Monday, February 16, 2009

Pinewood Panic

I've found that the different seasons of the year give rise to various traditions and the emotions tied to them. Christmas brings thoughts of family, pine boughs, gifts, and all kinds of good food. Summertime is for barbecuing, starry nights, and getting dirt under fingernails trying to coax things to grow.

Without realizing it, I have, of late, begun to dread the season of January/February -- not because it is the post-holiday period, with its dearth of significant festival days, but because sooner or later my Cub Scout age boy is going to show up with that black and gold box. You know which one I mean-- the Pinewood Derby car box. Terror-inducing thing!

The first year Jacob (our oldest) was in Cub Scouts, we labored for days to design, cut out, sand, paint, sand some more, and finally mount the axles and wheels on that infernal contraption. I don't recall how well he did that first year (and I'll tell you why in a moment), but suffice it to say that he didn't win much. I think he was in the middle of the pack. He got a consolation prize (a term which was invented, I think, for the certificates and smaller trophies we give to all the "other" Cub Scouts who labored to produce a speedy car but didn't pull it off. If ever a soul needed consoling, it's those little egos). 

The next year, we looked around for innovative ideas for making the car faster. Realizing that our priorities were a bit out of whack the previous year (spending so much time on the design and paint, and so little time on the wheels and axles), we even went so far as to buy special axles-- pre-made for speed (supposedly). We mounted them carefully, checked for squareness, and lubricated the h#%* out of them. We went to the derby with high, high hopes.

Jacob's car came in last. Dead last. In every heat. He was crushed, and I was ... embarrassed. Dead last. I could just feel the other dad's sorrowful looks. LAST place, man! I don't remember how well he did the previous year because the humiliation of having my boy's car not even finishing a couple of the races overwhelmed my memory banks, replacing any previous Pinewood derby memories with that one. 

Ironically, despite the fact that it got less attention that year, Jacob's paint job was pretty good and he got the "Best Paint" trophy, so he didn't go home empty handed.

This year, Joshua is our Cub Scout age boy. When I heard through the social network that Pinewood Derby was approaching, I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach. I mean, who wants to put their kid through that? I was sure we were in for another humiliating experience. 

I don't recall exactly what brought it up, but I was complaining to a friend, Matt Thompson, about this dilemma and, lo and behold, he volunteers to help me. Come to find out, his son's cars have done very well in Pinewood Derby Land. In fact, he won the district competition a few years ago. Of course I jumped at the chance to have him help me. A few nights later, Josh and I are over at Thompsons' house working away on our... uh... his car.

I shouldn't say working on the car... and I really shouldn't say "we." We were really working on the wheels and axles, and Matt was doing most of the work.  I was watching intently, and Josh was chasing the Thompson girls around the house, making them squeal. Aren't Dads the ones who make these things anyway? I dunno.

You can't believe all the things we did to those axles. I'm pretty sure some of those techniques are military secrets. We sanded, we polished, we buffed, we grooved--- we even had a blow torch going at one point (no kidding-- and Josh actually helped with that part. Give 'em fire and Scouts are THERE!). 

After we turned those dinky little nail axles into weapons of massive destruction, we retired for the night. Matt gave us instructions for "impregnating" the wheels and axles with much graphite, which we dutifully did. 

Larry Wilford, another friend and neighbor, has a band saw and a belt sander, so we begged his help (as we've done in years past, in fact) for a little body shaping. It turns out that the shape of the body is almost irrelevant to how fast these puppies go down that 60 foot track. Heck, stick those weapons-grade axles on the unshaped, unsanded block and you may just have an ugly winner. 

Figuring that Josh should participate at least nominally in the creation of this car, I made him sit down and draw up a plan for the body. "No, Dad," he griped, "You come up with something." "Nothin' doin', mister," I said, "You're doing something on this car, so SIT DOWN!" He grumbles his way to the kitchen table and comes back in about 3 seconds. I roll my eyes when I see two straight lines drawn on the basic block. "What is it?" I asked, with the cool wit of an action hero. "It's a mouse droid," he drawls. More eye rolling, but with my eyes closed.

So, anyway, we went to Wilfords, made two straight cuts, he does a bunch of sanding, we screw some Lego pieces on it, and paint it "satin black." A mouse droid Pinewood car is born.

Because I got food poisoning the weekend before the race, Matt heroically volunteers to finish up the car-- mounting the wheels & axles, checking the weight, performing Pinewood voodoo on it-- everything I should know how to do as a Dad raised in Scouting and all. I buy cheesecake to say thank you. 

Race night comes. I'm all a-twitter. Josh is the one with the coolness of an action hero now. I have my new camera to keep me distracted, so I wander around and poke my 18-105mm lens into people's faces. They mostly ignore me.

Race time comes. Josh's car wins his heat quite nicely. 

Second heat, another win. Same with the third. I go over to Josh and remind him that sportsmanship includes being a good winner as well as a good loser. He nods sagely, obviously trying not to explode with glee. I'm proud of him.

End of story.... He won the whole thing. The big trophy-- the real one-- the one that says "champion" on it-- goes home with us. I, too, am working on not exploding.

Poor Jacob. Why couldn't his Dad learn a thing or two about these puppies when he was a Cub?

Josh is in the brown Scout shirt. 
Notice how calm and collected he is here.
No gloating from this boy.

Okay. Maybe a little gloating. 
Or at least a little excitement about that black car.

And here is the winning boy and his winning car. 
Way to go, Joshua!
Thanks, Matt and Larry!
On to District...

Two more Cub Scouts to come. Maybe Cameron's and Colton's Dad can build one of these on his own.


Patricia Murphy, a resident of said...

What a great story! It reminds me of voice recitals and a brief (thank goodness!) stint with junior gymnastics. You're putting my blog to shame, you know.

Peetiedy said...

that is awesome. congrats

Clint said...

I thought for sure that my "Pinewood Derby" days were over since both of my boys are now 12 or older. To my horrer, the young men in the word agreed to have a pinewood derby race with the young women in the word. So, the pressure is really on now. I wouldn't be suprised a bit if all of the young men came with an un-sanded, un-decorated, un-painted block of wood. Not only that, they will probably lose to the Young Women hands down.