Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
PINEWOOD DERBY MEMORY The Trophy with the Blue and Gold Flames
The trophy was three feet tall with four columns made of royal blue and gold flames. There were derby cars at every point, and the base was a dark cherry wood. I had never seen anything that shimmered so much -- the flames seemed to flicker in the light. I turned away from the trophy and looked for my son through the crowd of boys standing around the practice track. I wondered if I should show him the trophy? Would he have a chance of winning it? Looking at the impressive six lane aluminum track, with computerized timer and large screen display up on the wall, I definitely felt that we were out of our league. My son had never raced on anything but old wooden tracks. His car had never actually been timed. When we first arrived at the venue, I spotted this nice, three lane aluminum track. I had even complimented the man in uniform standing next to it. "What a nice track", I had said. He turned to me with a sort of puzzled look on his face. Five minutes later, I realized why he had given me the puzzled looked. I walked further into the venue and saw the six lane behemoth. The three lane track in the foyer was just the practice track that they had set up for the boys to have a few runs on. The six lane track was the real deal! "Wow!" I thought, "we are in the big league now."
When Ethan was invited to attend this Open District pinewood derby I had been advised (warned?) that there would be tough competition. I remembered the first year at our pack's pinewood derby and the thrill when my son's car won its first heat. Then the agony when it lost every other race. I had gone home that night determined to learn everything possible about the pinewood derby so that I could help Ethan build a better car the next year. When the derby rolled around again, I had stayed true to my word. We built a great car. He won the district championship. But, the experience was not a thrill for him, as I had taken over much of the building of the car. In my efforts to spare him the embarrassment of a bad car, I had cut him out of much of the work and fun. This year, I promised him that I would act as an advisor only. It would be his car to build.
Build it, he did. Every time I hovered, Ethan would remind me to back off. With the exception of adjusting one slightly crooked wheel after he had gone to bed (could not help myself), it was all his car, and he was proud of it. Still, I stood looking up at the shiny track at this open derby, wondering just how good his car would be. What would I say if my son went home empty handed? Defeat is a part of competition, and I knew that Ethan would handle losing much better then I would. But I wanted him to do well. Our family was is the midst a very traumatic year, starting with my daughter nearly being killed in a horrific accident the previous January. Her recovery has been long and difficult. Often, Ethan had been shoved into the background while my husband and I struggled through surgeries, hospital stays, doctor visits and a ton of medical bills. Throughout the ordeal, Ethan had endured it all with a stoicism not found in many 10 year olds. Building the derby car was one of the few lights in a very dark and stressful year. The pinewood derby race had been a small source of pleasure in a bleak existence for our family. Now I worried that the thrill of Ethan's beloved derby car would be diminished by a thrashing at this open derby. I was very worried.
The races began with the Tiger scouts. Their cars shot down the track at lightening speeds and after just a couple of heats the large screen on the wall flashed: "New Track Record!" "Oh boy", I thought. "We are in trouble!" I tried to have confidence in Ethan's car (it was a fast car), but I secretly worried that I had made a mistake by bringing him to this race. The track record was broken twice more in the Tiger heats and two times in the Wolf heats. Ethan's car had won overall in our pack, but it is not a large or competitive pack when it comes to the pinewood derby. Ethan's car was used to bumping along on the 30+ year old, 32 foot long track. How would it do on this huge shiny aluminum track? Would it even make it all the way down the 42 feet of aluminum? I squirmed a little in my chair as the Bears were finishing their heats and it was almost time for Ethan to race.
Every boy got to race in every lane and there were more Webelos then lanes, so several boys sat out the first heat. Ethan did not race until the third heat. In the first two heats I had picked out a couple of cars that were very fast, but there had been no more track records, so my hopes increased a bit. Still, as Ethan stepped up to place his car in Lane #1 for his first race, I found myself chewing on my nails! I was gnawing away with anxiety and my heartbeat must have doubled. My mom looked over at me and asked, "Are you ok, you look pale?" I gave a quick nod, "Yes", but I did not feel ok. The anxiety was choking me, and all that I could manage was a little silent prayer: "Please let this be ok, please don't let Ethan be too disappointed -- he's a good kid." I know that the other boys had worked just as hard on their cars as Ethan had, and he did not deserve to win anymore then any other boy. I just wanted him to do well for his own self esteem. This was HIS day (a day that centered around him) instead of around his sister and the next surgery. Instead of the family sitting in a hospital waiting room, we had all gathered to support Ethan and cheer him on in a fun activity. Please, Dear God let this be a fun activity! I looked over at my aunt and my husband; she gave me a thumbs up, and my husband said, "Here we go." His voice choked a little; he was nervous, too! I turned back just in time to see the pins go down and the cars burst onto the track!
