Pinewood Derby Memory – A Challenging Time

My son Wyatt is currently 10 years old. In 2003, when he was seven years old and in his first year as a Tiger Scout, we experienced our first pinewood derby race. We consulted friends and family to obtain some tips. We were fortunate in that he took 3rd place and was able to move on to the District race. We learned a lot of tips at the District race and we were hooked. The Internet enabled us to find your website and monthly newsletter.
In 2004 he took 1st place and was undefeated as he headed to District race. With the assistance of your newsletter and our experience we continued to refine ideas and methods for his car. We kept a simple wedge design and decided to emphasize axle preparation. The strategy for my son and I continued to pay off – 2005 found him again undefeated. Wyatt and I shared a lot of good memories. We enjoyed discussing and drawing out the initial design of his car. We developed a routine and timeline that would guide us from cutting out the car to the final weight placement. We were both looking forward to the 2006 race.
Shortly after the 2005 pack race I was notified that I was being called to active duty in the United States Army. My wife and I sat Wyatt and his two sisters down in March of 2005 and explained to them that I would be leaving on April 18, 2005 to report for active duty for a 1-1/2 year tour of duty in Iraq. Obviously the 2006 pinewood derby race was not the topic of discussion. But before I left, I made notes of the do’s and don’ts that Wyatt and I had learned over the past years. I wasn’t sure what 2006 would bring us, so I wanted to ensure that there were some detailed plans written down that others could follow. Your newsletter and various tips were an integral part of those plans.
In January of 2006 I was able to take my two week leave. My wife and I surprised our children and I arrived home January 1. My wife had already informed me that the local pack had distributed the pinewood derby kits. During my two week R & R my son and I discussed the pinewood derby race that was scheduled to be held in March. With all of the stress and strain that my service in Iraq was causing I did not want to put any added pressure on my son by somehow making him feel obligated to enter the race. Our discussions led to a drawing for the design of the car. Wyatt opted for a more streamlined car design. So he and I retired to the work shop and in a matter of a 1/2 hour we had the rough cut for his racer finished. I reviewed with him the various sanding techniques that he would be using to get the car body in race shape.
I then ’employed’ two of Wyatt’s uncles to assist Wyatt with the car preparation. Uncle Mark has two older boys who were in scouting. He and his boys had also had success in making winning cars. Wyatt’s Uncle Jayme, his Godfather, also agreed to help. When I returned to Iraq, Wyatt and I were both excited about the upcoming March race. Uncle Jayme and his wife have two girls, and thus he had never experienced the making of a pinewood derby race car. Jayme took the lead on working with Wyatt and together they finished the car.
Race day arrived on March 13. I anxiously awaited the results. Iraq is 9 hours ahead of Central Standard Time, thus it was not until the early morning hours that I learned of the success of Wyatt and his Godfather. Wyatt took 1st place and was undefeated!
As I send you this letter, my tour of duty is coming to an end in Iraq. Iraq remains a country with many challenges ahead of it. However, among all of the turmoil in Iraq, the 2006 pinewood derby race will always hold a special place in our family’s memories. It was a time of great challenges for my wife and children. But it was also a time when a boy was able to face some fears and work on his car without his Dad. It was also a time for a Godfather to enjoy his Godson, and to not only build a pinewood derby car but to build a relationship and memories that will last a lifetime.
James O’Neil
Major United States Army
Camp Liberty
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 6, Issue 3
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