Monday, February 28, 2011

Day at the races

This past weekend, for those of you who were fortunate enough to miss it, was (at least in my area) the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby.

This annual event was actually once rated as one of the 100 greatest things about America (Reader's Digest magazine, 2006). I can only assume that the author had never been involved in one, or that in 2006 the country had absolutely gone to hell.

The point of this "friendly competition" is to build little cars and race them down a slanted track. Each 8-11 year old is given a standardized block of wood and 4 wheels, and can do what they want with them. Since the stakes are so high (winner gets a plastic trophy from Big Lots), the cars are carefully examined, weighed, and locked away 3 days before the race. This is to make sure that illegal modifications, like adding a jet engine, aren't carried out.

The whole part about this being a competition among the boys is absolute BS. It's between their testosterone charged fathers, living vicariously through the kids. Dads build the cars, and (occasionally) let junior make a few finishing touches (like putting a Pokemon decal on).

Of course, no one actually admits to this. So at each derby one of the finest moments is when the person in charge brings in the cars from the nuclear-bomb proof hiding location, and boys go ask dad which car is theirs. "Oh! That's mine? Cool job, Dad!"

(In our family, it's actually Mrs. Grumpy who does all this. I'm just a shill).

You can always tell the ones that the boys actually made themselves because they have uneven paint jobs, strange angles, and an odd number of wheels. Of course, they never win a race, because they're no match for the ones that some dad, who by day designs jet fighters for Lockheed, built (and claimed his kid did, using a wind tunnel testing facility that's coincidentally in the basement).

They ask you to arrive at 6:00 p.m. SHARP, which is a joke. The races never start on time.

So we arrived at the Wingnut Elementary School cafeteria at exactly 6:00, to find they'd just started setting up. To lend atmosphere (and help us forget that we were in a school cafeteria) some guys were hanging racing posters and pennants everywhere. A bunch of moms were off in one corner setting up a bake sale. And, most importantly, several dads were putting up the racing track, grading it with a computerized angle & level measuring device, as if it were made of gold.

While this is going on, to get you in a cheerful mood, they show fun racing moments on a large screen: cars and drivers in gory high-speed wrecks, flaming rocket boats hurtling out-of-control into screaming crowds, Indy cars exploding as they fuel up, and other humorous stuff.

Finally the races begin. This is kicked off by them blasting early 90's dance music. So if you've had a burning desire to hear C & C Music Factory, M.C. Hammer, and (not early 90's) ENDLESS replays of "The History of Rock & Roll, part 2"*, this is the place to be.

Each race features 4 cars, and they run them 3-4 times each, changing lanes each time. The race itself takes 5-10 seconds. Then they hand-carry the cars back to the starting point. Each is then reinspected (to make sure their owner didn't, say, use a blowgun to secretly attach a V8 engine while they were going down the track), carefully returned to the starting gate, and we begin again. And in the background 2 guys are still busy putting up racing poster decorations.

The race results are presented on a constantly-changing computerized time sheet, projected on the wall. This, I swear, measures finishing times TO SIX DECIMAL PLACES (i.e. 5.756381 seconds). Because, you know, that kind of space-travel level of precision is absolutely necessary when small wooden blocks are rolling down a track. And the dads obsessively stare at this like it's a topless dancer, while the kids play their Nintendo DS.

At some point your kids come to you asking for money. Why? Because they're selling pizza and various other junk food. They even asked you to bring something, because it's "for a good cause" (they never tell you what the good cause is. For all I know it's Botox for the counter lady). So you stop at Costco, pick up a HUGE box of Oreos, and give them to her. The Oreos are then marked up to 50 cents each, and the box is now worth more than an equivalent amount of plutonium. We discovered it was best to feed the kids before leaving our house, and making sure we have nothing but credit cards when we get there. "They only take cash? Sorry, kids."

This insanity goes on for 3-4 freakin' hours. Most people start to leave as soon as their kid is disqualified from the finals, but some parents (due to, say, their wives secretly signing them up to be involved in taking apart the damn track and not telling you about it until you ask if you can leave yet, for example) are stuck there until the bitter end. So you tap your feet and watch 2 guys continue to heroically put up racing posters.

Toward the end you start looking for something to do. Like helping the school janitor put away the folding chairs (he wants to go home, too). So if anyone stands up, you grab their chair and toss it in the closet, hoping they weren't planning on sitting down again. I figured if anyone fell and hurt themselves, I could hand out business cards.

Finally, it's over. If your kid didn't win, you don't care who did. As you're leaving, you notice the 2 guys are finally finishing putting up the last racing poster.


*Kind of ironic considering how Gary Glitter ended up, eh?

39 comments:

laughingmom said...

Where was the computerized real-time spreadsheet projected on a screen to show each car's heat time down to the sixth decimal point? Our kids LOVED watching the DADS watch that!

OldSquid said...

Reminds me of a text my friend sent me from his son's Pine Wood Derby, "it is getting a little 'Lord of the Flies' here."

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Laughingmom- Damn! How could I have forgotten that part? Okay, I added it in

RehabRN said...

