– Feature Article – Finding the Right Level of Parental Involvement
– Car Showcase
– Memory – Forget Pinewood Fever, 2005 was MADNESS!
Finding the Right Level of Parental Involvement
(This article was first published in Volume 1, Issue 2 (October 17, 2001) of this newsletter).
I really enjoy the Pinewood Derby. In fact, my level of enjoyment is probably greater than that of my children. Add the fact that I like to work with my hands, and you have the classic recipe for an over-involved parent. Yes, I admit I have been guilty in the past of doing way too much work on my children’s cars.
By contrast, I have seen cars at our weigh-ins that were clearly built by a younger child with little to no parental involvement. Generally, these cars place poorly, sometimes not even reaching the finish line.
I believe that neither of these extremes is the appropriate level of parental involvement. Building a car is a great opportunity for a child and parent to spend time together. Opportunities to interact with your child are too few and far between to let one slip away.
So how much should a parent be involved? I suggest that parents should serve mostly as a coach, allowing their child to do as much work on the car as he/she can physically and safely accomplish. Clearly, the level of involvement must vary based on age and physical capabilities. For example, my 12-year-old son’s latest car was built on his own with only some coaching from me. He got frustrated a few times, and when he did I showed him a different way to hold a tool, clamp his car, hold the can of spray paint, etc., but he did the actual work. On the other hand my 9-year-old daughter also built a car. She did a large majority of the work, but I helped set up the tools, and assisted when she needed a little extra muscle power and technique.
How can you most effectively be a coach to your child? There is no one answer to this question, but here are some ideas that might be beneficial to you.
Designing The Car
A few years ago I asked one of my younger children what they wanted their car to look like. I believe the response was an ‘elephant’ (or some other large land mammal). I don’t know about you, but making a car look like an elephant would be an impossible task for my child or myself! So instead, I sketched out some possible ideas, and fairly quickly we had a design that was much more practical. The point is that children often have unrealistic expectations of what they can create given their (and your) skills, the limitations of the car dimensions, the time remaining to the race, and the sophistication of your household tools. So here are a few ideas to help you and your child arrive at a reasonable design:
- Dig the Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars out of the toy box and find an interesting design. Then sketch the profile of the car on paper, simplifying it where needed.
- Have your child sketch a rough drawing of their ideas. Then work with them to make it practical.
- If your child wants the car to represent an animal or other complex object, suggest building a flat and thin car with a plastic animal(s) or object fastened on top. This is much easier and will likely satisfy your child. For example, a few years ago my oldest son wanted to build a ‘rocket car.’ He ended up building a ‘rocket carrier’ using a very small rocket from the hobby shop.
- Look on the Internet for car design ideas.
Working One Step At A Time
Children generally want to skip the ‘boring’ steps and get right to attaching the wheels. But to get the best results, the building process should proceed in a step-by-step manner. Coach your child to take one step at a time. The resulting car will not only end up nicer, but your child will begin learning the valuable skills of organization and patience.
Using Hand Tools
Training experts tell us that people learn much more quickly by performing a task themselves, than by watching someone else perform the task. So, if your child is unfamiliar with using a tool (you can assume that your child is unfamiliar unless you have previously shown them how to use the tool), place their hand(s) on the tool in the proper position, and put your hands on top of your child’s hands. Work with your child, using your hands to guide and add a little muscle power. This is especially useful when a younger child is sawing. To saw along a line takes a certain amount of strength and technique, and young children can become frustrated very quickly. By adding your hands, your child will not only be involved in creating the car, but they will also become better at working with their hands.
Kids generally don’t like to sand (I don’t blame them). But to end up with a nice paint job, the car does need to be virtually smooth. In the past, my kids would sand for a minute or two and then come to me and say, “Daddy, is this enough?” I would tell them no, they would go back to sanding for another minute, and the process would repeat many times over. Then someone shared with me an amazing technique. Take a pencil and scribble on all of the surfaces of the car that need to be sanded (lightly on surfaces that are almost done, and heavily on very rough surfaces. Then tell your child to sand until all of the pencil marks are gone. At my house, this eliminates a lot of whining!
