Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My Son Won the Pinewood Derby! (with absolutely NO help from me)

The Pinewood Derby! It's a right of passage for every Cub Scout aged boy. They (or their parents) take a block of wood and shape it into a car that will race other cars down a track. It's a fun adventure, and it teaches the boys life lessons about losing, because every car ends up losing. (Except for one.) (I was not expecting my kid's car to be the one.)

The cliche is that the fathers of the Cub Scout boys get very competitive when making Pinewood Derby cars. They'll work on it for weeks, doing anything they can to make the car go faster. Sometimes, they'll even break the rules and cheat. They want to win at all costs--I mean they want their son to win at all costs. I am not that guy.

Recently, on a Monday morning I woke up and realized that my son's Pinewood Derby was scheduled for Tuesday evening. The race was less than 36 hours away, and my son's car was still just a block of wood in a box. (We'd had that box of wood for several weeks, but I had yet to do anything with it.) If it had been left to me, he probably would have ended up with a block of wood with wheels on it; a car possibly able to roll down the track, but at a speed much slower than all the other cars.

Luckily for my son, I am not his only parent.

The best Pinewood Derby car I've ever not helped make!

Now, my wife had no grand designs to blow all the competition away or win at all costs. She took on the Pinewood Derby project mostly so that our son would have a good, fun experience; in order to do that it would help to have a competitive, competent car--something more than just a block of wood with wheels. So, she started off by taking the block of wood to work with her. She teaches at the junior high, and she enlisted the help of the school librarian to cut the wood block into the shape of a Pinewood Derby car. (Back in my day school libraries just had books and encyclopedias. Apparently, nowadays they have table saws in the space the encyclopedias used to take up.)

When she got home from work, my wife consulted the interwebs for tips on making good Pinewood Derby cars, then she called in her Dad to help. My father-in-law (known to my kids as PopPop) had three daughters but no sons, so he never got the chance to make a Pinewood Derby car. He jumped at the chance to help with his oldest grandson.

The boy helps paint his car.

My wife, my father-in-law, and my son worked on the car for a few hours, then called it a night. The car was rounding into shape, but it still needed some work. PopPop consulted a neighbor who had made several cars for his sons over the years. When my wife got home from school on Tuesday, she, PopPop, and The Boy put the finishing touches on the car.

Throughout this whole process, my only contribution to the making of the Pinewood Derby car was watching the other kids so they didn't interfere with the car construction.

They finished the car just in time, then took it to the church house for racetime. The car passed the weight inspection--it was legal and ready to roll! When it came time for the first heat, my expectations weren't very high. Four cars were lined up on the track, which meant, everything else being equal, that there was a three out of four chance that my son's car wouldn't win. So, when his car finished way ahead of the other three cars, I was shocked. My son was ecstatic! We could have ended the racing right then and the whole endeavor would have been worth it. However, there were still more heats to run, and faster cars to run against.

That blue blur on the left is my son's car!

Pinewood Derbies have changed a lot since I was a kid. Back then, the track was wobbly and close races would lead to arguments about which car finished first. Today, the track is all digitized. Race times are confirmed by the computer down to the thousandth of a second. This is a good thing, because in some of the other heats, the cars were so close it was hard to determine who won based on the naked eye. But, in almost every race the computer said my son's car came out ahead.

His car ended up winning seven of the eight heats he raced in, which was enough to edge out the other fast cars and win the overall championship! So, instead of learning how to lose, my son got to learn how to win gracefully, without being a jerk. (He was pretty good about it; he was excited for winning, but didn't gloat about it. He's a good kid.) Now the big worry is tempering his expectations for next year's races.

And, hopefully he'll remember how his Mom and PopPop cared enough to help make him a champion.

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