02 03 Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Look at that S-Car Go!

My son is an 8-year old with Asperger's syndrome, sometimes called high
functioning autism. I am a leader in his Cub Scout pack, and together we
were building a car for the annual Pinewood Derby. After our middle of the
pack finish last year, we decided to do some research on how to build a
fast pinewood derby car. Using the internet and a tape borrowed from our
public library, my son and I designed our car. But as we all know, what we
want and what we end up with can be drastically different (but sometimes
just what we need).

Our car was shaped like a Japanese sandal. We originally were going to
build a car shaped like a snail, but I am not a skilled wood worker and that
design turned out to be too much work for the time remaining before the
race. The car's name was "S-car" after an old joke about a snail who put an
"S" on the side of his car. When people saw him, they would say, "look at
that S-car go! (escargot)

We were testing the car the night before the race, trying to get it to roll
straight. I was adjusting one of the front wheels when the wood in front of
the axle snapped. Just for kicks I tried the car without the wheel. It
rolled in a perfect line on three wheels (something that I had tried to
accomplish, but could not do)! So, I glued that wheel on at a serious angle
to minimize track contact. My son finished the car by putting snail stickers
all over it.

Race day came, and being a leader I was in charge of the car table. My son's
car did not look like much compared to the Formula 1 cars, dragsters and
roadsters. But once the racing started, things became interesting.

Our car won the first heat in a convincing fashion. All the leaders who knew
my son congratulated him on his win. When his car won the next four races in
the same fashion (over some of their son's cars), things started to change.
The former Cub Master kept holding the car in his hand, moving it up and
down like he was weighing it (he was the official that weighed it in and
inspected it!). I asked what the problem was and he said, "I know this is
legal, I weighed it in and inspected it, but it feels a lot heavier than the
other cars" (The car's center of gravity was about 1" in front of the rear
wheels). After each win, someone else would pick the car up, spin the
wheels, and look at the weight layout.

In the end, my son's car swept the derby; not a second place or a race
closer than one-quarter car length the whole time. A few father's came up
to me after the race, wanting to know my "secrets". I told them, "Do your
homework - everything I know about pinewood derby design and speed hints, I
found on the internet." But even with all the hard work, hand work and
homework, our win that night was truly sealed by the "lucky" break of our
front wheel the evening before the race. The "S" on our car could stand for
serendipity - the ability to discover things by accident.

My son still hasn't stopped talking about his win and how proud he is of his
effort. Due to his condition, I do not know what his future will be like -
what he will be able to do for a living, if he will marry, have children,
how much of the world he will explore and understand outside of his tightly
focused mindset - but I, with the help of people like Michael Lastufka,
Randy Davis and their websites, was able to help him make a car that gave
him a chance to be a winner and to be proud of his accomplishment.

Kenneth N. Friedel
Baltimore, MD

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 1, Issue 12

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