TAKE ON LIFE

Sculpting a dream car out of wood

By Brian Koonz COLUMNIST

Article Last Updated: 01/18/2008 10:39:40 AM EST

 

 An overview of the nearly 50 cars Cub Scouts raced Thursday night at Pack 270's Pinewood Derby in Newtown.

 

Cubmaster Jeff Timmons awarded trophies to the top three finishers in each rank: Tiger, Wolf, Bear and Webelo. Trophies were also given out for the fastest car, the car with the most scout input, and the most creative car.

 

Den 11 of Cub Scout Pack 270 was the fastest den at Thursday night's Pinewood Derby at Middle Gate Elementary School in Newtown.

Gentlemen, start your engines. Or at least, step away from the track.

In case you missed it, Thursday was the biggest night of the year for the boys of Cub Scout Pack 270 in Newtown. It was Pinewood Derby night, the night when wooden cars -- powered only by gravity and dreams of glory -- blazed down a sloped track.

It's a scene that has become familiar annually in towns throughout the Danbury area.

Pack 270 Cubmaster Jeff Timmons expected scouts to race nearly 50 cars Thursday night. But not before each car passed muster in front of an inspection committee. In this case, the committee consisted of Timmons and Nick Kopcik, an assistant den leader with Den 11.

On Wednesday night, I went with my son to the official weigh-in at Middle Gate Elementary School. It was like a miniature version of those fancy car shows they have at  the Javits Center in New York. Each car was slicker and sleeker than the last, a four-wheeled tribute to the band saw.

Some looked like Formula One racers. Others resembled aerodynamic concept cars from Detroit. Then it hit me: Bob Vila's kids must be in Pack 270. And they all got Sears gift cards for Christmas.

But not us.

My son designed the Poke' Truck, a red-and-white flatbed that hauls Poke'mon cartoon characters and 30 cents -- a quarter and a nickel -- to make weight.

That's because the car itself can't weigh more than five ounces. Thank you, Botsford Post Office, for the self-service scale in your lobby. The car also can't be longer than seven inches, so watch out for those fins and spoilers, no matter how awesome they look.

Kopcik, the owner of Newtown Exxon and a racing enthusiast, has spent the last five years building Pinewood Derby cars with his sons, Nicholas, 11, and Stephen, 9.

"It's a good learning experience for the kids," Kopcik said Thursday, just hours before race time. "You can definitely tell which cars have had the most adult involvement and which have had the most scout involvement.

"But really, the point is to get fathers, mothers, whoever the particular role model is, involved with the kids and have fun," Kopcik added. "That's kind of the heart and soul of the whole thing."

Until the testosterone kicks in. At least in some houses.

Suddenly, all bets are off. And all egos are switched on.

There's even a movie about dads channelling Henry Ford and DaVinci and laser-guided chassis cuts for their cars. It's called, "Down and Derby," a comical look at dads and their win-at-all-costs cars.

Maybe I didn't catch the full-blown fever like the dads in the movie. But I definitely had a few of the symptoms.

We bought a tube of graphite powder, the lubricant of choice in Pinewood Derby racing. We sanded the nails -- I mean, axles -- and the plastic tires. We even shook them inside a plastic sandwich bag sprinkled with the graphite powder.

And yet, nothing was guaranteed on race night.

"I've seen a block of cheese be one of the faster cars," Kopcik said.

And he's not kidding. It was a great car.

I remember watching it fly down the track last year at Middle Gate School. It was shaped like a wedge of cheese. The kids, the parents, the grandparents, everyone loved it.

Go ahead, Google "Pinewood Derby" on the Internet. You'll get over a million results.

"We've had cars that look like a block of wood with cotton balls glued to it," Timmons said. "We've had cars finish a full second-and-a-half behind the other cars, but it doesn't matter.

"Usually, the slowest car is one a scout did 95 percent by himself ... and we have an award for (the car with the most scout involvement)," Timmons went on. "The whole thing really fosters a special relationship between the boys and whoever is helping them build their cars."

Even if it's Bob Vila, with a fistful of Sears gift cards.

Contact Brian Koonz

at bkoonz@newstimes.com

or at (203) 731-3411.

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