Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
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 year.
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 improve!