For three straight years starting in 1984, my son and I participated in his Pinewood Derby. The three cars are pictured are his cars. The car on the left is his first and although we worked on it together, I did a lot of work on the car from beginning to end. The car is extremely tail heavy. It was my idea that having the weight near the rear of the car would give it the most potential energy and make it faster. A Pinewood racer is powered by only gravity and there is a weight limit of 5 ounces. Maxing out on the potential energy along with low friction wheels and a car that seldom touches the guide rail (in other words, a straight running car) produces the fastest cars and the ones that win the races. The aerodynamic shape of the body is also a factor. It turns out that having the weight too far back is a BAD thing because it makes the front wheels light. Track imperfections especially where the track sections come together can cause the front end to bounce. If the front end goes above the rail, the car may leave the track and not finish.
The four lane track that the pack was using was fairly old and the sections didn’t mate perfectly. My son’s car hit one of the discontinuities and tilted back on its rear wheels. It still finished in the lane but the tilting made the car slow down and he didn’t win. Undaunted he collected his car and took it back to the starting gate. After four races the officials tallied the scores and Lee did not win. I expected that I would have to console him but he had excitement on his face as he collected his car and returned to tell us about it. He said, “Did you see that? It popped a wheelie!” He didn’t care that he didn’t win. He was more excited that his car did something that the other cars did not do and it was “Cool!” This was one of those times where I screwed up something and it actually turned out good and I’ll take it every time.
The car in the middle was my son’s second year. I helped him cutting the block into the wedge shape and attaching the wheels. I also added the lead to the bottom to bring the car up to the specified weight limit. He painted and decorated the car. This car did well and we were happy. It didn’t pop wheelies but it finished first in his den.
The last car on the right was the 1986 model. My son was on more on his own. I helped with the wheels and melted a lead “puck” that would bring the car up the 5 oz. limit. He painted the car and mounted the lead on top of the wedge to represent an engine. He pounded a couple of pieces of tubing into the side of the car to look like exhaust pipes and painted the tips red. He put flames on the nose and spelled “LACEY” on the rear deck with the “ACE” in red so that it would stand out.
In 1986, we had our new track with the electronic scoring box. The software allowed each boy to run against every other boy in his den. The top three finishers in each den advanced to the final stage where the boys all competed for the overall trophies. The new track had a special feature that indicated when a new track record had been made. We wrote the name of the boy with the fastest time on an easel each time the record was broken. At the end of the day, my son had won 3rd place overall but his name was on the board for the fastest time. He won two trophies that day! That ended my son’s Pinewood Derby experience. He left on a high note but so did all of his competitors. They got to handle their own cars and raced at least six times. There was no question about the scoring. It was done electronically and fairly. It was a great experience. Lee graduated to Boy Scouts after that and we moved away from Edwards Air Force Base to Dyess AFB, Texas.
The Track. The track remained on Edwards AFB with Don Golding. He took it to other scout packs in the California high desert area. When he left for his next Air Force assignment, he took it with him. He continued to support other scout packs in other parts of the country. The track’s story has not ended.
That should have been the end of it. My son was done with Boy Scouts and I had no access to the track. Life goes on…but while serving at Eglin AFB in the panhandle of Florida my son’s scoutmaster approached me about helping out another Boy Scout pack. I had no reason to help them except that I thought I could do a good job, they needed the help, and I like showing off a little. Norm Champigny, a friend from work, and I built another track. This one had a shipping/storage container and used TTL logic for the electronic scoring instead of a microprocessor. It worked great! I used it for many packs in the Niceville/Valparaiso area for quite a few packs. My wife and I would take the track out, set it up, and run the event for the packs. We also set up the track for the council “Scout-a-rama” where the championship races were held. When we left northern Florida for Washington D.C. we left the track in Florida. That was over 20 years ago. Sometimes I wonder if it is still being used.
Once again, this story has run long but there is more to tell. Next time I post, I’ll explain what finally happened to the Edwards AFB track and how I’m still involved with Pinewood Derby.