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Saved by the Glue

This year, Ryan and I built a pinewood derby car that, by design, had two pieces: a front section and a rear section that were connected by telescoping aluminum tubing. This telescoping aluminum tubing allowed us to adjust the wheel alignment precisely. Then, to hold it in place, two temporary turnbuckles were attached to each side, allowing us to roll it down a long smooth surface, observe the direction it turned and then correct it quickly and easily by adjusting the turnbuckles. Once it was going as straight as we liked, I had Ryan put super glue on the aluminum tubes to hold it in place and add a second straight piece of aluminum tubing about a quarter of an inch below the telescoping aluminum tubing. We then remove the turnbuckles and it worked great.

Before doing this procedure with Ryan, I had tried it on my own with my car (for the parent’s race). I used brass tubing, one on each side and one in the middle of the top side of the car. To make the front end lighter on Ryan’s car, we used aluminum tubing instead of the heavier brass.

With Ryan's car, something happened that required us to perform the operation again. This meant cutting new tubing for the telescoping part (maybe I could have unbound the glue, but didn't think of it at the time).

We had to adjust it again after the car came off the track because the front end was too light. So we wound up putting a small piece of lead in the front to keep it on the track. A third redo of alignment was required when we decided to replace one damaged wheel with a new wheel.

When we arrived at the race, we had time to weigh-in and have one test run. The pack allows you to race before hand for fifty cents per run. The proceeds go towards buying a track. So, we placed the car on the starting line and counted down 3-2-1 GO! Ryan did not pull the lever down fast enough and the car hopped over the starting peg, bounced once on the track and fell to the floor, breaking one wheel off Ryan’s car. The wheel ripped the axle out of the wood as the entire weight of the vehicle came down on that side. Now remember all that work we did to make it go straight? Forget that, it was all immaterial now; we had to just glue it back in place and eye-ball it. There was no time to do our elaborate alignment process.

He won the first race anyway. He won the second race and several more before the next structural problem occurred. The end of the track had a four inch piece of foam rubber as a stopper with two large screws in the middle to hold it there. That gave us about two inches of foam before it hit metal. That abrupt stop is okay for solid body cars, but for this thing that looked like a rail, it was disaster. The aluminum tubing started to bend more and more after each race, making the center bow up like the hunch back of Notre Dame (see photo below). At one point it was so bad, that the front end scraped the center guide and it stopped half way down the track. Up until then, we had taken first place on every heat. To fix the problem, I slowly bent it back down, fearing that the aluminum tubes would crack or just snap. I did not go so far as to try and straighten it completely, I just wanted it to clear the center guide. Then we applied glue to the lower support tubing as it had come loose. We had already re-glued that piece several times with fast drying super glue. It didn't dry all the way prior to the next heat, so it kept breaking off and we were in the pits after almost every race. Someone suggested running it backwards and that resulted in a second place finish. Now we had one second and one third place. I came up with the idea of putting my jacket sleeve down after the finish line, in Ryan’s lane, as a stopper and that helped greatly. By slowing the car down more gradually, we did not have to do any re-gluing and we could run faster not going backwards. Don't let anyone tell you rear-weighting the car is not important!

We were running out of glue so I went out to the car to get more glue and when I returned I found Ryan with a sad face holding two pieces of his car. He had to run it once without my jacket as the stopper while I was gone and it just busted it up. My first though was, "We are done. That's it. I have tried and tried to keep this car going, but its over." After thinking about it a while, I started re-gluing it again. We found a rubber band to hold one piece while we glued another and by the next heat, we were standing there with wet glue all over our hands. They held up the entire race waiting for us, but finally we were back in the race again. He won the next race. He won every race after that. Kids were cheering for Ryan's car. It looked ugly now, but earlier, the boys judged it as Most Unique Car. People were joking, "He should get a prize for the most enduring." I mused, "Is this a demolition derby or a pinewood derby?" We kept tabs by asking the kid behind the computer, "How many more heats?" Could this junker hold out? Six more to go, five more to go and then when it was only three to go we had to start applying glue again, but were able to nurse the sick beast through to the end. After all the heats were complete, the tallies were in ... they announced a tie. The Scout leader (Bill) did not say if it was a tie for first, second or third. He said Ryan Wolff and some other kid would have to have a tie breaker. Earlier, Ryan asked me if we could let it hit the end of the track on the last race so he could watch it break up again, just for the fun of it. I said, "What if there is a tie?" Glad I thought about that! So it was a close race, but Ryan beat his opponent by a few inches and the crowd cheered. The jalopy won! Bill asked us all to take a seat as he prepared to announce the winners. Third place was not Ryan and Bill didn't call his name for second place either. He won first place, against all odds, broken and bent-up, the jalopy won first place.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 1

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