The Pinewood Derby

Pinewood DerbyAs a Cub Scout, every year I looked forward to the Pinewood Derby. If you have no idea what that is, allow me to educate you. You get a box, which contains a block of wood, four plastic wheels and four nails. The wood has two slots cut into one side, in which you would use the nails to attach the wheels. Before you put the wheels on, however, you cut and paint the block of wood into a car.

The main reason why I looked forward to the derby was because I got to use my dad’s tools to make the car. Cutting and sanding, forming the shape I wanted. My father would supervise and maybe nudge me along if I was doing something completely and totally wrong, but for the most part, I made my own car. It was one of the many things my father encouraged that lead to me being unafraid of working with my hands. The post last week about my car was one thing, but around the house I’ve fixed a broken fridge, installed ceiling fans and lights, run wires for new outlets, built furniture, and more.

The second thing I looked forward to was actually racing the car. It a simple race, the cars lined up at the start down a steep drop and a long straightaway to the finish. I never won. Not once. But, my car always finished, which is better than some. The kids who always won, you could just look at the cars and know that most of them probably watched while their fathers made the car. They were too sleek and properly weighted, too aerodynamic. And this was before the Internet made it easy to go look up a design to copy. I mean, what 8-year-old kid would think to counter sink weights into the front of the car at just the right places to properly pull the car down the drop start of the track but not so heavy or poorly placed to slow it down on the straightaway. Most of the winners looked like professionally designed and painted cars.

On the other hand, the losers, like me, had cars with superhero logos and often bizarre shapes, you know, a kid’s idea of aerodynamic born of cartoons and science fiction. I never got a trophy, except when they started giving out those silly participation ribbons – yes, we had those even back in the 80’s, it’s not a new phenomena – but I was always proud of my car.

Looking back, I’m happy that my dad let me make my own mistakes and didn’t protect me from failure. I think most people are defined not by their wins but by how they recover from their losses. I’ve had my share of blows in life, been knocked down a time or two or twenty, but here I am, still standing.

I think I’m going to buy a Pinewood Derby kit and make myself just one more car…

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