The Pinewood Derby and The Golden Mousetrap

My youngest son and I are in the process of making our last “official” Pinewood Derby Car. I say “official” because it’s the last one he’ll be racing as a Cub Scout…he’s crossing over into Boy Scouts in March. Between the four cars he’s made thus far, the five his older brother made, and the three that I’ve made (we incorporated a “Big Kids” race in addition to the formal Scout’s race a few years ago), the Bowman Garage has yet to generate a win. Or a place, for that matter. They have all finished, and not everyone can say that.

Regardless, we’ve kept trying, and I’m hoping for a winner this year. Maybe more so than my son – he’s having a ball just cutting, sanding, and painting, as usual. I’d love to see him win, but watching the joy he gets just from participating makes me about as proud as I think I could get anyway.

Here at EXAIR, we just got the exciting news that some new products are in competition for Design News’ “Golden Mousetrap” Award. Another is in the running for a Plant Engineering “Product of the Year.” We’ve had several that made it into Plant Service’s “Battle Royal,” a not-as-prestigious but still-very-fun online voting competition. And, going into the company’s 30th year in business, we’re proud to announce that we’ve achieved 99.9% on-time shipments for the 17th (SEVENTEENTH) consecutive year.

Now, the kinds of pride I take in being part of a winning Pinewood Derby Car “team” and being part of a successful manufacturing team are different, for sure, but I’m trying to enjoy them both to their fullest.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Derby Cars and Time Spent

March 19th is the big day – the Pack 618 Pinewood Derby. It will be the fourth year for my oldest son and the first year for my youngest, two cars total. And take it from me, my car building skills have come a long way – scratch that – my SONS car building skills have come a long way…

I remember the first year he entered the race. I was kind enough (dumb enough) to ask him to design his car. In my mind, the inner workings of this young boy’s mind would produce nothing more than a simple wedge of a car thus requiring no more than a simple handsaw. Unfortunately what came out of his mind was nothing short of a Calder sculpture.

So that year I borrowed a coping saw and cut this convoluted shape, which in all actuality was a dragon, out of his pine block. He spent the rest of the time sanding it down and painting it. Together we added weight, put the wheels on and brought it to the official weigh in.  We immediately walked up to the weigh-in table with its impressive looking digital scales, last-minute adjustment tools and a small crowd of ooh-er’s and aah-er’s – only to be told by the father working on his son’s car that the official weigh-in table was “over there” as he pointed us in the right direction. I immediately knew that my borrowed coping saw and the performance of my son’s first Pinewood Derby car were inadequate. Nevertheless together we attended the race and drove home satisfied with a mediocre performance, it is after all about the time spent…

The following year, having been exposed to the race before, I recognized the areas where we could step it up a bit. I had acquired a Dremel tool just in case the intricacies of this year’s model once again resembled the sculpture above. Much to my relief his design was quite a bit simpler so we immediately moved on to performance characteristics: polish the axles, smooth the wheels, lift one wheel off the track, weight in the back etc… Yes, it is surprising what you can find out when you hang around a guy who looks like he is manning the official weigh-in table. And again we attended the race and drove home satisfied with a mediocre performance.

His third year, he was greatly on his own as my role was more supervisory than hands-on. Not a stellar year once again as far as performance goes but we drove home with two different satisfactions that year; One for having a kid work hard and get it done on his own and the other for working hard and getting it done on his own.

This year, per the request from my youngest son, we are going to Grandpa’s house for the weekend because “he has all those tools and knows how to use them”. Fortunately for me, I have thick skin, a thick skull and a realistic view of my skill with tools so this comment from my boy hardly registered. Grandpa does actually have all the cool tools, he does have the experience of being a Cub Master years ago, he has made derby cars and he relishes the time spent with all of us. And as long as we can all keep that last bit in perspective, I’m guessing we’ll come up with a couple of fast cars this year. I’ll keep you posted…

Kirk Edwards
Application Engineer
KirkEdwards@EXAIR.com