If left up to my children, all of the work would be done on the night before the race. Although last minute jobs do occasionally perform very well, this is not the best recipe for building a nice car. So, instead sit down with your child and write out a simple schedule. For example, if there are 4 weeks before the race, write down what needs to be done in each of those 4 weeks. The schedule might be:
- Week 1 – Design and rough cut
- Week 2 – Shape, sand, primer coat of paint
- Week 3 – Final coat of paint, prepare wheels and axles
- Week 4 – Attach weight, lubricate, attach wheels, and align
If your child is a noted procrastinator, a daily schedule might be appropriate!
Good luck in coaching your child. When you get the urge to jump in prematurely, put your hands behind your back, grit your teeth, and count to 20!
Pinewood Derby Car Showcase
iCar: Robert & Robbie Veltre
This year my son Robbie made a car that could fit into the Apple product line. Inspired by Robbie’s PowerBook we dubbed it “iCar”. iCar took 1st Place in Den, Pack, and District. Like most Apple products, it performed as good as it looked!
Prairie Schooner: Mike Slater
When my 7-year old daughter, Lauren, got the chance to participate in the Girl Scouts’ Powder Puff derby this year, I encouraged her to design a car that meant something to her. When I pointed out how much she enjoys Little House on the Prairie books, she suggested building a covered wagon.
We studied pictures of several covered wagons on the internet and after a lot of thought, realized that we could easily make a wagon with very little cutting of the block. We cut an angle on the front, higher at the top than the bottom, to give the wagon a more realistic look. With the full length of the block, the wagon looked ridiculous, so we cut the rear off right at the original rear axle slot. The body for this design has only those two cuts! (We used a saw to make a new rear axle slot.)
The top was hollowed out by drilling 18 holes, each ½ inch in diameter and about ¾ inch deep. My daughter loved using the drill! When she was done, I removed the remaining wood and squared up the sides with a chisel.
We used a saw to cut the lines in the sides so that it would appear to be made of planks. Toothpicks cut short made the vertical stakes and I carved a barrel for the side. The bench seat is made from pieces of a paint stir stick.
We did a little bit of sanding on the outside of the block, but not very much. It’s a wagon; it’s supposed to be rough! A water based walnut stain completed the finish. Not using any type of clear coat or sealer left the wood looking just like old barn (or wagon) boards. It was perfect!
The hoops for the top are coat hanger wire, bent around the chuck of my drill and inserted into holes in the sides of the wagon. The top itself is muslin with pockets for drawstrings sewn around the ends and sides. This was only the second thing my daughter ever made with a sewing machine.
After weighing it a zillion times on a self-serve postal machine, weights were screwed into the bed of the wagon (near the back), and a small figure of a little girl in a prairie bonnet, peeking out the back of the wagon, was glued in.
We knew this wouldn’t be a very fast design, but had a lot of fun building it together and hoped that we might win something for the design effort. In fact, it did win Best Designed Car, plus a couple of ribbons for heat events. We were thrilled. The awards meant a lot, but we had so much fun building it that we knew we’d succeeded before we’d even showed up. I was also pleased that my daughter did nearly all the work on the car, even filing the burrs off the axles. Who knew my ‘girly girl’ liked sawdust?
Indy Roadster: Larry & Chris Cox
We used your Supercar kit and matched BSA wheels and axles to create this Indy car. We worked the wheels and axles, and used MetalCast paint from Duplicolor. It was a little extra work, but worth the effort. My son came in second in Webelos, first in the open class, and won the sportiest car award.
Pinewood Derby Memory
Forget Pinewood Fever, 2005 was MADNESS!
For our family, racing is not a hobby, it’s a passion. We are a deeply rooted NASCAR clan, so it’s ‘somewhat’ understandable that the 2005 pinewood derby season actually started for us in late 2004. We searched on the Internet for speed tips and how Packs from around the U.S. operate their events. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we weren’t the only ones that had sawdust in the carport that somehow got tracked through my wife’s freshly mopped floors. We discovered a guy named Stan Pope and his comments on www.derbytalk.com and I thought to myself, “WOW, the emerald city for Pinewood Derby and Stan is OZ”. We also discovered www.maximum-velocity.com and again were amazed at the amount of tools and so forth available. It wasn’t long before the MADNESS started and we ordered one each of every tool Maximum Velocity had in stock.
