Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
The Dark Side: eBay Cars
As you know eBay has become quite a powerhouse in on-line retailing. At this site you can purchase virtually anything. I personally use eBay for selling a few things, but many pinewood derby vendors use eBay as their primary retail outlet.
In most cases this is great for the pinewood derby community, as it allows many unique products to become available to the pinewood derby shopper. As always, buyer beware is still mandated, but generally you can find quality products at good prices.
But as is often the case, there is a dark side - the selling of completed cars.(1) Generally these cars are marketed to the parent as a "guaranteed district winner", or a "super fast car to give you the edge". Some have professional paint jobs, others are (supposedly) designed by people with PhDs in physics, and a few look like they were built in a model shop.
To the over-busy and over-achieving parent, these cars are seductive. "All I have to do is pull out the plastic, and my child will win a trophy", the thinking goes. "Why 'waste' time making a second rate car when I can buy a winner."
As I will share below, I have issues with this thought process. I doubt that I will convince those of you that have taken part in the dark side, but hopefully I can persuade those on the fence to reconsider.
But first I do want to mention that there is one legitimate reason for buying a completed car. That is, to add a car to a collection. Sometimes beautiful, vintage cars are sold on eBay. They are not legal for a race (obsolete kit type), but they certainly would make a nice addition to a collection. Also, some cars made from modern kits are sold that are so nice that I can see someone buying them to put on
a shelf. But these offerings are few and far between during the madness of pinewood derby season.
When I decide what products to offer, and in all of my writings and interaction with people I try to promote two philosophies:
1. "Do your best" - That is, do everything you can within the rules to build the fastest car possible. Learn, then work smart and work hard to achieve the goal.
2. "Parent-child project" - Make sure that the child takes part in all aspects of building the car. Clearly the amount of participation will vary from age to age, and from child to child. But the intent is for the child to have ownership of the project and of the completed car.
These philosophies are in harmony with the intent of the pinewood derby as espoused by the various clubs and organizations that sponsor these races. Following these philosophies may involve learning about physics, mechanics, and wood-working. It may involve purchasing some products. But fundamentally, the rules are followed, a car is built, and the child is fully involved.
Purchasing a completed car necessitates belief in a different philosophy, that is, "Win at all cost". In other words, "I don't care if the rules are broken(2), I don't care if my child is involved, I just want him/her (me) to get a trophy." Admittedly, this philosophy seems to prevail in much of corporate America these days, but nevertheless it is contrary to the basic intent of pinewood derby racing, and is ultimately destructive. This philosophy teaches our children that:
1. Cheating is okay if you are not caught,
2. Money gives me the power to win,
3. Hard work is not necessary to succeed.
Do these sound familiar? Certainly some top executives in America's corporations follow these philosophies. But now many - as they await trial or reside in prisons - have discovered that these philosophies are ultimately destructive.
These philosophies are the direct opposite of what I believe we should teach our children. They will eventually discover that these philosophies exist and are practiced by some. But I believe that a solid ethical foundation and a "do your best" philosophy will ultimately pay off.
In addition to teaching the wrong philosophy, the purchase of a completed car (instead of building the car) also demonstrates the wrong priority to our children. Earlier I stated, "Why 'waste' time making a second rate car when I can buy a winner." Clearly, spending time with your child is never a "waste" of time. Children will always remember time spent with their parents, while the memory of a
particular trophy win will in itself wane. Our kids crave time with us. They want to be with their parents (well, at least until they become a teenager). Yet we are often "too busy" to spend time with them. By purchasing a pre-built car, we are essentially telling our child, "I don't have time to spend with you, so instead I will buy you something." Is this the message you really want to send?
One valid concern that is often raised by parents is: "We worked hard and did our best, but the car wasn't competitive and my child was heartbroken. In our case, 'do your best' didn't work out." My response is that this perspective is too short-term. People commonly do not succeed on their first attempt. Could you ride a bicycle the first time you tried? Did Nolan Ryan throw a no-hitter the first time out? Did Thomas Edison invent the light bulb on the first try? (It took him over 1,000 attempts.) Do all businesses succeed? (Over 50 percent fail in the first year, and the vast majority within five years). One of the chief ways we learn is through failure. It is oftentimes failure that gives us the motivation to learn more, to try a different method, to work harder, and to work smarter. On a personal note, I had two business failures before starting Maximum Velocity, and it was failure in one of our early pinewood derby races that initiated my effort to learn more about making fast cars.
So, what do you do if you did you best building a car, but it wasn't good enough? Get on the Internet and learn. Information can be found for free, or purchased for a few bucks. If you have the desire and budget, get a few tools. But the main thing is use the "failure"(3) as the motivation to do better, not to give up or give in to the dark side.
Another concern voiced by parents is that they have no equipment to build a car. There are several solutions to this dilemma including asking a neighbor to help, purchasing a pre-cut kit, some components, or some tools, or making use of workshops sponsored by the organization. Don't use this as an excuse to take the big shortcut.
There are other dilemmas as well, but I don't believe any of them justify purchasing a completed car.
Ultimately we want what is best for our children. To me, this involves teaching our children to be ethical and to strive to do their best. But we can easily get sidetracked, and try to take shortcuts to success. When we do this, we teach our kids that the goal is more important than the path taken. I encourage you to make sure that you put your kids on the right path and stay away from the shortcuts.
Don't succumb to the temptation to buy a victory, as it will ultimately leave a bitter taste.
(1) Although it was not my intention, this article will likely offend some of you who sell completed cars on eBay. I hope that you will at least consider my concerns, and then reconsider your product offering. Instead of selling completed cars, how about car kits? With kits, the parent/child team will put some effort into building the car.
(2) Virtually all rule-sets state in one manner or another that a car must be built by the parent-child team.
(3) Failure relates only to the race standings. Any time spent with your child is not a failure.