Second Time Around

Our metallic green Pinewood Derby racer didn’t win any races –- in fact, it came in last place in all four heats –- but it really doesn’t matter.

One of the great joys of being a dad is that you get to do kid stuff all over again, and A. and I sure had fun transforming a plain block of wood into a tricked-out sprint car.

As we built our ride together over the course of a few weeks –- planning, picking a style, using dangerous-looking woodworking tools, picking a paint color and then changing our minds –- I couldn’t help but remember a similar experience I had making a car with my stepdad decades ago.

I was in Cub Scouts somewhere around the fourth grade, and he took the lead in making a beautiful metallic purple car. I remember he did most of the building, but I did a lot of sanding. A lot of sanding. He added a motor from a plastic car model kit, and it was full of great details.

On race day, the other scouts marveled at the car and I was very proud. The only problem was that a little bit of the lead we used to weight the car properly was hanging off the bottom, which caused it to drag on the track. While we didn’t win for speed, I remember winning an award for design, and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s one of the best memories I have of my stepdad, spending time with him crafting something important.

I kept that car in mind as A. and I teamed up to build our own entry. We’re new to Cub Scouts this year, and the derby is one of the biggest events of the year.

We gathered with other scouts at a leader’s house weeks before the race, and he bravely let us loose with his tools to shape our cars. A. picked out the design, and I cut out the rough shape. We then used a belt sander to smooth the edges, and A., like me years before, started sanding.

We talked about our plans again and again, and dropped by the scout store to buy a plastic driver (complete with steering wheel), a plastic motor and some cool decals. We also went across town to the hobby shop to get more decals.

The original plan was to paint it metallic blue. But when that paint failed to look good on the primered wood body, we changed our mind and went for green.

The anticipation built up until last Saturday, when we had to turn in our car during the weigh-in at the Elks’ Lodge. We were about 2 grams over the 5-ounce weight limit, which didn’t surprise me given the several layers of paint on the car. I had to drill some holes in the bottom of lighten it up, and soon we were good to go.

When Sunday afternoon’s race finally arrived, we went back to the lodge to find a beautiful aluminum track set up, complete with an electronic timing system. Pack 259 takes the derby seriously, and we couldn’t wait.

I knew we might be in trouble when I saw the other 30 or so cars, many of which were simple, aerodynamic wedges. Our car had a big plastic motor on the top, like my car from years ago, which was sure to create a drag during races.

Sure enough, our car was pretty slow. But unlike some of the other cars, at least it rolled to the finish line on its own.

A. was a little discouraged at first by his finishes. But I told him to wait until the other special awards were given out. Prior to the race, everyone was given a sheet to rank the cars in different categories.

When awards were handed out at Wednesday’s pack meeting, we went home as winners in the categories of best design and most decals. A. had a big grin on his face, much like I must have had during my big race years ago. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.

A. is already planning this next car, this time with a sleek, speedy design. We have plenty of time to mull it over, think about paint and get ready.

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