Saturday, April 10, 2010


I guess I'll have to fry or boil them, then.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Race Day

You'd have thought it was Christmas, the way the kids were bouncing out of their skins the night before. Fiona wanted to race, and (more importantly!) get her car back after having turned it in on Wednesday. Aiden was just jazzed about the whole thing in general. Cars and racing? What could possibly be better?

Can you imagine what his face is going to look like when he actually gets to build a car of his own and race it?

The setup was impressive: a four-lane aluminum track on loan from a local cub scout troop. From the top of the release gate to the finish line was some 60 feet, and there were another 30 feet after that to let the cars coast to a stop — and a padded back wall for the cars that were still going strong after that! It took up most of the gym.

Optical triggers kept track of times down to one ten-thousandth of a second.

There was a lot of emphasis on fairness, even at the expense of excitement. Once the cars had been seeded on the bracket in a single-pass time trial, sets of three cars were raced, three times, alternating tracks in case one lane was faster than the others. Best average time advanced to the next round.

I got a kick out of the way each car was announced. I hadn't realized each car needed a name; Fiona named ours on the spot at check-in. To my great delight, Mr. Sibert drew out "Zooom!" as he announced ours. Some cars were "built by" and some were "owned by" which may have been a commentary on how much work a parent had put into a car, but I think it was just a slip of the tongue.

Time trials for seeding on the bracket. 4.5771 seconds was our official time.

This was one place were I thought a computer could have helped out immensely — sorting times for 35 cars? A spreadsheet can do that in a snap. Averaging times for three different passes? Instantaneous. Instead, they had someone at a table, scribbling like mad. Rather than make everyone wait, they had a brief intermission.

While they tabulated the time trial results, they had Matchbox races for the younger kids, including a large tub of cars for anyone who hadn't brought their own.

The bracket seeded, everyone reconvened — no small task for 50 adults and equal number of small children. After a short presentation, it was race time.

My friend Jeff Strietzel gave a nice presentation of the Gospel using the "wordless book" made out of race flags.

Fiona's bracket was one of the first to race. She hopped down into her spot to watch.

Racers get to be front-and-center when their car races.

How'd we do, speed-wise? A LOT better than I thought we would, actually. WAY better. Wanna know my secret? I'll tell you. Gather 'round. Shhhhh. I'm going to share with you my number one speed tip for Pine Car Derbies. This is very important:

Don't super-glue the wheels to the car.

Yeah. You wouldn't have thought of that, would you? It makes a huge difference, I can tell you.

OK, in all fairness, I thought I was only gluing the axles to the car, but the glue flowed and dripped down into the wheels when I wasn't watching. I discovered the problem about midnight the evening before we were supposed to turn the cars in, and it took me until 2 a.m. to free the wheels and find suitable replacements for the hubcaps I'd lost in the process. It occurred to me sometime while I was doing speed runs with the car on the belt sander that it was a good thing I hadn't waited until the following afternoon, as I'd originally planned.

The results were still predictable, though:

(Video at

Yeah. Third slowest overall. The only two that were slower got encouraging taps from the judge so that they'd actually make it to the finish line.

Our poor Corvette limped over the line, in several cases parking right on it.

But all was not lost; there were still other categories besides overall speed. I smiled encouragingly at Fiona when they called out her name among a dozen others to come to the front.

To my surprise, we didn't place at all for "Best Replica." That had been the category I had been working towards in my mind. Several people later told me that almost none of the fathers agree with the judging in this category — last year, apparently, a perfect model of a Shelby Cobra (it was amazing; I saw it) was passed over in favor of a rough-hewn pickup truck. People were indignant on our behalf, which I found amusing.

The next category up was "Best in Show" which they explained as being for craftsmanship. And, in third place... Fiona Kerr!

Fiona enjoyed the novelty of being on the podium by herself, if only until they called the second-place winner.


I was proud of Fiona for her design and painting work, and we all had a very good time. Maybe next year, we'll compete for speed, too!