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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.

Teresa Delcambre

Read More at: Pinewood Derby Times Volume 9, Issue 3

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