Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 Pinewood Derby

I vividly remember making my own pinewood derby car. Even though my mom was pretty handy around the shop, growing up without a dad put me at quite a disadvantage. But I didn't know that. I recall filing a grove in the hood of my car with something that I'm pretty sure was supposed to be a metal file. I carefully painted it (black of course) and even more carefully wrote the words "Ninja III" on the side (I was into ninjas as the time). To me it was a thing of beauty. When I finished it, I didn't think there could possibly be any car that looked better or ran faster. I mentally rehearsed getting the first place trophy. I knew there was no way I could lose.

Needless to say things didn't go down as I planned. Once I got to the derby, I saw an assortment of modified cars that left me dumbfounded. What's this thing about a weight limit? You mean you should add weight to the car? I was pretty outclassed. I finished near the bottom in speed and took home a ribbon or trophy that said "Snazziest" (seriously)--only because this was back when everyone had to win something.

Fast forward twenty-some years. Now it's not my pinewood derby car, but Aidan and Luke's car. Unfortunately, I'm probably only about 13% more competent with hand tools than I was when I built my own pinewood derby car. To this day I have never changed the oil in my car (and I have no plans to... don't get me started).

But I am pretty good at the Internet.

Who'd have known that there are pages and pages of tips on how to build fast pinewood derby cars. I printed off about 15 pages of stuff and after reading it myself, I handed it to Aidan and said, "after you read through this, we'll get started on your car." He read it that night.

At breakfast the next morning I quizzed him to see what he'd retained. He was on track. He knew the key was to reduce all sources of friction and to get the car to track as straight as possible. He knew that you'd need to add weight to get the car right up to the 5 oz limit.

We began construction on two cars. One for him and an "outlaw" car for Luke. Luke's not quite old enough to officially race, but we built him a car too. They started by drawing their designs on paper. After addressing a few impracticalities, we got to cutting.

It's pretty serious business.

Through much toil (a solid Saturday and a half), we came up with a couple nice cars.

Aidan had the "Gold Racer".

Luke made a tank.

I'll be honest that even though I tried to involve the boys as much as possible, I was feeling a little bit concerned that I had helped too much. Turning a 6 year old lose with a dremel was scary, but should I have let him shape the lead too? Isn't lead dangerous?

Once I arrived at the race and took a gander at the other cars, all my guilt was washed clean away. I then realized... this is as much a contest for Dad as it is for kids. Some athletic dads live vicariously through their kids' sporting endeavors. Us nerdy dads atone for childhood failures by engineering a pine wood masterpiece. Some of these cars were amazing.

The "Outlaws" looked pretty good too. Before the races, all the scouts and outlaws got to vote on which cars they liked the best. Neither of our boys voted for their own cars, which is remarkable considering they possess my DNA.

After all the cars were checked in and tested for illegal performance-enhancing modification (seriously), the first race was set to begin.

Tensions were high. Would our plans work?

We got second in our first race. Not too bad. We weren't the worst car.

In fact we got second a lot.

Look at that white car beating us to the line by less than a centimeter. We will have our revenge. Somebody check that car for PEDs!

Ah, the sweet taste of redemption as we pull out yet another second place finish, this time by beating that white car in a photo finish.

Oh come on! Sabotage! Foul play! Someone didn't want us to win and placed our car on the track backwards, dropping us to third place in this race.

But it looks like that black car truly was the better car this day. Even facing the right way we could not overcome her.

Luke enjoyed the races, patiently waiting his turn to run with the outlaws.

Unfortunately, the tank was really slow. I mean really slow. It got last every time. But that's okay. Luke's artistic expression was rewarded. The outlaws voted him the best of the bunch!! Who would have thought that a bunch of 6 year old boys would have deemed a tank to be coolest car?

Aidan's car finished 10th. I call that a top ten finish. It was fun making the cars and talking about the physics involved in making the cars go fast. The creation process was definitely the highlight for me and I think the boys really liked working with the power tools. We'll be back next year with three cars: Ebo will take his turn as an outlaw as Luke gets to run in the official races.

I'm thinking we may work for two and a half Saturdays next year. The competition doesn't stand a chance.


Stacy said...

Luke- I did get to see your car ("tank") and award, after all! :) What a great car-- and a fun award!

Great job, Mike. You're a good dad. Only you, though, would make your son read those 15 pages of pinewood derby internet tips. And only Aidan would do it. Happily, I'm sure. :) You guys crack me up.

Loved the pictures.

Cutzi said...

Yay you guys!! I loved this post, Mike!

Some of my favorite parts:

13% more competent

Aidan trying to keep a serious face in the picture.

Somebody check that car for PEDs!

The photo finish

Too, too funny.

Looks like everyone had a great time!

amy said...

What was really funny was how Mike had his honkin' camera there, took all those pictures and then showed the judges the image if they were debating about how to call it.

Good memories had by all.

And can we pause for a minute and realize how many years of my life will be spent doing this race?! A lot.

Rebecca M said...

We are about to enter a physics contest of our own here- the Egg Drop Challenge. Any of you ever had to do this?
Daniel is supposed to create a capsule of some kind in which to contain and protect an egg as it drops from the raised ladder of a fire engine.


Do you have other hand tools besides your dremel?

Fun post and pictures, guys!

Marmee said...

After reading this post, Kevin might have to shanghai a boyscout and buy a dremel and get into some pinewood derby action. He's all about the competition!!

Jodi said...

Awesome! Jace heads up our AWANA Grand Prix every year, and our race is in two and a half weeks. I'm sweating because they haven't started their cars yet and we know the importance of devoting proper time to sanding and polishing.

Jack identified with Luke...two years ago he and Jace built a dump truck. It was pretty awesome, but not the fastest. It smoked the other cars in the design category

Great job Aidan and Luke! (And Mike, of course.) Thanks for the inspiration!

Stacy said...

~agreeing with Cutzi... Yes, the 13% more competent part was hilarious.

~laughing at Amy's comment about Mike showing the judges his photos. HA! I can totally picture it.

Joyce said...

Yay, guys! It was so much fun reading about the pinewood derby. I remember when my own brothers did this MANY years ago.

It sounds like you learned a lot, and had a great time, too.

KAMILLE said...

Kamille had your blog up on the computer when I logged on this morning and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the big race. Well done everyone.