Days of Thunder

By Greg Wallace
I attended a masculine, macho, testosterone-fueled gathering recently.
An event where only the most manly of men dare to show their rugged,
brawny faces. That’s right, I went to my daughter’s Girl Scout
Powderpuff Pinewood Derby race and picnic.
For those of you unfamiliar with what a Pinewood Derby race is, allow
me to explain. In this particular case, all the little girls in my
daughter’s troop were given a Pinewood Derby kit that they were to
assemble and decorate with a supervising adult. The kit consists of a
block of wood (presumably pine), four plastic wheels and four small,
silver nails, hereafter referred to as “axles.” The supervising adult
helps to shape and paint the car and apply the wheels and “axles” so
the little girls don’t hurt themselves or have to have a turpentine
bath. The girls then all gather together to show and race their cars.
Afterward, trophies are handed out for the fastest cars and the Best
of Show. Then you eat hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta salad and brownies.
If you ever want to see a group of guys on edge, try attending a
Pinewood Derby race with a bunch of dads. I watched as they stood
around the display table prior to the race. I can compare it to a
group of NASCAR owners pacing along pit row before the Daytona 500.
They all discussed among themselves what kind of band saw they used to
rough out the shape of their car, how many coats of primer and sealer
they had used to paint it, and where they placed the weights on the
car to bring it up to the 5 ounce weight limitation. Most of all they
talked about the amount of hours they spent sanding and polishing the
aforementioned “axles” to get them to a glass-like finish and just
what brand of graphite to use to make those “axles” even faster. They
were all nervously sizing up the competition. No father wants his
little girl to lose. He wants all the other fathers’ little girls to
I am proud to say that I was not a part of this high-strung group.
Nope, I didn’t have a care in the world at that time. In fact, I was
much more concerned about the hamburgers. They smelled really good.
You’re probably wondering to yourself why I was so calm, cool and
collected. Well, this was not my first Pinewood Derby. No, I have a
long history of building little cars out of wood and I was fairly sure
about how my daughter’s car would perform that afternoon.
I did some mathematics this past week. That may not seem like a big
deal to most of you but keep in mind, I was an art major. In the year
1973, I was in my first year of Cub Scouts and my dad and I made our
first Pinewood Derby car. For means of full-disclosure, it was
actually a truck. It was yellow and red with sky-blue windows. I can
still picture it majestically sitting atop the Pinewood Derby track.
Words alone cannot come close to describing its beauty. In my first
heat of my first Pinewood Derby race, my yellow truck streaked out to
the lead of the other three cars in the heat and barely held on for
the win.
Now you should know that in the world of competitive Pinewood
Derbying, the races are based on a triple-elimination basis. As long
as you win, you’re okay and you get to keep racing. As soon as you
don’t win three times, you’re done.
With that first win under my Cub Scout belt, I was on top of the
world. I was unstoppable. But just to be on the safe side, before my
next race, I decided to squirt some more graphite on the “axles.” In
my mind, my yellow truck would only become faster. But for some
unknown reason, maybe it was a chemical reaction, atmospheric
conditions, or as I have claimed throughout the years, dastardly
sabotage, my truck got slower. In fact, when they dropped the starting
gate on my next race, Old Yeller just sat there while all the other
cars roared down the track. That first win would prove to be my last.
Throughout the rest of my Cub Scout career, I would never again
experience victory as I would always be three races and out.
And then my son became a blue and gold neckerchief wearer. I thought
that this would be my chance for redemption. But alas, in all his
years of scouting, although we took home trophies for Best of Show,
our cars were always out after three races.
Now here we were, on a breezy Saturday afternoon in 2013, 40 years
after my first taste of Pinewood defeat. Yeah, I was pretty sure how
my daughter’s car would perform. I joked to my wife that the car would
probably go faster if we would have left it in the box. But I kept a
smile glued on my face as my little girl proudly approached the
starting line with her hot pink car. It may be wrong, but I prayed as
they dropped the starting gate.
On the way to the race, I explained to my daughter that winning wasn’t
everything. I told her that she probably shouldn’t expect to win and
that she should just try to have fun. She assured me that she would be
happy no matter what the outcome.
As her car finished in third-place, I realized that my daughter is a
little bit of a liar. The steely glare that she gave me, made me
realize that happiness was not on the menu. As she sullenly sat on the
park bench waiting for her next race, I could tell she was determining
the type of nursing home she was going to place me in someday.

As she approached the starting line for her second race, I was trying
to figure out my escape plan. Her car might not have been the fastest
but I was pretty sure she could pummel me with it. As the cars started
down the hill, I silently said another prayer. Through my squinted
eyelids, I saw a flash of hot-pink cross the finish line in first
place. We had done it! The curse was over! Four decades of defeat were
in my rearview mirror! I might get to go to a slightly nicer nursing
When the day was over, she ended up winning one more heat before
ultimately ending up in the top seven cars. I don’t think she truly
understands what those two wins represent, but I do. The forty years
of shame and humiliation that I brought upon the House of Wallace were
over. It was a good day.
And the hamburgers were delicious.
Greg Wallace writes a column for the Bureau County Republican
newspaper in Princeton, Illinois. You can follow Wallace’s blog at
Used by permission.
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 13, Issue 4
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