Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pinewood Derby Revs Up Youthful Creativity

The fascination with speed and how things move starts early. As children we observe, play and experiment with our toys and ultimately develop some understanding of motion.
On a practical level, as adults we apply this learning everyday when we drive our vehicles.
For the Cub Scouts of Pack 14 in Lakeville, last Saturday was the day to test their concepts of motion in the annual Pinewood Derby held at Ted Williams Camp off Route 18. Over sixty scouts participated.
The trek to the derby began three months ago. Starting with a small block of wood, two axles and four wheels, the cubs scouts fashioned small vehicles for the competition. They were bound by a strict set of competition parameters but had free reign to design and paint the vehicles to their own liking.
The cars had to conform to an overall width of 2-3/4" and a length of 7". The width between the wheels had to be 1-3/4" and the bottom clearance between car and racetrack had to be 3/8". The weight could not exceed 5 ounces.
The grail, of course, is to create a vehicle that makes it down the derby course in the fastest time. The creators of the three fastest vehicles go on to regional and possibly national competitions. Prizes are also awarded for Best Craftsmanship, Most Creative Design and Best Use Of Paint.
The standardized track presents a uniform way for the vehicles to demonstrate their mix of weight and drag.
Three at a time, the cars start on an incline at a height of four feet and pick up speed going downhill for a distance of about 16 feet. They then coast and additional 16 feet on a flat straightaway to the finish line. The results are electronically timed.
The designs of many of the vehicles stuck closely to conventional ideas of what race cars or dragsters look like but some are designed purely for speed and don’t look at all like ordinary notions of cars except for the four wheels. Some are just pure fun and imagination in their designs.
Such is the case with the coffin-like vehicle that Cameron Roberts created.
Cameron, whose father, Matt, is the Cub Master, said he based his idea on a design he saw in a television cartoon and although he wouldn’t expect to see a full-size car designed like it, the vehicle was not just an “all show and no go” design. It won its heat in the competition.
“I put weight inside the coffin and I put a lid on it,” explained Cameron.
Cameron’s mom, Cyndi, said that the event creates a lot of enthusiasm among the cub scouts and that it keeps growing each year. There’s good parent participation, she noted.
The fastest car of the day was created by Bradley Pedro. His vehicle finished with a time of 2.43 seconds. The thin, skateboard-like design was built purely for speed.
He described his feelings about winning in a word, “Good.”
His dad, Dave, was impressed with the enthusiasm everyone has for the event.
“This is the third year we’ve been doing it,” he said. “It gets better organized with more families each year.”
Plus, he’s observed how the kids put more into creating the vehicles as they get older.

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