Friday, April 13, 2007

Pinewood Derby Number Three

Pinewood DerbyFor those of you who may not have a cub scout in the family, March was Pinewood Derby month. This was the third of five Derbies for us and through it all I've gleaned a few tidbits of wisdom.

1. If you give your cub scout his car kit, expecting the pieces to remain in tact until needed, you're insane. In the history of the Derby I don't think one boy has made it through without losing at least one part from his car kit so be prepared. In our case Spencer and David have lost the axles from their cars nearly every year--not sure why, it's a mystery to me.

2. In fact, it's not a bad idea to buy a stockpile of extra kits knowing of the inevitability of lost parts. The hard thing about losing, say, an axle, is that I've never found the right sized nail to replace it. They're irreplaceable. It's all some Boy Scouts of America conspiracy but the BSA only produces unique one-in-a-million nails for their car axles that, should they be lost, are gone forever.

I know, I've tried.

I've torn Lowes and Home Depot apart trying to find a replacement nails and haven't been successful yet--and that's three years experience talking.

Pinewood Derby 20053. Don't assume that over-eager cub scouts have enough common sense to know that first you design the body then you put on the wheels. Or even that first you sculpt the body then you paint. You'll need to explain all that--three or four times. Every year. That's where those extra kits come in handy.

4. Graphite. Graphite! GRAPHITE!!! If you don't know what this stuff is, be assured that every other scout at the Derby will. Google it. Now.

5. There will always be those scouts whose fathers, instead of using the standard-issue, BSA-supplied car kits, will purchase the black market, contraband pre-cut kits for their boys to paint, effectively blowing away all the handmade cars in the "Best Design" category.

This may seem like cheating but don't worry, that feeling will pass and you too will succumb and wish that you'd just bought Junior a Dragon Car kit. Especially when you're combing the hobby stores hours before the Derby for lead weights, decals, or nails to replace lost axles (see number 2).

Pinewood Derby 20066. There will always be those scouts whose fathers did the entire project for them. This is fine--it's part of the great Circle of Life and all that, as inevitable as death and lost axles--unless those cars happen to win, then it's not fine and things get ugly. So accept it and get over it because the only thing worse than an angry Hockey Dad is an angry Derby Dad. Not pretty.

7. If you don't have woodworking tools make friends fast with someone who does as this will save you hours of frustration with a coping saw. Have you ever tried to cut a Corvette from a chunk of pine with a coping saw and nothing but your knees to hold it steady? It's Dante's tenth circle of hell, I'm pretty sure.

8. Be assured that whatever car design your cub scout chooses the finished product will no more resemble it than a block of Swiss cheese resembles a Ferrari (the above-pictured "Raptor Rocket" was the inspiration for more than one Derby car but somehow never really matched the finished results). But that's okay, your son won't notice, if you helped him he'll think his car is cool anyway.

But, as a side note, it's amazing the design concepts you can come up with for a square block of wood. "How about we make your car into a box of cereal? A piece of bubblegum? A cinder block? Sponge Bob?" If the car can be made without a cut, there's instant appeal. See the above picture of "The Dominator" with a sleek and elegant domino design for an example.

Pinewood Derby 20079. Body work isn't everything but friction is. If you aren't an expert on sanding axles and wheels, lubricating and weighting then maybe you'd ought to think about one of those pre-made kits and hope for the "Best Design" award.

10. Number one technique for getting through the Derby is to suggest to your husband that his son should go to his engineer-uncle and grandpa for help with his car. The mere hint to your husband that he isn't able to produce a good Derby car will arouse his competitive spirit enough to ensure the project will never fall on you. I made this mistake/stroke of genius the first year and was quickly rebuked and told that lawyers can produce darn fine Derby cars, thank you very much, and don't need no stinkin' help from those engineers.

It's reverse psychology at it's finest--you'll thank me for it I promise.

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18 comments:

my4kids said...

My boys do the pine car derby every year with their church group. No store bought cars aloud so they have to be all handmade. Somehow I get the job of helping to design the cars for the boys though. Of course they would never tell their friends that their mother made the cool truck the year Izzak won best design and craftmanship....

