Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Knotty Pine

When David Knott isn't winning Emmys for The Penguins of Madagascar, he's a dad helping his two little girls with their Pinewood Derby entries.  Dave shares this experience with FLIP. 
David's Totoromobile entry for the dads' race.
Pinewood Derby has been going on for quite a long time. I built and raced them for 3 years when I was a wee Cub Scout.  My fastest car got me 3rd place overall.  I was surprised to learn that the Y-Tribes also do an annual Pinewood derby race.  Like most of you reading this, I said "What are the Y-Tribes?" It's run by the YMCA, and is a dads and daughters or dads and sons group/tribe, a bit like Scouts but with no merit badges and way less structure.  Our tribe (the Zuni tribe) is dads and daughters. Since my girls are only one year apart I put them both in the same tribe. There are monthly meetings, but the big draw is the two weekend camps we do each year. One in Big Bear in January (for snow play,) and one on Catalina Island in April. And then there's also the Pinewood Derby.

The Knott girls' entries, Ruby's in back and Maddie's in foreground.
Basically, each racer gets a kit that includes a block of pine wood, 4 plastic wheels, and 4 axles (in my day they were glorified nails; today they are screws.)  How you shape and design and add to your car is up to you. It just can't weigh over 6 oz.  Usually, as you cut away portions of the wood block to achieve your hot rod dream car, you are well under 6 oz, so, at the weigh-in, they have lead weights that you can screw into the bottom of the car.  When my 1st wedge-shaped car was vastly underweight, my dad helped me by adding two fishing sinkers as drivers, two heavy duty screws in the back as tail-pipes, and various other metal accoutrements.

My animation skills probably only helped in regards to the initial design and the paint job. I have found that woodworking is quite a detail oriented art. Sculpting skills help, but knowing how to work with wood and the right set of tools will set you apart from the pack. Also, I'm trying to let my girls do more and more of the work, to build some of those skills and have a little pride of ownership. (And because doing three cars all by myself is a bit daunting.)

I would say the woodworkers have the edge, but one of our dads works at JPL and his cars always run the straightest, smoothest, and look the most beautiful. Of course, last year he also put a model rocket engine in the back of his own car. Most of the dad's cut out something closely approximating a car shape, and then the girls have their way with it with glitter glue, plastic gems, fake flowers, and Polly Pocket dolls that have seen their better days.  We saw a tank, a model T (dad definitely helped on that one,) a car with a mohawk made from a stiff brush, a zeppelin, an F1 car (more dad involvement,) and my personal fav--a hot dog on wheels.
“Mr. JPL’s” daughter’s rocket sled is in first here, with Ruby’s 63 car in third.
As long as your car is 6 ounces and under and it will roll down the inclined track without incident, the sky's the limit. You can even add stuff to it. I made bunny ears out of sculpey and glued them to the top of Maddie's racing bunny car last year.  Most of the kids are satisfied to see their cars roll down the inclined track and giggle and scream. Sometimes you'll see some tears at the end from those kids whose cars didn't win. The adults are bit different matter. At the dads' race we definitely gave Mr. JPL the business, making sure there were no hidden stashes of rocket fuel or anti-gravity fields built into his car.
There are multiple heats, and Ruby won one heat, Maddie placed second in another heat, but neither made it into the final couple heats. This triggered some discussions of "winning not being everything" after the race.

Since there are more awards for design than speed, I encouraged my girls to put some extra effort into concocting a silly or unexpected design for their cars next year. Already, Maddie is intent on making a derby car out of Oscar the Grouch peeking out of his trash can.  Not bad!

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