Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Pinewood Derby

I decided to take a big step outside of my comfort zone. Not being the most mechanically inclined guy in town, I typically steer away from any occasion which means putting my manhood on the line if it involves tools. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally inept. I can hammer a nail and weld a mean screwdriver when needed. But fixing and building things were never in my repertoire, much to my dad’s chagrin. However, when the flyer came about the Indian Princess Annual Pinewood Derby, I figured it would be a good opportunity to bond with my kid and frankly, how difficult could it be.

When I received the derby car kit, I was expecting something else. In the plastic bag was a block of wood and four wheels. I thought all I’d need to do was slap some paint on and it would be good to go. Nobody ever said anything about carving! So I did what any dad without a clue would do. I called another dad who had a little more experience as Daniel Boone whittling a car from a chunk of pinewood and suggested it would be more fun for the girls to work on the project together. John kindly obliged, but I’m sure he saw through my ploy for what it was, a desperate cry for help.

What I never thought about was the actual design of the car. Luckily, John had printed out a few blueprints he found on the Internet. I chose the easiest one! However, it wasn’t that easy. Maneuvering a hand saw through a small piece of wood was evidently not my forte. So my design went from a slick race car to something that looked more like Noah’s Ark. Madison was not convinced. “Daddy, it doesn’t look like a car?” she sighed. Quickly reversing what was spiraling into a disaster, I convinced her that the design was ideal to mount a horse on, her favorite animal. Her friend Kayleigh chimed in that she liked the idea and Madison gave it her seal of approval. Now that the vehicle was carved and sanded, it was time to paint. My budding Picasso, Madison did a magnificent job.

Derby Day arrived. There were cars of all shapes and sizes. Many of them looked like slick renditions out of Popular Mechanics, where the dads were clearly more vested in the success of the cars than their children. These dads were easy to spot. With sweat on their brows, they were lubing the wheels and making modifications up to the very last minute.

Madison was so proud of her car named “Horsepower.” Her brightly colored ark-ster with the pony on top was ready take on all those fancy cars. She gave it a few test runs and was ready to go. When the flag was raised, Madison’s car accelerated and was leading. But due to being a bit top heavy, it slowed down at the bottom of the hill and never quite made it to the finish line.

While a bit perplexed, Madison was caught up in the excitement of the race and didn’t seem to mind too much. She’s already talking about the improvements she wants to make for next year. That gives this Mario Andretti wanna-be a year to study up on the finer points of getting a block of wood to the finish line. Perhaps a subscription to Popular Mechanics is in order.

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