Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Maximum Velocity History and Photo Tour
When in a social situation, a common question that is asked is, "What do you do?" When I answer, "I sell pinewood derby cars", the usual response is "You're kidding!?" Then after a little explanation about Maximum Velocity, I am usually asked something like, "How did you get started?"
So, I thought I would share with you how Maximum Velocity started, and also provide a virtual tour of our facility.
Although, my memory is a bit hazy, I believe my first experience with pinewood derby racing was when my son was 6 years old. I was not particularly enthused with the project, but I helped him build a car for the event. It wasn't much to look at, only weighed 4.9 ounces, and was lubed with a drop of silicone oil (the only redeeming factor).
The car was not particularly fast, but the race was organized in a strange way. All of the cars were raced to determine first place in each of the age categories. Then all of the remaining cars were re-run to determine second and third. Due to the number of cars, and some technical issues, the race dragged on for hours. As the time went well past the bedtime of my son and his competitors, many of them called it quits and went home. So, when it came time for my son's car to race, there were few competitors remaining, and his car took third place. He was thrilled (and so was I)!
The next year, I was much more enthused, but I used a poor lubricant, and the cars did poorly. I felt bad for my kids (two involved that year), so I swore the next year would be different.
The next year, after some research, our cars did do better. But more to the point, I had helped at the check-in by adding weight to the cars with melted lead. By the end of the evening, my nerves were shot from avoiding burns, concern with damaging cars, and dealing with parents that wanted that last tenth of an ounce of lead added to the car. It was time for a change.
So, when 1997 rolled around I convinced the club leader that the parent-child team needed to add their own weight, and that to help them I would write and distribute a pamphlet with speed tips. This booklet was the first edition of "Speed to the Finish", although it was not titled as such at the time. During the next two years, the booklet underwent many changes, and started to take its current format.
After the 1999 race, a friend suggested that I offer the booklet on the Internet (Internet retailing was just getting popular at the time). So in late 1999, www.maximum-velocity.com was launched with the speed tip booklet as the only product. We didn't sell very many booklets that year, but enough to realize that there was some potential in the market.
In 2000, we introduced the booklets, "Car plans" and "Advanced Car Plans". In 2001, we introduced additional booklets, automatic downloading, and several weight products. The business was starting to take shape.
Up to this point, Maximum Velocity was a part-time endeavor, ran out of our house by my wife Elisa and I. I had been telecommuting for a Houston-based company for two years, when it became apparent that a change was coming; either we would need to move to Houston, or find another job.
After much soul-searching, budget-planning, and prayer, we decided to give entrepreneurship a go. Providentially, this was when Bill Launius (DerbyWorx) came up with his first tool, the Pro-Hub Tool, followed shortly after by the Pro-Axle Press and Pro-Body Tool. With the introduction of these tools, some car kits, and various other products, the first full-time season (2002-03) was a success. This was followed by a great 2003-04 season.
At this point, we realized that more space was needed. We first attempted to find a house that would accommodate the business. But then we found a commercial space for rent that was virtually perfect for our needs. So, during the summer of 2004, we moved into our current location.
Our facility is located in a small business park in Peoria, Arizona. As the majority of our business is Internet-based, the store is set up as shipping facility (however, walk-ins are welcome).
When you enter the door, you are greeted by the racks of inventory, and the packing area (the big blue thing is a packing peanut dispenser). During the busy season, this area is worked by some full and part-time employees.
View From Front Door
Behind this area is our racks of bulk inventory, boxes, and other packing material.
Here is a half-used pallet of blocks for our MV Basic Car Kits. We go through a lot of blocks!
Blocks for Bulk Car Kits
Near the right-hand wall (below the packing peanuts) is where two tracks are located. The photo shows the end of the 35 foot BestTrack, and the start of the 32 foot Freedom track. Also shown is a wheel alignment board (and a rain gutter for regatta racing).
To the right of the front entrance is our shelves of cars. The left hand side contains models of the cars in our car plans booklets. The right hand side contains our kid's cars (less the ones they have at home). On top are boats, space ships, and propeller-driven cars.
To the left of the front door is our lathe area. My favorite lathe is a Taig. It is a simple lathe that works great for wheel work. I also use it for polishing axles.
The other lathe is a MicroLux. Originally it was used for Speed Wheel and Axle production. Now that work is contracted to a local machinist. So this lathe doesn't get much use, but as it has a feed control I find occasional use for it.
Finally our wood shop area contains three drill presses, a band saw, a dual-bladed table saw, a mortising machine, a shaper, a chop saw, a spindle sander, an edge sander, and a dust collection system. We also have a CNC router, which is not shown in this photo. All of our car kits are produced in this area.
As in any business, there have certainly been ups and downs, but we have never been sorry that we started this business. I was always a jack of all trades, so entrepreneurship suits me just fine. I hope that God grants me the energy and health to keep up the pace so that we can help pinewood derby participants for many more seasons. If you are ever in the Phoenix area, please do drop by for a visit.