Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pinewood Derby - Where Grown Men Can Beat Little Kids!

A few days back, my son’s scout pack had their annual Pinewood Derby. As he’s at a new school now, it was a new group to what we had in the last few years.

In advance (not too much), my son sketched out what shape car he wanted – pretty simple. He then cut it out, under my watchful eye, sanded it down, and used my Dremmel to hollow it out, and then massed it up. The rest was easy, he painted it and put the wheels on.

In the past, I was annoyed at the one or two families who cars were obviously made by an adult with virtually no help from the scout – the ones that weighed in at exactly 5.00 ounces, wheels professionally polished and a paint job that rivaled anything you’d see at Autorama. Invariably, these cars won or got placed

This year was different – out of the about 40 cars, I’d estimate that there were a good 15 that were professionally done. Now, I don’t mind a parent helping – certainly if they feel their kid can’t handle power took, but to me, it’s meant to be at least a joint effort.

The whole pinewood derby is, in my opinion, a great learning opportunity for a boy – he gets to learn a bit about woodworking, painting, and physics. And, of course, competition.

A few of the kids did not even see their car until it was race day. What do they get out of it? A chance to show that their dads are better at making wooden cars than their friends. Not their friend’s dads, just their friends. To the grown men whose cars won, I felt like saying “well done. You outdid a bunch of 8-10 year olds. You are THE MAN.”

The youngest kids had their own competition, and then everyone else just duked it out. And guess what? The supercars won. To make it even more boring, 3 of the top 4 were from one family. The cars were pristine, and from what I was told, it was a competition between a dad, an uncle and a granddad. Well done guys! Want to arm wrestle the kids too? You might win that also!

The answer – make the cars in the school, in a fixed time. Sure, they will not be as perfect or professional, but at least the boys will be able to take some pride in their work. They will be able to recognize their cars in the race, and when one wins, it’s because of the boy’s work, not an adult who gifts the boys.

Ah… there are bigger things to get stressed about, but sometimes it’s the little things that bother me bigtime.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes in a Pinewood Derby, "over zealous" dads can get in the way. If this is happening to much, then the problem is not with them, but rather with the organizers of the derby. There are effective methods to keep "over zealous" dads out of the sons project, without having to resort to a scout only time-limited building period (I've talked with people who have run these and they have just as many problems as before, only different ones).

The first deterent in this event is to be sure the organizers have written clear and concise rules. Next they need trained inspectors to enforce these rules at the time of the derby. Then the organizers need to raise the level of competition by training and teaching those that loose each year. We do this by hosting three Pinewood Derby Workshops (6 hours in each session). Tools, expert knowledge, and teaching is provided at these workshops. We assist the kids (and parents) who attend in all aspects of making fast pinewood derby cars (trust me, kids have the ability to make fast cars that can beat cars built by "over zealous" dads). This is very effective in leveling the playing field.

We then have a special race (with more lenient rules) set aside just for the "over zealous" dads where they make their own car. This keeps them occupied enough that they usually let their sons do more work on their cars (and other dads can join in as well by making a competitive car at the workshops). We also use this race as a recruiting tool for help at the following years workshops (if the dads have enough time on their hands to build a winning car, then they definitely have enough time to help others build a fast car). This works well on the "over zealous" dads ego and you'll find they are more than happy to help out (ask them about assisting just after they win their special race and they'll be too elated to say "no").

It is more effort on the behalf of the organizers to do it this way, but with enough volunteers following this pattern, the competition in the Pinewood Derby becomes just that, competitive. It's much easier to acept defeat for parents and kids who loose by a fraction of an inch, rather than be blown away by several feet. If the organizers are not doing these things, then they are letting you and the others in your organization down.

You might have to volunteer your own time to try and straighten things out, but you'll find it is well worth the effort. Our Pinewood Derby is the most attended event in our Cub Scout Pack and win or loose, everyone walks away happy with their results.

If you are ever looking for more info on Pinewood Derbies, stop by DerbyTalk.com. The site is dedicated to Pinewood Derbies that are run for kids and kid organizations (not adults who want to beat a bunch of 6 to 10 year olds).

Hope this helps.