Pinewood Derby Memory – The Heart of a Champion

As the Awana race of 2005 approached, my work schedule became increasingly busy. Longer hours, more deadlines, and high-visibility projects crowded into the weeks and days preceding the race. As we approached the week before the race, we still hadn’t even cut our cars. Our church has a workshop open to the parents/kids so they can use their equipment to cut/drill cars, so we went down before Awana club, and made our cuts.
I reminded our boys (Matthew 12 and Caleb 10) that I wouldn’t have a lot of time to help them get their cars ready. In fact, I had no time before the race to really do anything except help put the wheels on their cars Saturday morning. But, I also stressed that these were their cars, they would be sanding, painting and building them. No matter how they placed, they could be proud that they did the work on their own cars.
They did a great job sanding, painting, and preparing their cars during the week. When I was putting in their axles on Saturday morning, the axle slot on Matthew’s car split. There wasn’t much I could do at that point except put it back together with some wood putty and hope it held during the race. I explained what happened to his car, and encouraged him that it would still do well.
Both boys were very excited as race time was about to begin. As we always do before a race, I reminded them that there were a lot of great cars out there and they may not win their races. In previous years, they have always either won or placed in the top three for their divisions. My parting words were, “The heart of a champion is not measured by your victories, it’s how many times you get up after you fall” (which, I’m sure is a version of a sport’s quote). They gave me that, “Yeah, we’ve heard this speech before, Dad” look, and off they went.
As the races began, I could see that Matthew’s car might have trouble. The church had bought a new, very long track. A longer track favors a more center balanced car and we had weighted ours towards the rear. The club was also going with double-elimination rather than a timer. So if their cars were matched up with the top cars first, they could be in trouble. In the double elimination, it was starting to become clear that some lanes were faster than others.
In the first heat, his car wobbled as it went along the track. I counted the cars as they crossed the finish line and knew he was already in the “2nd chance” bracket. My younger son’s car (Caleb) was in the same division, but matched with the second set. His car did fine although it slowed as it approached the distant finish line. Matthew’s car went for its second race with the same results. Although he beat several cars, it still bumped and rubbed its way down the track and did not finish high enough to advance. Caleb’s car continued to do well and he finished 1st in his division. Matthew had placed 4th and was out of the finals for the first time since we’ve been racing (2001).
I could see the disappointment in his eyes and his hurt expression in the way he walked. I went to talk to him, but he wanted to turn away. I just gave him a big hug and let him know how proud of him I was, that he worked hard on his car and it had done well overall. He was still not convinced and I reminded him again that the heart of a champion is not determined by their victories, but how they react to defeat.
He went back to the track and asked to help with the rest of the races; bringing cars from the pits and taking them back up after the end of the races. Since Caleb had made the finals, I recommended that he not handle his brother’s car, as that might be seen as an unfair advantage. Caleb’s car did great and made it to the finals and was just edged out by three-thousandths of a second! He was very excited and congratulated the winner.
We stayed to help tear down the track and clean up the gym. Both boys jumped in whenever they were asked and did a great job. We finished and headed to the cars, Caleb with two trophies, Matthew with none; but both with the heart of a champion.
James Sedlak
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 5, Issue 8
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