Pinewood Derby Memory – The Spongy Car

We had our pinewood derby a few weeks ago. My kids and I built three cars, two for the open class (Michelle, 10 years and Johnny, 4 years) and one for my 6 year-old son (Alex) who is in scouts. It was the night before the weigh-in and everything was going great. We rated the wheels and placed the best set on Alex’s car, and the worst on Johnny’s. We then polished, aligned, lubricated, etc. The cars were looking great.

Then disaster struck. The only way that I can describe it is that the wheel slots on Alex’s car melted apart. When Alex had painted his car, he put on so much primer and paint that the car had a spongy feel (it still is that way!). The wheels fell off and the axle slots were ruined. This was about 5 hours before the official weigh-in and we did not have time to build another car. So, using epoxy, we glued the wheels on as straight as we could. We then went to the weigh-in and were set for the race.

On race day, I was the judge that monitored the cars and kept them from being modified before the race (I also was the one who carried them to the starting line). When putting out the cars, I noticed that the wheels on Alex’s car were very much mis-aligned. It must have been bounced around after check-in. But since all of the cars were registered, there was nothing we could do. Alex was very disappointed to find out that his car placed almost dead-last. The wheels were so out of alignment that while the car was fast for the first few feet, it did not have the staying power to finish the race. It would run in first place for the first few feet and then lose out in the end. The one bright spot in the otherwise sad day for Alex was that he won the prize for the sportiest looking car.

Then came the open division. Michelle’s car finished 9th or 10th, and took first in the unique design category. Johnny’s car (which had the worst wheels and the least attention to alignment), finished 5th. His car did not lose a race until the final two races.

It just goes to show that you can never really predict what will happen when you race in the pinewood derby.

Brian Stanek
Indianapolis, IN

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 15, Issue 9

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – February 19, 2016

The Few, The Proud… – Matt Penza

The Marine car took Grand Champion in the derby. My daughter came up with the concept after seeing my uniform.

The Flame – Stacy Bodder

My son, Joel Bodder was in his first pinewood derby race tonight; he came in first for speed. It was an exciting race. In one of the races, Joel’s car hit a piece of dirt in the track and jumped up and landed sideways, but won the race crossing the finish line sliding sideways!

Carbonite Cruiser – Justin Roberts

In honor of the release of the Star Wars movie, here is the Carbonite Cruiser we built back in 2011! Of course, it was a winner!

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 15, Issue 8

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Look at that S-Car Go!

My son is an 8-year old with Asperger’s syndrome, sometimes called high functioning autism. I am a leader in his Cub Scout pack, and together we were building a car for the annual Pinewood Derby. After our middle of the pack finish last year, we decided to do some
research on how to build a fast pinewood derby car. Using the Internet and a tape borrowed from our public library, my son and I designed our car. But as we all know, what we want and what we end up with can be drastically different (but sometimes just what we need).

Our car was shaped like a Japanese sandal. We originally were going to build a car shaped like a snail, but I am not a skilled wood worker and that design turned out to be too much work for the time remaining before the race. The car’s name was “S-car” after an old joke about a snail who put an “S” on the side of his car. When people saw him, they would say, “look at that S-car go! (escargot)

We were testing the car the night before the race, trying to get it to roll straight. I was adjusting one of the front wheels when the wood in front of the axle snapped. Just for kicks I tried the car without the wheel. It rolled in a perfect line on three wheels (something that I had tried to accomplish, but could not do!) So, I glued that wheel on at a serious angle to minimize track contact. My son finished the car by putting snail stickers all over it.

Race day came, and being a leader I was in charge of the car table. My son’s car did not look like much compared to the Formula 1 cars, dragsters and roadsters. But once the racing started, things became interesting.

Our car won the first heat in a convincing fashion. All the leaders who knew my son congratulated him on his win. When his car won the next four races in the same fashion (over some of their son’s cars), things started to change. The former Cub Master kept holding the car in his hand, moving it up and down like he was weighing it (he was the official that weighed it in and inspected it!). I asked what the problem was and he said, “I know this is legal, I weighed it in and inspected it, but it feels a lot heavier than the other cars” (The car’s center of gravity was about 1 inch in front of the rear wheels). After each win, someone else would pick the car up, spin the wheels, and look at the weight layout.

In the end, my son’s car swept the derby; not a second place or a race closer than one-quarter car length the whole time. A few father’s came up to me after the race, wanting to know my “secrets”. I told them, “Do your homework – everything I know about pinewood derby design and speed hints, I found on the Internet.” But even with all the hard work, hand work and homework, our win that night was truly sealed by the “lucky” break of our front wheel the evening before the race. The “S” on our car could stand for serendipity – the ability to discover things by accident.

My son still hasn’t stopped talking about his win and how proud he is of his effort. Due to his condition, I do not know what his future will be like – what he will be able to do for a living, if he will marry, have children, how much of the world he will explore and understand outside of his tightly focused mindset – but I, with the help of people like Michael Lastufka, Randy Davis and their websites, was able to help him make a car that gave him a chance to be a winner and to be proud of his accomplishment.

Kenneth N. Friedel
Baltimore, MD

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 15, Issue 7
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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – February 5, 2016

Today’s cars were submitted by Stacy Bodder.

Hay Wagon – Rachel

Where we live, there is a hay wagon that gives rides. My daughter really wanted to build one. This is not the best design for speed; it caught way too much air to take the speed award, but it was still fun to build.

Orange Speedster – Rachel

This car was completely built by my daughter, using my design. She added fenders made out of the left over pine, and out came a car that won in the regional races.

Lotus Evora – Lydia

My daughter wanted to make a Lotus Evora, and this was the result. It went so fast that at the end of the track it hit the stop and flew off the track which was raised 3 feet off the ground. The right rear corner was damaged, but it still took first in speed.

Indy Car – Lydia

My daughter wanted to build an Indy car, and her favorite color is purple. The resulting car took first place in speed.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 15, Issue 7

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