Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekend reruns

This past weekend, for those of you who were fortunate enough to miss it, was (at least in my area) the Cub 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?


Ms. Donna said...

Oh Grumpy one!

You hate camping too, don’t you? (So did I)

My son was (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) a Cub. And his father handled Pinewood duties. I donated to the bake sale and sent stuff for refreshments.

Then the boy’s father decided to leave us. And it was up to mom to do the Pinewood honors. My toolbox had a hammer, screwdrivers, drill, a few pairs of pliers, a goose-necked wrench, a small socket set (inches and metric), a set of Allen wrenches and a hacksaw.

Hey, wait a minute. You used to do (gasp) brain surgery with that set up!

Son wound up with a blue wedge with wheels. I used my kitchen scale to weigh it, and I carefully weighted the front with those washer-like doohickies

The fathers brought in their machine-shop wonders. The cars whizzed down the track. The fairy-tale ending would be son winning the local and regional Derby.

He and mom had to settle for second in our local competition. Mom was delighted to beat so many, but had to console son that we “lost.”

Congrats for being a good dad.

Anonymous said...

Been there,done that,didn't enjoy as much as I enjoyed reading about it just now.

Being an honest,single Grandmom who was new to the whole thing I let my grandsons design and make their own cars the first year. How embarrassing that was ! The second year a guy came to the meeting with some kind of saw- I'm not into all that macho machine stuff- and cut the cars for all the kids. I guess my boys' version was too much to bear seeing again. Picture a block of wood,not cut or shaped in any way,with four wheels and a paint job. On the up side we did win a really cool turtle statue for having the slowest cars in the race. I keep it in my flower garden.

jimbo26 said...

Oh , yesssssss .

Anonymous said...

We did our first pinewood derby yesterday. DS is 7. My husband directed the project, but he made DS do quite a bit. Threats to DS about not having an entry at all were involved, thanks to DS's squirrel-like attention span. Nonetheless, they made it (put the wheels on the night before the race). DS did not win. We were happy, though, with the middle of the pack finish. Our group wasn't as obsessive as some, apparently. Our pack only measures speed to a tenth of a mph. We knew ahead of time that the boys who win are probably the ones whose dads did the work.

PATZ said...

My kid ("G")is 12 now. 3 yrs ago his dad was the "judge" at Pinewood Derby (my kid was the one who did it all himself) and had to disqualify his own kid cause the car flew off the track. G got the the Sportsmanship Award later because after a few min of self-pity, he came back and helped Dad finish judging the little kids' race. Boy Scouts can be infuriating, but sometimes awesome!

Anonymous said...

What a treat to read this. Congrats to Doc Grumpy for being there for his kid. Thanks for a belly laugh...

Anonymous said...

Dr. G: I don't know which is sadder, your story or that of a Girl Scout leader friend whose local council requires each girl to sell 750 boxes of cookies to win prizes. Girls selling fewer get some kind of
lame "I sold cookies" patch.

Anonymous said...

This weekend on Car Talk a woman called in to tap into their expertise on how best to weight the car. I'd never heard of this before....having no children. Sounds like good times!

Vinosaur said...

Great story.

Makes me think of what I have in store in the future. Although it has already started.

My daughter is in Kindergarten, and each week a child is supposed to do a "science project".

Last week, had a father (and son) do a presentation on the viscosity of various fluids and what causes that viscosity to change.

The kids thought the liquids were cool but the science part was completely beyond them.

Guess it starts early. My daughter wants to talk about rainbows. "Can we get a prism daddy so I can make some pretty rainbows in the class for everyone?"

Thanks for the blog, I enjoy the humor.

Anonymous said...

We have old Pinewood derby cars in boxes in every closet in the house. Dad helped with the building and I did the designs. One year was Bugs Bunny, we had firetrucks, police cars, but my favorite was an ElCamino. The parents did everything. I hated it. I really think they need to give the Mom's wine coolers in Solo cups. Eveybody would be much happier. Thanks for the memories!

Kristin said...

Be thankful your child didn't win. Ours did win one year...thank goodness only one...and we had to go to the NEXT LEVEL which involved massive crowds of scrubbies & their parents & siblings all crowded into a shopping mall. Ugh. Thank goodness he didn't win there. I have no idea what would've been next.

Anonymous said...

When my son was in Cub Scouts long ago the parents of one of the other scouts in our den were going through a nasty breakup. The dad wanted nothing to do with his son's project so I was elected to help this boy and my own son build their cars. The boys did the design and finish work and I only did the "dangerous" work, sawing and polishing (the nail "axles"). My son's car finished 2nd and the other boy's 3rd (much to my relief!).

Anonymous said...

I've been down this road many a time with my two sons. The younger one was dealt a blow two years in a row due to a series of unfortunate events-- one year the cub scout leaders couldn't calibrate the scale to save their lives.

After that my "son" gave up and built a car "he" put he least amount of effort into it... and that was the year he almost won the whole thing. Irony at it's best.

And no, they never start on time.

Anonymous said...

Dr Grumpy, I gotta say, your Pinewood derby kinda sucks. We do things totally different.

Boys (and siblings, and parents) bring their cars in the morning of the race and get weighed in. The cars then go straight to the "staging" area so nothing can be modified after weigh in. Each group is called up when it's their turn to race. Each car races no less than 8 times. Boys are responsible for getting the car from the tables to the track, placing them on the track, then retrieving them at the end of the track and taking them back to the table.

In our pack, you race your own car and, in fact, no one is allowed to touch it but you. The boys are actually involved in the building and racing. Parents usually cut the cars but most of the kids design them and do the sanding and painting.

And yes, we have sibling and parent races too. Basically anyone who wants to pay the entrance fee (this year it was a whopping $3) can race a car.

I thought I'd hate pinewood derby but I genuinely enjoy it and a big aprt of that is because the boys are so involved. Get involved with your pack (if you're not already) and set about changing how it's done.

- June Clever

DocInKY said...

Brought back memories - been there, done that. Like Ms. Clever, we had a "parents" division. #1 son came in 2nd one year, 3rd one other. Mom won one year with a car painted torquiose covered with glitter blingy thingies on it.

Key was Dad( Moi...) buying and drilling in the tungsten weights to get to 5.00 ounces. For fun the second year, myself and Dad with the #1 cars all years built a couple of demo cars for trace. One had just the wheels hammered on the block and no other mods, the second had the same but up to 5 ounces - That car actually came in 4th or 5th - demonstrating to the newbies that 5.00 ounces was key to performance.

Tungsten is gold in pinewood derby!

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