M was the Pinewood Derby chairman for the pack this year, which meant that he had to organize the whole thing -- reserve the track, set the date, get the rules and pinewood derby kits to everyone in the pack (representing about 25 boys in 4 dens), and MC the night's events. Of course, he also helped R with his car. You all may remember R's car from last year when he designed the cool shark car. This year he designed a spider car -- a black car with a green spider web on it. R sketched it out on paper and then on the block of wood and (with M's help) cut it out with a variety of saws. R also did all of the sanding and painting on the car. Too much sanding, if you ask R.
M knew that the car would be fast because he had been studying the physics of pinewood derby cars all year (don't think that I'm kidding about this...it's true.) M videotaped every step of the way so that he could show that it was all above board. Since M was in charge of the whole thing, he didn't want to be accused of doing the work himself and not R when R beat the pants off of the competition. He even went as far as building a track in the basement so that they could race different cars that they made (they made two this year, but only raced the fastest) to see which one was faster (testing two different theories on weight placement and wheel angle and alignment.) M explained to R that there was some risk in the design that they chose because the wheels were angled slightly (six degrees) which would make them faster, but could mean that the powder graphite might fall out at some point and they wouldn't turn as smoothly. After testing it over and over, they decided to go with the very-fast-but-slightly-risky car design,
The Friday night came for the big race and R and M were pumped up. I was in charge of taking pictures of all of the kids with their cars, which was fun. I did this while the kids waited in line for the official car inspection. Everybody was excited. R waited in line and passed inspection except for one thing: his car was too heavy by 2/10ths of an ounce. M anticipated this and was prepared to help R by drilling out some of the lead that he had melted (in a cast iron skillet) and poured in earlier in the week. I guess it's better to be slightly overweight than slightly underweight. The goal is to be spot-on 5 oz. Here is R's car being inspected with M and R watching intently:
After inspection, R led the flag salute. He's standing at the end of the track watching as a dad helps put the flag in the stand. Notice how casual R is, with his hands in his pockets.
Once R's car made weight, he gave it to the judges and couldn't touch it until his turn to race. Here are some of the cars wating to race:
He had to wait because he raced in the second heat. The first heat included the boys who got #1 and #2 last year. Both of these boys are in M's den and are R's friends. Each time they raced, the beat the other cars by two or three inches. They both did great in their heat and moved onto the finals (which would take place after R's heat.) R's heat was next and I think that I held my breath the whole first race (which isn't really that long because they go fast.) R carefully placed his car right in the center of his lane -- just like his dad taught him -- ensuring that his wheels didn't touch either side of the center raised track.
He ran down to the end of the track so he'd have a good look at the finish line.
Then the race started -- bam! He got first by at least a foot!! Twelve inches! The other races were won by two or three inches, but R's car was a good foot in front of the other cars. I looked at M and he had a strange look on his face -- proud, but a little embarassed. The next time R raced, the same thing happened -- he won by a foot. Again and again, it happened. No one really knew that he was doing so well because he didn't race every race (they had 8 boys in the heat, but only raced 4 cars at a time, so it was hard to keep track.) I was so excited!
Then came time for the finals. R raced against five other boys, three of them were from his den. Such excitement! R won his first race by about six inches; he also won his second race by about six inches. He won his third race by about four inches (do you see a trend here?) He won his fourth race by two inches. And then it happened....third place....third place....third place.... third place...he got 4 third places in a row. M and R knew there was a risk, and it happened...the graphite was gone from the wheels and the car slowed down. R was still excited because he got fourth place (about 15 places better than last year) but was disappointed because he didn't get a medal and didn't get to go to the "districts". I think that M was more disappointed than R, but he and R have talked and have decided that NEXT YEAR they will only angle the wheels by 3 degrees instead of 6 degrees! I'm convinced that if by the luck of the draw, R had competed in the first heat with the #1 and #2 racers, he would have knocked them into second and third -- or even out of the competition -- because R's car was so darn fast those first races. It was fun, anyway :> Below is R's den with the boys proudly displaying their trophies, ribbons, and cars.