Grumpy:

Bubba's 2nd place car had a light coat of varnish and coins on top. My husband (not an aerospace engineer) helped him design it.

The kids all chanted "Block of Wood" and went nuts.

BOW was not allowed this year by the psycho dad running the PWD, so hubby and Bubba never showed with a BOW #2. BOW #1 raced at a friends PWD this year and didn't even place.

The magic was gone...

Don said...

My fiance dragged me into a craft store yesterday.

They happened to sell Pinewood Derby kits there. This prompted a 15 minute exchange about why we couldn't have a Pinewood Derby competition at our wedding instead of dancing.

I think I was still right, the guys would be much happier with Pinewood Derby. I think there is room for both.

But I have been vetoed. Actually, I knew I was vetoed before the words finished coming out of my mouth. But I had to fight for it a little. Have to keep her on her toes.

oddharmonic said...

My local pack has an adult division in addition to the age-level divisions. One of these years I'll actually enter instead of just thinking about it.

@Don: I would actually attend a wedding if there was the promise of Pinewood Derby there.

Anonymous said...

Yes.......that about sums it up! Thanks for the laugh. Even across the border here in Canada....it's all the same. I've always made my sons build their own cars. They aren't pretty, but to the boys they are amazing. My oldest has moved on to scouts this year, and he brought a scout truck home to build a few weeks ago.....not sure where we go from there, but we'll see.

Anonymous said...

That brought back migraine memories (noise, noise, noise).

Packer said...

Point of order Grumpy, The Pine Wood Derby is a Cub Scout Event, not a Boy Scout Event. Latrine Burning is a Boy Scout Event. I loved Scouts, especially the camping. My son loved it to a point too. Every kid should have a couple of years to learn that sleeping on the ground is not where they want to be . That is a joke. It was a lot of fun.

Katja said...

So painful to remember Pinewood Derbies. So grateful I have no more Boy Scouts. And if you think that attending/participating in the PD is ghastly for able-bodied parents, let me tell you that it pales next to what it's like being one of the Unwashed - the disabled parent. If the Boy Scouts of America could make every disabled parent of a BS disappear by ignoring them, it would have happened decades ago.

Kyla said...

BubTar made a Lego car this year...well, he designed and spray painted it...Josh did the sawing! KayTar hadbpnemonia, so she and I had to miss the race. Drat. ;)

Baffled said...

It got so bad at my son's PWD they had to add an adult division to stop the parents from building the kids cars. They also added awards for non racing things like best artwork.

The funniest moment for me happened one year when I was late to the race due to work. I walked in and saw my son holding a small trophy. I walked up to him beaming and asked him about it and he looked at me and said "yeah, this my looser trophy". Can't fool my kid!

donna said...

Sorry about going off topic...
Has Nurse K closed up shop again?
Great Blog!
Thank you

Grumpy, M.D. said...

She's had technical issues, I'd try it tomorrow.

MrBored said...

At this point I'd take a derby car race... I have my choice of:
1) Taking one girl to dance class and being subjected to sitting in a painfully crowded, smelly, noisy, waiting room where every kid from intro ballet to tap feels the need to practice dancing in the lobby (when they're not supposed to), or feels the need to chatter incessantly at rising decibels of volume to talk over one another.
Or 2) take the other girl to Guides and be subjected to endless authorization forms (yes, I realized from the beginning that every activity has a risk of slight injury, could we skip 3 pages of legalese each time they go on a 'hike' to the local park?? It's not like you're taking them to scale a cliff).
My sole entertainment consists of occasionally hauling old phone books to the recycler to raise funds for Guides, no derby car races or anything fun here :)

Courtney Schoenfeld said...

I HATE the P.D. and I go every freaking year. They changed the format of our races so that nobody can leave early. They run one heat from each age group at a time. It's 4 hours minimum. I bring a cooler with snacks. I am not paying for the privilege of my kids eating crap that I've already paid for. They run ours starting at noon, but they insist on doing all of the inspections on race day so you have to be there at 11am. PLUS they have races for the adults afterward, so then I have to stay another freaking hour to watch my ex-husband race.

Teri said...

My son won the award for the "Best Car Made By A Boy". Sad thing is, we actually did help him.

Kim said...

My son joined the Cub Scouts in September 2008 and by December 2008 he decided that there wasn't anything about it that he liked, so he quit. That was good...saved me from things like overpriced popcorn and the Pinewood Derby!

Anonymous said...

Cub Pack Committee Chair right here at your service. Isn't Cub Scouts just really a huge chaotic circus - like event? Although I get a kick out of when they earn a rank advancement at Pack Meetings.

That sounds like quite the ordeal! How big is the pack? Or did this involve multiple packs?

We don't sell anything at our PD's... but do provide some kind of snack.

donna said...

Thanx..I panicked!



WV: bulail : Someone who slathers
the bull when they are ail(ing). Like some of your patients !

B-P said...

I'm a Scouting volunteer (Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts) and I agree: Scouting is now for the adults. I'm just a tiny cog in a huge machine, so I have little say. I do my best to make it about the kids, but I'm surrounded by all these men and women looking stupid in their uniforms trying to pretend like they are Survivorman or something.

