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Race Master 101 - The Pinewood Derby School of Hard Knocks

As I reflect on the events of our last several Grand Prix races, I can only
laugh - it's my best defense mechanism.

I've been involved as an entrant and a dad for several years with Awana
Grand Prix racing. It's always a great time with the kids and I'm able to
let my competitive juices flow unrestricted (almost) for a couple hours per

Two years ago our new club commander asked if I would "take over" the race
portion of our Grand Prix. I jumped at the chance since I hadn't been
exactly thrilled with how the event had been organized in the past. Being
the arrogant individual I am, I thought I could do everything better than
the previous organizers, and I did not solicit their help - big mistake. I
bought some software, played around with it (on the computer only), and
showed up thirty minutes before the big event was to begin.

After getting all the cars entered into the computer, I thought I had
cleared the biggest hurdle. I did not realize that even though I had
entered the kids' names along with their car number, the software would not
tell me which kid was running - only their car number. A very sharp couple
of parents helped me out and tried to get a list of car numbers matched with
kid names as the heats were being run. Trying to do all of this
"on-the-fly" resulted in mis-entered results, slow race progression and
general confusion. To put it mildly, there were some irate dads as well as
great embarrassment on my part. I had single-handedly destroyed a
well-planned Awana Pinewood Derby.

"Oh well", I comforted myself, "It's just my first year. Now that I know
the software, I'll be ready next year." So I created a spreadsheet to work
with the software so that I could print out the race WITH NAMES ahead of
time. I still had the tedious entry job (because of the software) but I
could handle it this time.

Next year I arrived one hour early and noticed that our commander had
resurrected an old timer, repaired it and had it all set up. Wow! Was this
going to make it easy. No more having four judges trying to pick places and
have the dads argue with them.

In spite of my spreadsheet, calling out the races was still cumbersome, but
workable. The problem now was getting the right "color" of winner into the
computer correctly, since the colors the timer showed were not the same
colors as the lanes of the track, and keeping track of which kid was which
color, and ... you get the idea.

To make matters worse, twenty minutes into the race the timer started giving
faulty results. First place was showing as third, losers were posted as
winners. Incensed fathers (I never have problems with moms) were ready to
strangle me. There was nothing we could do but finish the races and change
results to favor the most persuasive dad who said his kid's car came in
first. After everyone left in a huff and we were cleaning up, the commander
said to me, "We are going to buy a new system for next year no matter what
it costs!"

So this year I purchased a timer with software. I like the concept of
racing faster cars against faster and slower against slower. I revel in the
fact that accurate results will be entered into the computer without human
intervention (try it manually - I guarantee mistakes and longer time between
heats). I have high hopes for smiles and the re-purchase of a little of my
self esteem.

But so that all of my agony and humiliation does not go to waste, I would
like to pass on some advice to new race organizers:

1. Solicit advice from last years' event coordinator. They love to share
what they have learned. There is no sense in making mistakes they have
already made.

2. Don't skimp by using inferior equipment. Get the best - I promise you
won't regret it.

3. Budget plenty of time (40 hours plus) to get ready. Test race a couple
of cars. Get familiar with the process. This year I am taking the day of
the race off from work.

4. Plan a "pit rally" the Saturday before the race. We're hoping to get at
least half of the kids weighed in (certified) and names into the computer.
We then keep the cars safe until the race.

5. Have fun! There will always be bumps, but there's always next year to

Paul Chausse
Manhattan, Montana

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 1, Issue 9

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