Last year, at the District Pinewood Derby, we learned just how much difference a rough wooden track can make! On the first run down the track, we had an axle get pushed backwards as we hit a rough spot in the track, resulting in the car being out of alignment.
So this year, we were determined to improve performance. To guard against a similar mishap as last year, we prepared the car for a rough ride by reinforcing the front end with good ol’ automobile body and fender putty (Bondo).
A few days before the race, we started tuning the car. First, we did an initial test run to get a baseline. Ryan, my son, placed his car on the track, read the results from a window on my laptop, and entered the time into a spread sheet. He also spun the wheels and operated a stop watch. By working on his car, Ryan not only learned about wood working and painting, but he also learned about averages, statistics and the affect of different lubricants on surface friction. Most importantly, he learned how to have fun with technology. Some people say, “Oh, that Pinewood Derby is a dad’s thing”. Yes, I enjoy it, but Ryan has participated in every step of the process, and he enjoys it as well.
We were fine tuning his car right up until an hour before the race. After a short half-hour drive, we arrived at the race location, the Jim Falls Lions Club. We made sure we were about a half hour early so we would have time to adjust our maximum car weight to the limit of 5.00 oz. Ryan handed his car to a scout leader at the judge’s stand and was told it was 5.02 ounces. Perfect, I had my drill in hand, ready to drill some lead out. The judges scale had three significant figures and we had to get two of them to zero (5.00 oz). As other cub scouts arrived and weighed-in, my drill became more and more popular as other fathers discovered that their kid’s cars were overweight..
After a few announcements and an explanation of how the race would be judged, the racing began. There were 25 contestants and six lanes on the track. To make it as fair as possible, each boy’s car ran six races, one race on each lane of the track.
Ryan’s car won the first race against five other cars. They rotated all the cars to the next lane to the left, which bumped us off the track. We would not race again until all of the other 25 contestants had raced at least once. Then after about 10 races, a problem was discovered. They decided that there was corruption in the process, or the computer had a glitch; something had gone wrong enough that it justified a restart.
This time, we took second place out of the group of six cars. So now we were just hoping for a possible second or third place. Many races went by as we waited our turn to get back on the track. We noticed some very fast cars, a low-rider type red car, a pickup truck, and a yellow one had many first place wins in their six races. Finally we got a chance to race, and took first place five times in a row! In one heat, there was a tie for second place that required them to rerun the heat, but we took first again.
Then, they announced the top seven qualifiers. Ryan’s name was not called first or second. I was concerned for a minute (we have been overlooked before in the Pack race, and I had a feeling that it could happen again). But after the third or fourth name, they announced, “Ryan Wolff”.
In the first race of the finals Ryan’s car took first; we beat the guy who had at one time beaten us. Then, like before, we were booted off the track as they rotated lanes, but this time only for one race. We came back onto the track to win another first place, and continued to win every race thereafter.
They announced the third place winner and Ryan’s name was not called.
They announced the second place winner and Ryan’s name was not called.
They announced the first place winner and Ryan’s name WAS called. They gave him a plaque and a trophy.
So, now that Pinewood Derby season is over, what do we do in the off-season? I wish there was another level of racing for us.
From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 6, Issue 4
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