Pinewood Derby Memory – What a Difference a Year Makes

Last year was the first pinewood derby race for my son and I. We worked together to design and paint the car. Since he was just a Tiger I did all the dad stuff. We decided to use a surfboard model and were quite proud of our end result. I didn’t do enough reading and at the day of the race the car could not reach the finish line. I had the car weighted to 5.0 ounces and I thought evenly balanced. Regardless of the reason, my son was devastated (I was equally upset).
Enter 2008. This year I was determined to have a much better car – one that would at least finish the race. As my son was a year older he had more input into the car design and the building of the car. Like all boys of his age, he is greatly influenced by his father and is a fan of classic Rock and Roll music. He wanted the car to look like his electric guitar. I told him that would not be possible due to the placement of the axles. He told me that he wanted a Rock and Roll car. My wife suggested that we make it look like a rock, and call it Rock-N-Roll. He LOVED the idea. We worked together shaping the car. We took some modeling clay to give the car a more rounded look. The clay was a paper base and I didn’t plan on it providing much weight, so I attached a bar weight to the top of the car to assist the clay’s adhesion. Once we got the clay on and dried I took it to the Post Office for the initial weighing. It was heavy – almost 8 ounces. We took the car home and removed a good deal of clay and wood. I had bought a scale (it was not a digital scale – the first of my mistakes) and thought I had brought it down to 5 ounces. So I began the paint job. We used the “fleck stone” paint that looks like granite, and had the car looking like a rock. It was neat and everyone was excited to have Rock-N-Roll race.
I had purchased a second car kit to build my daughter a car. Really I just wanted to build another car and try some of the things I had read from This one was more of my design, a shaped surfboard, but with the weights placed inside the block not on the bottom. I was working on this car, but focusing most of my attention to “Rock-N-Roll”.
Now for the second of my mistakes. I had read the announcement for the official weigh-in and registered it for the Thursday and Friday before race day. I showed up at the weigh-in on Thursday, just as it was starting. I placed “Rock-N-Roll” on the scale and it registered 7.4 ounces! I was stunned. But I was thinking that I had all night to get it to weight, re-set the wheels and have it ready for the next day. Then the race master said that I should have come by the night before to weigh my car — I had misunderstood the dates and I showed up on the second night of weigh-in. I had two hours to get the car to weight!
We drove home and I told my daughter that her car (which was also overweight) would have to sit this race out as I needed to spend all my time getting “Rock-N-Roll” to weight. I carved out as much as I could without affecting the axle grooves and wheels. I went back to weigh the car and was down to 6.4 ounces — still greatly overweight. I returned home and started drilling out even more of the car and in my haste I hit the axle groove. Rock-N-Roll would never race. I was crushed. I told my son and he again was devastated. I called the race master to let him know that we would not be able to get Rock-N-Roll to weight and that I had broken the axle placement. He remembered that I had brought the second car to the weigh-in and suggested that I bring it by to weigh again to see if we could enter it. I stripped some of the top-side weights off the car and shaved some more wood off of it so it would make weight. Placed the car on the scale and it registered 5.05 ounces. The race master told me that I should take a little more weight off the car so I could paint it and bring it to him in the morning.
For all his help and understanding, I volunteered to help with the setup on Friday night, and assist in running the race on Saturday. I sanded down the car again, re-painted it, and while the paint was drying spent some extra time prepping the wheels and axles. We turned in Red Racer on Friday with it weighing exactly 5.00 ounces
Friday I helped put the track together, and had brought what was left of Rock-N-Roll to the school. The race master wanted to see how a heavy car would run. So even with the damage to the wheelbase we ran it against some other cars, and it performed horribly. Now I was scared. I had a car that was overweight and I still couldn’t compete against other cars. How would Red Racer perform? How would my son react? I did not sleep well that Friday night.
Race day came and Red Racer was not scheduled to run until the third Wolf heat. I am busy shuffling cars back and forth from the staging area to the starting line. When Red Racer was placed in the starting gate I saw my son at the other end of the room. We waited for the start to see how it would go. The gate dropped and all the cars started down the track. At the base of the curve Red Racer looked good then he seemed to accelerate down the track! He won the race by several car lengths and set a track record for his age group! Happiness and joy overwhelmed both my son and me. I saw him cheering and celebrating with tears in his eyes and I was a little misty-eyed at the moment too. In all of the age-group heats, Red Racer was the fastest car. It was getting faster and faster as the day went on. It never lost a Wolf Group race. When it was time for the fastest in the pack it had the number five best average time and the number three fastest time. Red Racer held its own during the finals but ended up with just one trophy – fastest Wolf. It finished fourth overall.
I am so glad that I had the second kit and I am so glad that I spent the extra time on learning how to improve the cars performance.
Kevin Bryant
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 12
Subscribe to this Free Pinewood Derby E-newsletter
(C)2014, Maximum Velocity, Inc. All rights reserved
Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Posted in Uncategorized.