Monday, April 30, 2007

Pinewood Derby Champion

Aaron with the winning car
When I was 9, I joined Cub Scouts for a year. I don’t remember all that much about it. I started a coin collection as a suggested project. We went to a Yankees game at the old Yankee Stadium, and Bobby Murcer hit two home runs. The den leader showed us a tributary of the Rahway River that ran right through the basement of his house.

The other thing I remember was the Pinewood Derby. I had no skill to make a car, and what I remember mostly was painting it. I put it on the kitchen table and spray painted it royal blue. Little dots of royal blue paint remained on the kitchen wall until the day the wallpaper was replaced many years later. But it wasn’t very stable, and my Pinewood Derby career was over after the first race.

Aaron is in his 4th year in Scouts. He doesn’t pay much attention to the various achievements and patches, I think the patches have collected in a draw and the achievements have gone mostly unachieved and unattempted. Even the derby was a little iffy this year. His first year, he shocked nearly everyone, except maybe himself, by winning his first two races as a 7-year old and making it to that year’s semi-finals. His car beat a big car with a giant Sponge Bob on top, of course everyone else was rooting for Sponge Bob and Aaron thought it was all very funny.

But the last two years had both ended too quickly, in first round losses. Last year Aaron was sure he had a fast car, but he had the misfortune to be matched up against an eventual finalist in the first heat, and lost a close race. My one input as an officer this year was to insist that the races not be single elimination. I had to promise Aaron he’d get at least two races before he’d agree to do participate again.

Aaron made the car himself. Dad’s involvement ended when the official Grand Prix Pinewood Derby Kit was delivered to the house. Aaron took it from there, except for enlisting Mom to help with sanding and gluing. We put the car on the kitchen scale and it weighed 4 ounces – one ounce short. In the past, we supplemented by putting pennies on top, but this time Aaron had a brainstorm: batteries. One on each side should be about enough. Lori insisted only that they be dead batteries, but we could only find one dead AAA, so we sacrificed a new battery to the cause. They were glued in to place, and we were good to go.
There were about 22 cars in this year’s derby. The race organizer brought a digital postal scale this year, and Aaron’s car came in at 5.0 ounces. I have no idea what we would have done had it been 5.1.

The race organizer had it set up so that each car would get at least one race on each track, thus eliminating the track as a factor and also giving each kid multiple chances. But that also meant it could take a long time to get to some of the cars. Aaron’s was the very last car to race. He was getting frustrated. In the meantime, one of the adult volunteers accidentally kicked the car, and another managed to bump it as well, causing the left battery to come off. Aaron got the glassy eyed look, which meant two things: 1) yell at the adult volunteer, and 2) emergency procurement of a piece of tape. The car bandaged battery back in place, was declared ready to race.

The first race came up and… it won. By a lot. The car quickly acquired a nickname: Duracell. And so it went through the preliminary races, and also the final round. And so Aaron got his ribbon.

Then we discovered that, due to an entry error, Aaron’s car hadn’t actually raced one of the 2nd place finishers, a car that was also undefeated. So we had two final heats. Duracell will be retired with a final record of 14 wins, no losses, and one dead heat. And until next year, Aaron is the fast car builder of Pack 364.

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