Last night Alex and I attended our first Pinewood Derby race. This is a Boy Scout tradition (no, Alex isn’t in Scouting) where the kids take a block of wood and some wheels and saw, sand, paint, and finish a race car. Then, in the spirit of male competition, the cars are raced.

There were 22 cars entered in the race, and probably 60+ people there. Before the race, while the “officials” were setting up the timers and computer software (!), a bunch of the kids were testing the track with their cars. Alex’s car consistently beat them– every single race he ran, his car zipped ahead of everyone else.

This struck me as pretty funny because according to tradition, when you build your car you’re supposed to file down the axles, sand the wheels with 600-grit sandpaper to remove any “imperfections”, use graphite to improve spin, balance the axles carefully to avoid a tilt, and so on. When I first heard about what other teams were doing, it made it sound like they were preparing for the Gran Prix or something. Alex and I took our block, sawed out a reasonable race-car shape, sanded it, and spray-painted it gold. We hammered the axles in place, glued a little Lego guy into the cockpit, and called it good. Yet our woefully unprepared car was crushing the fancy ones. Hmm.

Anyway, the races began and it was a lot of fun. Every car raced four times (once on each of the four parallel tracks) for fairness, and the computer system recorded times to thousandths of a second. At the end, everyone’s times were averaged so the final winner could be determined. Shockingly, Alex’s car placed third overall– an average of less than a tenth of a second behind the first-place finisher. He was thrilled, not least because he won a Hershey bar.

It was a real hoot, and amusing to watch the fierce competition.