Friday, October 31, 2014

Pinewood Derby at the Pinewood Speedway

I can be a little over-zealous about hobbies.  My wife says I'm out of control.  You have heard of the husbands who are gone fishing every week, or watch sports for six hours a night.  Well, I'm not a huge sports fan, but I do enjoy the Pinewood Derby. 

It started 31 years ago.  I was eight years old.  My Den leader gave me a little box that contained a block of wood, four nails, four wheels, some stickers, and a page of instructions.  I took it home and helped design, sand, and paint my car.  I loved working with my Dad in the garage.  He was a mechanic and genius with tools.   

Jerry Loessin was a member of our Cub Scout Committee and he built a two-lane wood track for us to race on.  He set it up at the church.  We had a very high tech timer system.  Two adults would sit in chairs at the finish line and the side that won would raise their hand.  Some of my first experiences pleading to God were while cheering for a five-ounce block of wood on wheels.

 Race night was exciting.  Our kitchen scale lied and our car was too heavy.  Just a little over 5 ounces.  My dad broke a sweat in the hallway with his corded drill as he carved away some of the wood underneath to make weight.  We removed the Lego driver and steering wheel and finally were legal to race.  It was a long night.  The judge on my side of the track didn't raise his hand that night.  I kept losing that night, but I have kept my losing car all these years.  I raced three more times as a youth.  I was able to take first place in two out of three of the following races.  I love those memories.

When I found out I was having a boy, I started planning and studying physics.  I read up on friction, gravity, aerodynamics of slow speed, energy conservation, and moment of inertia.  I found and read a 500 page textbook titled, "Physics of the Pinewood Derby."  Yea, a little over-zealous.

My son turned eight and we built his first car.  I let him do the design even though I knew it was not ideal.  His car was average and did not win a single heat.  He went to our minivan and cried about losing.  They weren't little tears either, they were the big industrial wailing tears that make parents crazy. 

The better part of a decade of research turned out a really slow car.  Back to the drawing board.  It was a great learning experience for my son.  I am glad he lost.  I am glad he experienced failure.  I got him up at six in the morning the next day.  We drove to McDonalds with a pad and pencil and his car.  We talked about the weight and physics and drew some pictures of next years car.  A year passed and he raced again.  We shaved too much off his wheels and they were binding up on the track.  His car was a little faster, but we still didn't win.  More egg McMuffins, more plans, but no tears on race two.  He was learning.

For the third year we decided to make alignment a priority.  We found a guy with a track in his basement on tested his car.  After two years of disappointment, my son took every race by multiple car lengths.  It was a very powerful experience for him.  He had empathy for the boys who lost.  Six years and two sons later and we can build a pretty fast car.

So, most zealous Dads would stop there.  They build some cars, buy a lot of specialty tools, learn everything about it and have some fun.  But I'm not a zealous Dad.  I'm over-zealous.  I designed a logo, created a theme, got another business license, and built a stadium.  We emptied the 5,000 square foot warehouse we used with our other business, and put in a 56 foot 8 lane track.  We installed a sound system, screens, picnic tables, chairs, displays, and now we host races all the time.  Now I get to see cars built by kids and their parents regularly.  Each car really is a work of art.  Some look like cars, some look like parade floats, and others resemble a kids favorite candy bar.  But at the end of the day, each kid loves their car if they got a say in the design and got to work on it with their parents.  They love them even more if they win.

I do a little presentation at each race.  I show a picture of my first car followed by a picture of a snail.  I talk about how slow my first car was.  I talk about winning and losing and the importance of getting back up and moving forward.  I like to look at the faces of this generation and see their expressions.  Some of them will start working on their next cars the next day.  And you can see in their expressions which ones are zealous and which ones are over-zealous.  My youngest turns 11 in a month.  He can no longer defend his title at our speedway.  On Tuesday night of this week a Cub Scout came in and knocked him off the record board.  But, one day he will have a son, and maybe this Pinewood Speedway thing will still be around, and maybe his son will be the over-over-zealous one to break the record again.  Or maybe he will spend his time fishing.

Some cars I built as an adult...

#pinewoodderby #pinewoodspeedway #woodwork