Friday, May 23, 2014

The Joy of Cub Scouts: The Pinewood Derby

Ah, the halcyon days of cub scouts.

To be honest, I don’t recall a single scouting skill I learned while a Cub Scout. I earned my Wolf  and Bear badges as well as all the arrow point that are associated with each rank. But I don’t recall any pure scouting skill. Rather my memories are tied to a handful of fun things we made.

Of course, there was the Pinewood Derby. Cub Scouts in not complete without the Pinewood Derby. To be honest, however, the derby is more of a contest for the father’s than for the boys. But the boys do feel that utter exhilaration of the competition including “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” There are always many tears shed as only one Cub Scout can triumph.

When you get your Pinewood car, it is just a rectangular block of pine, four plastic wheels, and four small nails to attach the wheels to that axles. From that rough piece of wood emerges a sleek, aerodynamic racing machine. Of course, an eight and nine year old boy has limited ability to release that perfect car from it wooden prison. That is where the parents, in my case, Dad, come in.

As soon as that block of wood arrived at our home, all of Dad’s other responsibilities took a lower priority. The artist, mechanic, and inner-child, who now has power tools, is unleashed. My role was to stay out of the way until the car needed sanding. Even then, my sanding did not meet with Dad’s high standards. I am sure once I was in bed, Dad sanded it to an exquisite sheen.

As important as was the sanding, several coats of paint completed the masterpiece. No, it couldn’t be just one color. Dad started with primer, it as pinewood, right? Then came several coats of the base color that must slowly cure. Its complete dryness was required because Dad meticulously applied narrow strips of masking tape to the piece of art so he could spray paint the racing accoutrements.

I remember waking up one morning and going out to the garage and being impressed with the sheer beauty of “my” pinewood car. I could have sworn the Pinewood Derby gods performed their magic without anyone knowing. So I carefully picked up the car to show Dad. When he saw me carrying his German-engineered masterpiece, his eyes doubled in size. I was touching it!!!

Then came the day of the big race. The cultural hall was decorated like a NASCAR arena. There was the long track rented from the Scout Office. It came with two armed guards and one technician. The guards were there to keep the grubby, clumsy Cub Scouts away from the sacred track. The technician was there to make sure the track was completely smooth and maintained its perfect angle.

To insure no violence, there were three judges from the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) to make sure all results were verifiable, auditable, and totally fair.

Into this milieu of activity came the boys and their dads. Each dad carried their son’s car in a well-crafted, properly ventilated case. Each boy realized that this car was not at all his, so they all walked away as the dad’s scoped out the competition and looked for those minor flaws in the other cars that would guarantee their own victory.

At last, the race began.

The rules stated that the boy had to carry the car to the track and place it at the starting gate. The rules also required the boy to retrieve the car at the end of the race. These were two difficult moments for the fathers. Their sons had to actually touch the car. The boys were quite nervous walking their car the track under the nervous gaze of their dads.

All the cars were in place.

Cubs all made their way to the end of the track.

One judge form PWC lifted the starting flag.

The other pressed the button that lowered the starting gate.

The third was at the end of the tack to determine the winner.

They were off. Boys were cheering. Fathers were jumping up and down. In less than a minute the race was over. Tears welled up in the eyes of the losers and arms were thrust heavenward by the lucky winners.

This scene was repeated several times as this was a race with endless heats. Truly, this as a race of endurance. By the time they had the cars for the final heat, most boys were so bored with the race that they were playing tag off to the side. This was an activity for the boys, right?

I am proud to proclaim that I took fourth place in my second year. I was awarded a small trophy that I kept until I left on my mission. Perhaps I should have given that trophy to Dad. I don’t recall placing fourth. I was the victim of being frozen by some random Cub Scout as we were playing freeze tag so I couldn’t make to the track for watch the final heat.

Come on, you can’t cheat at freeze tag.

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