Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pinewood Derby Project - Final Update

Pinewood Derby is one of the highlights of each Cub Scout's year. Each Scout starts from a block of pine and is to create a car (within specifications) that will compete against all the other Scouts in his Pack. The three top finishing cars in my son's pack move on to the next level of competition.

The idea behind the Pinewood Derby is that the Scout and his parent (typically his father) will work together to create their design. It involves planning their car, working with tools, working with paint and glues - you know, guy stuff.

Now, Pinewood Derby is famous for the amount of work some kids (or more correctly, some kids fathers) put in on their cars. It can be very competitive and there is an entire industry that has sprung up - offering speed upgrades, books on how to make your car faster, and more. You can even find on ebay people who are selling cars they have designed that have clocked extremely fast times for upwards of $100! There is even a movie based on Pinewood Derby experiences available ("Down and Derby")

My son, always with an alternative view of the competition, had become famous for both his original designs and his ability to finish behind all other competitors. Last year he boldly announced at the start of the race that he intended to finish last, and, by gum, he did. As such, he was given an impromptu award. This year, they formalized the award (which should be named after my son) and had a trophy for the last place finisher. Despite our talking about flattening one tire or 'accidently' using super-glue as a lubricant, we have never done anything to intentionally slow his car down (we also didn't do anything to speed the car up). Design has always taken precedence over speed and a by-product of that is that his cars were slow.

Now might be a good time to run down his past projects. His first year in Cub Scouts, he went with the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile design. It looked great, but rolled slow. His second year, it was his school bus, the third year he went with a 'Lego car' (easiest by far, btw, just cut the block and glued a Lego base on it and he built it up from there), and last year he went with an ice cream truck. The Weinermobile, school bus and ice cream truck all needed two blocks to make the design and all needed extensive excavation of the blocks to get under the 5 ounce limit. The two block design also was a great way to increase the resistance on the air flow - adding precious seconds to his time down the track.

This year, it was an easier (one block) design - but, for the first time - he included lights and sound on his car. It was a 'Disco car' - featuring working disco lights on the dance floor (thanks to a couple contributing donations from Schylling's Disco Ducks), sound from a Hallmark card with Earth, Wind & Fire's 'Boogie Wonderland' on it's sound chip, and a little disco ball hanging from a wire. Glue a couple Lego people on there in full disco mode and you have a party on a pine block. We never bothered weighing the car, and it weighed in at barely above 3.8 ounces.

His heat came, and our pack allows four runs for each heat - letting each car run down each lane once to allow for lane issues. My son's car came in third on the first heat, and it wasn't even close. He clocked just above 3 seconds and the last place car limped to a 3.2 second finish. The second heat was similar. If my son's car can't even lose his heat, how could he possibly finish last? We crossed our fingers and hoped for a wheel to bust off. The third heat again found my son's car crossing the line in third place. All our hopes rested upon a disastrous finish - perhaps the electronics soldering could spontaneously combust and our little pine car could burst into flames. We watched, hoping, praying, but our fears were confirmed. His car again cruised into third place in the final run. All hope was lost. His mantle as 'Pack's biggest loser' was usurped.

The awards were handed out and the trophy for last place was given to someone else. A trophy to some kid who actually wanted his car to go fast. The kid lofted the award above his head halfheartedly and seemed a bit confused about why he got a trophy. My son was disappointed that his car did not come in last (much in the same way as the other kids were disappointed that their cars did not do better). It felt odd to console a kid for his car not doing worse, but we reminded him that the award given for the last place finish would undoubtedly not exist were it not for his casual attitude towards winning and losing.

If you had told me before my son was born that our Pinewood Derby experiences would end up bringing home a dejected son after a disappointing finish - that I would have believed. But, if you had told me his disappointment would be due to a finish HIGHER than expected...well, I doubt you could have persuaded me that this would be the case. I am very proud of my son's attitude towards his Pinewood Derby cars - it's not every kid who can take losing as a badge of honor. I can't help but feel sorry for the poor kids who have to go on and compete at the next level.

1 comment:

Yo_shi said...

Found your blog from YoYoRadio.

I've admired those nice Pinewood derby cars.

The Oscar-Weiner mobile has to be the funniest/coolest one I have seen.

~yo! shi! (Yo_shi from Theyo)