoon about overly competitive fathers who leave the kids out of the building process and secretly work on the cars themselves to earn the bragging rights. I have yet to see the movie but it’s on my list now. Being a competitive guy, I wanted to give Braden an opportunity to feel what it is like to win and get a trophy. He did enough of the work that he feels he earned it.

It would be tempting to do all the work myself but, if I did, how could Braden keep up the tradition. During the project, he learned a lot about tools, aerodynamics, friction, and woodworking and I’m sure in a few years he will have all the skills himself that he will be able to do all the work.

This reminded me of a quote that I remembered about taking time out of your life to teach a child something; “ The work can wait while you show a child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work” I think Braden got a good glimpse of that rainbow.


MarkyV said...

Braden again proves that he is waaaaaaaaaay cooler than you. ;)

Rainmaker said...

I remember the Pinewood Derby from scouts as well. In fact, like you - it's one of the things I remember most clearly. Being out the garage with my dad building and fine tuning the car. Putting tiny little finishing touches on it and then racing it down the track.

Good to see you're able to continue the tradition.