Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Déjà vu at the Pinewood Derby

The kids ran their cars at the Pinewood Derby last night at Christ the King and the final results were almost identical to last year. Ben’s car was an also-ran, finishing about in the middle of the pack, while Maria’s car ran last in the “Open Class.” Ben’s car also won “Best Scout Theme” design, mostly because it was painted in Cub Scout colors and Ben painted the BSA version of the fleur-de-lis on the car. Maria now has two trophies that read “Slowest Car” for both 2006 and 2007. Our crack engineering skills strike again.

The Pinewood Derby is a fascinating event. Besides racing the cars, you get a window into the obsessions of the various parents. The idea of the competition is that the kids are supposed to design and build the cars, but it is obvious that many of the scouts are racing cars they’ve never touched. Some of the dads lavish more care on these vehicles than Carroll Shelby did on his Mustangs. One of my neighbors built the winning car and it was painted in a gorgeous dark metallic gray that would have had Earl Scheib calling his office, with a design reminiscent of a Lotus Esprit Turbo, circa 1979 or so. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into this project.

We take a different approach at our house. The kids and I built two cars and we spent a grand total of about 4 hours on the project. Both of the cars were set up to resemble a stagecoach. For horses, we cannibalized a $1 chess set that we had lying around the house and used the knights. One of Maria’s knights fell off the car during the race, but an intrepid scout leader retrieved the piece. The kids do most of the painting and overall design work. Maria’s car generally finishes last because it’s been my practice to put the better wheels and axles on Ben’s car. Even with inferior equipment, Maria’s car was significantly better than some of the other cars in the overall race – as usual, a 1st year scout had a vehicle that was built the wrong way and it could have been timed with a sundial.

Ben now has five of these cars and an armload of trophies. We’re done, since the Pinewood Derby is strictly a Cub Scout activity. The best he ever did was a 2nd place finish in 2005, which was a big a fluke as has ever happened. But I’ll bet Ben and Maria will both have fond memories of these events. I know I do.

2 comments:

hammerswing75 said...

I remember building and racing a car the one year that I was in the Scouts. As I recall my dad didn't help me at all (woodworking wasn't in his skill set) and I finished near the back of the pack. I'd love to try it again some day.

Mark said...

Hey hammerswing75,

Woodworking isn't in our skill set either. Not that it's ever stopped us. If you'd really like to try building a car someday and you don't have a Cub Scout lying around your house, you might check with the local Cub Scout packs in your area. Many of them are now running these "open division" competitions in addition to the main race, primarily to satisfy the rampant gearheadism of many of the dads. But I'll bet you could run one, too, if you ask. The Scout Shop in Mounds View sells kits for less than $4, too.

Also, thank you for stopping by. I looked at your blog and it's very well done. I would encourage my vast readership (reputedly in the double digits now) to check it out!