Poppy Fields said...

The Pinewood Derby is one of the reasons I wanted to be a boyscout. Girlscouts and pincushions were for the birds. Year after year, I jealously watched my father and brother carve the car, paint it, weight it in just the right place. I loved going to to the event. Great memories :)

jenn in holland said...

Ah, pinewood derby. The joys, the woes, the lost car parts.
And, oh, the daddy's who get a little bit too excited about the competition.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

We had Pinewood a few months back. Yep, the top two in our den had cars that were made by Dads -- in a rivalry that goes back a few years, to their older boys (and continued in THAT race as well!). Our car went for cool over fast and came in second-to-last.

Best of all, my son didn't care. (we had no winners for "best design" and such. I'm sort of sad about that!)

G's Cottage said...

Oh no, Pinewood Derby. The problem wasn't #1 son, who actually won his Webelos year (take that Eddie, my dad is super rich and can buy the best car). Oh no, the issue of greatest angst was my husband's and his best friend's obsession with tweaking the track and timing/finish system. For weeks, sometimes months, the garage and or basement would be taken over with sections of track, lights, swizzle sticks, computers, video, the aroma of hot solder and frequent outbursts such as, "Hey, if we reconfigure "this" we can get it half a nanosecond more accurate,"

Babystepper said...

Our church group also did Pinewood Derby. Our group in Colorado always took the design awards, but never the speed awards. We very rarely ever made actual cars. We had boats, fists, toothbrushes and toothpaste (That was my friend and I. We matched.) Rabbits and other animals, and anything else you can imagine. It was lots of fun.

Lisa Milton said...

We are not derby-bound, yet. But I am always collecting tips on ways to motivate my dear hubby. Igniting his sense of competition is key. Got it.

Have a great weekend!

Macoosh said...

this is such a great post! i love it. I love reading about the future things i'll have to think about when I pop my kids out. Your advice is fun and so helpful...I love it.

i'm off for a few days, so I'll catch up next week!

Heffalump said...

For some reason we never got pinewood derby cars this year. Last year though, #1 made his look like a VW bus. The boy has a VW obsession, and although he wanted a bug...I convinced him that a bus was easier to produce. And it was. Now I have two in scouts, so I am dreading the next one. Unfortunately for me, I am the one the handy things fall on.

Anonymous said...

Just a note, that even if you purchase a kit at your local hobby shop, the only advantage you have is that the block of wood is already cut out but you still have to sand it, paint it and put the wheels on, and sometimes that doesnt guarantee best design.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Ah, the memories this brings back since I was sandwiched in between two brothers in the family pecking order. One year my brother's car was uglier than dirt, but it blew EVERYONE out of the water, including the classic car that came back year after year to race for fun. It helps to have a Dad who majored in Physics and has a PhD in Biochemistry. But I agree, Pine Wood Derbies are more for the fathers than the sons sometimes ... but it still works out so most every boy/man at some point in life gets to enjoy the project.

My husband just got called to work with the Webelos and I finally understand why they are called that.

Lei said...

*bookmariking this as my pre-pinewood-derby years are numbered*

Ni Yachen said...

I love doing pinewood derbies. I cna't wait till next year when it is my oldest first derby.

This Eclectic Life said...

OK, I crown you the Queen of Reverse Psychology. Excellent.

mcewen said...

Oh how I love hearing tales of the normal - thanks for the escapism.
Best wishes

dgm said...

great tips! my husband and daughter do pinewood derby races through indian princesses. last year, they made an awesome manatee (daughter loves marine life) ldthat traveled faster than one could expect a manatee to.

Katherine said...

My DH resorted to scavenging an axle off a previous car once. Now, he buys an extra kit.

Older son finally won leader of the pack this year as a Webelos II, but was very disappointed to finish middle of the race in district - vs last year barely missing top 3 in district after good, but not great results in the pack. You never know...

He's happy our district just started an open division so he can continue to participate in pinewood derby.

Ballpoint Wren said...

I finally found something more daunting than swim team snack bars: Pinewood Derbies!