Pinewood Derby Memory – Hard Work Pays Off

We just completed our pack’s pinewood derby last weekend. My son and I have been building cars for several years. Each attempt was better than the previous one, but still we had always come up as an also ran. This year we dedicated ourselves to having the fastest car at the race. After all, this was his last year for cub scouts so it was do or die!
We purchased several products: the wheel mandrel, hub tool, outer hub tool, and axle polishing kit. With the tools and supplies we had acquired in previous years we had a full suite of tools.
How to use all this? Well to be serious you need some decent test equipment. My son and I built our own one lane test track. While it wasn’t the smoothest and most precise track on earth it did provide for some good testing. I outfitted the track with a timer system I built around a hand stop watch. The watch was good to .001 seconds and was one of the more expensive items ($20.00). I wired in a start switch and rigged up an optical sensor and interface electronics to record the car as it went through the finish lane. It all wired into the start/stop switch in the watch! Remarkably the whole track and timer cost us under $50.00 to build.
The test track allowed us to test wheel combinations, axles, lube types, car center of gravity, etc. We spent almost a week optimizing the final wheel, axle, and weight distribution in our car! My wife was about ready to kill both of us as all we talked about was Pinewood Derby!
Race day came and we passed all the technical checks. Yet we were a bit hesitant to let go of the car! I talked to my son several times about not getting disappointed if we were not the fastest. What was important is that we worked together and had a fun time building and testing the car. Well when it was finally time for the races we were both fairly nervous. The first race pitted us in lane #1 and next to us was one of the known fastest father/son teams from previous years. As soon as the start lever was flipped I could tell we were going to do well. The car rolled true and steady as it slowly pulled away from the other three lanes, beating the nearest car by a full car length. All four runs were the same way. When all was said and done not only did we win the overall race but we set the track record. We were the only car to combine four runs on the 28 foot track in under 9 seconds. The look on my son’s face was priceless. I was shocked and could hardly believe it. The track has seen hundreds of cars and several years worth of races, so you can imagine our surprise.
But when all was said and done, the most important thing in my mind was the lessons we learned. I was able to teach my son that hard work and effort can and does work nearly every time!
Jim Nissen
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 4, Issue 10
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