Welcome! I am a mom to two wonderful kids, a lovely retired greyhound, and a wife to a great husband. Needless to say, there are a lot of daily messes to clean up around our house. Daily Messes is my blog to share ideas on things to do with your kids, snack and meal ideas, crafts, and holiday fun. I hope you find something to enjoy!

Friday, March 28, 2014

My First Pinewood Derby Race!

Ok, so I didn't race.

Bernardo is in Cub Scouts this year and it is a new experience for everyone. I only had a sister growing up and while we were both were in Girl Scouts, we certainly didn't do a lot of the things the Cub/Boy Scouts do. I knew that eventually Bernardo was going to do the Pinewood Derby. I was a little apprehensive because I am not very handy with tools. I can hang a picture and help with crafty types of projects, but not with using tools to form a shape out of a block of wood. 

However, to my surprise, the first activity that came up was the Raingutter Regatta. I had heard of the Derby but not the Regatta. The boys make wooden boats and then race them down a rain gutter. The boats are powered only by the boys blowing into the sails. Our sail was made from a plastic bottle, which worked really well. The Regatta was a lot of fun to watch and Bernardo came in 2nd for his den. 

A few months passed and it was now time for the Derby race. Luckily Hubby and my father-in-law had experience with making the cars from Hubby's time in Cub Scouts. The pack gave us the derby kit, which contained 4 wheels, 4 nails for the axles, a block of wood with the spaces for the nails already cut out, number stickers 0-9, and the troops rule sheet.

Hubby spent a lot of time thinking back to how his Derby races went and which types of cars did the best. He even pulled out some from when he was a kid and let the boys play with them. He came up with a plan for the shape of the car: measured it based on the requirements of the den, drew out the shape on paper from different angles (top, side). I made copies of the paper in case he messed up. Bernardo cut out the shape from the paper to trace onto the car. After Bernardo traced the shape onto the block of wood, the boys headed over to Grandpa's to take advantage of his variety of tools and to cut out the car's shape. Bernardo got to help with some of the hand tools and sander. I stayed with Higgins, but from what I heard it sounds pretty hard to cut out the shape of the car. After the car was cut out, Grandpa went old school for the weights. He drilled a few holes in the back of the car, smelted lead and filled the holes. For those of us who have no idea how to smelt lead or have no desire to, there are different sizes and shapes of weights you can buy to stick, glue, insert, or screw onto the car. (DM Tip: After the car was already cut, we discovered that Hobby Lobby and Amazon sell pre-cut car bodies for those like me who should not operate moving blades.) 

Next came the part where I could contribute: the sanding and painting. Bernardo and I sanded the car until it was smooth. I had a small block of wood left over from a previous project and screwed in a few screws for the car to sit on. I made sure the screws were not screwed in all the way so that any extra paint could drip off of the car. It also helped keep Bernardo's fingers out of any wet paint since he could move the stand and not touch the car. I had him wear the apron he received at his Home Depot birthday party to try to keep some of the paint off of him. He had free reign to paint his car and to name it. He didn't want any of the number stickers/decals on his car, so we stuck to only paint and a gloss finish. However, Amazon, Hobby Lobby, and the Boy Scouts store sell different options of decals.
Painting stand: Your can see some of the drips, so it did work!
We left the car on the stand to dry. After it was completely dry, we added on the wheels and axles (see TIPS below). The kit came with black wheels, which we used. Someone at the race did use orange wheels, so there are other options out there even if you have to use BSA (Boy Scouts of America) officially marked wheels like we did. I found these on Amazon: red, blue, and of course black.

Before race day, there was a check-in to make sure that the cars met all the requirements. They checked the weight, length, width of the car, and that all four of the wheels touched at the same time. We also got to see the track and take a test run. When Hubby was a kid, it was a wooden track. It was now a metal track and the flat bottom part was a lot longer. Unfortunately, Bernardo's car had been designed for the older style track and most of the weight was in the front of the car to help pull it down the hill faster. The den leader's wife told us that their first year they made the same mistake and had to adjust the shape and placement of the weights in their cars for the new track. She recommended placing the weight in the back of the car. It turned out that our car was under weight by almost an ounce and the den leader's wife advised gluing on more weight. I did add some more, but I'm still not sure if that was the right thing to do. We left the car with the Den Leader and showed up the next day for the race.
Race day came. We entered the race arena and it was a loud, crazy, busy event. The boys were climbing all over each other to see each others cars. I have to say the cars were pretty varied in shape and theme. There were boxy shaped cars, one with golf balls glued on top, super streamlined cars, and others with holes cut out of the center. You had a few like Bernardo's that you could tell the kid was involved and helped paint. There were others that were so perfect and detailed, there was no way a Cub Scout painted it. 

The track itself was pretty crazy too. It was all electric. The cars were placed at the top and held in place. The leaders made sure the cars were placed on evenly and correctly. It looked like they pushed a button on the track to get the race started. The light on the side of the track started at red, then yellow, and finally turned to green. The pins holding the cars collapsed and the cars were free to go down the track using only gravity. The youngest boys raced first and there were a lot of races. Each car raced twice in each lane of the track to make sure there were not any track based advantages (i.e. if one lane ran a little faster than the others). 

Hubby had only one goal on race day: to not come in last. We came in last...every race. The car did great getting down to the bottom of the hill, but lost momentum on the long flat part of the track.

Luckily we had told Bernardo that as long as he had fun making the car and racing it, it didn't matter if he won. I didn't even realize that he knew he came in last each time until he was telling the story to Grandma. I am super proud of him that he just had fun and didn't take it too seriously. His last place derby car sits proudly on top of his dresser next to his 2nd place regatta boat. Of course as soon as we got home, I think they (aka Hubby) started planning on the car for next year!

  • Pay close attention to your specific pack/den's rules. Some of the tips you may find online will not apply to your race and you could be disqualified.
  • Do file down the ridges under the heads of the nails. This helps the wheels spin better and the car run faster. If you don't have the tools to do it, there are some for sale online.
  • Run your finger along the wheels. File down any seams or bumps. (Really fine grit sandpaper should work.)
  • Take the time to sand the car until it is smooth.
  • Get your car as close to the weight limit as possible. Add weight if needed.
  • Write your child's name on the car somewhere.
  • Check the weight of the car as you go. I used my food scale. Usually the den's official scale weigh-in is the one that counts, but at least you can have a general idea. Try to not go overweight as you are building it.
  • Have fun!


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