Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
PINEWOOD DERBY MEMORY Solid as a Rock
We had prepared my son's car months in advance, getting the car body to a high gloss with about twenty coats of clear finish. The wheels were sanded and polished - perfectly round and true - and the axles were filed and polished to perfection. We put everything together and set up our test track. The car performed better than expected - it blew everything away. Cars we thought were fast couldn't even come close. We had a few other parents over at a couple of workshops with cars they had built, and a couple of so called 'district winners' purchased from the Internet. My son's car left them all in the dust.
The night before the pinewood derby we double-checked everything to make sure we were ready. As we turned the wheels to work in more graphite I noticed a couple of the axles were working their way out of the body. I figured I'd just pull them out and put some Super Glue on them. No problem - until I came out the next morning to put the car in a special box my son had prepared for the car.
I picked up the car and thought, "What the heck, I'll add a little more graphite." So I placed some on the left side wheels and worked it in; the wheels spun like they were ready to fly off. I placed some on the right rear wheel; it spun like crazy. The right front wheel was next. It was solid as a rock. I couldn't turn it for anything.
So there I was frantically trying to figure out how to get the car fixed. I tried a hair dryer figuring that maybe a little heat would loosen it up. Then I thought I'd get it too hot and damage the wheel. So I stopped and thought, "What do you use to remove Super Glue?" Nail polish remover! But would it damage the wheel? With only hours before the race, I had nothing to lose.
I applied the polish remover, and in a few seconds the wheel started to turn. But would it perform as good as it did before? It seemed to still be dragging a little, and the remover had gotten on the wheel. I could pull the axle, but I didn't want to damage the many hours of painting and finishing we had put into achieving the perfect paint job. What to do? I bent the wheel up slightly and placed it in the box.
We got to the Pinewood Derby registration and I told my son "I'll put some more graphite on the wheels for you." I didn't want him to turn the wheels and find out what I'd done. I was thinking to myself, "Is he going to notice the one wheel is up? Will the car perform? Am I the world's worst father for not telling him?" All these thoughts were racing through my mind as the race began.
First the Tiger Cubs; we cheered on the boys who came to our workshop. Then the Wolves; more racing, cheering, etc. Meanwhile I was sweating bullets wondering and hoping that the car would run.
Then they announced the Bears were about to race - the time had come. I was beginning to feel faint so I went to the restroom to splash cold water on my face.
When I went back to face the music, the first heat had just finished and my son's car was at the starting gate. People were yelling and cheering. But in my mind all I could hear was, "Dad what happened to my car!"
But wait! The race started and his car won by two car lengths! Could it be? Did it really happen? "There really is a God," I thought.
More cars raced. Then his car was up again, racing against a really fast car. I thought, "This is it, it's going to lose."
The gate opened, and the cars raced down the track neck and neck. All at once his car seemed to surge ahead, winning by a car length.
By this time the pressure was really getting to me. The race format was double-elimination and he was up against the best of the best. Two chances; if he lost he was done.
As the gate opened the other car shot ahead by two car lengths, but somehow my son's car caught up at the finish line. A tie! The race was re-run. Another tie.
The official wiped down the track and ran them again. The other car surged ahead. Could it be, did the axle seize up? I couldn't watch so I turned my head. I heard cheering and yelling. Then the announcement, "Number 24 wins." Wait that's my kid's number! I turned around in disbelief - I could not figure out how the car had won.
Now it was down to the final three cars, the best of the best racing against each other. He had already beaten one of them, but the one he was up against for the finals was unbeaten.
They raced; the cars were neck and neck. "Number 12 wins." My son's first loss. I thought, "Well third place, that's okay."
The cars had to race till one of the cars lost twice. They switched lanes and raced again. "24 wins!" I heard over the yelling. At this point I couldn't watch anymore. "One more time," came the announcement. I figured, "Well they'll put him back into the other lane he just lost in. Second place will be good."
The gate opened and I turned to watch. Why? I don't know, maybe to watch the car lose. But the anxiety of watching his car go down the track was almost too much for me to handle. It seemed like everything was in slow motion; the cars were neck and neck. They went through the timer, then everyone cheered and shouted, "24 wins, 24 wins!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing, it couldn't be happening! Was it all a dream? I walked over and picked up his car. The right front wheel was solid as a rock. By my turning it up slightly, it was running on three wheels the whole time.
I had read about turning a front wheel up slightly, but had never done it before because we always had such good luck running on four wheels. Now I'm a believer - but I hope my son never finds out that his father messed up his car to help it win!