We took the block of wood, axles, and wheels out of the box, and talked about what we had learned from the net, It was decided that the design was going to be a simple one; a wedge. As we trued the axles, rounded the wheels and bored out the void where the weights were to be installed we had a pretty good feeling about what we had learned. As we used each tool we discussed safe use, and the theory behind its use. As we built the machine we discussed the previous year’s entries and made immediate comparisons where we neglected things before; most notably the lack of attention to the wheels and axles – prepping them for speed. After the paint and decals were applied we aligned the wheels using the Pope method and broke in the wheels using the graphite and a Dremel tool. Once we completed the racer we took our cars from past years and lined them up next to each other. All we could do is chuckle; our new Hot Rod was going to be tough to beat. This year’s car was called ‘Sunday Money’.
Sierra Vista Pack 408 approached me and asked if I would be interested in running the Derby for 2005 (after I shared with them how others were running successful shows, and ours could use a little tweaking). The four-lane wooden track the pack had had for years only had two lanes that would run without the cars leaving the track, and the two that were left were inconsistent. Sure we could have remodeled the current track, but I remembered seeing something on the net and that’s when the MADNESS level increased. I ordered and donated a brand new, 4 lane aluminum track from www.besttrack.com and an electronic scoring tower. My wife is pretty handy with a sewing machine, so the crew went to the store picking out blue, gold, and checkered fabric for table cloths, etc. to create a very festive look. Once it was all set up, it was great to see the boy’s eyes when they saw the new stuff for the Pack. There was a new excitement as a points system was used, and each entry ran four times to determine the Den and Pack Champions. More racing in less time made it exciting for everyone.
‘Sunday Money’ not only looked fast but performed just like we had hoped – in the first heat, she pulled away on the flat part of the track. Based on what we had learned we knew it would get faster and, as the day went on she didn’t disappoint us. I noticed she was getting faster not just by the margin of victory but by how far she would stop on the braking section of the new track. Our car went on to win both the Den and Pack Championships that day, an undefeated record of 8-0. Next stop on the schedule was the District Finals. She placed first, bumping her record up to 11-0. Finally the Council Championship, where she received the first loss and finished second. ‘Sunday Money’ is now retired, but will always have its own place on the mantle with her career record of 14-1.
It amazes me how a seven inch-long, fifty cent piece of wood has generated so much excitement and intensity (and MADNESS) since the introduction of the Pinewood Derby in 1953 by Don Murphy.
Could you tell me why tungsten is needed for the flat cars like the Wing? Tungsten is very expensive!
Yes, tungsten is expensive but unique. It is one of the densest metals. At 1.7 times the density of lead, it is equivalent to the density of gold.
The weight goals for a pinewood derby car are:
- 5 ounces, and
- Completed car balances between 3/4 inch and 1 inch in front of the rear axle.
On a very flat car like the Wing, these two goals cannot be readily achieved with lead (the amount of lead required to reach 5 ounces cannot be placed far enough towards the rear of the car). So instead, tungsten is used, as the amount of tungsten needed to reach 5 ounces takes up much less space than the equivalent weight of lead.
What is the advantage of putting your car in the oven to make it lighter if you still want it to weight 5 oz? Does this mean you can add more weight to a lighter piece of wood to make a faster car?
One way to make cars faster is to get the car to balance (front to back) at about 3/4 inch to 1 inch in front of the rear axle. This can be readily done on lighter wood by adding weight to the back. However, if the wood is heavy (often due to excess moisture), this can be more difficult. So people dry out heavier blocks in an oven. But, if your block is reasonably light, then there is no need to put it in the oven.
My son is in Royal Rangers, but their pinewood derby rules allow us to use the standard Royal Ranger kit OR the BSA kit. Would you recommend one over the other as far as speed?
I would go with the Royal Ranger kit. The axle placement is better, and the wheels are generally faster (larger diameter, narrower). The wheels are also easier to true up.
Regarding the Royal Ranger Kit, here is some additional information that should help. Good luck!
Pro-Body Tool for Royal Rangers (scroll down a bit – part number 5148)