Ethan's car was like a bullet! It shot forward, leading the pack by at least two lengths on the down slope. By the time that they got to the flat section a slick black car was gaining ground, but was still trailing by almost a length. Ethan's car flew through the finish line in a solid first place! A shudder of relief surged through my body! I felt limp with relief. Ethan's car may not win the day, but at least I knew that we would not go home in total embarrassment. This open derby was not out of our league and I was so thankful!
Ethan's car raced another five times. After its third heat, the screen flashed: "New Track Record!" Ethan's car had set a new track record! I was so happy that I was bobbing up and down in my chair. My nephew was asking my husband what that meant, and Jesse replied, "It means that Ethan has the fastest car here!" Ethan's car continued to win, beating every other Webelo car until that round of racing was over.
In between the rank races and the championship round, the boys were allowed to apply more graphite. I asked Ethan if he needed help, and he assured me that he could do it by himself. I watched him skip over to the pit area and join the other boys in prepping for the last round of races. He looked so happy. The top three boys from each rank would race for the championship awards. I knew that Ethan's car would be meeting up with the best cars of the day, three of which had also set track records. The more that a car races the more the graphite gets worked in, so I knew that those Tiger and Wolf cars that had been fast earlier in the day would probably be even faster now. Ethan was currently holding the track record, but that could change.
Once again, Ethan did not race in the first couple of heats. My anxiety, which had pretty much gone away when his car was running so well in the Webelos race, came back with a vengeance! I squirmed, I chewed my nails, I gritted my teeth, waiting for Ethan to put his car on that track. One of the Wolf cars was a beautiful, slim red car with glitter in the paint. It had set the track record before Ethan and I knew that it would be a challenger for the grand prize. It had already raced one heat and had dominated. Now, it was time for Ethan's car to race against the red demon.
Ethan's car, which is green, was placed in the lane next to the red glitter car. My heart beat picked up speed and I almost couldn't look at the track. Then, the race was on and the cars were close. The red car was staying up with Ethan's car, but it had not pulled ahead. In the flat of the track, Ethan's car scooted out to about a one-fourth of a length in front of the red car and that is the way that the race finished. It was the closest race of the day, and yet Ethan's car had prevailed. I was in total joy! I knew that had been the toughest test. I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the rest of the races, with no car coming closer then a half of a length from Ethan's car. The big screened flashed again, "New Track Record!" Ethan would set one more track record before the racing was finished that day. I chided myself for thinking that his car may not have been good enough to be in this race. I should have had more faith in both boy and car.
It was time for the awards ceremony. Ethan won a nice trophy for first place in the Webelos division. They gave out the awards for design and best paint. Then, it was time to announce the top three for the whole race. When Ethan's name was called he was playing with another boy under the stage. I had to shoo him out to accept his trophy. His race statistics flashed on the big screen; his car went 241mph! Wow! The Cubmaster handed Ethan the huge trophy with the gold and blue flames, and remarked that it was almost as tall as Ethan. We all beamed with admiration, soaking in the joy of the moment. Ethan smiled at the trophy, walked over, handed it to his dad and then ran off to crawl back under the stage with his new friend. Maybe the journey really was more important then the destination. In the big scheme of things shiny trophies are just a footnote. But for that moment the trophy symbolized more then just a fast car. It was a reminder that even in the hardest of times there can be joy. It was proof that when a family is strong and sticks together they can make it through the darkness into the light. The trophy with the blue and gold flames was a beautiful thing but the lessons we learned on the way to possessing it would endure long after the shimmer had faded.