Monday, January 23, 2012

Pinewood Derby

Saturday was a good day.

B and I have been working on his Pinewood Derby car for about a month now, and Saturday was race day.

But before I get into the results, let's back up to the start.

B is very creative.  I'm constantly amazed at the things he comes up with, especially considering he's only 8.  That said, when you give a kid a block of wood and tell them to make it into a car, you shouldn't be surprised when they just stare at it for a while.

He had no idea what he wanted his car to look like.  Trying not to influence him, I asked him to think about cars he thought were cool, and what was so cool about them.  After a little brainstorming, we decided the best shape would just be to cut the car on a diagonal, having a smaller front and bigger back.  Instead of making it a straight line, I talked him into adding a couple of curves to make it look a little more interesting.  After cutting it out with a hacksaw and sanding it down with the Dremel Tool, here's what we had:


The next step was to figure out how to make the car fast.  Last year, we had no idea what we were doing.  We cut out the block in the shape of a car, painted it, and stuck on the wheels... and it was slow!  This year, I researched all the little tips and tricks for how to make the car fast.  Turns out, there are a lot of little things that make a huge difference in the speed of the car, so we did those things as best we could.

Friday night I volunteered to help set the track up, which gave me a chance to test the car and make a few more adjustments.  While setting up and tuning the track, they were running a few cars from previous years, and those cars were averaging around 3.7 seconds, so that was my benchmark.  Our car's first run: 3.9 seconds.  Not bad, but trust me, two tenths of a second looks a lot worse than it sounds.  Those cars were smoking ours.

Second run: 4.1 seconds.  Ouch.

After adjusting the wheels a little, the third run came in at 3.8 seconds.  With that, I headed home knowing what adjustments to make.

Fast forward to Saturday morning, B was noticeably tired, but in good spirits.  He was excited to race, and was confident that we had made a fast car.  Secretly, I was scared to death that my adjustments would be his downfall.

It seemed to take forever before it was his turn.  After very carefully placing his car on the track, he headed to the finish line to watch.  I stood nearby, taping the whole thing.

It was known that lanes 2 and 4 were the fast lanes.  B was assigned to lane 3 for this race.

It was finally time.  They threw the switch that sent the four wooden cars racing toward the finish line.  I couldn't believe it, but our car held solid in 2nd place the whole way!  3.67 seconds!

He survived the elimination round and moved on to the finals for his den.  Four races would determine the overall winner, who would then move on to the Pack finals.

While his car wasn't quite fast enough to win overall, he still placed 3rd!  To put it in perspective, the cars that were beating him were running just a tiny bit faster -- usually in the low 3.6's whereas he was in the upper 3.6's and low 3.7's.  Yeah, he lost by less than a tenth of a second.  We were both extremely proud.

The best part about it was that he had fun.  B always tries his best, but he doesn't win very often.  And he's always a good sport about it.  I really wanted to help make sure he was competitive this year, to show him that having a good attitude and having fun can be rewarding.  Even though he didn't bring home a trophy, he was still a winner, and I know we've made some memories he's going to hang on to.

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