Derby Dancing

I am not a convention type of guy.

Perhaps that statement needs a little background. I love the Star Wars saga, at least the first trilogy. (Or is it the second?) I cannot say that I have seen every Star Trek movie ever made, but I didn’t fall asleep in the ones that I watched. I like cool cars, high-tech gadgets, and sports trading cards. I just don’t have any desire to spend an entire weekend with thousands of borderline-crazed individuals considerably more passionate about these subjects than myself.

Don’t get me wrong, the thought has crossed my mind to at least attend one or two as an outside observer, particularly those Star Trek conventions. I quickly dismissed any such notion out of fear that I would mispronounce my request for a hot dog at a Klingon concession stand and be vaporized by a shoulder-holstered death ray. I would never rest in peace knowing my intergalactic linguistic skills robbed my children of their father. And I am quite sure my life insurance policy excludes any cause of death even remotely connected to William Shatner.

So you might imagine my level of discomfort when I found myself at the annual “Dads Who Wanted So Badly to Have an Awesome Muscle Car but Instead Drove a Gremlin and Still Have a Chip on Their Shoulder” rally, known formally as the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. Billed as an opportunity for fathers and sons to collaborate in constructing a working gravity-powered competition racer from a simple rough cut of pine wood, it is in actuality the Boy Scouts of America’s equivalent of a WWE winner-take-all cage match. Hundreds congregate in hopes of securing the coveted Pinewood Derby championship trophy; only a single victor emerges.

The short page of instructions which accompanied my son’s pinewood derby car kit made it sound easy enough: simply cut and trim the wood to your desired design, sand the car, apply appropriate paint finish and detail work, and hammer the wheels onto the car body. Ha! And I had reserved an entire afternoon to work on such a minor project.

By 2:00 AM the next morning, things were really starting to take shape. If I dimmed the lights and squinted really hard, the badly-scarred pine block looked a little bit like a 1930’s roadster that had just emerged as the last place finisher in a demolition derby. (If I didn’t squint it looked more like a severely disabled alligator.) After several applications of spray paint and some terrific detail work by my son, though, it really didn’t look half-bad. Confidence up, we both knew his car would burn the track up the following weekend.

By the time we made it to the registration table on Derby day, any optimism we had previously held was gone. Cub Scouts crossed the parking lot carrying their derby cars in custom-designed cases sporting corporate sponsorship decals. Dads in leather derby race jackets and armed with large toolboxes chatted it up about the long months of labor that had gone into their sons’ vehicles. A pre-registration table was flocked with fathers weighing, shimming, and balancing their boys’ cars with phenomenal precision. My son looked up at me with apprehension in his eyes. “Maybe they have a prize for ‘Best Reptile Lookalike Car’,” I said. He was not amused.

Our car finished no worse than sixth in each heat. Mercifully, there were only six cars in each race. (Just to set the record straight, some cars didn’t even reach the finish line.) Fortunately, the paint job on our car was enough to earn an actual award, “Best Use of the Cub Scout Logo”, which sounded considerably better than “Quite Lucky to Have Finished a Race At All”. I was ecstatic, until I heard words that sent chills down my spine.

“Hey, Dad, I think I know exactly the kind of car I want to build for next year’s race.”

Wish me luck. We start building next week.


Popular Posts