Anonymous said...

My mother also helped build mine (forever ago), which is probably why I lost. My friends dads were engineers, so I was f'ed from the get go. I swear one was painted professionally. One man's pin wood derby is another man's midlife crisis,

Packer said...

B-P, Yes adults can ruin a good thing, just look what they did to Little League, and Soccer--they turned it into Traveling Soccer, which is like and adult social scene. I have to say that the Scout Group I was involved with was all about kids in the outdoors and for that reason we thrived. But don't even get me started on Pop Warner and PAL, and Toddlers and Tiarras.

Not House said...

That always made me really sad when adults try to encroach on little kid things. Look, just because YOU didn't win the PD doesn't mean that if junior doesn't he's going to be a failure as a son and a person.

Also, I agree on calling shenanigans on these kinds of things starting at whatever time they say. On principle, I rarely come on time, because the day they start on time is the day I roll over and die.

Aleigh said...

My church, when I was growing up, had it's own Pinewood Derby for the kids. And yes, my dad (who had plenty of carpentry tools & machines) did most of the work for me. Somewhere in the basement is the trophy for first place I got one year. There were no computer displays back then, though.

Katie said...

I once did a derby as a Girl Scout. They actually told dads not to be off in a corner discussing work because we needed everyone concentrating on the cars racing down the track. I guess that's the difference between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts...

Didn't win. Don't remember (care?) who did. Helped build the car myself. Still have it... somewhere.

<>< Katie

Julie said...

mmm, just moved the girls from Girl Guides to Cub Scouts, so hoping they don't have PWDs here! So far, however, all they have done at Cubs is blow things up - which I'm all in favour of!

Trigem said...

Both my sons went all the way thru cub scouts and refused to do the pine wood derby every year. I was glad because I didn't want to have to go. Now my 3 year old daughter is "making" one to race next week for the Awana Grand Prix. I hope she gets it out of her system soon.

Eagle Scout's Mom said...

Okay, the Pinewood Derby might be over for another year but in 3 months your pack will have the Rain Gutter Regatta.

snapdragon said...

oh goodness... that sounds.... ick lol

Kat's Kats said...

My son did Cub Scouts for about a year as I recall. We were hoping it would help with social skills. He liked the camping. He's been camping as part of a medieval reenactment group since he was born. He hated everything else.

OTOH my daughter loved Girl Scouts. That may be due to the fact that GS are more inclusive, allow each troop autonomy, make sure that disabled girls (and parents!) can participate in activities, and on and on...

My son built his own car with just a bit of help from the adults in his life. He only got a participation trophy but everyone in the family made a BIG deal out of the fact that he made his car by himself instead of 'cheating' like the other guys. Can you say treats? I thought you could.

Kudos on braving it out Dr. Grumpy! Personally I always let the ex and my current husband know ahead of time when I'm going to make them suffer... uh, I mean volunteer them.

Kipper said...

When I was a little kid, all the pinewood derby cars got displayed in a local mall before or after the event. That was just so damn cool to me when I was in the target age group.

Patrick said...

Teri - "Best Car Made By A Boy" - LOL!

Grumpy - I know you weren't at our PWD on Saturday, because we had the track set up and tested the night before, and the race began within a few minutes of when it was scheduled. Although our last-minute final test of the track & timing system proved useful since one track sensor went loopy overnight.

Our software also generates a scale MPH, so you get a computer/projector readout of the the order of the finishers, their elapsed time (3.0082 sec) and MPH (316.3 MPH).

I am recommending we have an "Outlaw Class" race next year on Friday night before the Saturday kids race, where we can just hose each other with testosterone after we get the track assembled. Then, maybe the kids will get a chance.

Anonymous said...

earth to patrick.....

Anonymous said...

We used to run a parents' lap as a way to (maybe) have the boys make their own. The best real race we ever had was the one that included a car that had had nothing done other than weights added and a coat of paint. Seriously...the car was the block of wood with the wheels. No shaping, no trim. The scout had painted it red and put washers on the top with a metal screw. No one even knew which end was the front. And it won its division! So much for high tech and aerodynamics!

Nurse K said...

Repeat this post for anything involving a "fair" at school with posters or dioramas. My kid made his own diorama once and it was just like some Play-Doh, stolen tongue depressors, and Legos randomly arranged. He had this whole story about what it was and it made no sense.

Chris@Knucklehead! said...

Brilliantly written . . . kind of Dave Barryish. I was in exactly two Pinewood Derbies. I finished 4th and 6th respectively.

My dad is a car buff.

Jen said...

"I figured if anyone fell and hurt themselves, I could hand out business cards."

that's hilarious :)

Anonymous said...

as an avid scout volunteer and running a district pinewood derby for years, i've never sold snacks. and they start on time.
and i've never seen a 1st or 2nd grader knowing how to use a "laser" to draw out his car ... so hence "outlaw" races for parents best invention ever.
one of my scouts was decorating his car when his dog bit into block of wood. he thought the dog spit would be lucky ... it won even the city championship!
and btw ... my sons cars looked like they designed their cars because they did!

 
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